Sunday, March 11, 2012

The Cattle Drive and the Aspen

Roundup, Montana was the Trailhead (beginning) of the 1989 Centennial Cattle Drive.  The drive took 5-6 days to go 50 miles.  It was a celebration of Montana’s 100 years of statehood.  The cattle drive had approximately
  • 3600 horses and their riders
  • over 300 assorted wagons
  • 3000 head of cattle
All these people and livestock made the 50 mile trip from Roundup to Billings in 5-6 days.

A couple of weeks before the Cattle Drive I drove my Dodge Aspen to Helena.  On the way back the starter went out in Bozeman.  I found a mechanic and he replaced it.  I was on my way to Busby, MT;  where I was teaching at the Northern Cheyenne Tribal School (K-12).  

With the starter replaced the car was working great.  I decided to go to Lewistown, MT a couple of weeks later.  I didn’t even think about the Cattle Drive.  I got as far as Grass Range and had problems.  Pulled over and the Aspen wouldn’t start.  Of course it was late at night.  I walked back to Grass Range called a friend to come get me.  Monday was a holiday, but a local mechanic came and looked at it for me.  It was the starter again.  He didn’t have one in stock so couldn’t work on my car.

Picture this - mechanic working on the side of the highway until he got the car started.  The mechanic  told me, “Lady don’t turn it off.  Keep it running because once you shut it off you’re done.”

I thanked him and headed home.  It was early afternoon.   I stopped in Roundup to see how far the Cattle Drive had gotten.  The officer on duty told me which road was closed and which road out of Roundup to take.  As I confidently left I had no idea I was about to intersect with the Cattle Drive.  

As I drove down the road I got as far as the Tumbleweed Saloon.  Flaggers told me the road was closed up ahead and I would need to pull into the makeshift parking lot until the road reopened.  They estimated a 30 minute wait or I could go back and drive another 150 miles.  I decided to park the car and wait.   Soon the sweat was running down my eyes.  And I waited.

The parking lot began to fill up.  The parking area was a section of field alongside the road that had been mowed to accommodate about 50 parked cars.  Most of the people had walked across the road to the bar.  The second hour went by.  It was now about 4:00 and I needed to get to Billings to buy the replacement starter before the store closed.  

I waited.  The heat continued to beat down. I worried about the car overheating - it had idled since 2:00 pm.  I suspected I wasn’t going to make it to Billings in time.  I really didn’t like leaving the car unlocked and running,  but now I had no choice.  I decided to call a friend and ask him to pick up the starter for me.  I walked over to the Tumbleweed Saloon.  The place was wall to wall people.  Standing room only.  One telephone in the whole place, behind the bar.  I called my friend and yelled into the receiver that I wanted him to get me a starter.  I would be in as soon as I could.  

Back to the car I went. I continued to wait.  It was 6:00 before the road was open for travel.  I drove to Clint’s home to get the starter and figure out what to do.  He told me to take his extra car, a deep red Mercury Cougar.  I left the Aspen. The borrowed rig purred all the way to Busby.


  1. Boy, things just seemed to work out for you, Ruth.  I keep imagining each story is going to end with some big problem, but there you are, driving off safely.  And, I need to say this again - the people in Montana seem so nice, not like the ones that (mainly) people New Jersey!

  2. I've had many a roadtrip in my life, and your story today reminded me of several of them! Thank you for sharing these memories.

  3. The interesting adventures you have had continue to draw me in. You describe things so vividly I can just see Dodge Aspen as it idled and idled in the makeshift parking lot. Will the adventure continue in the borrowed Mercury Cougar?

  4. Mary Helen GenschMarch 12, 2012 at 5:04 PM

    Glad you were able to manage through. The use of short sentences made the situation more intense. "I waited." It made me squirm for you. Two adventures intertwined in a well written slice.

  5. Wow this is a world I don't know.  I so enjoyed the adventure filled with the unknown. B

  6. Oh my gosh.  You have such an interesting life!  I would so have been sweating it.

  7. I was starting to sweat right along with you there!  How frustrating!  Wouldn't it have been so nice to have cell phones back then?  You could have used one a few times on that trip.


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