Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Last day in Montana

We are at the Bolster Dam park and campground in the city of Plentywood, Montana (map). The campground is "free" with a requested donation of $10, and has water and 30-amp electrical service at the ten or so RV sites.

There does not seem to be any stay limit enforced, and the three rigs near us have been unoccupied since we arrived. Some rigs have heat tape on their water hoses, suggesting they are here year-round. It's a bit annoying that people are just storing their rigs here, presumably for use occasionally. They are taking up nice spaces that could be available for visitors. I would also guess that few of these rigs are donating $10 a night for the privilege.

We had a nice drive here Sunday from Glasgow. About 20 miles north of the city, on Montana 24, we were surprised to see what looked to be a residential subdivision appear on the horizon. As we got closer, we realized they were not houses but something higher-density, and as we got closer still, we could tell many were abandoned. We immediately thought: military housing. When we were nearly abreast of the place, we could see that some units were occupied, and, our curiosity piqued, we turned onto the little access road marked "St. Marie."

We drove a little over a mile into the "town," past the perhaps 8-plex residences and a sign that read "Welcome to St. Marie, Home of the Adventurous." We got as far as the gated entrance to the "Montana Aviation Research Company" (MARCO) with its enormous hangars and giant runway. Later research revealed this to be the former Glasgow Air Force Base, decommissioned in 1976, and the "subdivision" we had seen had indeed been base housing some 40 years ago. MARCO turns out to be a small test division of Boeing, and the town of St. Marie is billing itself as a "retirement haven" with the "condos" in the handful of buildings not slowly crumbling selling for anywhere from $15,000-$25,000. To even get gas or a quart of milk requires driving back to Glasgow.

After reaching the bustling metropolis of Opheim just a dozen miles or so from the border, we turned east onto Montana 248, which generally follows an old railroad grade. We could discern the graded roadbed, but there were no rails nor even ties until we reached the town of Scobey, where our guide said there was a free campground. Even here the tracks had been paved over at the lone grade crossing, though the campground was on "Railroad" street.

The campground was unappealing, with spaces cheek-by-jowl and nearly full. Again many folks looked to have been there long-term and we would guess few were making the requested $12 donation across the street at the sheriff's office. The ten spaces did have power and water, and there was a dump station, of which we availed ourselves. And I suppose we could easily have walked to the one or two eating establishments still operating in the tiny town. But "free" or not, this place was everything we detest about "RV parks," and we decided to keep moving.

A couple dozen miles east of Scobey the apparently abandoned railroad tracks started sporting empty rail cars, mostly piggyback carriers and double-stack container carriers. Soon we realized it was a nearly uninterrupted string of excess rolling stock stored here by the BNSF, and it extended for miles and miles. It was single-track line which dead-ended in Scobey, so the cars had to be pushed here in a single file from somewhere east, and the string was carefully broken apart at every grade crossing -- we could just imagine some really weary brakeman or car-knocker who had to walk the whole dozen miles setting brakes and uncoupling cars.

This campground in Plentywood was also in our guide, and being quite a bit further from town in a much more rustic setting, it was much more appealing. We don't have the drive-by lookey-loos here, and there are perhaps only two or three rigs, ours included, actually occupied in the whole park. The spaces are also more spread out to begin with. We had planned only to spend one night, soak our batteries, top up the water, and move along, but it has been so nice here we decided to just stay an extra day.

That gave us time to knock out some projects, including replacing the wireless router on the satellite system (which, I am sorry to say, did not fix our problem), finish the hot tub installation, dismantle the old hot tub pump box, and pack a whole raft of eBay items for shipment. We also got our Red Cross "homework" done -- updating the Disaster Communications training course materials and writing a technology Quick Start Guide for the upcoming season.

This afternoon we have a Red Cross conference call to discuss the updated training materials, after which we will again start rolling east. We should be somewhere along state route 5 in North Dakota this evening.


  1. Hi Sean,

    The twitter update on linkedin is making it a lot easier to stay connected to your blog. Sainte Marie sounds interesting. I'm wondering if hangar or warehouse space is also available.


  2. Boeing leases a portion of the old Glasgow Air Force Base (now St. Marie) and uses it as a test site. There may be hangar space available. I would contact the Chamber of Commerce in Glasgow, MT for information. They can steer you in the right direction.

    Welcome to Plentywood. Hope you enjoy your stay. I live just west of town. I believe some of the rigs parked in the campground may belong to folks working in the oil patch and they are either on a 12 hour shift or possibly had the weekend off and drove home (I've noticed some of the plates are from Baker which is about 4 hours south of Plentywood).

  3. @JD: Thinking of moving?

    @Dave: Thanks. These rigs had Saskatchewan plates, but I would guess some of the others were oilmen, as were the two rigs we saw yesterday in Columbus.


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