This column’s topic had a curious beginning (not that it is the first one, by any means). It is centered around the attached close-up photo of my name tag on my Saddleback “Host” jacket.

About three issues ago, my column was focused on the great start Saddleback Ski Resort experienced (after the five-year hiatus) with new ownership from my perspective as a host answering the many questions arriving skiers had, and helping manage the unique base lodge skier use modifications created out of necessity by the Covid-19 pandemic.

That great start continues now as we enter March and some great spring skiing coming up, given the warmer temperatures. What has changed, as of about 3 weeks ago, is the line below my name.

The name tags feature the town we are from under the name. For the first month and a half my name tag indicated “Rangeley” (at least that is where we get our mail…since Gull Pond is actually in Dallas Plantation). Therefore, most Host name tags indicate Rangeley, while some hosts have condos on the mountain or have second homes or relatives and friends in Rangeley and are up here a lot year-round (We certainly can’t blame them for that, can we). Therefore; home towns and cities such as Portland, Scarborough, Bangor, Skowhegan, etc., are found below the names of just about all of the remaining volunteer hosts.

One busy Saturday in early February, I noticed the town below the name of one of my colleagues, and an avid skier, I might add…had “Munich, Germany” under his name. Knowing full well that he lived in Rangeley, I asked about having a European Union member country under his name. As I suspected, his dad was in the military, and stationed at an American base near Munich. As I suspected, he stated “that’s where I was born, so therefore I am actually from Munich…besides, it is a good conversation starter”.

His answer made total sense to me…especially the “conversation-starter” part…since we are often covering the four entrances to the lodge, explaining the Covid-related rules we must all abide by. Conversations with one’s captive audiences for a few minutes are a great way to welcome skiers to the mountain, and the Rangeley Region in general, with the people at the head of the lines who are anxious to get into the first floor cafeteria or the upstairs pub. Especially the pub.

And since I was born in Great Falls, Montana, I suspected that there are lots of Maine skiers who are interested in states in the west that have some fine ski areas. Montana is one of them. So I had the nice folks in the ticket office (who also make the name tags) to make me one with Great Falls, MT on it. They did not hesitate to comply with my odd request. Although, without prompting, I made sure they knew it is the small city on the Missouri River where I was born in 1946.

My Saddleback Host jacket, with nametag including the “mystery” town below my name.

What a game-changer it is having my Montana birth city on my name tag. You would be surprised (or perhaps you wouldn’t) how many folks at the head of the line to get into the lodge read the town name on our tags. There is always plenty of other things to talk about with our skiing guests, so I don’t discuss the name tag town unless someone asks about it. Then I launch into a very short, or a medium-length explanation…depending on how long I have them as a captive, yet interested, audience.

Here is my medium to longer length answer, which gets to the heart of my love of railroads…especially one of the railroads that helped settle the American West. I was surprised at how many skiers asked about the “Great Falls, MT” on my name tag. That got me thinking seriously about how much I really love trains to this day.

Both of my parents were from small towns in Douglas County in central Minnesota. My dad was in the U.S. Army during WWII. He landed a job with the Great Northern Railway when he got out. It ran through the town of Alexandria where I graduated from high school 18 years later. The Great Northern ran from St. Paul, Minnesota through Minnesota, North Dakota, Montana ….and on ultimately to Seattle-Tacoma, Washington. It did much to help settle and populate that northern tier of the West in the late 19th century and on into the early 20th century.

The railroad had a job waiting for him in Great Falls, so that is where they headed as soon as he returned from his duty in the Panama Canal Zone during the war. I am pretty sure they eloped, since they were married in Wolf Point, Montana…just beyond the western North Dakota border. I also suspect that I was in utero at that time as well since their Justice of the Peace marriage, the date of which, I much later learned, was in April and I was born in July of that year, 1946. Both families, being of stoic Scandinavian stock and custom, I was never informed of the details as a little kid, so I quit asking.

It’s still standing, as of the summer of 2017…the tower of the Great Northern Railway depot in Great Falls, Montana

Great Falls was a serious hub for the Great Northern Railway back in the day. The beautiful brick depot with a tall tower still stands, as of five or six years ago, when I was last in Great Falls enroute to Glacier National Park for some serious hiking with a friend.

My most vivid memories of that iconic railway was our “employee-standby” trips back to Minnesota to see families. Sometimes we even were given Pullman Car seats with sleeping quarters, but most of the time it was the standard seats-only cars. No matter. Every trip was a grand adventure for me. I was glued to the windows most of my waking hours, soaking up the rolling hills and antelope herds of the Great Plains.

Also, when I was about 5 or 6 years old, I remember being on my dad’s shoulders in the crowd as we waited for President Harry Truman to stop near that big brick depot to give a whistle-stop speech alongside his wife, Bess, as he did his famous whistle-stop train trips that went a long way (pun intended) to get him re-elected as president in 1952. He stood and spoke from the small last-car platform covered with red, white, and blue bunting. It was memorable, even for a little kid!

That was as far as I went, time permitting, in answering the Saddleback-skier questions, if they demonstrated continuing interest…and most did.

However, to continue; We moved back to central Minnesota when I was set to start the third grade. The tiny town I grew up in, Carlos, where my mother was from, existed because the Soo Line Railway ran through it, perpendicular almost, to the Great Northern that ran through Alexandria where I went to high school six miles away. Memories of the train’s whistle or the rumbling weight of the grain or oil-laden freight trains as they sped through Carlos 2 or 3 times day and night heading to and from the port of Duluth on Lake Superior are still with me as well. As is the enjoyable times my friends and I had as we walked the Soo Line tracks a mile north of town to the bridge where the tracks passed over the Long Prairie River. The railroad bridge was a favorite place from which to dive into the river on a hot summer afternoon. We just had to be home in time for supper.

Railroad tracks are in short supply here in the Rangeley Region. However, we still have the track beds (now snowmobile trail beds) from the old log-hauling narrow-gauge railroads that reached the area from two directions. One that ended in the Bemis area between Rangeley and Mooselook(meguntic) lakes and the other that came from the Carrabassett Valley/Stratton area and ended at the stone Rangeley Train Station that still stands, albeit recently remodeled as a fine second home. You can still see the Queen Ann-style round turret on one corner of the home. It can be viewed best from the swimming beach area of the Rangeley Town Park, especially now since all of its lakeside trees were blown down by one of last summer’s storms.

The curious old building located on Route 16 north on the right, two-thirds of the way to Stratton from Rangeley.

Regarding that narrow-gauge line coming from the Carrabassett Valley/Stratton direction. There is an odd looking wooden building (see photo) on the right, two-thirds of the way going north on Route 16 to Stratton that I have noticed for years. I couldn’t figure out what it was until I saw a picture of it, along with a couple other buildings, taken in about 1900 in an area history or Maine narrow-gauge railway book. It stated that the “tower” housed a water tank for the steam engines passing by.

Earlier this winter, my abundant curiosity finally got the better of me. I stopped and walked up to the building. It is quite dilapidated on the back side, which includes the mystery tower. I couldn’t find large pieces of the old tank….nothing but broken wooden planks, etc. And….I now can’t find the book I saw that old picture in. I have looked through the books in the Rangeley Public Library to no avail.

I must have seen the photo in one of the books in the Rangeley Historical Society museum on Maine Street one of the days I volunteer there in the summer. I guess I will have to wait until then to find it, and more background information on its existence.

If any of you faithful readers of this column know more about that building in question, please send me an email. Include the name and author(s) of your source book if you have it. Thank you in advance.

We need to write, otherwise nobody will know who we are.
Garrison Keillor

Respect Science, Respect Nature,
Respect Each Other….and Respect the Truth

Per usual, your thoughts and comments are very welcome. Launch them in the direction of [email protected] Thank you.

The pool room in the basement of the beautiful and historic Isaac Walton Inn in Essex, Montana. It rests riverside on the southern border of Glacier National Park and on the Marias Pass route of the historic Great Northern Railway. The mountain goat logo of the railway is on the wall. This was the site of the adventure wrap-up, best 2 out of 3 8-Ball pool game, that has come at the conclusion of our hiking/backpacking adventures for the past 30 years or so.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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