Heading north out of Keller, Texas on US 287 you can enjoy a scenic ride and make your way into the town of Decatur, Texas. Named after naval hero Stephen Decatur, the town was originally set up in 1856 and eventually was a stopover for ranchers and herders on the Chisholm Trail.
By 1882, the railway came into Decatur from Fort Worth. It was apparently at that time a gambling railway worker was talking about a female from Decatur and coined the phrase an “Eighter from Decatur,” which has stuck around ever since.
Today, the peaceful little town still draws traffic from ranchers and railway folk, but also from tourists trying to relive the olden days…like me.
One of the really nostalgic points is the old Petrified Wood Gas Station as you come into town. In 1927 a keen businessman named E.F. Boydston purchased a former feed lot in order to build a wooden shed and a gas station. Boydston allowed people to stopover and camp there and eventually even built some cabins. As the highway was widened in the mid-1930s, Boydston added more cabins, a garage and other buildings and then made them sturdier by adding petrified wood as a facing on the buildings. The entire complex was eventually named Texas Plaza.
He also built a one-room frame building next door in 1929 and called it the Texas Lunchroom. In 1935 they renamed it the Texas Cafe and faced it with the same petrified wood to match the other buildings. It is now called the Whistle Stop Cafe.
Today the complex is a unique example of the early days of automobile tourism. I recall the 1960s and going to gas stations similar to this. I really enjoyed the nostalgia. And Decatur has taken advantage of that as there are two other nostalgic gas stations in town.
Have you seen my new book yet? “Less Beaten Paths of America: Quirky and Offbeat Roadside Attractions” is now available on Amazon!
The book is 130 pages of FULL COLOR whimsy and kitsch as I tell stories of my visits to these places all over the U.S. and Canada. Definitely was fun taking these back roads trips to quirkville and I am excited to share them with you in words and photos.
I hope you will be able to check out the book or even get it on Kindle. You can order the book here:
My trip along Route 2 continued from Glasgow, Montana westward along what is known as the Montana Hi-Line (See my May 2013 post about a previous drive on a portion of the Hi-Line). Back in May last year I drove through to Glasgow and then south. On this trip I tried to spend a little more time in some of the smaller towns on the road and capture the essence of what I feel is a dieing breed hanging on. In fact, to proclaim their existence, many of the towns have a big sign on the highway to proclaim “Hey, we’re here!”
Ultimately, I would drive Route 2 to where it intersects with US Route 89 on the eastern edge of Glacier National Park. That would be the end of my 1165 mile jaunt on US Route 2. (According to Google Maps, it is 1165 miles from downtown Ironwood, MI to the US 2/US 89 Intersection near Browning, MT.)
After spending the night in an old 1970s style motel in Glasgow, Montana, it was back on the road. My last trip through Glasgow was fleeting so I couldn’t capture some of the essence of this nice little town on the eastern edge of Northern Montana. The population of just over 3200 is friendly and accommodating.
Downtown Glasgow offers some old motel signs, ghost signs and some other unique sites.
A drive back to the east part of town leads to the bar with an airplane in the building.
This bar is unique….a real small plane stuck in the building and a dinosaur out front guarding the place.
As one proceeds west on US Hwy 2 out of Glasgow, you will see dinosaurs up on the hillside. These and the other animals and sculptures (as well as the dino at the Hangar) are all creations of artist Buck Samuelson, who offers them for sale.
US Highway 2 has a number of historical signs along the way. The first one west of Glasgow is all about Buffalo Country.
The first town west of Glasgow is the Hinsdale, Montana. Not much here, but they have a unique church building where the steeple is planted in the ground in FRONT of the church and not on top it.
The next little town on the way is Saco, Montana. This town would have faded away long ago if not for its unique place in history as one of the homes of news anchor Chet Huntley, whose father worked for the railroad. There is one room schoolhouse in Saco that he attended. As well, Saco had two years of bragging rights as the Guinness World Record holder for making the world’s largest hamburger, building the 6,040-pound burger from the beef of 17 cattle in 1999.
Just west of town is the “Sleeping Buffalo Rock” which is actually listed on the National Registry of Historic Places.
From Saco US Hwy 2 heads southwest as it circles around Lake Bowdoin National Wildlife Refuge. From there the road passes through Malta, Montana along nice grazing lands for cattle and horses.
Malta, Montana is a nice small town on the Milk River. It has its share of old signs and old dinosaur bones.
Malta is also home to the Great Plains Dinosaur Museum and Field Station, which is part of the Montana Dinosaur Trail. The Dinosaur Trail includes 14 different museums around Montana that feature remains and history pertaining to dinosaurs. There are eight locations on the Hi-Line from Glasgow to Rudyard. There are a couple more on US 89 south of Glacier National Park.
The next stop on the road is the small town of Dodson, Montana. They have a new post office, but the old post office sign still remains as a reminder of the past.
From Fort Belknap, US Route 2 heads northwest into the small town of Harlem, Montana. This town is about 50% white and 43% Native American. Like the other towns, it has a metal welcome sign.
Not too far west of Harlem is the small dot of a town called Zurich (pronounced Zoo-rich by the locals). Like many small stations on the railroad, Zurich receives its name from an older, far more impressive city. Legend has it that to name many of their stations, railroad executives would open an atlas at random and point to a city. Although it may seem incongruous that a town on the plains be named after a noted European mountain city, from Zurich, westward bound visitors could catch their first glimpse of the Bear Paw Mountains. It is now basically a place for picnics along the Milk River.
The next stop on the Hi-Line heading west is Chinook, Montana. This small town of about 1500 has some character. It used to be the home of a large sugarbeet factory. They do have one of the more unique high school sports mascots in the country — the Sugarbeeters.
There are still many evidences of the past in Chinook. For instance, the Bear Paw Credit Union uses a remodeled old fashioned gas station that still has the old pumps out front.
I had a lot of other photos of Chinook from a previous trip I took along the Hi-Line in March 2013. You can see that post HERE.
Chinook lies along the Nez Perce National Historic Trail which goes from Wallowa Lake in northeast Oregon (near Joseph, OR — I visited there in 2007), then crosses Idaho and goes south along the border of Idaho and Montana, through Yellowstone then heads north though Billings, MT and finally ends at the Bear Paw Battlefield, which is about 15 miles south of town. The Battlefield Park commemorates the final battle of the Nez Perce War of 1877 where the Nez Perce ceased fighting on October 5th, 1877.
It was at Bear Paw that Chief Joseph gave his famous speech in which he said, “Hear me, my chiefs! I am tired. My heart is sick and sad. From where the sun now stands I will fight no more forever.” The Nez Perce Trail, like the Oyate Trail of South Dakota and the Trail of Tears in the Southeast US, among others, are integral parts of American history that help us to better understand the plight of the Native Americans. I am grateful to continue to learn about these great people who lived on this land long before the Europeans found their way here.
From Chinook I zipped through Havre, having visited it extensively in 2013. But, I did stop briefly for a good shot with the large bison that had been made by Cory Holmes, who used three miles of old telegraph wire to create this nine-foot long, six-foot tall 2000 pound bison.
Just west of Havre there is a road called Smith Frisno Road which crosses over the railroad tracks heading north. It eventually leads to a large ranch, but along the way many a visitor has stopped for a photo of an old abandoned schoolhouse that sits out in the prairie. I visited there last year, but wanted to grab a couple more shots as this is one of those iconic places that begs to be photographed.
The next town west of Havre is Kremlin, Montana. Yes, an unusual name for a town. But, as the story goes, the town had some Russian immigrants that were working on the Great Northern Railway who looked off in the distance at the mountains and were reminded of the Kremlin back home. The name apparently stuck.
After Kremlin there are a couple of other small towns before reaching the small historic town of Rudyard, Montana, which actually has three small museums – the Depot Museum, the Dinosaur Museum (part of the Dinosaur Trail) and a Vintage Auto Museum. Using the old railroad depot, the historical society renovated it for a museum in which to house both the written and physical history of the Hi-Line towns of Joplin, Inverness, Rudyard, Hingham, Gildford, and Kremlin.
Then there is my penchant for “collecting” scrap metal art. I came across a place in Rudyard that had three pieces of scrap metal animals in the yard, including a bison, a deer and an elk. I spoke to a guy there and he said “someone in town made them, but I am not sure who.” Surprising to me that in a town of just under 600 people that they don’t all know who does this kind of thing….
Then there is the semi-famous dinosaur skeleton sculpture just west of town on US Highway 2, probably advertising the Dinosaur Museum in Rudyard. I was able to contact the Rudyard Museum and found out that this old guy was made by a farmer named Bryon Wolery, owner of Wolery Farms. He apparently made two of them and one is on his farm.
The road west passes through the small town of Inverness, MT and then past Joplin.
From Joplin it is another 20 miles to the next town, which is Chester. It is much bigger than most of the towns between Havre and Shelby and functions as the county seat for Liberty County. Chester began as a watering and coal loading station for the Great Northern Railroad steam engines around 1891. The name “Chester” was apparently chosen by the first telegraph operator in the town and named in honor of his hometown in Pennsylvania.
North of Chester the Sweet Grass Hills can be seen in the distance. They are actually in the northern part of Liberty County and are actually mountains. They are unique in that they are the highest isolated peaks in the United States. Rising to nearly 7,000 feet, these mountains are volcanic in origin and believed to be millions of years old.
Between Chester and Shelby there is not much, but there is an old neon sign advertising the Galata Campground. So 1960s…. The town itself is practically a ghost town.
Shelby, Montana is another 25 miles down US Route 2 and is by far the largest town along the Hi-Line after Havre. I have written extensively about Shelby on a couple of occasions, so here is the token photo of this large railroad town.
After driving through Shelby, US Route 2 gains altitude and the huge Glacier Wind Farm can be seen. This is actually quite unique for at night all of the turbines blink bright red all along the hills west of Shelby.
From the top of these hills the snow covered peaks of Glacier National Park and the Rocky Mountains can be seen in the distance. But one must pass through Cut Bank, Montana along the way. Named after the creek that cuts its banks along the white clay, the town got its start in the 1890s. The Cut Bank Creek Trestle that crosses the 150 foot deep gorge was built in 1900 but is still in use by the Burlington Santa Fe as well as Amtrak. Today, the town is still vibrant with the railroad and Glacier National Park tourism. It is also the eastern border of the Blackfeet Indian Reservation. Cut Bank is also home to the “world’s largest penguin” with claims to be the “coldest spot in the nation,” though most sites with “Coldest Spots” lists don’t include it. (See Site 1 and Site 2)
After entering the reservation and not too far west of Cut Bank, there is an historic sign commemorating Camp Disappointment (see my 2013 post on this monument and more). This was the northernmost campsite for the Lewis and Clark Expedition.
As I closed in on Browning, Montana, US Highway 2 intersects with US Highway 89, one of the more spectacular N/S Highways in the United States. This is the end of the approximately 1,169 mile long trek along US Highway 2 from Ironwood, MI.
My next post will cover the trip south on US 89 from Browning all the way to Yellowstone National Park.