Marooned in Columbus

This is the moment of greatest tension in the story.  I had been marooned in Columbus, Montana for 3 days and this is the moment in which I find out if the car will be ready or if I will continue living in Columbus until another replacement engine could be found.

If the issue turns out to be a fuel injector, I will be sent on my way back to the homestead in a matter of a few hours.  If it turns out to be a bad engine cylinder, it could be a matter of weeks.

Diary of a Union Soldier. I had to wear white gloves to handle it to protect the pages. This diary entry is from over 154 years ago.

During my stay in Columbus, I toured the Museum of the Beartooths.  The museum has a lot to offer about the history of the area. The museum is very charming and inviting.  Since I had nothing to do, I asked the curator if I could volunteer at the museum for the next day.  The museum was kind and gracious and gave me a place to hang my hat for the day.  They also allowed me to white glove a diary of a union soldier from the Civil War, 1864. I can’t explain how thrilling it was to read a journal of a union soldier penned over 150 years ago.

If I had to stay, I would have made arrangements to assist the museum more or even volunteer at a few local churches if I could.  The place was already beginning to feel a lot like the movie Groundhog’s Day starring Bill Murray.  I was beginning to know the locals, their history, and relations in the community better than my own community back home.  One thing the museum taught me is that I need to look into my own community’s museum and begin to possibly volunteer there.  The amount of information available is staggering.

One thing for sure if you are ever on I-90, driving through Columbus, MT, be sure to stop at the free Museum of the Beartooths.  It will be worth the visit to stretch your legs while taking in the rich history of this community.


Junior Ranger Program Available at your National Park

Earning is Learning… Our son and his cousin learn about the Mt. St. Helens volcano.

A few years back, my wife and I were introduced to the Junior Ranger Program at the Mt. St. Helens National Volcanic Monument.  He took a Ranger class about the volcano at the outdoor amphitheater located at the Johnston Ridge Observatory.  The class was between 30 and 40 minutes and we, parents, took a short walk through the observatory and gift shop while our son and his cousin took the class.  The thing he enjoyed most was earning his Junior Forest Ranger Badge.

Our Lewis & Clark pose over looking the Painted Canyons in the Badlands, North Dakota

While at the Theodore Roosevelt National Park, I asked the Ranger if they had a Junior Ranger program.  The park has a guide book of activities that the junior ranger must complete to earn their badge.  His age group must complete 8 activities to have a Ranger check their work to earn the Junior Ranger Badge.  It is not a difficult process, but it is one that keeps your child engaged in the National Park as your family tours the sights. Many of the factoids they learn enriches the park experience for everyone involved.

If you and your family visit a National Park this summer be sure to ask the Ranger about the free Junior Ranger program.

The Mysterious Enchanted Highway, North Dakota

On our trip to Medora and the North Dakota Badlands, we came across a strange and peculiar highway, the Enchanted Highway.  It’s one of those out of way places you have to see yourself to believe it.  The 6 metal monuments we saw are included in the video.  We, however, did not see the Geese in Flight maybe because of the recent land dispute, see link below.  The tour ended at a small town of Regent in which the artist had a visitors’ center and the artist has constructed a hotel, restaurant, and tavern out of the town’s old school in Regent, ND. Links included below.

Definitely worth a visit, and if we return, I would consider staying at the Enchanted Castle Hotel.

Learn more about the Enchanted Highway visit and


Why we don’t visit campgrounds anymore. And, obstacles we face.

When you live off grid, the idea of heading to an established campground seems more like visiting an outdoor apartment complex in which there are a lot of people, noise, and nature gets in the way to the communal bathrooms.  My wife and I started to leave the campgrounds many years ago because it was no different than living in our apartment complex, minus the thin walls to block the sound of radios, televisions, drunks, and domestic disputes.  We found a book that took us on forest roads so far off the beaten path that it would be days to hike out if the vehicle became stranded.  We set up camp by beautiful flowing tributaries into the main rivers the campgrounds were located on. With plenty of supplies, we enjoyed the peace and quiet of nature all around us.  We waved to the other brave souls who had ventured out as far as we did and noticed they gave great space and distance to our site as we did others as we passed along our route.  On the way up to one of our favorite destinations, we would pass an out of the way private campground and hot spring, Silver Creek Plunge and my wife and I were amazed that anything this remote could sustain itself, but they have done very well due to its remoteness, amenities, and access to the beautiful Boise National Forest.

Doting on our son and enjoying our trip to North Dakota despite the obstacles we face.

On an unrelated side note.  My wife and I are celebrating our 24th anniversary today.  Since the breakdown of our vehicle many challenges and stress has been placed upon our marriage.  In the last two weeks let me list a few of the things we have been dealing with: Our son was admitted into the ER for an emergency appendectomy. He developed appendicitis Friday night and Saturday it was diagnosed and he was operated on later that day with an overnight observation till Sunday afternoon.  He is doing very well today, though mellow, but on the way to recovery. The minor challenges are the other car was acting up while I was waiting in Columbus, MT for the PT to be fixed, the home’s cistern pump gave out prematurely due to some defect and had to be replaced, my lower back gave out and I have been walking hunched and in pain for the past 3 days, my cell phone (208 area code) crashed and I lost all my  contacts (text me and state who you are, so I can re-enter you), our tractor loan office has lost one of our payments even though the check is cashed. We had one chicken die due to an infection after we tried to treat her, and another chicken developed bumble foot.  Also, my wife hasn’t been able to attend a farmer’s market in 4 weeks due to these circumstances.  We also cancelled our anniversary plans today to nurse our boy back to health, but all is not lost, I am making my wife a romantic dinner this evening after we tuck him into bed tonight.  Much thanks to our shop fund, which has got us through all this financially, but once again, our dream shop has been delayed. And, this all went down in one week’s time.  There’s an old saying when it rains, it pours.

I remember in college another week like this developed and another student in a men’s support group we started asked, how I can live in such dire circumstances.  I said, “Just like you, but I trust the grace of God to get me through.”  and that has been the truth of it ever since.  I can’t imagine what would have happened if our son developed appendicitis a week earlier while we were on vacation in the middle of the desolate stretch of Montana and North Dakota at the same time our car’s engine was blown.  I am so grateful that this list of disasters was all spread out, giving my wife and I time to meet each challenge head on.

“God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation will also make the way of escape, that you may be able to bear it.” 1st Corinthian 10:13

Hee Haw! We made it to Medora!

Moon Rising over the church of the Medora Musical set.

We made it to Medora in time for the musical.  We had a great time as a family despite having to leave our car in Columbus to get it fixed.  The Medora Musical is truly something for the entire family.  They invited the children 12 and under to join some of the dancers on the stage and do an impromptu dance performance.  The featured magician and world’s fastest balloon artist wowed the audience and two random children from the audience helped out with the show.  An amazing fun experience. The show this year featured game shows my generation grew up with set to country music trivia and good old-fashioned dancing, singing, and comedy.  The musical reminded me when I was a kid watching the Hee Haw Country Variety Show mixed with a little Lawrence Welk, a country western concert, some historical patriotism of Walt Disney, and to top it off sprinkled with a little flamboyancy of a Broadway musical.

It was a bear-y good time at the Lodge in Dickinson, ND

After the show, we returned to the Lodge near Dickinson to rest up for the night.  We got up with a slow start the next morning before we toured the Theodore Roosevelt National Park and the Enchanted Highway.  More on that later.  The Lodge is part of the Double JJ Outfitters in Dickinson, North Dakota.  They specialize in pheasant hunts and have hunting package available.  The Lodge was amazing and the hunting décor was great for any hunting enthusiast.  My wife and son weren’t as excited as I was about the décor, but the accommodations were great, which we all loved and appreciated.  The Lodge is available to rent through AirBnB between hunting seasons, and when not entertaining a hunting expedition.  It’s large enough to accommodate a nice size family reunion and will definitely be kept on my list of places to stay in the future.

Salvaging a Vacation: when it takes a turn for the worse.

As we were swiftly driving through the Rockies to our night hotel reservation in Billings, something terrible happened.  Our P.T. Cruiser of 13 years, unbeknownst to us, began burning oil at such a rate that the one of the pistons froze from the extreme heat and lack of lubrication. The piston rod splintered under the duress and as the crankshaft continued to crank under the power of the 3 remaining pistons.  The broken piston rod and piston head no longer working in unison were smashing into each other with each powerful turn of the crankshaft.  The car immediately loss power, the entire motor began to shutter, shaking the entire car.  We were at the mercy of whoever was at the next exit, which was the small town of Columbus, the county seat of Stillwater, Montana.  At the exit, our parents/in-laws and a passerby were there to ask questions about the dire circumstances of our situation while gritting their teeth at the sound of the motor’s death throws.

Fortunately, a truck stop was only a block away with a convenience store that carried some oil to preserve what was left of the other three pistons.  We limped over to a parking stall, and I set to work to diagnose the severity of our quagmire.  The engine was gone, my small emergency tool bag kit was useless to me.  My only hope was to find an auto mechanic who knew how to rebuild engines or replace the one I had.  With a moment of quiet prayer amidst the nervous on looking of my family. I did a quick online search on my phone for engine repair shops in Columbus, MT.  I found one within a variety of small town mechanics and proceeded to map the location.  With my wife’s parents behind us, I drove through town with engine knocking until I found the place, Emmett’s Mechanical Service.  I could have gone to few other places in town, but I wanted to be in a shop that could rebuild the engine if possible.  Many shops do not specialize in this and will outsource the work to another shop and add a finder’s fee without telling you what they did, so I wanted to go straight to the source and avoid all that.  Emmetts was the place.

My wife and I upon my decision unloaded the car and placed all our luggage into the back of my father-in-laws pickup.  He admitted to me later how he was shocked I was leaving my car in such a small town at an auto mechanic I did not know that was closed on Sunday with a key and note in an envelope describing my situation dropped in their door’s mail slot. He suggested I use my towing insurance to get the car to Billings and search for an auto mechanic there.  For some reason, I knew I was doing the right thing, and I left the vehicle right where it was in Columbus and what I did not know at the time was in very capable and honest hands.

That evening we arrived at the C’Mon Inn and settled in for the night.  I began to decompress and allow my mind to take in the seriousness of the situation.  That night as I slept I dreamt of each possible scenario and allowed my mind to create several plans.

My wife and I woke the next morning rested and prepared to tackle the daunting task before us to establish transportation, pricing of an engine for our car, and of course making the Medora Musical that evening since we had prepaid tickets with great seats. First my wife’s dad came to the rescue and spared us a car rental.  We would all pile into the F-150 pickup and head for Medora and the AirBnB in Dickinson, ND.  My responsibility was now limited to taking care of the car by determining if we would haul it home on an auto transport or get it fixed in Columbus, MT.  The adventure had really just begun.

Vacation from the Homestead

In my last post, I discussed our off grid vacation to Medora, North Dakota. First off, we were going on vacation, so I grabbed one piece of technology, my cell phone.  My computer, camera, video camera, and sound recording devices remained behind.  I was after all on vacation.  I figured if I wanted video or pictures I would use my cell phone.  Everything was great at the start of the vacation.  Here is a our happy post only hours before it happened.

For the next couple or days, I will post how our trip went, what we discovered, and how we handled our disaster.