Saturday, October 09, 2010


(My friend Paul has a ton of these stories, which he's sharing with me. He took the photo as well.)

Cecil Hansen was an old-timer that lived in a trailer behind the State Line tavern. A fit old gent, in his 70's, he had quite a storied past and loved to tell what everyone thought were invented tales.

He was an avid prospector and had told me a fantastic story once of a high mountain lake in a cirque that he found color in and explained cirques were natural aggregators of gold because all the surrounding water drained into them. He went on to tell how he and a sidekick sawed a trail into the lake and hauled a bunch of piping in with the intent to try and drain the lake. Other than his failed attempt, he was secretive about any other details probably because he was still thinking of going back up and finishing the job.

Fast forward a number of years, I took that cruising contract and got a very good price on it because no one else wanted to bid on such a remote and difficult job. The picture above is the front face and north end of the mountain ridge where the job was, and continues about five miles south.

The first day I struggled up the front face which is heavily timbered and very brushy until you get to the top. From the road, it's about a 4500' elevation gain and a long haul for this fat guy. Spent the night and worked the next day, keeping an eye out for a water source and possible better access. About 2000' lower on the back side of the mountain I saw a little lake in a cirque. I made my way down and it being a hot July or August afternoon, shucked my clothes and made my way out into the shallow lake for a cooldown dip. I was about knee deep when I noticed a million little black streaks making for my legs. LEECHES!! I think I leapt all the way back to shore, sluicing the bloodsuckers off my legs. Poking around the edges of the lake, I came to the outlet which had evidence of prospecting and rolls of poly pipe. I knew right off I'd found Cecil's workings and knew he had a cut trail into it.

When I came back down I looked up Cecil and picked his memory, hoping for easier access to the job site. It was somewhat easier, still the same elevation gain, but in steps, instead of straight up, it became my chosen route, though the sawed in trail had overgrown considerably with brush, elk, moose and bear kept it somewhat open over the years and it beat trying to bull your way through the many brush fields.

I paid a lot closer attention to Cecil's tales after that experience.

Ellis Shenk was the notorious proprietor of the State Line House, which was appropriately located right on the State line, with the bar in Montana and the never finished dance hall supposedly in Idaho, until he hired me to survey his place and set him right.

When I first moved here, I avoided the place because of it's unsavory reputation and the storied grouchy bar owner. One day I was riding Red Cloud, my mule, along the highway across from the bar when the front door burst open and someone with an honest to god tommy gun shot it off into the hillside right behind us. Red Cloud did the sensible thing and left me in the dirt alongside the road and the bar door slammed shut with gales of laughter from inside. I was livid! Soon as I got my wind back I jumped up and charged across the highway and parking lot, through the door, and confronted the still chuckling Ellis who already had a beer on the bar for me. I still wasn't overly happy when he explained that they just wanted to meet me, as they frequently saw us riding by but never stopped in to say howdy.

He and the old-timers around there didn't have much truck with "hippies" of which I fit the bill, but the fact they generally saw me out with the mule or horse threw them off. One beer led to a bunch and before long, I was standing in the doorway shooting his tommy gun across into the bank across the highway. I was fascinated with that thing and had never even seen a real one, but Ellis had the proper Federal Firearms license to have a lot of interesting weapons.

Despite our rocky start, we ended up being great friends over the years. Might even say that he and his equally grouchy wife Jean were surrogate parents of sorts.

Ellis's son, Mark, was fresh back from Viet Nam and they'd always had a somewhat contentious relationship from what I gathered. Ellis was puzzled and perplexed because his own flesh and blood had come home from the war a homosexual queen! What?! He was wearing a purple silk shirt, polyester bellbottom pants and HE HAD AN EARRING IN HIS EAR!!!

Still going to college in Missoula, I assured Ellis that's how folks dressed in town and he probably didn't have anything to worry about.

A few months later, Ellis saved my bacon. A repo man from Missoula or Great Falls stopped in looking for me because I was a few months behind on my truck payment. Ellis sat him down, poured him a beer, went out back to tell Mark to head up my way to warn me and went back in to tell the guy all about me. He made up a tale of how I was a real bad ass hippie, living at a hippie compound with a bunch of wild, bad ass hippies, all armed to the teeth and waiting for Armageddon.

The guy must have believed him and never showed up. Later, Ellis loaned me enough money to catch up on my payments, holding some of my guns for security, because, as it turns out, he was also the local "pawn broker", which is how he amassed his rather impressive arsenal.

Ellis always kept large amounts of cash around and was always happy to cash your check if he knew you, no matter the size, or extend credit if he thought you were good for it. When I was cruising timber, money was always an issue. We'd generally get started in the lower country about May, and completed jobs turned in for inspection and final payment, meant money might not start showing up until August! I thought I finally had Ellis, when I got my first payment, which covered months of work for both my partner and I. I told Ellis that I'd be happy to pay off what we owed him if he could cash our check. It was probably in the neighborhood of 10-20K. He said sure, took it, glanced at it and said he'd have to go over to the house to get enough to cash it, but was soon back and carefully counted it all out on the bar for us, minus what we owed him! Never underestimate some of these old-timers, they're likely to surprise you.

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