Posted by: greatfallsgirl | May 21, 2011

Coulees and Chinooks

The first time I left Montana, I followed an Air Force spouse to North Carolina.  What a different world that was.  As soon as something strange like biscuits and gravy or grits was discussed, I’d break out coulees and chinooks (LOL).

To start, outside of Montana, I have only run into one other person who knew what a coulee was, and he was a geologist from Saskatchewan (not too far away).  Our family had a ranch on Shonkin Creek outside of Fort Benton, and there were more than a few coulees on the place.  Of course, there is Sand Coulee too.  Charles M. Russell had a painting or two showing cowboys chasing cattle down into coulees.  (Hint to my non-Montana friends that don’t know what coulees are:  a deep ravine or gulch, usually dry, that has been formed by running water.)

Ahhhh chinooks….after high school I worked at the Sambo’s Restaurant downtown (well, I actually worked at both Sambo’s, part time at the 10th Avenue South store also).  I often worked the counter section, so I easily could look up 3rd Street North at the Great Falls National Bank Building’s clock, which also flashed the current temperature (I am not sure this is even the same building, it looks like it is a Wells Fargo bank now and not the same building).  One night starting about 3:00 a.m. I watched the temperature rise from the -20°F range to mid 30’s°F before I got off in the morning.  It was almost a game with myself that night, guessing how much the temperature had risen since the last time I looked. (I had happy memories working at Sambo’s downtown…my most famous customer I waited on was Mike Mansfield, who came in for breakfast early one morning by himself…oh, and George Takei, Mr. Sulu from Star Trek).

The greatest temperature change over a 24 hour period because of a chinook took place in Chouteau County at Loma in 1972.   Not very far from our family’s ranch.  The temperature rose from -56°F to 49°F.  But aren’t we used to extremes in Montana?  I saw more than a few.

It is sad sometimes to see so many changes to downtown Great Falls.  My grandfather used to run his ranch the last couple years he had it from an office in the Great Falls National Bank Building.  He owned the Surprise Creek Ranch in Judith Basin County before selling it to the Hutterites for a colony.  Some things don’t change though…there will always be coulees and chinooks and our chance to confound others elsewhere.

Posted by: greatfallsgirl | May 19, 2011

The Sip ‘n Dip Lounge

Someone had recently asked in the comments about the Sip ‘n Dip, the bar downtown that had the mermaids behind the bar.  I was going to look up and see if it was still open…it was the last time I was home, but it has been almost five years since I have been back (much, much too long).  As it had crossed my mind again this morning when I replied to another comment, I had a link for the Sip ‘n Dip come across my Facebook page!  Yay!  After I graduated from high school, I lived two blocks away from the Sip ‘n Dip and the O’Haire Motor Inn.  They had a great tile graphic on the 1st Avenue South side of the building I loved…so retro.

It was wonderful to see it still open and thriving!  The Sip ‘n Dip had been named the #1 Bar in the World by GQ Magazine back in 2003….wow!  I remember when I was a kid, I would walk from downtown to my aunt’s place, about three blocks on the other side of the O’Haire, and seeing air crews from the airport come to check in.  Hanging out at the swankiest places and thinking how cool it was they had the bar with the mermaids.  I’m glad to see they are still making Great Falls great!

The O'Haire Motor Inn and the Sip 'n Dip in the 1960's

Their link to like them on Facebook is here.  A little more information about them, from their website:

The legendary Sip-N-Dip Tiki Lounge… Named the #1 bar on earth by GQ Magazine!

Of all the nightspots on the planet, the good folks at GQ Magazine (April 2003) selected the Sip-N-Dip Lounge as the #1 bar on earth!

A long-time favorite of local residents, the Sip-N-Dip is now receiving international acclaim.

The most unique feature of this lounge is the glass wall between the bar and the swimming pool. Watch swimmers under water while you sip your beverage. You never know who might turn up! Even the original mermaid herself — Darryl Hannah’s been seen in there!

Enjoy your favorite beverage and good conversation with friends. Or, if you’re in the mood, try your luck at our gaming machines.

Join us for live piano bar entertainment with Piano-Pat Spoonheim, Wednesdays through Saturdays from 9:30 p.m. ‘til 1:30 a.m. From June to September, soak up the sunshine on our outdoor patio, complete with a full-bar.

Posted by: greatfallsgirl | May 14, 2011


I was thinking about the pastures that bordered my old neighborhood today when doing the previous post.  I miss listening to the meadowlarks that were out in the tall timothy grass.  Since the meadowlark is the state bird, my blog wouldn’t be complete without a sample of their sweet song.  I found this on You Tube, posted by Roger Osborn.

Posted by: greatfallsgirl | May 13, 2011

The Country Club Addition

I now live in a large midwest city, so it is absolutely wonderful when I run into someone from Montana.  I had the best meet last week.  I currently go to a therapy pool to try and walk again after a bad accident, and one of the few ladies that come to the pool in the afternoons I found out is from Great Falls too.  Better yet, she was in my neighborhood (well, one of them as I had lived all over Great Falls in different neighborhoods, but that is another post).

Carolyn lived on Alder Drive in the Country Club Addition near the 13th hole on the Country Club’s golf course.  It is a beautiful street that curves it’s way back into the neighborhood, bordering the golf course.  She also went to West Junior High School.  She is older than me though, graduating from high school in 1965 before CMR came into being.  She told me how Great Falls High had two shifts of students at the time because of crowding.  Carolyn went to school during the morning shift.  I recall this but not well since my two older cousins in town went to Central.  We both reminisced about having to walk home from West Junior High sometimes when we would miss the bus, etc.  We talk about Ford’s Drive In, Hempl’s Bakery, just anything great about the west side.

I lived at the end of Alder Drive, in Park Garden Estates.  As I looked at Google Maps this morning to get a picture on Alder Drive (not of Carolyn’s house), I couldn’t believe how the area had grown around Park Garden Estates.  My old house though looked the same…that was nice to see.

I saw in the Great Falls Tribune this morning that the population of Montana is now 989,415.  Add in two more die hard Great Falls girls in the midwest that will always consider Great Falls home.

Posted by: greatfallsgirl | April 24, 2010

Montana Power

As I was reading the Washington Post this week, the continuing subject of Goldman Sachs began to piss me off a little more.

Goldman Sachs is preparing its most detailed defense yet to allegations that it misled clients in its mortgage securities business, arguing that it was unsure whether housing prices would rise or fall and did not take any action at odds with the interests of its clients.  An internal Goldman document, prepared for senior executives and obtained by The Washington Post, addresses the criticism that the bank invested its own money betting against the housing market while simultaneously urging clients to invest in securities that would increase in value only if the housing market did.

So I thought again of Montana Power and Goldman Sach’s role in it’s demise.  Oh, they weren’t the only ones…thanks Bob Gannon.  I went to Montana Tech with his daughter during the time that Montana Power was being dismantled and Touch America was all the rage to some in Butte …and that’s all I’ll say (if you can’t say anything nice, don’t say anything at all).

So while the information is still out there, I wanted to save it.  I know starting out with a new family when I was young, I was grateful Montana Power was there with low rates.  I feel for families there now.

From 60 Minutes:

Aug. 10, 2003

Who Killed Montana Power?

Steve Kroft: Ex-Shareholders Feel Misled

  • Touch America was the brainchild of Montana Power/Touch America CEO  Bob Gannon, who was born and bred in Montana.Touch America was the brainchild of Montana Power/Touch America CEO Bob Gannon, who was born and bred in Montana. (CBS/AP)


For nearly 90 years, the Montana Power Company exemplified the very best of American capitalism. It provided cheap, reliable electricity for the people of Montana, excellent benefits for thousands of employees and generous, reliable dividends for its stockholders.

Everyone was happy, except for the corporate officers and their Wall Street investment banking firm who decided there was more money to be made in the more glamourous and profitable world of telecommunications.

The result exemplified the worst of American capitalism.

When 60 Minutes first reported this story last February, the cheap electricity, the good jobs and the life savings of a lot of people were gone, along with the name Montana Power.

Its demise may not be the biggest scandal of our time, but to its stockholders, it shows how greed and outright stupidity destroyed one of the oldest and proudest companies in America. Correspondent Steve Kroft reports.

Gary Buchanan is a former Montana legislator who runs an investment firm in Billings. Over the years, he bought and held lots of Montana Power stock for his clients.

What’s more, its customers, which was everyone in Montana, had some of the lowest electricity bills in the country. The rates were regulated by the state, and in exchange, Montana Power received a monopoly.

The only people not satisfied with the arrangement were the executives at Montana Power. In 1997, their lobbyist pushed a bill through the state legislature to deregulate the price of electricity and open up the market to competition. It was supposed to be good for the consumers, who could decide who they were going to buy their power from at the lowest possible prices.

But Frank Morrison, a former Montana Supreme Court justice who now represents the stockholders, believes there was another reason. He says Montana Power officials had already decided to get out of the utility business, and were using deregulation to drive up the price of its assets.

“Part of the plan involved going to the legislature and pushing through a bill right at the end of the session, with no deliberation to deregulate power in Montana,” says Morrison. “They did that, in order to make the generating assets more valuable on the open market. No price limit on selling power in Montana. Therefore we can go out and sell these generators for more money.”

Sure enough, within six months of the bill’s passage, the company began selling off its generating assets.

First it sold the company’s hydroelectric dams, coal mines and power plants to Pennsylvania Power and Light. Next, Montana Power announced it was selling its transmission and distribution system and getting out of the business entirely.

It was going to join the revolution by transforming itself into a high-tech telecommunications company called Touch America. The decision was made on the advice of its New York investment banker, Goldman Sachs, without consulting the stockholders.

“Everybody was stunned,” says longtime shareholder Marjorie Schmechel. “I mean, the shareholders that I knew were stunned. The employees that I know said that that came completely out of the blue to them.”
Read More…

Posted by: greatfallsgirl | February 19, 2010

John Misha Petkevich

The Winter Olympics have me thinking again of John Misha Petkevich.  Ice skating was big in Great Falls…well, at least it seemed like it to me back in the late 1960’s.  My best friend in 7th Grade was always skating, as she competed in pairs skating.  Her partner was a boy who lived next door to me.  

Petkevich won the 1971 U.S. Figure Skating Championships in men’s singles and the North American Championship in the same year, and competed at both the 1968 and 1972 Winter Olympics (where he finished 6th and 5th).

During his performances in the Olympics, I bet every person in Great Falls…well really, everyone in Montana…was gathered around the television watching.  Petkevich carried a lot of hopes with him to the Olympics.  Here is a video when he competed in the 1972 U.S. Figure Skating Championship, where he was expected to win but suffered a fall during his presentation.  John was another thing that made Great Falls great.

Posted by: greatfallsgirl | December 23, 2009


Wow.   Recently, on KFBB’s website there was a story about domestic violence and the holidays, and this picture of the YWCA’s sign was shown with it.   What emotion it brought back, especially this time of the year.   My dear mother, departed almost five years ago now, sought refuge there almost 40 years ago.  I managed to see her a few times there before she was able to get stable housing.  I don’t know how it’s possible, but the sign looks just the same as it did back them, amazing since it is exposed to the climate we know and love in Montana.  But even more amazing is that it is still there for women to get away from bad situations.  It makes me glad some things never changed back home.

Posted by: greatfallsgirl | December 17, 2009

The Christmas Lights on Smelter Hill

Traffic was always busy, if you can image that, going up Smelter Avenue in Black Eagle during the evenings this time of year.  Way back in the ’60’s, and some of the 70’s too.  I am not sure when the tradition started, but every year all of the many pine trees in the Anaconda company housing area were lit up with red and green lights for the Christmas season.  It was an incredible sight among all the small, snow covered company houses.  Beautiful to see while driving down River Road.  I don’t think I’ve seen a better display of Christmas lights ever anywhere.  In all of its simplicity, it was spectacular.  It was sad to see it end, but as things constantly change, it is nice to remember one tradition that made Great Falls all that much better.

Merry Christmas!

Posted by: greatfallsgirl | December 17, 2009


This was pretty exciting, although they had the area pretty well sealed off.  When they were filming Telefon with Charles Bronson in town in 1976, one of the scenes took out the old Paris Gibson Junior High School, on the Central Avenue side, between 14th and 15th Streets.  See the school blown up “in a controlled demolition” in the movie trailer below.

Posted by: greatfallsgirl | November 15, 2009

You Can Take The Girls Out Of Montana…

…but you can’t take Montana out of the girls.

My cousin’s livingroom wall, showing one of the few skulls hanging there.

My cousin grew up in Stanford on her family’s ranch, and I spend my earlier childhood in Fort Benton near our family’s ranch before moving to Great Falls, but our childhoods and family gatherings always centered around our Grandfather’s house on 5th Ave. North.  We both live elsewhere now…I live in a large midwestern city and my cousin in a large east coast city.  But to the casual stranger, we seem a bit odd.  I drive a huge Ford Superduty F-250, 4×4, offroad truck.  With the brushguard on the front.  And oversize all-terrain tires.  My friends marvel “how do you get up into that big thing” and I have to laugh.  It is not a practical vehicle for the city I live in, but I’ve always driven pickups it seems, even if I’ve had the second car to drive around.   I am visiting my cousin now, and as I look around her living room, seems she has a lot of Montana in her too.  Besides the bear skins and sheep castrators (yes, two of them from our grandfather’s ranch) lying about, you have to watch just where you step to make it around the bear traps.


Watch out for the bear traps!

Posted by: greatfallsgirl | November 1, 2009

Great Falls, A Great Plan

I have always found Great Falls to be one of the easiest cities to find your way around in….thanks to Paris Gibson.


Perspective Map of Great Falls, 1891

This perspective map is supposed to be accurate as far as buildings shown at the time.  I know St. Ann’s Cathedral is shown on the map…that is the one I am most familiar with since my grandfather’s house was a block away.   The way the city was laid out was beautiful, really.  One more thing to miss about home.

I found this great background information on a page maintained by Mick McClary:

“Streets and avenues were meticulously laid out on north-south and east-west axes. Central Avenue was designated a width of ninety feet, while all other streets and avenues were to be eighty feet across. Alleys 20 feet across bisected blocks, each of which was divided into 14 lots measuring 50 by 150 feet apiece. Such a regular pattern was not common to cities which sprang up on the frontier. Great Falls, unlike many other western towns, was not the spontaneous product of some sudden discovery of gold, nor the accidental result of trail herders’ efforts to reach the most recent terminus of a railroad under construction. In this instance, the city was basically the calculated creation of businessmen, and in plan and character resembled very little the typical western mining camp or cattle town. (Great Falls – A Pictoral History)

Present day Great Falls, Montana was platted in 1883 and in the spring of 1884 the settlement began. By 1887 there were rail connections, hotels, stores, lumberyards, flour mills, churches, newspapers and a school. In 1888, Gibson broke ground for the silver smelter which was located on the south bank of the Missouri River, near Giant Springs. During the 1880’s the nation was recovering from the depression of the previous decade. Railroad construction was on the upswing, the eastern agricultural markets were begging for production and the 1878 remonetization of silver ran a prfitable demand for silver being processed in Great Falls by the end of that decade. Things were good. Great Falls’ future was a shining star!

Posted by: greatfallsgirl | October 29, 2009

Those Three Restaurants in Black Eagle

smelter ave

Smelter Avenue in Black Eagle (from Great Falls Tribune online), 3D Club in background behind bus.

Three you say….yes at one time, there were three in that same area.   I was really young at the time, but I can still remember the third….the Hi Hat.  It was on the same side of the street as Borries, just before it.   I remember my dad telling me it had burned down when I was little.  All I really remember of it is that it was a steak house, and that part of their flooring was colored, lighted tiles (like the Turn of the Century dance floors in the late 70’s downtown).  Fascinating to a young girl…it stuck in my mind if not much else did.  (If anyone knows anything more about the Hi Hat, please add in the comments).

Black Eagle was lucky to have three great places all there together, and still lucky the two remaining continue to thrive.  I didn’t frequent the 3D Club very much, Borries was always my favorite (which deserves it’s own post), but my first roommate out of high school was a waitress at the 3D Club.  I always looked forward to seeing what she brought home to eat….if it was Italian, Chinese or American.  It was all great.  I was definitely impressed she was able to work so well out of several kitchens the club had.   It would seem a little more empty or lonely back home without that big red 3D glowing at night in Black Eagle.

UPDATE (February 23, 2013):  More information on the HI HAT, from my Great Falls group…”The Hi Hat was a joint venture between Ernie and Tommy. It then became Ho Tai for a short few yrs which Tommy ran. Then back to Hi Hat. Then Tad and Dora bought it, had it for a couple years and arson burned it to ground and killed a transient who had snuck in the back door before closing the night before. Sadly, it was a Black Eagle boy who started the fire.”  Another group member shared this…”My grandparents Rudy and Bessie Carney started the Hi Hat from a grocery store somewhere around 1945-46. They sold it about 1959 to Mortons and Piprudes then they sold it to Tommy Grassechi and he started the Ho Tai. My grandmother was Borrie’s wife sister.”  So there we have it, some great history about the Hi Hat.

Posted by: greatfallsgirl | October 25, 2009

Black Eagle Falls


I miss Black Eagle Falls, pictured above in a 1880’s picture.  Whenever driving by the falls, I would always look down to see how dry the rocks would be (or not be) below the dam.  My habit since I was a little girl (besides being fascinated by everything else on Smelter Hill).

While doing some research on something else, I ran across this one day. I never knew they had to blow up Black Eagle Dam, built in 1891, to save the area.  This was published in The New York Times on April 16th, 1908:

Two Towns Swept by Montana Flood

Big Boston Smelter at Great Falls is Saved by Blowing Up a Dam


Breaking of Hauser Lake Dam Sent Torrents Down Missouri River- Couriers on Horseback Warn People

Helena, Montana, April 15th –  A great body of water, released by Hauser Lake by the bursting yesterday of the dam across the Missouri River fifteen miles below Helena, is now pouring down the Missouri River.  The little villages of Craig and Hauser Lake have been destroyed by the rushing waters; a dozen cabins at Oxbow, where another dam was being constructed, have been swept away,  while numerous ranches have suffered losses in buildings and live stock.

Telephone and telegraph lines are washed out, and particulars of the damage are not obtainable.

The flood is now within seven miles of Great Falls, where the great Boston and Montana Smelter is situated on the river bank, but the hundreds of employes, working night and day, have probably saved that place from serious damage by construction of a wing dam.  Couriers on horseback and warning by telegraph have sent the people living along the river fleeing to the hills.

The Black Eagle Dam across the Missouri at Great Falls was to-day blown up with dynamite in order to prevent the destruction of the Boston and Montana Smelter.  This materially helped, and serious danger from the flood is now probably over.  A smelter workman, name unknown, was drowned when the dam was dynamited, he being the second man to lose his life as a result of the flood.

A dispatch from Cascade says that the water continues to rise rapidly and that the big steel bridge at that point is doomed.  The surface of the flood is black with ranch houses, live stock, and haystacks.  It is believed that nothing can prevent the river from engulfing the lower sections of Great Falls.

It is now estimated that the financial loss will reach $1,000,000.  The immense lake, covering twenty square miles in the valley below Helena, had been completely drained early to-day.  Below Craig and as far as Ulm the Great Northern Railroad tracks are under water.

The entire village of Hauser Lake was swept away together with the belongings of the families of 30,000 employes.  At Oxbow the third dam in process of construction was only slightly damaged, but a dozen cabins were wrecked.  A number of houses in Craig and Cascade are reported to have been washed away.

The Hauser Lake dam across the Missouri, the break in which was the cause of the flood, was completed last year, and furnished electric power for smelters and manufacturing plants at Helena, Butte, and Anaconda.  The break in the structure, according to Manager Berry, was caused by the “buckling of steel plates near the lower expansion joint.”

After the first break was noticed nearly fifteen minutes elapsed before the centre of the structure gave way with a terrific crash, and in a few minutes 250 feet of it had been destroyed, leaving about 125 feet at either end intact.

Five dwelling houses, the office building, and stable were swept away, but the occupants had received sufficient warning to escape.  The power house was only slightly damaged.

Posted by: greatfallsgirl | October 22, 2009

Gibson Park Flower Gardens

Since I was a little girl, I always have loved the flower gardens in Gibson Park.   I would traverse the paths that wound through the colorful beds and be amazed at how they could have so many beautiful flowers together there.  In various places I have lived I tried to copy the concept, albeit on a much smaller scale.

I found a couple pictures of the gardens on Photobucket taken the past summer by “liloval”:

flowers gib a

flowers gib

Gibson Flower Gardens

  • Located off Park Drive between Central Avenue & 4th Street
  • Beautiful rock archway and wall at the south end of the flower garden
  • Each year offers a new and colorful arrangement of flowers
  • Paved brick walkway throughout the garden
  • Beautiful setting for an outdoor wedding
  • Rental fee for weddings: $75 for 2 hours and $25 for each additional hour


« Newer Posts - Older Posts »