Ringing in 2020

By 
MELODY MONTGOMERY
Thursday, January 2, 2020
Ringing in 2020
Ringing in 2020

Russ Myskewitz uses their cows during feeding to make a giant heart as a Valentine’s Day card to his wife, Lorie.

Photo courtesy of Lorie Myskewitz

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Artist by Judy Bryan Taylor lives in Texas, but painted “Hobson Skyscrapers” after visiting her sister in Central Montana, who took her to Hobson.

Artwork courtesy of Judy Bryan Taylor

 

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Nancy and Willard Tonne with Meteorologist NWS GTF Jane Fogleman.

Photo courtesy of National Weather Service

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At around 5:15 p.m. on Thursday, June 27 a tornado touched down about a mile northeast of Benchland, Montana, and five miles northwest of Moccasin, a rural area located on Fieldstone Road.

Photo by Melody Montgomery

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Jake Hoover's historic cabin in the Little Belt Mountains remains standing after a grass fire last week. As a young man, Charles M. Russell lived and painted wildlife at this cabin. The two structures have one sod-covered roof connecting them. The opening is called a dogtrot.

Photo by Melody Montgomery

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On Friday, March 22, water overtook the Holzer Family Ranch northeast of Moccasin on Sage Creek. This was the third time in the past eight years. The family believes this regular flooding is due not only to weather but also to inefficiencies in the county road culverts adjacent to their homes. The county commissioners are working toward a solution.

Photo courtesy of Billie Jo Holzer

The year 2019 was brimming with interesting stories and news. While narrowing down the articles to revisit, weather played a role. Not only was February coldest on record since 1936, there was also flooding to follow in March and then a tornado in June. In addition, a fire nearly grazed Charlie Russell’s and Jake Hoover's cabin in April. Below and on pages 5 and 6 are nearly a dozen of the top stories of 2019 in order of  hen they were published.

Geyser couple’s cattle-feeding tradition (Feb. 21 edition) 

When Geyser rancher Lorie Myskewitz posted her ‘Valentine’s Day card’ from her husband on social media, she didn’t know the couple’s annual tradition would end up on KRTV evening news of Great Falls.

For the past six years, on Valentine’s Day, Lorie’s husband Russ Myskewitz has been using a bale processor and their cows to make a giant heart on their hillside.

This tradition is important to the couple because, in addition to finding humor in the cold month of February, it allows the couple to honor their fathers. Both Lorie and Russ lost their fathers in 2014; Russ lost his father in January and Lorie lost her father in April, but the spirits of both their fathers can now see Russ’s tribute, said Lorie.

The Myskewitz family had their first calf on Feb. 13 and appropriately named it Valentine.

Motorists weather whiteout (Feb. 28 edition)

Roadside digital signs often caution Montana drivers to be aware of changing road conditions. This warning was highlighted on Feb. 23 when in a matter of minutes a severe whiteout overtook Highway 87 near Geyser.

The dangerous combination of falling, drifting and blowing snow created whiteout conditions, like a dust storm but of snow, from the morning into early in the afternoon. Some said it was the worst they had ever seen.

The storm moved through Cascade, Judith Basin, Fergus, and Wheatland counties. The quickly changing road conditions landed several drivers in the ditch, to seeking refuge in town, or to wait alongside the roadside, which was the safest course.

MDT’s Lewistown Division Chief Bud Peterson said, “The wind went from 14 mph to 47 – 54 mph gusts in Geyser in just minutes.”

Late March flooding across Judith Basin (April 4 edition)

Several parts of Judith Basin flooded late March following a steady run of cold, snowfall and frozen ground. The major flooding hit March 21 and 22.

A long, cold snap started Feb. 3 and did not break until March 7. Throughout February, the temperature rarely exceeded freezing in Judith Basin, only breaking 32 degrees four days the entire month. In addition to bitter cold, snow also continued to fall, totaling just under 27 inches in Stanford for the month of February.

The main areas in the local region affected by flooding were three creek drainage areas – Sage Creek, Louse Creek and Ross Fork Creek.

Along Louse Creek Road, which runs from around Moccasin to Denton, there are nine culverts at the headwaters, and they still had flooding because of snow holding. Other flooding areas included areas near Willow Creek, Stanford, Windham, Moccasin, Hobson, the junction of HWY 80 and HWY 81 and Benchland-Moccasin.

Grass fire burns meters away from Charlie Russell’s and Jake Hoover's cabin (May 2 edition)

Were it not for the concerted efforts of Hobson, Stanford and Windham Fire Departments, the Judith Basin County Sheriff’s Office and the Forest Service on April 25, a significant piece of Montana’s history would likely have been destroyed. A grass fire began to consume several acres of Trask Meadows, which is about 15 miles south of Utica off South Fork Road in the Little Belt Mountains. Trask Meadows, a subdivision of the historic Trask Ranch, contains mostly seasonal homes and is surrounded by the Helena- Lewis and Clark National Forest. It is also the location of Jake Hoover’s cabin that he shared with Charlie Russell while Russell painted and sketched wildlife in their natural habitat.

Hoover is credited with discovering Yogo Sapphires.

Here, there are two cabins with one roof connecting them. Hoover is said to have added onto his cabin for Russell’s quarters, which flames blazed just feet away from.

Helping to keep the flames at by, in addition to the fire crews, was that there was little wind and much of the previous year’s grass was mowed.

Hobson’s Fire Chief Bernard Taylor led the unified command and was the first to arrive on the scene. He was out of town, in Windham, when he received the page.

“I kept thinking about Jake Hoover’s cabin all the way from Windham,” said Taylor.

Hobson elevators receive Mont. History Foundation’s first award in Judith Basin (May 2 edition)

In April, the Montana History Foundation announced its $5,000 grant award for Pride of the Judith – Hobson Grain Elevator Salvation.

This is the first award the Montana History Foundation has presented to a project in Judith Basin County.

The funds will be used to help restore the siding and roofs of the two grain elevators.

“We heard talk about the project last fall through all of the articles circulating,” said Carissa Beckwith with Montana History Foundation. “We were excited about the grassroots potential, along with the successful local fundraising efforts led by Gerri Campbell. She subsequently submitted a strong proposal to us.

“We are also excited in that it is the first project we have funded in Judith Basin County and allows us to better spread our resources statewide,” said Beckwith.

Geyser’s Cassidy Randel takes State in shot put (June 6 edition)

Cassidy Randel, 2019 Class C State Shot Put Champ, was the only student from Geyser to go out for track in 2019.

For the final track meet of her high school career at the State Class A and C meet in Laurel late May, Randel placed first in shot put with a throw of 38 feet and 1.5 inches. At the start of her throwing career, Randel said she did not have a throwing coach.

Randel taught herself what she could using the Internet and watching videos. She also learned tips from her peers.

Tornado touches down near Benchland (July 4 Edition)

Tornados, on average, occur about 8 times per year in Montana, making Montana tied with Maryland and New York for the 28th most susceptible state for tornados. Texas is the most susceptible for tornadoes with an average of 155 per year. Thus, tornados are not common to Montana.

Factoring into the causes of tornados are the right mix of atmospheric conditions to create unstable air. The biggest factor is termed vertical wind sheer, where the air starts to rotate and create a column. The wind both turns and strengthens with height. On June 27, these conditions aligned when line of strong thunderstorms developed along the Southern Rocky Mountain Front then swept through north-central Montana. As this line of storms moved toward the east and northeast, they encountered an environment primed with moisture, wind shear, and good jet stream dynamics.

At around 5:15 p.m. the tornado touched down about a mile northeast of Benchland on Fieldstone Road. Fortunately, it caused no injuries or fatalities, but did cause structural damage to the property of Ava  (Hajenga) Harwood. Wind speeds were estimated to be between 75 and 85 mph.

Prior to this event, the last tornado to cause damage in this part of Central Montana was nearly 20 years ago, on August 14, 1999 in Lewistown.

She holds the shot put record at the Geyser School with a throw of 38 feet and 8.5 inches.

“I broke the school record my sophomore year with 36 feet and 3 inches,” said Randel, “and then I broke it again my senior year.”

Tonne’s recognized for 35 years of weather service (Sept. 12 edition)

At the end of August, Stanford weather reporters Willard and Nancy Tonne were presented with a 35-Year Length of Service Award from the National Weather Service.

The couple began reporting the weather in Stanford on May 22, 1894.

The Tonnes celebrated 61 years of marriage in September. Willard sadly passed away from natural causes on October 7, but was excited about the NWS award and his anniversary during the previous weeks.

His weekly stops to deliver the weather to the Judith Basin Press are greatly missed, but fortunately Nancy continues to report and deliver the weather.

“The information that the Tonne’s provide is critical for understanding weather and climate in Stanford where reports do not exist. We are able to build a climatology that informs research and improves weather forecasts and warnings,” said NWS Great Falls Meteorologist-In- Charge Donald Britton regarding the Length of Service Award.

Ag producers give reasons for ‘Save the Cowboy’ banners (Sept. 19 edition)

Since summer 2018, “Save the Cowboy. Stop American Prairie Reserve” banner started showing up across the state. In some places, it seems there are signs every couple miles.

Deanna Robbins is a rancherin Roy and one of the architects  behind the banners, along with group of other ranch women.

“The goal behind the banners is to tell people, don’t be fooled,” said Robbins.

APR’s overall goal is to stitch together over 3 million acres of private and public lands. To date, the APR has completed 29 land acquisitions and holds 419,000 acres of both public and private land. APR’s Senior External Relations Manager Beth Saboe said 20 percent of the land in the anticipated roughly 3-million- plus acre area will be privately owned by APR; the remaining approximately 80 percent will stay public land.

The seven counties spanning this area are Petroleum, Philips, Valley, McCone, Fergus, Blaine and Garfield.

Using basic math, 20 percent of 3.5 million acres calculates to 700,000 acres. The averagesized farm/ranch in Fergus County is 2,589 acres. Based on this average ranch size, APR’s purchases would total 270 ranches to put this landmass in one perspective.

Roger Siroky, a rancher out of Roy displays a banner on his property to raise awareness.

“All these businesses, ranches and farms, they all complement each other so you have a vibrant community, with all the various businesses and services that serve that community. It is total fallacy how the APR  is going to have all the tourism. It’s going to destroy the economic vitality and financial workings of the whole area. As people leave, there are less people.

This business shuts down, and then that business shuts down until you have a few people left as an island without the infrastructure remaining to serve a producing community, and it simply goes down hill. It gets to be a domino effect,” he said.

APR argues disease testing is government overreach (Nov. 21 edition)

On Tuesday Nov. 12, around 50 or more individuals gathered in the Malta City Hall Gym to hear legal arguments regarding the American Prairie Reserve’s Petition for Variance from the Phillips County Conservation District’s Bison Grazing Ordinance.

Variance, in non-legal terms, basically means an exception.

A total of six Conservation Districts in Montana have passed bison grazing ordinances.

These counties include McCone, Valley, Phillips, Fergus, Chouteau and Carter. This is the first petition for variance by APR, and the only county where APR runs bison (on its Sun Prairie Unit).

The two sections from which APR requests variance are “all bison/buffalo must be tested and certified, by a state veterinarian to be disease free,” and “bison/buffalo must be branded, tattooed, tagged or otherwise identified to track its health status.” Oral arguments for two motions were heard – a Motion for Summary Judgment, made by the counsel for APR, and a Motion to Dismiss, made by the Intervener. APR’s Motion for Summary Judgment argued that no factual issues exist that need to be resolved through an evidentiary hearing. 

Summary judgment, in non-legal terms, basically means a trial is unnecessary.

The Interveners’ Motion to Dismiss argued the Petition was incorrectly filed and incomplete.

The next step will be for the hearing examiner to issue a recommendation. The Board will then reconvene. If neither motion is granted, the case will proceed to evidentiary hearing.

Geyser School honors World War II Veteran Tim McAllister (Nov. 28 edition) 

A simple act of kindness had a profoundly positive affect on the life of the Geyser School’s closest neighbor, Tim McAllister. In November, Geyser’s Elementary Teacher Sandra Bossen and her first and second grade students took the time to create a poster for McAllister after Bossen noticed he was absent from the Veteran's Day Celebration at the school.

This gesture so touched the 96-year-old veteran that it brightened the world around him, changed his outlook and put a zing back in his step.

In addition to the poster, Doug Felman, custodian at the Geyser School, tracked down a Bronze Star on the Internet for McAllister. While serving his country, McAllister saved two lives. His Bronze Star was lost over time, and the paperwork to replace it never quite went through. Its replacement was presented to McAllister on Tuesday, Nov. 26, at the Geyser School.

“This really made my life,” said McAllister.

Even Senator Daines took notice. Following the publication of the article on McAllister in the Judith Basin Press, Daines’ staff reached out to him for to interview him for the Library of Congress Veterans’ History Project.

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