Montana Trip. Days 1-3 of 10


Day 1: We split Iris from the yard in SLC and made a new brick-lined bed by the ice house. The bed is lined with newspaper as an organic weed barrier, with a layer of mulch to hold the paper down. Rain blew in as I finished.

E and I head back up to the Montana ranch for 10 days of working vacation, and to celebrate our 6th Anniversary and E’s birthday. I’m splitting the trip into sections over the course of the next few days. This first bit covers days 1-3 at the ranch, not counting the day of driving and opening up the place. It is a 550 mile drive when we shift from interstate to blue highways in Montana at Dillon and come over the Little Belt Mountains via King’s Hill Pass.  A drive that just gets prettier from the Montana border on up.

Our first day and the cats (mostly Xandar) had mouse kill #1 laid out on the carpet by the foot of the bed. We had a repairman scheduled out for the morning to take a look at the old range, which has fritzed on us during our June visit. Our repairman was a great gent who has fixed every kind of everything in these old ranches. As usually occurs for him, the old Hotpoint ranges just decide to work fine as soon as he arrives. He took apart the key aspects to inspect them and everything was fine. He fixed a burner that had never in my memory worked, and we put in new 40 watt bulbs that the ranch had squirreled away (he doesn’t carry bulbs any more as the bouncy dirt roads vibrate the elements apart). He looked at our breaker box, and discerned that our ancient “breakerless” style breakerbox was the culprit- the range can draw 220 volts if running most burners and an oven, which pops the breaker, but also heats it up and it needs to cool down before resetting. With this in mind he headed down to the earthen basement to look at the water heater with me. I had put it in a year ago, an element had burned out, I had fixed it and it always popped the breaker- so we had thought it was broken and had gone without. The unit was fine, and my fix was solid- it was the same issue as the range. The water heater has two elements and when the tank is heating initially, both elements run pulling at 220. This will pop the breaker, and need some shepherding of the breaker ’til the tank reaches temperature and automatically shifts to one element. He knows an elderly Vietnam Veteran who lost an eye in the war who would love to tinker with our old wiring and set up a new system, but thinks the job might tire him out a bit much- it is the type of thing that doesn’t really need fixing ’til it really breaks and should work fine for us for our short visits for a long time. He said to never pull all the old wiring, as it is wonderful solid copper cable with a tar/cloth sheath, and is much better than modern strand.

The afternoon of day one was spent mowing the lawn, planting Iris we brought from our SLC yard in a new bed lined with brick along the old log Ice House, fixing the power relay box to the house out in the field where the cattle had rubbed it loose (as well as the welding socket box my father had installed and was dangling loose and filled with a Wren’s nest and Earwigs). I installed a new bathroom light with a pull-cord, as there is no switch and I had previously put in a switched fixture whose bulbs we screwed in and out as needed. We also rehung some pictures my sister had drawn as xmas presents in 1978, and some new ones- an oil portrait of my father as a boy “Lyle the cowboy dressed as Lyle the gunslinger” that I made at his bedside in hospice.


Blustery weather pushed us along with a nice tailwind for a few hundred miles- the next few days would see showers turn to a socked in day with temps in the high 40’s and 3″ of rain.

Day 2 began with removing mouse kill #2, displayed for our pleasure in the same manner by Xandar. I then moved a calf that had snuck all down through the corrals back toward the herd, and 5 feet from the open gate he launched himself into the fence and tore out a section just to be honery. After fixing the hole he made, it was on to clearing the stone paths of overgrowth, then clearing out all the wild carrot growing near the stream by the house that runs through the yard, taking the weed whacker apart to find where the jam was in the twine- twice (super hard use makes it testy), we took a stroll up to The Lookin’ Rock, brushed the burrs out of Stanley. Then I put my extender bed on the back of the truck and we headed out for the 80 mile round trip drive to town for all the trips groceries, and hardware at Home Depot, and ranchware of 16′ split rail and tongue & groove board and etc at North 40 (previously Big R). We were home around 8pm.


Day 2: I used the weed whacker to burr through the overgrowth on the stone pathways around the house, then blew out all the dirt and roots.


The wild carrot comes in thick by the creek.


Making a clear spot in the carrot.


Carrot is toppled- I went through 10′ of cutting twine to take it out.


Stanley blends with yard, both being freshly groomed.


At midday Elizabeth sees a bat fly from the willows and land on the ice house. He naps there most of the day.

Day Three is our 6th Anniversary, and I have made seven Bluebird houses for our celebratory day- we will set them in the evening, after an afternoon of fixing the old Bluebird houses along the county road that bisects the ranch. In the future we can walk up to the hayfield and check in on the nesting Bluebirds as a nice association. We spent the morning putting in a new flower bed between the house and the footpath along the South wall, filled with more Iris from our SLC garden. At noon we started our triage of old bluebird houses and finished at 7pm, had a dinner break, and head out again at 9pm to set our anniversary houses.


D3: Blue Bird house triage begins with a burned out old fixer-upper at the corral.


The pole holding the birdhouse only stands because it is wired to the pole next to it that the gate swings from. The old corral is in as rough shape as the birdhouse. I set new wire for the pole and empty the birdhouse of sparrow nests.


The sparrows have pecked a larger entrance, ensuring that no Bluebirds can safely nest.


I picked up this 1.5″ bit in town the day before, it is big enough for Bluebirds and too small for Sparrows- the thicker hardwood makes a tougher facing and a deeper / safer passage. The multi-tool battery is tapped out and put on the charger, just the spare now…


New front door fit just for Bluebirds, plus a few wood screws and liquid nails. House #1 of what will be 11 triaged houses that afternoon.


The county road birdhouses have gone unkempt for a number of years. This one had Bluebirds nesting in it in June, with 7 eggs. I had found the lid and replaced it with the old wire, but it has come off again.


Three layers of nests or more, and that nail is more breaking the house in half than holding it up.


I have my little traveling workbench strapped to the truck, and the bed is full of tools and triage lumber. Don’t worry little birdhouse; the doctor is in.


House #2 (18C) is repaired.


This house had a bluebird nest with six eggs in June.


The nests are stacked so high they are level with the entrance hole.


Among the layers are a nest full of abandoned Bluebird eggs, and a bullet.


House #3 (37A).

IMG_0067 - Version 2

House #3 again, with the bullet glued into the filled bullet hole at the lower right corner.


House #4 is the roughest of them all. It has no parts laying about in the field.


We’ll come back to this later…


House #5 seems just roofless from this side, but the other side isn’t there at all.


I find the missing roof and side in the field.


This one is made of plywood, which has lost most of its “ply”.


I’m on my second of 2 batteries, and am trying for minimal triage. This results in a compromise fix (including whittlin’) that looks a bit silly, but handles a few problems at once.


E takes in the scenery while triage continues.


More scenery means more triage.


It is a solution, not necessarily the best solution, but a solution nonetheless. House #5 (22).


House #6 needs a backfill of nests removed, but is in good shape.


House #7 has been used roughly by larger birds, and is long abandonded.


I find the roof in the grasses nearby, and make a new front door spec’d just for Bluebirds.


House #7 (39).


House #8 is loose and the batteries are nearly spent.


E spots a Catydid as I come up with a triage solution.


In-situ fix with glue, clamps, and nails.


House #8 (12/A)


House #9 is on a low pole, down from the road and in high grass. It looks solid, but I have a feeling it is not happy.


See the mouse nose in the upper corner? When I rapped on the box with a hammer, mice swarmed everywhere. I removed it from the pole and tossed it spinning, and mice flew in every direction.


E and I identified a new pole up out of the hole.


House #9 (35). Probably should have hung it higher up from the cross beams to keep scampering critters at bay. We’ll see how it goes.


On the other side of the county road, on the steep backside of the little pass, we spotted this ancient house.


House #10. Just needed old nests removed.


House #11 is made by the same design as #10, but in rough shape.


The ancient boards had split apart, but it was still upright.


Gentle and firm, with clamps & glue, soft tapping in of nails, and a few new screws by hand.


Pushing glue into tired old seams.


These old gals are hung with wire- and she is ready for new wire.


House #11.


Our morning project was creating this new Iris bed along stone path on the S wall of the house.


Remember house #4? It sits at the Southern border of our land, and is just an idea of a house now.


I remove the old remains and put up an entirely new house.


This is the only one I made of this design with a hinged top- similar to the removable-top triaged units of the day. It is formed of thick redwood with cedar roofing, and has the Alpine Meadows brand on its face with my dangerhart brand on the side.


We started on the houses at noon, and it is now 7pm- we headed back up with a recharged battery to set this house before dinner.


When driving over the little pass, this new little house marks the beginning of Alpine Meadows.


This old pole stands in the pasturage behind the barn and adjacent to the horse pasture. Wrens have nested in the woodpecker hole, but the hole is full up and abandoned.


House 1 of 6 along the hay-meadow scenic walk- like a trail marker at the bottom of the valley. 9pm twilight and looking to rain.


Full of Wren nests, the old hole and the new house.


Site for house number 2 along the high hay field.


BBHouse #2


Site #3.


BB House #3, and virga is dropping to the ridgeline.


Site #4.


BB House #4, and we are heading into the storm. The rain rolls in with the night as I set up #4, #5, & #6. It feels like the same blustery rain that dotted our wedding vows six years ago, and we smooch in the rain to seal the day.

1 comment
  1. Happy bluebirds! Our California flock is much less well cared for.

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