I love the story of how this antique carousel ended up in a northern Montana community of 3,000. Thanks goes to a 87-year-old retired farmer who is obviously a man of vision and talent, Harry Benjamin.
The carousel was a traveling ride for fairs and carnivals when it broke down in 2016. Benjamin was recruited to make repairs. An idea germinated in his head, why not install a permanent carousel for the children (of all ages) of Shelby and travelers. After checking out carousels around the country he learned that the one he had repaired was for sale in Reno, Nevada.
Benjamin purchased the 1936 Allen Herschell creation with his own money and brought it to Shelby. The community, including inmates at a nearby private prison, joined the renovation effort, repainting the carousel animals, constructing a building and raising funds for maintenance. A rest area was established in front of the carousel facility.
One horse stands out in red, white and blue with a bald eagle in flight decorating the saddle. It is dedicated to the Wounded Warrior Project. “No Riders” is requested out of respect.
For travelers headed to or from Glacier National Park on US2 and those traveling to or from Canada on I-15 this makes a perfect stop to get out of the car, stretch the legs, have a snack or picnic lunch at the rest area, ride the carousel and enjoy an ice cream cone.
The ice cream is Wilcoxson’s, a Montana treasure for over a century. It is made in Livingston, MT using fresh local ingredients. We savored scoops of huckleberry and Caramel Sea Salt Truffle during our visit – very, very yummy.
When You Go: Carousel Rest Area of Shelby is located at 441 11th Avenue N, behind the Pizza Hut on US2. From I-15 use exit 363 and head east a few blocks. Check http://www.shelbycarousel.com for hours or call 406-424-8444.
As we approach the entrance to the Lewis & Clark Interpretive Center in Great Falls, Montana a massive black Newfoundland dog stands and lumbers in our direction, drooling and tail wagging. A volunteer introduces Buddy, the 200-pound official greeter for the center.
We’re reminded that Seaman, a black Newfoundland belonging to Merriwether Lewis accompanied the Corps of Discovery expedition. Seaman was the only animal to complete the entire trip. Along a trail behind the Interpretive Center a bronze sculpture commemorates the dog’s feat.
Eight-year-old Buddy docilely stands in place allowing adoring children and adults to bury their hands deep in his silky coat to pet or scratch. As the visitors move on Buddy flops down to await the next arriving guests.
The bronze sculpture along Ft. Benton’s Missouri River shoreline salutes a sheep herding dog that has become Montana legend. In 1936 a sheepherder arrived at the Ft. Benton hospital accompanied by his faithful companion. The man died a few days later. His family living in the east requested that his body be shipped to them for burial. A dog followed the casket to the train station and watched as the body was placed on a train.
For five-and-a-half years the same dog met incoming trains watching for his master to arrive. No one knew the dog’s name so he soon became known as Shep to the Great Northern Railway employees who fed him and allowed him to make the station his home.
When Shep died he was buried on a hillside above the town. The local Boy Scout Troop served as honor guard and pallbearers with hundreds of Ft. Benton citizens attending the funeral. The railway erected a stone obelisk. A book, Shep Forever Faithful by Stewart H. Beveridge and Lee Nelson relates the story.
We start the day with a complimentary buffet breakfast in the hotel’s Union Grille. Under blue skies with scattered clouds we explore historic Ft. Benton, known as the birthplace of Montana. Visitors really should plan a couple of days to absorb all the town has to offer.
This was Blackfoot territory when Lewis and Clark worked their way up the Missouri River in 1804. A memorial stands in the riverside parkway as well as a replica of the exposition’s keelboat, Mandan. We don’t have time to visit Old Fort Benton and the museums chronicaling the area’s history and development.
On my to do list is the Upper Missouri River Breaks National Monument Interpertive Center. Is that a mouthful or not? The quiet riverside setting, architecture, displays, information and friendly staff makes this a hidden gem.
Leaving Ft. Benton the road leads to the top of the bluff. Pullouts give us the opportunity for photos of the winding river as it works its way towards Great Falls. Our 42-mile drive to Great Falls takes us through fertile agricultural country.
Additional goals for the day are visits to the Lewis and Clark National Interpretive Center and the C.M. Russell Museum, Home and Studio before dinner at The Celtic Cowboy – Great Falls version of an Irish pub and live music. Lodging for the night at the local Holiday Inn Express.
An hour after leaving Buffalo we cross the border into Montana – Big Montana, Broad Valleys, Wide Open Spaces, Quintessential American West, Big Montana Sky. That is how we see and describe the next two and a half days.
With many miles to drive before we sleep we plan a brief stop at Little Bighorn Battlefield National Monument. Caught up in a compeling presentation by a ranger/historian our visit turns into an hour plus but we leave with a better understanding of this landmark site.
We leave Interstate travel at Billings heading northwest on state and county roads. This is Montana so the speed limit only drops by a few mph. We note that the valleys here are ringed by mountains and always from horizon to horizon Big Montana Sky. Our destination, Ft. Benton, served as a major supply center for the Northwest and Alaska during the gold rush era. Situated on the banks of the Missouri River this was as far as the steamships could navigate so goods, settlers and fortune seekers passed through the region.
This evening the town has a sleepy quality. After-dinner strollers enjoy the paved riverside walkway while the broad main streets carry little traffic. We’ve made reservations at the Grand Union Hotel, Montana’s oldest operating hotel. An award-winning restoration means we sacrifice no 21st-century creature comfort in the 1882 edifice. Sad to say the hotel’s notable dining room is closed on Tuesday evening; The Banque Club across the street provides a dining option.
A park bench offers a ideal after-dinner spot to contemplate historic events and watch the wide Missouri roll eastward.
While visiting Montana’s Bannack State Park I started noticing the characteristics of windows in the deserted 19th-century buildings. They varied from artistic to simplistic. Some of the panes were the original wavy glass while others were 21st-century replacements.
Whether peeking into a cabin at a potpourri of tools and paraphernalia deserted decades ago or gazing out while seated at an aged treadle sewing machine the windows seemed to frame Bannack’s past and present.
Then I became intrigued with how the windows reflected the scenes before them – swaying tree branches, the crowd gathered in front of Hotel Meade or the upstanding Masonic Lodge / Schoolhouse.
Observing and photographing the windows of Bannack added depth and perspective to out visit to Montana’s past.
When You Go: Bannack State Park is located 26 miles southwest of Dillon, Montana. From I-15 exit #59 head west on Highway 278 for 20 miles. Turn south on the paved Bannack Road, follow for four miles. Turn left onto the graveled park entrance road. Well placed signs point the way.
The click of spurs on boardwalk accompanies two men down the deserted street, enameled tin cups filled with their morning coffee. Shaded by an old tree in the front yard of Montana’s first governor’s mansion, a spinner adjusts the tension of lanolin rich wool as she draws it into fine strands of yarn. Resting against the front of the combined post office/barbershop the barber and a friend shoot the breeze before the first shave and haircut of the day.
For one weekend each July Bannack, Montana comes to life recalling the 19th-century boom days of gold, growth and government. Frontier live is recreated by hundreds of volunteers for two days the third weekend of July. The wooden boardwalks once again are filled with people, many in period clothing. Bannack Days celebrates the town’s fabled history.
Demonstrations, hands-on activities, music and entertainment fill Bannack Days plus the opportunity to enter dozens of buildings. Start the day with breakfast at Hotel Meade before panning for gold, touring the mill or taking a horseback ride. Simulated shootouts and stagecoach robberies recall the days of highwaymen and a sheriff who ended up swinging from the gallows. Visitors can even rent costumes and become part of the scene. A horse-drawn wagon and Model A Ford truck shuttles tired tourists from one end of town to the other. Food concessions satisfy the hungry and thirsty. Note from Nancy – the hot donuts were the best!
Today, with designation as a state park, Bannack is preserved as a genuine ghost town not a tourist attraction. During a regular visit tales of the past and a stiff Montana wind may be your only companions.
When You Go: Bannack Days is always scheduled on the third weekend of July. A modest per person entrance fee is charged for the event. Bannack is located 26 miles southwest of Dillon, Montana. From I-15 exit #59 head west on Highway 278 for 20 miles. Turn south on the paved Bannack Road, follow for four miles. Turn left onto the graveled park entrance road. Well placed signs point the way.