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'That's the way I like it'
Kornec was married twice, once for 14 years and again for 16 years. He had three daughters. Georgette Quillin, of Kornec's first marriage, lives in East Helena. She hasn't seen George in three or four years; her kids hardly know him. Another daughter, Denise, lives in Washington state. The last time I saw Kornec, he was expecting her and her husband and three boys to visit at the end of August. The other daughter died years ago in a car accident. Kornec has a brother in Butte and a half-brother in Helena. They visit "once in a great, great while," he says. "That's about it."
He says his marriages failed because his wives "liked the bright lights better than they did marriage."
His second wife lived here in the mountains for a while, and he says she mostly enjoyed it.
He says he doesn't regret the breakups.
"Every man has his own thing that he would love to do in his lifetime, and most of them make the big mistake—they'll marry some gal that wants to keep you under their thumb. They have a list on that 'frigerator of honey-dos that'll last for six months. But if you want to go out and do your own thing, you have a hell of time squeezing the short time in to do it. This way, I don't have no female telling me what to do."
Quillin says Kornec's lifestyle is "kind of like being a hermit." "Hermit" is a loaded word around Lincoln, because this is where Ted Kaczynski, the Unabomber, holed up in a remote cabin.
"Down there in Lincoln they got me nicknamed 'the old mountain man,'" Kornec says. "Some say, 'Well, don't you have any girlfriends?' And I say, 'I've got so many mountain maidens running around out there you wouldn't believe it.'"
He's typically in bed by 9 p.m. and up at daylight. When not mining, he says, he does mapping and other mineral work. He has more than 300 VHS tapes, mostly westerns, war movies, and outdoor films like Call of the Wild. He used to get four television channels before stations nationwide switched to a digital format two years ago; now he gets none. His radio picks up stations in Helena, Great Falls and Missoula. When he needs to make a phone call, he drives his truck down the road to the wastewater treatment plant below the dam—the plant that treats the polluted water still draining out of the mining complex before it pours into the upper Blackfoot. Jesse Cotton, the plant manager, says he sees Kornec at least once a week. Every two weeks or so, Kornec drives to Lincoln to pick up his mail and buy cigarettes and other supplies.
"Lincoln ain't Lincoln like it used to be," he says.
He remembers when there used to be wagon trails and only two bars, and big ponderosas all the way up and down the valley. "Down in Lincoln now, it's just like the rest of the world moved in on it, and they brought all their garbage with them that they're trying to run away from."
Lincoln still has just one gas station.
Winters up here can be brutal. Kornec says that years ago, the temperature reached 72 below zero on Rogers Pass. He says it wasn't uncommon then to see 50 below. Lately, though, he says, winters have been relatively mild. During cold ones he'll burn through up to 10 cords of wood. He had this coming winter's supply already cut and stacked by the Fourth of July.
He says people often ask him how he can live up here with no telephone or television. "And I say, 'That's the way I like it.' I don't have trains going by...and I don't have horns honking and all that crap.
"You stop and think that them people in the big cities, they spend fortunes just to come out here for a couple weeks to see what it's like to get out of the rat race, you know? That's why I don't like it. When I hit the big city, I do what I have to do and get the hell out of it. That's the way I am."
He loathes Missoula, partly because it's a "big city," partly because it's an "environmental haven," where, he says, college kids learn to protest things they don't fully understand.
He can't remember the last time he traveled somewhere farther than Missoula.
Bill Kornec, George's nephew, lives in Lincoln. He says that in a family of miners, George is the only one still at it, and that it might pay off for him with precious metals prices climbing so high. In any case, he says, his uncle has already struck gold.
"George is living a dream life as far as I'm concerned. He lives up there in that cabin, and he gets by just fine. And he's happy and he doesn't have a worry in the darn world. If I was single, that's where I would be. I'd be up there with my uncle."