Montana road trips often include sidetracks to some obviously curious places: The Berkeley Pit in Butte, for instance, or the Lewis and Clark Caverns in Three Forks. But how about the giant 14-foot purple spoon in East Glacier, or the Miracle of America Museum in Polson, which sports a two-headed calf? Ednor Therriault (aka Bob Wire), local blogger, musician and occasional writer for the Indy, logged 8,000 miles in six months to dig up the weirdest places and happenings across the state for his recently published book, Montana Curiosities: Quirky characters, roadside oddities and other offbeat stuff. We spoke with Therriault about the story behind the book, mutated animals and running on fumes.
Indy: How did you end up on this quest?
Therriault: My family took a three-week cross-country trip because I've always wanted to do that old-school National Lampoon vacation, pile-in-the-station-wagon thing. We drove to North Carolina and back. We saw gravestones and eight national parks and all the tourist stuff. But we also saw the world's biggest bottle of ketchup and goofy stuff like that. So I wrote this series for my New West blog about the trip. Then I get an e-mail about writing a book from Allen Jones from Globe Pequot who used to be the books editor at New West.
Indy: What were some of the most surprising curiosities you found?
Therriault: There was the bear park in West Glacier. I was expecting something zoo-like, but not quite so phony. It was just like Jurassic Park with the electric fence going around and the big concrete pond the bears hang out in. And the bears might as well be golden retrievers. The lady in the booth was more threatening than the bears.
Indy: What's up with all the cows and two-headed calves in this state?
Therriault: I asked a guy why I was seeing so many two-headed calves. He said that most of those were born in the late '60s. They are all two or three weeks at the most and then they can't survive. He says, "Well, we found out what happens when you mess around with Mother Nature." And then he gives me the 1,000-yard stare. I'm like, "What does that mean?" No answer. And then I ask around and find out that that's when DDT worked its way into the food chain and suddenly I'm seeing lambs with eight legs and rabbits with three heads and all kinds of weird shit in these museums. It was a total freak show thing.
Indy: What sort of characters did you meet on the road?
Therriault: Probably the single most interesting character is Chuck Ringer, an artist in Joliet. His Ski God is the subject of the book's entry, but I got to tour his studio and look at everything he's been working on. The man is truly out there, living the bohemian life and making a good income. I was jealous. He's built a life-sized spaceship, complete with aliens. The spaceship looks pretty wild, but the aliens are right on the money. He and I both have a dog named Houdini.
Indy: Anyone else?
Therriault: There was Tony Brown, former mayor of Troy, owner of the Club Bar there. Once traded the back bar for a Mercedes. He's a world-class raconteur, and he's currently running for county commissioner, on the platform of sending all women to nursing school. His chapter didn't make the cut, but I had a wild night with him in Troy. Also, several local characters blew my wig back with their crazy personalities and wild stories. Some of them include Larry Evans, Uncle Bill Stoianoff, Bruce Micklus, Tom Webster, Eric "Fingers" Ray, Preston Miller and Dave Chappell.
Indy: What unexpected things happened to you in your travels?
Therriault: I started seeing signs near Great Falls for a "fart show." I was really intrigued, but then I realized—when I put on my glasses—that the signs were indicating Fort Shaw. Also, I recently saw the D River in Lincoln City, Oregon. That's the one that issued a challenge to the Guinness Book of World Records, claiming to be shorter than the Roe River in Great Falls. The D River is nothing but a bulldozed ditch that connects Devil's Lake to the Pacific, and collects trash and diesel fuel. I piss on the D River.
Indy: Anything bad happen?
Therriault: I nearly ran out of gas going up the east side of Lake Koocanusa from Libby to Eureka. Had less than a quarter tank, but it was 56 miles and I decided to go for it. Thirty miles from my destination, the gaslight came on. I was panicky, but then I drove into a little lakeside town just south of Eureka. Drove all through town, running on fumes, and they had no gas station. Back on the highway, I coasted into a Town Pump at the edge of Eureka after going 356 miles on one tank of gas. Most ever. I really found a lot of ways to entertain myself out there.
Ednor Therriault presents Montana Curiosities at a release party at Shakespeare & Co. Tuesday, May 25, at 7 PM. Free.