Backroads of Montana

Since 1991, the Backroads crew has traveled across Montana visiting its unique people and places. The series airs regularly on MontanaPBS.

Episode One  “Virgelle to Victor” (1991) – Backroads of Montana was first broadcast in 1991. There is still a ferry at Virgelle although Bob and Lorraine Otto won’t greet you when you ring the buzzer. Bob died a few years ago and Lorraine now lives in Big Sandy. Their niece runs the ferry. There is now a bridge at Loma, but you still have to take a ferry in Carter. The Virgelle Mercantile is still open – they’ve added a few more homesteader cabins and the luxury of a nice bathhouse. Don claims that it’s getting too busy in Virgelle and he’s thinking of moving to someplace a little quieter. That wouldn’t be the Bitterroot where the barnstormers are still buzzing the skies with their model planes.

Episode Two “Custer to Columbia Falls” (1991) – You can still buy a canoe from Grey Morley in Swan Lake. Sonya Tetlie, the Doorknob lady passed away a few years ago. And for the record, she didn’t really condone theft of doorknobs. Custer Battlefield is now officially known as the Little Big Horn Battlefield. That story started a trend of retelling of Montana history on Backroads – as you’ll see in coming episodes we found many fascinating tales to tell. Hang gliding and paragliding are still big sports in Missoula. We also started going on location in this episode. That trend would also continue – it’s a way for us to tell one more story while we’re introducing the others.

Episode Three “Polaris to Joliet” (1992) – The Polar Bar in Polaris was one of those places that we discovered on our way to someplace else. We returned to do that story just in time. Walt Melcher, the gritty cowboy who entertained his guests with the songs of his youth sold the bar’s liquor license and closed up shop soon after our visit. Walt died in June of 1997. He was 91. The Ippisch Schoolhouse Bed & Breakfast closed and Les Ippisch died in the summer of 2005. The Bed & Breakfast has reopened under new management. They plan to reinstate the Christmas sale in 2006.

Episode Four “Miles City to the Missions” (1993) –The Miles City Chamber of Commerce ended the balloon roundup a few years ago. Bill Seward, the owner of the Jersey Lilly has passed on, but the restaurant is still open. They have so many tourists now that they’ve added some vegetarian items to the menu. And they still have those beans. The “King of the Bootmakers,” Mike Ives, died in 2006. He left an unfinished pair of boots on his bench.

Episode Five “The Golden Triangle” (1994) – The Hi-Line Theatre in Rudyard has been remodeled – the original marquee is back in place. It’s now owned by the son of the man who built the theatre in 1949. Carl Memke has been inducted into the steam engine hall of fame and the pet cemetery near Great Falls continues to grow.

Episode Six “Scobey to West Yellowstone” (1995) – The Prairie Symphonette is still playing concerts in Scobey and Pork Chops John’s is still a Butte favorite (with outlets in other Montana cities). Maggie Merriman still gives fly fishing lessons in West Yellowstone. In a sad post script to this episode, Marion and Margaret Pyeatt, the couple who built the baling twine teepee near Wise River, died in a tragic accident in their home in Dec. 2004. Margaret was a beloved teacher and Marion an accomplished tradesman in Dillon. They will be missed by all who knew them.

Episode Seven “Havre to Hamilton” (1995) – Havre Beneath the Streets is still open and has some new exhibits. Frank DeRosa, the friendly gentlemen who guided us beneath the streets, passed away in March 2005. The Fondue King still fires up his pot of boiling oil for Pitchfork Fondue in the Hi-Line area, although the price has gone up a little. That abandoned railroad trestle has become perilously rusted and weakened by the Montana weather. Jazz pianist Jean Wrobel, the “Jewel of the Bitterroot Valley” died in 2004, and Bob Corbett, the proud designer of the Shiniest Oldsmobile on Earth died in January, 2008.

Episode Eight “The Badlands” (1996) – The Evelyn Cameron Gallery in Terry is still open and the town inaugurated the “Lady Cameron Heritage Days” in the summer of 2005. The event is expected to recur each year during the Prairie County Fair. Ivy Brubaker, who shared her family’s Cameron album with us, died in February 2006. She was 97. Doc Hiatt no longer hikes Makoshika Park near Glendive but still enjoys the park’s wildflowers and picnic areas. The kindly Wibaux ladies who traded stories of cold Montana winters have passed on. Miriam Breitenfeldt passed away in early 1997 at age 92. Lela Hall died in June, 1998. She was 98. Saddle maker John Brown eventually moved his saddle shop from Ekalaka to Miles City. He died in April, 2005. Ulm Pishkun State Park near Great Falls was renamed First Peoples Buffalo Jump State Park in 2007.

Episode Nine “Amber Waves of Grain” (1997) – No updates

Episode Ten “Wool and Wind” (1997) – No updates

Episode Eleven “Pancakes and Polo” (1998) – Yesterday’s Calf-A in Dell has expanded next door, replacing the antique collection with a saloon/lounge area. Vi no longer owns the place but they still make homemade pies everyday.

Episode Twelve “Music and Memories” (1999) – The Rocky Mountain Accordion Festival in Philipsburg is still going strong. The event is usually held in late July or early August. Accordion aficionado Tom Collins died in 2004. He was 82. Don Coburn died in August 2007 at age 80. As a member of the Montana National Guard in 1949, Coburn took fathers of the victims of the Mann Gulch tragedy to see the site of their sons’ deaths. He was never able to return to the site afterwards.

Episode Thirteen “Flathead Lake to the Crazy Mountains” (2000) – The Orphan Girl Express Tour train at the Mining Museum in Butte was discontinued but the museum itself is still open. Orvin Fjare, who built intricate miniature furniture in Big Timber, died on June 27, 2011 at age 93. 

Episode Fourteen “Roundup to Nine Mile” (2000) – No updates

Episode Fifteen "Medicine Lake To Missoula” (2001) – No updates

Episode Sixteen "Weather, Feathers and Time" (2001) – National Weather Service observer Frank Cimrhakl, Jr. died in 2003. Butte musician John “The Yank” Harrington died in 2004 at age 100.

Episode Seventeen “Wheels and Wings” (2002) The Deer Lodge-based wheelwright moved out of state in 2005. Darrell Martin, our guide through the tribal history and lore of Snake Butte died in April 2007.

Episode Eighteen “Seeds and Weeds” (2002) – The Bair Family Museum in Martinsdale is open from May to September. The area is still a great place to visit and is popular with hunters.

Episode Nineteen “Alder Gulch to Plentywood”(2003) – No updates

Episode Twenty “Augusta to Wisdom” (2003) – Jill Hirschy Eliel, who drove a buck-rake with distinction on the Hirschy Ranch, died on May 22, 2009.  She was 85.

Episode Twenty-One “Anaconda to Comertown” (2004) No Updates

Episode Twenty-Two “Coming Home” (2004) No updates

Episode Twenty-Three “Collecting Memories” (2005)

Episode Twenty- Four “Fromberg to Ulm” (2005) Bud Cheff, who guided us through the Ninepipe Museum near Pablo, died June 27, 2011.  He was 96.

Episode Twenty-Five “Two Dot to Fishtail”(2006)

Episode Twenty-Six “Kilns and Kin” (2006) Johnnie Thomas, the woman who researched her family’s connection to the African-American history of the Miles City area died from cancer on January 31, 2008.

Episode Twenty-Seven “Capitol Rock & Community Folk” (2007) Episode Twenty-Eight “Places of Note” (2007)

Episode Twenty-Nine “Rockets, Peaks and Poets” (2008) Bob Barthelmess, curator of the Range Rider Museum in Miles City died June 21, 2011.  He and his wife retired as curators of the Range Riders Museum in April, 2011 and his daughter, Bunny Miller, took over.