Category: Montana

An Update from Montana

Greetings family and friends! Our fifth annual Farm Day and Craft Fair occurred on Saturday, August 22. Throughout the week, a steady stream of brothers and sisters arrived from Texas to help with the final push to completion. 

On the day before the fair, clouds skittered across the sky, and a warm sun beat down on Greycliff Creek Ranch. The Heritage Restorations crew raised the skeletal structure of a rustic barn for silent auction the next day. The steady hum of a forklift and skid-steer loader mingled with music floating out from under the red-and-white striped tent as we completed our afternoon music rehearsal. 

A number of families showed up with their dinners and ate at picnic tables in the music/dining tent. We were all in the homestretch together. Around 7:00 PM, everyone who was not already at the fair grounds arrived for the final evening music rehearsal. 

Brother John Mark strummed his guitar enthusiastically and sang, “Are you lost and lonely, broken down? Bring all of your troubles, come lay ‘em down.” This fair, more than ever before, it is our desire to bring a message of hope to the attendees.

Final Preparations 

In the craft barn, a group of young men set up plywood display shelves; then the crafts started rolling in. In one area were a couple of dozen baskets, including pine needle baskets, and Sister Grace’s masterpiece of the year, a three-foot-tall elk antler basket. Sister Camille Palmer and Sister Kelly Palmer, her sister-in-law, set up a kaleidoscope of colorful woven dish towels, hot pads, soft crocheted blankets and beautiful hand-knit sweaters and shawls. 

Brother Ernie and Sister Denise displayed their handmade brooms from broom corn grown last summer on the ranch. Brother Ernie also hand turns the slender twisted broom handles. 

A large collection of sewing projects and quilts filled one corner of the barn. Together we quilted a queen-size quilt that Sister Rachel Lindsay pieced together earlier in the year. Smaller baby quilts and wall hangings hung above the display tables. 

Sister Grace Holifiled and Sister Abigail Bowden, with Sister Renanah Sherman, Sister Abby Woody and Anna Diaz made a collection of aprons with matching hot pads. These were hung for display. Hanging with them were two runs of denim jumpers laced with colorful flowery ribbon, along with various tote bags for ladies. 

Brother Caleb Oakley had a small array of beautiful leather projects he had made. Brother Zachary Dumont set up canisters of wooden spoons and spatulas, cedar cutting boards, rolling pins and coaster sets made by young, eager boys at evening woodworking classes. 

Fair Day! 

On the morning of the fair, Brother Jake and some boys set up A-frame hand-painted signs reading “Farm Day, Greycliff Creek Ranch” with an arrow underneath pointing down the road toward the ranch. They placed the signs near the two exits east and west of the ranch and at various points along the way to guide folks. 

By 9:30 AM a steady trickle of vehicles drove down the road and lined the ranch driveway. The delicious aroma of fresh pretzels and smoking brisket was detectable even from the entrance! Throughout the day a line of hungry guests stood in front of the kitchen ordering food. Warm burritos, pretzels and pastries sold well in the morning. Brother Michael and Sister Deborah Ballerino made their famous fresh-popped kettle corn and Sister Renanah served iced coffee, milkshakes and soft, fresh-crank huckleberry ice cream. 

The shrill voices of goats being held by young children in the petting pen could be heard over the hubbub of human voices. From time to time Brother Micah would announce the next seminar class in the small cabin or one of the demonstrations: milking cows, harvesting wheat, or barn raising, just to name a few. 

As the number of attendants rose, so did the temperature! Many people rested and ate lunch at the picnic tables in the shade under the music tent.

Afternoon Activities 

At 12:50 all of us who were playing instruments gathered on the stage to prepare for the 1:00 PM music. As the first notes of “Cripple Creek” rolled from Isaiah’s banjo, the crowd of people sitting at the picnic tables turned eagerly toward the stage. After we played a few bluegrass pieces, the children’s choir, ages three through nine, took the stage. 

They sang enthusiastically the song “If You’re Happy and You Know It” before the youth choir joined them. A smile lit up every face of our guests as three-year-old Jordan sang the first few lines of “This Little Light of Mine” into a microphone perched on a stand practically folded in half so that he could reach the microphone. Then Brother Abraham Dumont took over the lead as the song medley changed, and together he and the choir sang “Sunshine!” The crowd cheered and clapped loudly as the younger choir left the stage. A group of adults sang a handful of gospel songs to conclude. 

After the music, the demonstrations and seminars continued. Parents brought their eager children to the make-your-own tent where the young folks could make a basket, a jump rope, a soap ball, dip a candle, or build a birdhouse. In the craft barn, a consistent circle of people watched as Sister Abby Bowden demonstrated how to transform a lump of clay into a vase or a mug, and Sister Camille’s try-it-yourself loom never seemed to stay vacant. 

Evening Activities 

Close to dinner time another wave of guests arrived for the evening music and good Texas-style barbecue. The sinking sun glowed orange on the grey cliffs. A slight breeze blew through the fair grounds as we gathered under the red and white tent once again with many close friends and locals for dinner and evening music. 

Brother John Mark opened the evening by thanking everyone for attending and sharing with us in a wonderful day of fellowship and activity. 

The first instrumental was a piece for two pianos. Sister Grace Holifield and Sister Naomi Bowden relearned the lively “Keep On the Firing line” the day before the fair—a song neither of them had played in years! Sweat soaked Sister Naomi’s palms as she and her older sister kept looking at each other, grinning, as they tried not to freeze up at the last minute. The crowd laughed when Brother John Mark warned them that the pianists had not played the song in years and had pulled it out of the hat the day before. He was serious, which they did not realize! 

Grace and Naomi sped through the instrumental, practically holding their breath the whole time. As they rumbled out the last octaves on the bottom row of keys of the keyboards, the crowd cheered and hollered. Whew! The two sisters could breathe again! 

We shared a wonderful evening with the local community of people that we have come to know. At times some cried. We clapped a lot, and sometimes we simply worshiped together. Everyone rose to their feet as we finished the song “Will the Circle Be Unbroken?” Afterwards, a lady with whom we had done business in the past shared with a few of us that, “while the earth all around us is sinking sand, through the music we had been lead to the Rock” (partially quoting a song sung earlier in the evening). She also added that “this is the message the whole world needs to see and hear.” 

Following the evening music, we served peach cobbler and fresh-cranked vanilla ice cream for dessert. Slowly the crowd dwindled until only our community members remained. In a matter of a few hours, a transition occurred that made it hard to tell there had been a fair! The number of attendees totaled 517. 

An Update from Montana

Hello friends! It is summer in Montana. The mornings have been beautiful, averaging 65 degrees, then the sun reminds us that it is August by pushing the mercury past 90. Whew! 

Harvest season has finally arrived. During the third week of July, the wheat binder clinked behind sweaty Buffy and Skeeter as they worked their rounds through the field. The next Sunday, twenty of us gathered on a golden stubby field under the cloudless blue sky as Brother Jake explained what to do with the sheaves. We formed groups of three persons and got to work. 

Cowboy hats, black and tan, and a few straw hats bobbed up and down rapidly as the shockers bent to pick up the sheaves. Within half an hour, the 1 1/2 acres were completed! We definitely would have preferred a few more acres to harvest. 

Other crops are doing well, also. The potato crop is looking like the best one that we have had. 

KOA Now A-OK 

One of our biggest projects in these last months has been the purchase and complete renovation of the local KOA. The RV park and campground, in past years, had a giant water slide that served as a popular destination for many people in the local area of Big Timber and beyond. 

Recently, I was at a shopping center in Billings, and in the course of conversation, I told the cashier I was from Big Timber. 

“Big Timber!” he exclaimed, “All my years growing up, my family would go to the KOA every weekend and play on that water slide. But it sounds like the place is no longer open.” 

“Well, that water slide is definitely out of commission,” I told him. “But some folks in our church just bought that KOA and are converting the office into a general store where we will offer handmade crafts, camping gear and groceries. The pool will be open, too.” 

“I’m bringing my family to stay there one of these weekends,” he said. “I have such good memories from that place as a kid, and I’m so glad y’all are bringing it back to life.” 

Renovation Begins 

At the beginning of the year, Brother Jake and Brother Troy along with a few supporting brothers from Texas closed the “check in” building for renovation. I must admit, it was not easy to imagine a general store and gift shop while looking at the tattered gray building. Grass grew high around the perimeter, and an old AC window unit stuck out of the front window. Inside, tiles hung down from the low sagging ceiling, and in the dim lighting you could see the uneven flooring waving down the hall to the public restrooms. 

All of the cabins were closed, but the RV sites and campsites remained open for vacationers. Signs that read “Please excuse the mess, but our new look will impress” popped up at the entrance and around the building. We hauled off the crumbled down water slide and revived the cabins. Many of us pushed through the nights working on the general store as the grand opening date drew near. 

Grand Opening and Beyond 

We finished our work on schedule, and the general store opened on the first of May. 

Now when I pull up to the KOA, on my left I pass a sparkling blue pool surrounded by raspberry bushes that have been groomed and are producing sweet fruit. On the right is the 40-foot by 20-foot jumping pillow with its distinctive yellow and red stripes. It is usually occupied with a couple of grinning adolescents trying their sport with flips, or with adults gently bouncing up and down with their young kids tumbling by their feet.

At the general store, a 12-foot tall wooden grizzly bear, carved by Brother Chris Conners in Virginia, stands in front of the A-framed wood porch. 

As the front door swings open, Grandma Beth’s cheery voice chimes, “Welcome to the KOA! How may I help you?” 

The whole building smells like fresh lumber. From the peak of the high pine ceiling hangs a chandelier made from a set of antlers. On the right hand side are two newly built oval shelves containing various groceries and swimming supplies. The interior also has a snack area with a couple of dining tables and chairs. Brightly lit coolers and freezers hold grocery essentials as well as juice, soda, yogurt and ice cream. 

On the other side of the room, the wall is made up of shelves and different sized cubbies. This is where the crafts are displayed. Antler baskets, brooms, candles, aprons, pottery and leather products have sold very well! Around one beam in the middle of the room is a cluster of wooden barrels full of peppermints, taffy, sours and caramel candies. 

During these summer months, the KOA has been a satisfying temporary home for vacationers, tourists and many of our brothers and sisters from throughout the country. 

Second Community Wedding 

On Friday, July 24, our community hosted Caleb and Abigail Oakley’s wedding. It was the second wedding within our fellowship. About twenty guests attended from Big Timber. Caleb and Abigail’s families traveled from Waco, as well as many brothers, sisters and friends. All who attended contributed towards making the whole week a special time. 

The back patio of the Ranch home was decorated with flowers and lights, and we set up the back yard with white chairs, flowers and a wooden music platform built at the base of a hill under some leafy trees. The previous evening, the Dumonts hosted the rehearsal dinner at their beautiful timber-framed home. In the days preceding the dinner, decks were built onto the front and back of their house. A gravel driveway led up the hill to a new parking lot in front of the house. 

Near dusk, someone noticed the rainbows. I felt the tingle of growing excitement for the upcoming wedding as we gathered on the front deck. The double arches of a vibrant rainbow stretched across the Montana sky. We felt that the Lord had sent His smile on our labors. 

Ceremony and Reception 

The weather forecast was not looking friendly for a Friday wedding, but we prayed that there would be a cloud cover with no rain in the evening. As we squinted our eyes and sweat trickled down our faces, we all hoped that it would cool down before the ceremony. The sun continued to blaze overhead while all the guests were ushered to their seats. But at the moment the first piano notes sounded, the clouds rolled in and shaded us for the rest of the event. 

The reception was set up in the parking area by the Ranch house. White lights were strung crisscross overhead, and small circles of chairs covered the area. Guests chose their seats and young people carried platters full of salads, rolls, chicken fettuccine Alfredo and raspberry creme cake. One of our good sheep-ranching friends from Big Timber, who usually goes to bed at 8:00 PM, was shocked when he looked at his watch and it read 11:30 PM. He exclaimed, ”I lost track of time I was enjoying myself so much! Thank you for inviting me!” 

Fixer Upper (Our Version) 

In town on the corner of Second and Hooper Streets, is a little white stucco house with blue trim. Its small yard is surrounded by a low strip post fence. When the two bedroom, two bathroom house went on the market, Brother Sam Schwennessen saw a chance to remodel it. He felt that we could make it into a cute place that could be sold as a fund raiser for our community, so we purchased the property. 

In February, we tore down walls, pulled up old carpets and tile and ventured into the dark basement to vacuum away the network of spider webs. Every Monday night, some of us would head to the house for remodeling tasks—putting in new electrical, plumbing, sheet rock and so forth. 

Meanwhile, others got together at the Sherman’s house to work on crafts for the fair (which is now just a few days away). We completed a queen-size quilt. Sister Grace worked on baskets and Sister Abby Woody stitched her embroidered towels. We had a few nights of each person bringing their sewing machines and making an apron with a matching hot pad. Snacks and coffee were prepared and set aside for the troop of hungry workers that came over after they completed their tasks for that evening. 

“This was my great grandfather’s house,” an elderly gentleman told Brother John Mark one afternoon. The gentleman had stopped in to quench his curiosity as to why the little house had been full of light and activity for two months. “My great grandfather built it during the war,” he explained. “Couldn’t get his hands on any concrete. That’s why the walls are built so thick of stone in the basement.” 

He looked around lovingly at the freshly sanded floors, the light gray and white cabinets, the living room with its newly peaked ceiling and the master bedroom that had previously been a dingy summer kitchen/dining room. After walking through the house, he nodded and gave Brother John a hefty handshake. 

On June 13, Brother John, who is a realtor, hosted an open house for potential buyers to view the property. Sister Grace and I did the final sweep and mop, and a couple of boys cut the grass. Brother Israel and Brother John hauled in new stainless steel appliances. The aroma of coffee and doughnuts filled the kitchen as we set up a small snack bar of freshly made cinnamon twists, meat and cheese plates and a fruit platter. 

A handful of locals stopped by to view the newly remodeled house and to enjoy a cup of coffee. A buyer also showed up, and a few days after going on the market, the house sold. 

For the last couple of years, we have worked to raise money for the improvement of and to further sustainability on the Ranch. With the completion of the remodeled house project, our community added a significant amount to that endeavor. 

A Glance Ahead 

So what is around the corner for Montana’s pioneers? As a community, our focus during the summer is always on the Fair. And we are almost there! On August 22 we hold our Farm Day and Craft Fair. 

The following week, Brother Israel Lindsay and Sister Rachel Annunziato will be getting married at Graycliff Ranch. 

We have crops on the verge of harvest and three homes in the process of being built…. 

So on we go with no shortage of tasks or projects. And it is wonderful!