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.”
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!