In November 1998, after several years of debate, Congress passed an important new law on concessions in National Parks. The Concessions Management Improvement Act will have an important impact on the future of Glacier Park.
The Act is meant to encourage more competition when contracts are renewed. In the past, incumbent concessioners held a "preferential right of renewal" -- a right to match competing offers. Because of this preference and limited access to data, competitors rarely attempted to bid against the incumbent.
The new Act abolishes the preference (except for some small concessions). It also reduces the length of contracts. Historically, contracts have been granted for 25 or 30 years. The new Act sets a norm of 10 years or less, with a limit of 20 years or less where capital improvements are required.
Rates for services must be "reasonable and appropriate," and are subject to approval by the Park Service. Reasonableness is determined primarily by comparison with rates for comparable services and facilities. "Market forces" are supposed to determine the reasonableness of charges "to the maximum extent practicable." But the Park Service is to give "due consideration" to other factors, including "accessibility," "length of season," and the "type of patronage."
These matters all may have an important bearing on the future of the hotel concession in Glacier. The present concession contract held by Glacier Park, Inc. (GPI) expires in 2005. GPI has proposed investing as much as $ 100,000,000 in privately- funded improvements in the hotel system under the terms of a new contract. Its proposals would dramatically increase the rates for most rooms, and also would increase the number of rooms and expand the length of the visitor season.
The Act has had an immediate impact on the management of Glacierís two historic backcountry chalets. The Park Service had advertised last fall for proposals for a long term contract. Because of the new law, it was obliged to cancel the bidding until new contracting regulations can be approved.
For the coming summer, the Park Service granted interim contracts to two concessioners. Belton Chalets, the long-time operator, will manage the newly-renovated, full-service Sperry Chalet. Glacier Wilderness Guides will manage Granite Park Chalet as a hikerís hostel, as it has in recent summers. Granite Park cannot be opened on a full-service basis until about $1,000,000 in private funds are raised for a new sewage system.
by Dick Schwab (Many Glacier Hotel, 1948-1952)
Mrs. Oastler was the last vestige of the wealthy guests who spent a good part of their summer vacations in the Park in the earliest days, before and during World War I and throughout the twenties and thirties. After World War II, when all the old wealthy eastern families had forsaken Glacier for Europe or elsewhere, she still faithfully returned every summer to take up residence in the quiet of the Annex for most of the season. She was the widow of a distinguished New York City surgeon, Dr. Frank Oastler. The two of them had started exploring the Glacier area in 1912, and they returned to the Hotel regularly until his death in 1936. She continued to come back to Many Glacier until at least 1956, which is the last I heard of her. The Oastlers were among those eastern establishment people, like Henry L. Stimson and his wife and others who adventured and explored in the Far West, following the pattern of George Bird Grinnell, who pioneered expeditions to the Glacier area.
Many Glacier Hotel was Mrs. Oastlerís summer duchy, and every year she journeyed in state out from her Park Avenue apartment, stepping onto the entryway to the Lobby from a shining limousine. Her arrival was a Big Event that meant the season had truly begun. She was greeted with great deference by the managerial and clerical staff. By this stage of her life her main activity was to preside as a dignified presence in the Lobby when she was not in her room or at her special table in the dining room. In the golden era, she and Dr. Oastler are said to have explored all over the most spectacular parts of the Park on horseback excursions, as many other privileged easterners had.
Mrs. Oastler had the appearance of a slightly frail Edwardian lady of means. Always tastefully and somewhat formally dressed, on occasion she wore gloves. She had aristocratic features and carriage, a fine complexion, and hair worn in the conservative style of wealthy eastern matrons of perhaps a generation earlier. Her oval glasses added to the distinction of her appearance. An aura of respectability, gentility, and decorum surrounded her. One summer in the 1950s I was one of those who were lined up to shake her gloved hand as she arrived in state. To my surprise she practically whipped her hand back after the briefest contact, and I noticed she did that with other people formally greeting her. Someone said she had arthritis, and it hurt her to shake hands.
Normally she stayed quite strictly to herself and could be seen reading alone in a Lobby chair; but apparently she observed closely everything that was going on. Occasionally she expressed her dislikes very definitely. At the upper end of Josephine Lake is a rustic shelter she had built in memory of her husband. Sometime after it was completed she made a tour of inspection and found it not to her liking. Thus, although she did not have it torn down, she demanded that her husbandís name no longer be associated with it in any public way.
Once in awhile she would get into a fussy mood. For instance, on one occasion she became petulant about the steak she had ordered for dinner, and she sent it back. After that nothing could satisfy her, and she sent back several more steaks, causing considerable mortification for her waitress and the hostess. Finally Mrs. Rhody, the chef, came out of the kitchen to reason with her directly. Mrs. Rhody was a very impressive and strong lady herself, and it is said she had personally prepared the last steak or so. Apparently she was able to put enough edge into her reasoning to bring Mrs. Oastlerís high dudgeon under control. You could only go so far with Mrs. Rhody.
When the word passed through the Lobby that none other than Hopalong Cassidy and his wife, "Tripalong", were going to come for a week or ten-day stay at the hotel, Mrs. Oastler was indignant. In her view these Hollywood types were not proper guests for Many Glacier. Then, the flamboyant Hoppy arrived in all sorts of glitter, driving an amazing Hollywood cowboy convertible. Its upholstery was all brown and white spotted cowhide, the door handles were six-shooters, and silver pistols were integrated as spokes in the construction of the splendid steering wheel. Silver dollars were imbedded all over the dashboard, and I believe there was a shining set of horns at the front of the hood. Hopalong stepped out of this wonderful vehicle and into the Lobby all resplendent in his black, white, and silver Hollywood cowboy getup, set off effectively by his famous pure white hair. He was followed by his petite charming wife, who was turned out in a magnificent cowgirlís outfit. With her flawless pink complexion and white-blond, slightly pastel hair she looked a bit like Marilyn Monroe in a fancy Western costume. Hopalong and Tripalong were immediately a smash hit at the hotel. They were gregarious, courteous, and totally down to earth, and they showed a genuine oldtime western friendliness to everyone. Hopalong sat on the bellhopís bench to chat with us, and both he and Tripalong easily struck up neighborly conversations with the guests at every opportunity. They were obviously truly first-rate people. They would venture out from the hotel for rides in their magnificent convertible, stopping frequently at viewing places. Often they would be surrounded by people, particularly children, who had been weaned on Hopalongís TV reruns, and for whom he was a great hero. Hoppy never tired of talking with them and giving them souvenirs he always carried with him -- pins in the shape of boots or stirrups. Someone asked him whether this did not become tiresome for him, and he said, "Absolutely not. I owe everything to those kids." And of course he did.
But back to Mrs. Oastler. She kept her aristocratic distance from the Hollywood couple for a short time; but Hoppy, pretty well figuring it all out, effortlessly launched a campaign that completely won her over. In no time she became entranced with him and Tripalong. Every evening after that the three of them were seen sitting closely together in the Lobby, engrossed in animated conversation.
My shift happened to be on duty when Hopalong and Tripalong departed from the hotel, and I witnessed the whole amusing scene. First Hopalong distributed silver spur pendants to the women employees in the Lobby and cuff links to the men, and gave a genial, personal word of thanks to everyone. Mrs. Oastler was standing at the edge of the crowd, and just before he left, Hopalong went over and gave her a spectacular kiss. It was not some peck on a cheek for an aged aunt. It was a Hollywood kiss in which the lady is swept into the leading manís arms and bent slightly backwards. Mrs. Oastler, feeling a loss of balance, flayed her arms a bit and then limply gave in to it all. Afterward she walked around the Lobby for a while in a dazed state. I was laughing so hard I think I had to go into the bellhop room so as not to make a spectacle of myself.
By Karen (Koller) Bohnert
I started at Many Glacier as a maid in the summer of í77, and for the month of June I did my duty in my little denim apron. I eyed the dining room staff with envy. Everyone knew they made more money and got one and a half whole days off each week. But there was something more, something almost magical about the Ptarmigan Room. It always seemed to me that when you approached the room from the lounge, it opened up before your eyes much like a stage appears as the curtains open at the beginning of a play. This play was, of course, a musical. You could tell by the colorful costumes, the romance of the huge stone fireplace, the way the "actors" and "actresses" swept back and forth across the "stage", and by the stupendous backdrop of the valley-not to mention the singing and dancing during the dinner hour.
One day Mr. Tippet called me into his office and told me that because I had done such a "mah-velous" job as a maid, I was the first person to whom he would give "the opportunity to turn down a job in the dining room". What?! Trade in my polyester nurseís dress for a red cotton dirndl and white blouse? Trade in making a couple thousand beds and cleaning hundreds of toilets for serving prime rib and fresh strawberries? Trade in a view of dust bunnies under beds for a view of the lake and the valley? I couldnít say "Iíll take it!" fast enough.
So, I began as an understudy, following some of the best wait people around for a couple days, and trying to pick up as many of their tricks as I could. I learned the best way to mix the hot cocoa, how to fold dinner napkins, how to de-bone a trout before serving it, and when to tell the broiler cook to fire my steak. But probably the best piece of advice I received was from a cook who warned me: "The chef is gonna be watching you like a hawk. When you screw-up heís gonna yell at you. Just stand there and say, ĎYes, sir! Yes sir!í" I thought it rather odd that he had to tell me that - -until I didnít stir the soup correctly one evening. The Chef came flying over to me, screaming and ranting and making such a scene that I was reminded of some Jerry Lewis movie and almost laughed out loud. But I remembered my friendís advice, and, casting my eyes downward, I said "Yes, sir, Yes, sir!" and humbly stirred the soup as he instructed. Having asserted his authority, he left me alone the rest of the summer. I was learning that unique characters existed behind the scenes as well as on stage.
As an actor in this play I learned that timing was everything. The faster you reached your breakfast tables with that pot of coffee, the happier everyone was. And if you could present the check right after your co-workers sang the Rice Krispies song, your tip went up. At dinner you had to time things just right and really hustle so that you could get your entrees served before it was time for the dining room chorus to perform. Our accompanist par excellence was Rob Rhein. When he started playing, it meant "Get your butts to the front of the room Ďcuz itís time to singí." As the summer went on, some of us tried to get more food served before responding to his playing. He was very good at taking a song and suddenly turning it into the introduction of one of the songs we were supposed to be singing. You should have seen us scurry when we thought we were missing the Oliver! medley. Of course, he was equally good at sliding right back into whatever song he had been playing before, giving us a bit more time to get to the piano.
Long before there was Tony and Tinaís Wedding, there was the Ptarmigan Room. It must have been one of the early forms of participatory theatre, with the customers (Ďpeepsí and Ďraisinsí) influencing the nuances of story line and dialog. The wait staff usually recited their lines without a great deal of variety, but the customers were a different story - - you never knew what they were going to come-up with. My favorite was the time Bill Rollie waited on a retired couple who wanted to talk about their travels. The woman told Bill, "Last year George and I took a trip around the world. Next year I think weíll go someplace else". . . . "Such as where . . . Mars?" Bill speculated when he got back to the sidestand.
The customers were sometimes at the center of the action, even when they didnít want to be. We embarrassed many a diner by parading out of the kitchen with burning sparklers held high, singing "Happy Birthday" at the top of our lungs in four-part harmony. Most of them took the attention with a sense of humor, but the poor honeymooners who were subjected to an equally boisterous version of "Happy Honeymoon to You" usually turned numerous shades of crimson. We figured it made their memories even more special.
They say a good actor can recite the same lines every night and still make them sound fresh and spontaneous. If my stint as a waitress is any indication, Iíd make a lousy actress. As the summer went on I got tired of asking people what they wanted to drink with their meal, in spite of changing inflections, word order, and rephrasing the question ("And to drink . . . . How about a beverage?" etc.).
Twelve hour days eventually wore on all of us, and even the occasional snarfed fruit, nap between meals, and lunch off didnít entirely restore our mental health. We turned to humor to get us through, improvising on our regularly scripted lines. Impatient "peeps" who didnít think their food was coming fast enough were told "You know, I do only have three hands". We all tried to patiently answer the round of where-are-you-from, where-do-you-go-to-school, whatís-your-major questions, but I ran out of the gumption it took to answer the question that invariably came next: "Music Therapy, whatís that?" "Itís when you take drugs and listen to music," Iíd say, jokingly. Busboys had contests to see who could serve ice and water with the most flourish, and wait staff began to fight over who got to stage the next crash of trays and metal entree covers. When the relish dishes were discontinued in an effort to lower food cost, we gathered around the piled Blue Willow dishes and sang them a Many Glacier "Auld Lang Syne."
When you go on a hike and canít seem to go slow enough to enjoy it because you keep racing along at dining room pace; when you think the Alpine glow on Grinnell Point looks like a scoop of orange sherbet; when the star above Swiftcurrent Peak reminds you of the cherry on top of the cottage cheese; well, you know youíve spent too many hours in the DR. But thereís a good side to that - - it makes you finally willing to leave. Youíre finally ready to give-up your view of the backdrop that is so incredible that even Stephen Spielberg couldnít have imagined it. And so, as the last guest was seated on the last meal of the last day, we all stood and applauded. Yes, we were glad to be done with waiting tables. But it was more than that: a production this good deserved a standing ovation.
Note.Recently The Inside Trail invited GPF members to submit brief memoirs of their first days in Glacier. We received the following responses, spanning many decades in the Park.
by Mona Brwon (1948)
In the summer of 1948, my mother and I rode the train, sitting up all the way from New York City to East Glacier station. I had never seen real mountains before, and as we approached western Montana in the early morning half light, the mountains loomed ominous and threatening. I was frightened.
We left the train carrying our wooden framed Trapper Nelson backpacks. In them were our sleeping bags, tent and all our belongings for the next several weeks. We headed up the Mt. Henry trail. Without a good nightís sleep in many days, up and over we went to Two Medicine where we were warmly greeted, fed and given sleeping accomodations for the night.
So began my lifelong passion for Glacier Park and for mountains throughout the world, where I find renewal, inspiration and awe of our indredibly beautiful and imperishable world.
by Tessie Bundick
I had never even heard of Glacier National Park when a fellow Texas Tech University actress mentioned that she had thoroughly enjoyed last summer in this glorious place. I was a dyed-in-the-wool, ethnocentric Texan who had never travelled farther north than the panhandle, and Glacier Park might as well have been a recreational area on Mars as far as I was concerned.
After carefully listening to this former Glacier Hotel employee prattle on in glowing terms, however, I decided to apply. I was immediately accepted for a maidís job because Mr. Tan Tippet, employee recruiter, was very fond of prospects from Texas Tech - "no one from there has ever broken their contract".
I had my doubts, and would really have been quite content to stay in Lubbock that summer (go figure), but off I went on the trail of adventure to far-off Montana.
In those days (1972), the thing to do upon arrival by plane into Great Falls was to get a taxi straight to the Rainbow Hotel in the downtown area. This hostelry had seen its glory days pass by. However, it was a tradition and the bus station was only a block away, so one could drag oneís luggage down the sidewall (before wheels), and purchase a ticket to East Glacier.
Of course I was impressed by the great lodge at the entrance to the park, but my finely chiselled sense of history appreciation had not been honed to a very sharp edge yet, and I was not as impressed as I should have been.
I was put up in a communal room rather mysteriously called the "Bull Pen", and slept with fellow employees in the old hotel, itself. Many of these students were former workers at Many Glacier Hotel (my destination) and I listened with amusement as they reminisced and waxed extremely nostalgic about past summers at this Shangri-la.
The next morning saw us off in a shiny red jammer to Many Glacier. The intensity of the excitement rose amongst the old timers as they lovingly named each landmark and mountain that we passed on our 55 mile journey. Finally we came to the tiny village of Babb. There was some snickering about this, and then we turned down that long road to dear olí Swiftcurrent Valley.
I have a vivid memory of someone yelling, "Look, thereís Salamander Glacierí", and, indeed, a long white apparition loomed in the distance that did seem to resemble that amphibian.
As we neared the hotel, misty-eyed returnees all but stood at attention and saluted, each thrilled at the first sight of their beloved old harn
I could only wonder at such rapture. As we disembarked, people seemed to appear out of nowhere and there was much screaming and hugging as old friends recognized each other.
I took a hard look around. Yep, there were those mountains all right and, "gosh, they were big," I thought with a flatlanderís sensibility.
Since I was on opening crew, we ate our meals in the tiny lobby of the lower dorm. I was innocent of all employment as I had never held a job, so mucking out a winterís worth of dirt from the hotelís rooms-came as something of a shock. It was hard, physical labor and just when we thought we were too exhausted to go on, we had a big party in the communal living room of the lower dorm and somehow found energy reserves for whooping it up.
It probably took about two days for me to catch on to exactly where I was. In retrospect, I cannot fathom why it took that long as it was obvious from the get-go that I had somehow landed into a combination of Never-Never Land and Paradise Regained. Or at least it should have been!
The spell of those mountains was so strong, the television-free, radio-free, car-free atmosphere so charged with pure fun, the intense bonding of the employees from all over the nation so instantaneous, the music was so beautiful, the history of the hotel so fascinating that I quickly shed the Texas dust from my shoes and exchanged it happily for the magical sand on Swiftcurrentís shore.
I returned for seven more summers, never regretting a moment spent in these magnificent northern Rockies and grateful for the good luck that had sent me there.
Seven more times, I had the fortunate opportunity to relish that anticipation enjoyed by those former employees on that first jammer ride into Glacier National Park.
by Myron Chas (late 1940's)
In the late 1940ís and early Ď50ís, my father was doing electrical work for the GP Company at all of their facilities in the Park. My task at a young age was to be his helper during the summer. My special skills were crawling under floors and in attics to install electrical conduit.
To ensure a place in the race track food line at the different hotels I soon learned to be good friends with the cooks and managers. Ann Parker at East Glacier and Mrs. Rhody at Many Glacier made sure I was well taken care of. All of the employees during this time were very kind to me and this was true after I became an official employee in the Park later in life.
by Liz Gehring Coddington (1956)
During the summer of 1955 (the hottest summer that I could ever remember) I was working in a doctorís office in downtown St. Paul. A college friend kept sending me postcards about her most wonderful first summer working in Glacier National Park. I decided right then that I would spend the summer of 1956 (and, as it turned out, of Ď57, Ď58, and Ď59) in Glacier. So what if the pay was only 55 cents an hour?
My friend recruited a group of us from college to work at Many Glacier Hotel. We were all excited climbing aboard the Great Northern "milk train" (which stopped at every little town). After 28 hours, we arrived at East Glacier in time for lunch, and then we boarded the bus for Many Glacier. We felt like total greenhorns as those who had previously worked at Many talked endlessly about their experiences and named all the mountains we passed as if they were old friends.
The first week was never to be forgotten. I was employed as a front desk cashier. The new auditor couldnít figure out how to run the posting machine that I would be using to bill the guests for their stay. And, of course, there was a convention that first week. We worked day and night (literally) trying to figure out this machine and then cranking out the bills for a full house of guests. By the time the week was over, we newcomers felt that we had paid our dues and were now part of the establishment.
One experience stands out concerning that first week of dorm life. It was a very cold week and the dormitory was not heated. Every night we had to listen as mice got into our wastebasket and would jump and jump trying to get out. It was so cold in our room that no one wanted to get out of a warm bed to do anything about it. In the morning, we would have a wastebasket full of frozen mice. We never thought to tip the wastebasket over before turning in for the night. It was a very effective mousetrap!
by John Cotham (1972)
Your letter requesting GPF members to submit reminiscences about our "First Days in Glacier" brought forth many pleasant memories. My first days in Glacier in the summer of 1972 were unforgettable, not in the least because I almost didnít make it there.
Glacier Park employees were offered a discounted train fare from Minneapolis to East Glacier, so I decided to make the entire trip from Tennessee by train - a trip that was to take at least two full days. On the day of departure I arrived at Union Station in Nashville at the appointed time, only to find the train station deserted. I wandered around and finally found a workman down by the tracks who said that only two passenger trains departed Nashville daily, one northbound and one southbound, and the northbound train had departed about four hours earlier. The ticket agent who had sold me my ticket several weeks earlier in Memphis, where I was attending college, had evidently given me departure times from Memphis, not Nashville. So much for catching the train that day!
Lucklly, however, I was able to fIy from Nashville to Minneapolis the next day, where I caught the same train I would have been on had I been able to start my rail journey in Nashville. I still wonder if Mr. Tippet would have kept me on if I had arrived in Glacier a day late.
The trip across the northern plains was largely uneventful, except I remember puzzling over unscheduled stops seemingly in the middle of nowhere, and being amazed by the sight of snow lingering in sheltered areas in the high plains as we approached the mountains. Snow? In June? In 75 degree weather? That didnít seem right to my southern eyes, and I was truly amazed after my arrival at Many Glacier to see several feet of snow still on the trails inside the park.
The day of my arrival in Glacier was a day of luminescence - warm and bright, with a clarity that only autumn days can bring in the South. When I arrived I learned that I was among a small group of employees to be the first to bring the Many Glacier Hotel out of its winter hibernation. There were probably no more than 8 to 10 of us that first day Pat OíConnor, John Harris, Pat Kinsella and I were to be "lobby porters" (boy, was that a misnomer!) and a few housekeepers had come early. I was glad to be among the chosen few, not only because it meant that I had the opportunity to spend a few extra days in such a magical place, but also because I was somewhat shy and felt much more comfortable in a small group of strangers than in a large group. Little did I expect that I was soon to be the center of attention. While eating breakfast the very first morning I became aware that the room had become suddenly very quiet, and all eyes were trained on me. That was the last thing I wanted, and I had no idea what I might have done or said to draw such attention to myself. Finally, someone said that they were Just listening to me talk! With some relief I came to realize that this group of mostly Midwesterners had the crazy notion that I had some kind of an accent, a notion that they somehow kept all summer and probably still have today.
I soon learned the job of being "lobby porter" - washing the Ptarmigan Room windows while standing on tall rickety wooden ladders, buffing the floors, vacuuming the hallways (was that Candace Bergen that just walked by?), and quickly realized it was the best job there. We were usually through with our work by lunchtime or shortly thereafter, and I used my free afternoons to explore the park, when they werenít taken up with practicing or with music rehearsals.
by John Hagen (1970)
I first departed for Glacier Park in the wake of a punishing week of final exams at the end of my junior year in college. I stayed up all night to finish a term paper, flung a few items into a suitcase, and drove 100 miles to Minneapolis, barely catching the train. As I blearily walked through the old Great Northern depot, I was impressed by a mural depicting the Many Glacier Valley, not realizing that this was the very location where I was going to work. I fell asleep at once after climbing aboard the train, and continued sleeping soundly all that day and night. I woke up the next morning on the high plains of Montana, not far from the Park.
I recall the dramatic sight of the front range of the Rockies, surging suddenly up above the prairie horizon as the train came over a rise. The morning sky was bright blue, the spring grass was a vivid green, and the snowy peaks looked like a line of tremendous icebergs rising out of an emerald sea. For an hour I was spellbound, watching the contours that I would come to know as Chief Mountain and Merritt and Going-to-the-Sun and Rising Wolf growing larger and larger as we crossed the miles of windswept billowing grass.
Around midmorning, we arrived at the battered old Glacier Park railroad station, a few hundred feet from Glacier Park Lodge. It was a fine, brisk, breezy morning, and I remember the tang of the mountain air as I got off the stuffy train. There were quite a few employees bound for Many Glacier, and we all put our luggage aboard an old Crown bus.
Before the bus departed, the company fed us lunch ó a forbidding goulash ó in the East Glacier cafeteria. Shortly afterward, as the lumbering old Crown went swaying around the many curves on Looking Glass Pass, I found myself feeling distinctly seasick. I gritted my teeth at the sight of Lower Two Medicine Lake, looking eerily green as it rolled in and out of view every time the bus lurched around a corner. In 29 subsequent summers in Glacier I never again have had motion sickness, but that afternoon it was all I could do to hold the unsavory goulash down. I was vastly relieved when we reached the open road between St. Mary and Babb, and the feelings of nausea subsided.
Shortly afterward we rolled into sight of Many Glacier Hotel. I will never forget the romantic charm of the old wooden lodge with its eaves and spires, its white and gold trim and its many balconies, looming up above our heads. It reminded me then, as it often has since, of a big old sailing vessel with complex rigging looming against the sky, about to cast off on a voyage.
The first person out of the hotel to greet the bus was a room clerk, resplendent in a scarlet blazer bearing the white Swiss Cross above one pocket. He looked like a sort of medieval herald. Within a few minutes, I met perhaps the three most colorful personalities I ever have known in my life ó Ian Tippet, our illustrious English manager; Ray Kinley, the aged gardener and storyteller; and my longtime roommate Chris Vick, who in his persona as "The Wizard" gave rise to hundreds of merry tales. From those first minutes I was captivated by the old hotel, its traditions and its rich community, in which I was blessed to share each summer for the next ten years.
by Rey Holmen (1935)
My first sight of Glacier Park occurred near the end of the 1935 summer season. I had been the photofinisher for the Crandall Studios, at Moran in Grand Teton National Park, that summer. Before heading home for Rock Island, Illinois, I took the opportunity to visit the Jardine Ranch near Wisdom, Montana, home of our studioís clerk, cook, and housekeeper, and to drive on to Glacier National Park. I was very impressed with the beauty of the Park, its expansiveness, and its peaks, even though they were not of the same alpine character as the Tetons. I harbored a wish to have a job there the following summer. I had some personal reasons for not wishing to return to the job in the Tetons, even had there been a chance.
While living from my sleeping bag at Many Glacier campground during that first brief visit, I had chatted with another camper and his wife. He was a professor at Texas State Teacherís College, as it was then called, at Lubbock, Texas. He learned that I had climbed a number of the Teton peaks, and he wanted me to go on a climb with him. I had no equipment with me, but he assured me that he would provide a climbing rope. I proposed that we try Mt. Wilbur, one of the very few peaks in Glacier Park not having an almost horseback-accessible route on one side, despite high, precipitous cliffs on other sides.
We started out early the next morning. His "climbing rope" turned out to be nothing but a sash cord! After climbing up to what, I can only guess, was about 300 feet or less from the summit, we encountered a stratum of vertical columns we estimated to be 75 or more feet high. The sky was beginning to look unfriendly gray, and there was no way that we should attack those columns, as ill-equipped as we were. We made the wise decision to descend. My partner shortly lost his footing, but I was fortunate to be positioned so as to be able to hold the rope firmly and stopped his downward slide. We caught our breath and cautiously returned to camp. Thus ended our mountaineering.
In the early months of 1936, my last semester as a senior at Augustana College in Rock Island, I wrote to T. J. Hileman at his Kalispell, Montana, studio, asking about a photofinishing job in his Glacier Park concession. I mentioned my experience at Crandallís Studios the prior summer, and my work as portrait photographer and photo finisher for the yearbook during my senior year in high school and during two of my college years. There wasnít much encouragement in his reply. It wasnít until shortly before graduation that the word came from him that , after all, he would have an opening at the East Glacier Hotel location, which was the photofinishing spot serving tourists at that location, at Two Medicine, and at Lake McDonald. I was elated!
The day after Commencement my classmate, Keith Hussey, and I started westward in my 1928 Dodge sedan, veteran of the previous yearís trip to Jackson Hole and the Tetons. We bought it with money borrowed from one of my sisters. Our elation was short lived. Just a few miles out of Muscatine, Iowa, a connecting rod bearing failed and the rod went through the cylinder block wall. I phoned around Muscatine to locate someone who would tow the car into town and junk it without charging me. I finally found one who would do so and pay me $35 for the remains. Keith decided to hitch hike to his job with Lyonís horse string in Grand Teton Park. I hitched a ride back to Rock Island and bought a round-trip railroad ticket to Spokane, Washington, via Denver, Salt Lake City, and Pendleton on the way out. This was cheaper than a round-trip ticket to Glacier Park!
I finally arrived at Kalispell. Bereft of money in Salt Lake City by a couple of con men and having to ask Hileman for an advance from my future pay. What a start! My cohort at East Glacier was to be Bill Hale, whose responsibility was to take photos of notables passing through, on behalf of Great Northern. More about that another time.
by Ray Kinley (1914)
In the summer of 1913, at the age of 21, I was a brakeman on the Pennsylvania Railroad. One night in Ohio, a switchman forgot to close a switch, and the train I was riding ran into a hopper train full of coal. 65 people were killed. I was trapped beneath a baggage car and lost my right hand, which was pinned by the undercarriage.
The following summer, still recovering from the accident, I went to visit my uncle in Vaughan, Montana. He ran a hotel which catered to passengers on the "Galloping Goose," a spur train that ran from Great Falls to the Great Northernís roadbed.
Uncle Henry decided to take me to Glacier Park, which was just four years old. We rode north on a buckboard (known as a "democrat") loaded with blankets and oats for the horses. We went by way of Conrad, Blackfoot, and Browning, and then up the Duck Lake Road (which just had been built to assist the government in building the Sherburne Dam). Uncle Henry took this route to avoid the hill climbs closer to the park.
At Babb, we passed the original Thronsonís Store (which was closer to the turnoff up the valley than the present store). I saw Oscar Thronson there for the first time; a small boy back among the shelves. The store was run by Oscarís father.
We passed the newly-built Sherburne Dam, with a steamshovel still in place at the dam site. Then we trotted on up the Many Glacier Valley. I just fell in love with it, donít you know; I thought that it was the most magnificent sight I had seen in all my life.
Many Glacier Hotel had not been built yet (it opened the following summer, and Great Northern workers were busy on the site). A whole city of chalets was scattered beside the falls and on the slopes of Mt. Altyn. We went further up the lake and made our camp in a secluded spot.
While we were there, Howard Eaton came through with one of his enormous horse parties. They had "bull cooks" who fed the people and put up the tents or teepees in which they slept. Mary Roberts Rinehart travelled through Glacier with Eaton the following two summers and wrote books about the experience [Through Glacier Park: Seeing America First with Howard Eaton (1916) and Tenting Tonight (1918)] which helped to make the Park very popular. Before that time, the Great Northern had featured Lake Chelan in Washington as their main tourist attraction. Rinehartís books were so vivid and drew so many inquiries that the railroad shifted its focus to Glacier.
After my visit with Uncle Henry, I went back east. I sold artificial arms and did railroad work for several years. In the summer of 1919, I came back again, and worked in Glacier for more than 50 summers, through 1977.
[Editorís note: For more on the "chalet city" see A History of Many Glacier Hotel on the Glacier Park Foundationís Web site, www.glacierparkfoundation.org]
by Ray Kozel (1972)
I was born and raised in the Midwest and never knew anything different from the hot, humid summers on the farm. But my parents, unlike most of our neighbors, took a summer vacation. The summer before I was a senior in high school we made it as far west as the Little Bighorn Battlefield. I remember how I marvelled at the rolling hills of eastern Montana. The next summer we made it to Glacier Park. My Dad and I took a short hike around Swiftcurrent Lake. We saw a beaver and heard it slap the water with its tail. The rugged mountains, clear blue lake and magnificent wildlife made quite an impression on this flatlands teenager. Before we left Glacier I was already asking how to get a job.
The next year I applied and was accepted at Many Glacier Hotel, probably due to my high school music background. I was on the early crew (first week in June). I drove my car out to East Glacier, only to have to park it for the summer. I still remember the cloudy sky as we pulled into Many Glacier late in the day. I was shown to the upper dorm and my room. I was to be a busboy and share a room with two other busboys. When I got to the Upper Dorm I was the only one on the upper floor, with only a few people downstairs. The first night I will never forget.
During the night a typical storm blew in, and I discovered that there was a hole in the window in my room. The howling winds actually blew snow into the room. I found a rag to plug the hole, but the tiny heater couldnít keep me warm. I can still remember shivering all night.The next day I truly wondered what I was doing there. Snow in June! How could I survive in such harsh conditions?
But I did survive. Being on the early crew was great for a newcomer. I had no trouble meeting the few employees already there and was mostly able to keep up with the new people coming in every night. The early crew worked hard, scrubbing and cleaning. I still remember all the employees getting together in the lobby of the Lower Dorm to play a game. I always pitied the people who arrived late and had to try to catch up with all the new names and faces at once.
Working at Many Glacier Hotel was one of the highlights of my life. The fun-loving, friendly employees made me feel like I was in a family I had known all my life. It is interesting to note that during our 1996 Many Glacier reunion, the same feeling seemed not to be present in todayís employees. This was not only apparent to us old timers, but several current employees commented that it isnít the same way now. In fact, several current employees felt how much affection we had for each other and started coming to our gatherings.
by Drew Metcalfe (1972)
My recollections of my first summer at Many Glacier have become confused with the five subsequent summers I spent in the park. In June 1972, I was a sophomore at Elmhurst College and had learned of Glacier from the school chaplain. I had applied to the "big name" parks: Yellowstone ... Yosemite. I had not known of Glacier until the reverend spoke of a vacation he had taken the previous summer. I remember his comments about the "singing dining room" and thinking I might have an interest. Turned out I never heard from anyone from my application mailing but Mr. Tippet.
To go to work, I took the train. I boarded the Empire Builder in Chicago and met other first time employees on the two day journey west. John from Tennessee, whose last name escapes me, and I arrived at East Glacier after games of canasta and shared stories of college. It was dusk and a dozen or so of us had to board a jammer for the drive to Many G. By the time we got to Many Glacier it was night. 1972 had been an unusually long winter and there was a snow drift on the lawn near the hotel entrance up to the portico roof. I was astonished with snow that bountiful when I had left Chicago in an early summer heat wave.
The evergreen smell that greeted me is one that has been stored deep in memory. When I smell spruce and pine in cold air I am filled with this vivid impression of stepping off the jammer. Smell brings back a recollection like no other sense. My sight was limited. I only had the black on black outline of the valley. I would have to wait for morning light to grasp the full impact of where I was. It was a beginning of something that remains strong and continues to reverbrate in me.
by Chris Crump Moench (1970)
In the summer of 1970 I was an onion dicer in paradise ó an onion dicer, mincer, slicer and chopper at Lake McDonald Lodge in Glacier Park. How did I come to have such a restrictive role in such an expansive and magnificent setting? Was there a life for me at Glacier outside of the kitchen?
When I applied to work at Glacier National Park, one of the positions which I indicated my willingness to assume was that of "kitchen assistant." I wished to improve my culinary skills. From day one in the Lake McDonald kitchen, my job was secure though overly specialized. I was one of the only employees able to chop onions without tears. So that summer the French Chef Knife was the tool of my trade and it was me and the onions, with occasional green peppers thrown in until the end of the summer when I had to fill in for the french fries in the snack bar!
This job might have been dreadfully boring except for the comradery of other kitchen workers. Punning was a favorite pastime and the preferred form of humor. On nights when halibut was being served to "emps," the mood was particularly jovial. Staff tried to outdo each other with word games.
The other positive element of my job was that it was easy on the mind and allowed for extensive daydreaming ó time to plan and anticipate the next day off in the mountains.
From the moment I arrived at Lake McDonald, I was awestruck by the mountains. Having grown up in a suburb of Chicago in an area which was a continuous puzzle of shopping centers, subdivisions, freeways, and towns, I had had limited exposure to mountains. I was immediately drawn up into the mountains. The purely visual experience was clearly not going to satisfy my soulís craving. For every six days of onion work, I was awarded one blessed day in the mountains. This one day might be stretched to two by arranging oneís shifts the day before and the day after.
The day I arrived at Lake McDonald a bear was tranquilized 300 yards from my cabin in order to move it to a more remote area. I was told that a young woman who had lived in my cabin had been killed by a bear three summers earlier. I was determined not to let bear fears keep me from spending time in the mountains.
I did much of my hiking and climbing with my roommate Pat and her boyfriend who had done a lot of climbing in Glacier. Our first hike was a double dipper: Stanton and Vaught Mountains, a full dayís venture. Coming down, I was not concerned about sore muscles on the following day, but I wondered if my leg muscles might just go on strike. It was the first time I had climbed a mountain. To tell the truth, the descent was more strenuous than the ascent.
On subsequent hikes, we tried to visit different areas of the park, hitchhiking to and from planned routes. Every hike was more like a spiritual quest. We experienced the thrill of lakes, passes, summits, swimming in mountain lakes, sliding down snow fields, screaming and laughing on summits. Names like Stoney Indian, Rising Wolf, Bowman Lake, Gunsight, Garden Wall, Granite Park, Two Medicine, and Chief Mountain stir my imagination.
The alpine flower fields took my breath away ó clusters of glacier lilies, monkey flowers, columbines, penstemons, harebells, gentians, beargrass, paintbrush, asters, fireweed. My favorite was the tiny mountain forget-me-nots. Such great variety in so fragile a habitat! Such brilliant colors! Another vivid image is that of the quaking aspens, ringing their silent bells.
The ice cold water of the mountain streams contributed to the spiritual experience. It seemed to me holy, even "living" water. We drank freely and our thirsts were quenched.
Finally, sleeping under the stars without tents was a highlight ó sleeping under a canopy of stars in the crisp mountain air. During the work week we often slept on the shores of Lake McDonald, sleeping bags lined up side by side. In spite of bear stories, I was never afraid and never remember getting wet from rain or bitten by bugs.
In closing, my summer in Glacier gave me infinitely more than an opportunity to sharpen my onion chopping skills. It gave me a chance to experience the beauty and grandeur of the mountain landscape in the company of good humored comrades and to meet God in that place.
by John Slater (1965)
As I rode the Great Northern Railway across the plains, I was filled with anticipation at arriving at my summer job. I was bound from Michigan through Chicago that June of 1965 for Glacier National Park ó a place I had never been before. At dawn, after three days on the train, I looked out the window and realized that the "clouds" I was seeing on the western horizon were actually the snow-capped peaks of Glacier National Park. The air was cold when we stopped momentarily at Browning, and the mountains had drawn much closer now. I took in the full blast of the mountain-scented air as I stood peering out through the opening between train cars as we headed down the last 13 miles of track to East Glacier. The click-clack of the wheels echoed off the canyon walls of the Two Medicine River gorge as we crossed on a high bridge. Minutes later, around 7 a.m., we pulled into the station at East Glacier. I had arrived on the train I would be loading and unloading many times over the course of the summer. I walked up the path to the extraordinary old hotel built of massive Douglas firs ó Glacier Park Lodge. The lawn was covered with snow. I was here!
A week later or so, wanting to see the park, a friend and I hitched a ride in front of the hotel. This was only the first of many such rides. But this one was especially memorable because I rode in the back of a pick-up truck. My senses were overwhelmed by the marvelous unobstructed view of beauty as we wound up the curving mountain road. The smells of the forest, the cool air, and the warm sunshine filled my soul.
I was hooked. Something inside me I had not known about came alive. That magical spirit of the park has been with me ever since. It always will be.
by Mac Willemssen (1967)
In the summer of 1967, 1 worked as a "Porter/Bellman" (PB) at Swiftcurrent. As was the case with my fellow PBís, I was enticed by the description that we would be doing "menís work" relative to the upkeep of the cabins and motels and also have a chance to earn tips as bellmen. Once we all got to Swiftcurrent and started our PB careers, we found that reality did not reflect the advertising.
The reality of our job was that "equal opportunity" had arrived early in Glacier Park and we were essentially maids-in-bluejeans for the summer, making beds, hunting for dust kittens and generally doing what, up until then, most of us considered "womenís work".
The illusion of earning tips as bellmen also quickly vanished. We found most of the family guests at Swiftcurrent had little inclination to tip a summer employee to show them where their cabin or motel might be located. In fact, after about two weeks of futilely running ahead of cars to show where their accommodations were located (since most cars were too full to add one more person to ride along), one of our artistic emps drew a nice map of Swiftcurrent showing each numbered cabin and motel unit. A descendant of that map is still used by the desk clerk at Swiftcurrent.
In those days, the cabins were the bargains of the national park system ... $5.00 for a single bedroom and $7.00 for a two bedroom. They were heated by woodburning stoves. One of our duties was to chop wood for every cabin and then clean out the ashes. There was no electrical heat backup, so if you were a guest and could not get a fire started, you curled up in your blankets and eagerly awaited checkout time.
Since I believe the statute of limitations in Montana has run for "fraudulent wood piling", I can finally describe one of the great scams of the summer of 1967. GPI bought wood by the truckload and had it in a large pile where the employee shower facilities are currently located at Swiftcurrent. This pile was the size of a house and was helter-skelter, since the wood was simply dumped off the large trucks that brought it in.
Someone in the GPI management team thought it would be a good idea to know exactly how many cords of wood were in the pile. As PBís we were told that an additional duty for the second half of the summer would be to orderly pile the wood into a large rectangular mass so that the actual cordage could be exactly measured. Each piece of wood was a semi circle approximately 12 - 15 inches in length and about I foot in diameter. This semi-circular shape facilitated orderly piling.
It took us PBís about 60 seconds to realize we had a Herculean task assigned to us and about another 60 seconds to devise our remedy. We decided to construct a two-layer veneer of neatly stacked wood on all sides and the top of the helter-skelter pile. Working very feverishly and, I might add, in what was considered to be record time by GPI management, we came up with an orderly, measurable pile of wood in about three days. Our achievement, akin to building the Glacier Park equivalent of the pyramids, was given a nod of approval by none other than Don Hummel, the owner of GPI, on one of his inspection trips.
As a postscript, during the summer of 1968, as the wood pile dwindled and the "veneer" literally and figuratively wore off, GPI became convinced the inexorable weight of the winter snows had destroyed their beautiful, orderly pile of wood.
As a further postscript, later that summer GPI removed the wood-burning stoves, sold them as antiques and installed electric heaters. The great (or not-so-great by this time) woodpile came to its ultimate demise when GPI hired a trucking company to come and haul it away.
by Cathy Crossland Woods (1971)
On May 31, 1971, I began a journey that would take me from my hometown of Plainview, Texas (a town aptly named to describe the scenery), to Glacier National Park, the place I quickly determined would be the closest to heaven I would ever find in this life! Riding over on the bus from East Glacier, I met Cecilia Smith, better known as Cecil, and we became instant friends and claimed each other as roommates for the summer.
At Texas Tech, my friends and I (including Terrie Stewart, well-known to this very day as an MGH maid, waitress, and fanatic) had been sunbathing on our balcony since February. Though I had packed sensibly for the summer, I was psychologically unprepared for the early June weather of the park. When we arrived, there was a pile of snow that had been plowed from the parking lot and ran the length of the hotel and was up to the second story windows! Being part of the skeleton crew that cleaned the hotel in preparation for opening had advantages. Staying warm was not one of them! I donít think I thawed out until July!
I learned several things that first week of that most idyllic summer of my life. I learned that friendships blossom quickly in such an environment. I learned that mountains and lakes and people that you may never see again can take root in your heart and never let go. I also learned that the state bird of Montana is the mosquito! How do those things survive and thrive in those freezing temperatures?