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Old first hand Stories of Yellowstone

My old neighbor JB told me this story today.   Its impossible to place it in time.  In JB’s mind it was like yesterday, but probably in reality sometime in the late ’50’s or early 60’s.

“My job was to plow the road from Mammoth to Cooke City.  There were two plows going and it was Christmas day.  It was 60 below zero, really really cold.  Those plows aren’t heated, you know.  You’ve gotta keep the window cracked too, otherwise the windshield freezes up with ice and you can’t see.  So it’s 60 below outside, no heat, and the window’s cracked.”

I asked him how he stayed warm.

“You just put on more clothes!  The snow was 4 or 5 feet deep and I got a call on the radio from the couple staying at the Buffalo Ranch.  His wife was going into labor and they were stuck.   I was going around a curve on my way to Tower, as fast as I could which wasn’t too fast in a plow, when I saw a patch of clear road ahead.  I knew that meant trouble.  The other plow was a few minutes ahead and a clear patch meant he’d gone off the road.  When I got there the plow was completely off the road, tipped over, and the driver was buried under the snow.  At 60 below he didn’t have much time and it was good I was just behind him.”

“I started digging him out and when I got to him he said ‘Lunch box’.  He kept repeating that.  I didn’t know he had a heart condition and his medication was in his lunchbox.  I never found that lunchbox.  They got him over to Billings.  He was pretty mangled up and didn’t work for over 2 years.”

“Then I started plowing my way to the Buffalo Ranch.  I finally got that couple unstuck.  She never got further than Mammoth where she had her baby.  That was Christmas Day.  I didn’t get home till 3 am.”

I had a client whose father, Merrill Daum, worked in Yellowstone from 1925 to 1930, first as the Chief Engineer then eventually as Assistant Superintendent to Horace Albright.  Daum spent the first several years working on oiling the roads.  Here are a few story excerpts from a memoir my client gave me.

We had an epidemic there one year.  They had quite a few cases of the tourists coming down sick after they’d been there at Old Faithful Inn during the afternoon and evening.  They came down with vomiting.  They really were sick.  It broke out at the Lake.  Then to Canyon.  The Lake was where they really had the epidemic.  One hundred or so sick people there.  We had to go around shooting them all with a needle.  I don’t know what we injected them with.  To relax them so they wouldn’t vomit themselves to death.  They put four of us at the table morning, noon, and night at the Lake Hotel and we were each to eat different things, not the same thing to see what food was causing our troubles.  None of us got sick.  THey just threw up on the floors, every place they got caught.

Bears came on our porch on that duplex we lived in at Mammoth.  I finally got tired of bears once and I took an apple, filled it with red pepper, pinned it together and put it on the porch.  That bear came up and swallowed that and all of a sudden he was blowing and wiping his nose in the snow, trying to get cool.  He really was hot.  He never bothered us again.

At Yellowstone we were building a highway out near Canyon and Lake areas and our construction crew was in tents.  The bears would keep coming in and get the food out of the kitchen.  I was there once in the daytime and here was a Grizzly.  They’re beautiful animals.  The sun would glisten on the beautiful points on their fur.  This darn grizzly was walking home with a sack of oats.  Just walking right off with it.  A sack of oats about 75 pounds.  Nothing we could do about it.  They did take a lot that first year.  You weren’t allowed to kill them.  You could sit right there next to the garbage and they wouldn’t bother you.  All they wanted was to dig in the garbage.  The worst place where I chased one bear was at West Thumb.  The bear came in there that fall, before the snows.  I happened to go around the store which had candies and things like that and the shopkeeper had the windows all closed.  The place was broken into and there was the bear inside, just gorging himself on candy.  I’ll never forget how surprised that bear was for somebody to come in and find him.

We had to get ready to remove the snow in the spring. We started at Cody, about 30 miles from Cody up to the entrance.  We got as far as the Park with snow 12-20 feet deep.  We’d blast it out with TNT which Uncle Sam gave us.  That would start it thawing and then we’d take a big power shovel and shovel the stuff so we had a two-way highway through there to the east entrance of the Park.  From there on in we’d use our own equipment.  The deep snow was right there at the entrance.  That was the high point.  We’d generally try to get open by June 1st.  By June 6th we were officially open, I believe.  But you couldn’t make some of the interior trips that early.  It would be long in July before you could get away from the snow.

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