The Long Drive Home

The Ride Home From Butte

It’s only about 70 miles from Butte to Virginia City if you take the old road, which we always did. Driving into Butte in the morning usually took around an hour and fifteen minutes. The drive back to VC in the evening was entirely another matter… usually taking between 3 and 5 hours. Quite a difference, eh? Well, here’s why…

For those of you who live or have ever lived in Madison County, you know that the one thing we have a generous supply of, all around the county, is… bars! Yup, we got ‘em. And there were far more back in the day than there are now. I hate to say it, but unless you’re over 60, you’re not going to remember or even be aware of some of the bars I’m about to share with you.

Butte, Montana

My parents, Guy and Helen Hulse, bought the Tavern bar in 1947 and ran it for 31 years. They also ran the adjoining cafe for the first four years, until they realized the money was in the bar side, and food service was a losing proposition back then. The bar business suited them well, however, and for years the Tavern Saloon was one of the best watering holes in town.

The Tavern

Anyway, ’48 to ’55 were the years I was getting piano lessons, tap lessons and braces adjusted every two weeks in Butte. My folks bought booze for the bar and supplies that were hard to find in Ennis or Sheridan. If my braces adjustment was really hurting me, we’d stop in at Eddie Piazzola’s Ranch House in uptown Butte, where my folks would have a drink with Eddie, and they would let me have a Pepsi. Then the long ride home would begin.

My memory of the trip to Butte is still crystal clear. The Saturday morning drive in was always easy. The Arthur Godfrey Show would be on the radio. I’d read the Burma Shave signs along the highway, and it was (for me) always an adventure to drive around “Dead Man’s Curve.” Any of you remember Dead Man’s Curve? A sharp turn on the narrow highway around a rocky outcropping. Several car accidents that resulted in deaths to probably two or three people. Maybe one of you knows the story. Finally in the early fifties, they made a cut through the rocky hill… took them two years to finish it and reroute the highway. At least a dozen guys from V.C. worked on the cut. Young Lloyd Brook, Tuffy Burgstrom, Mutt Dixon, Walt Myers, Johnny DelGrosso, sometimes Harley Stevens, and my dad. That same group of guys also worked at the Melrose Talc Mine for one winter… the toughest job I ever saw. Bitter cold with a driving wind,. lots of snow mixed with talc dust. It was horrible. That group of guys were tough!

The Bars… almost all of them long gone

By my count, there were 11 good bars between Butte and V.C. back then. The first one we would stop at occasionally was the 5 Mile Inn, which was on the outskirts of Butte. I never liked that place. The parents would have one drink and we’d be out of there. I can tell you now that Mom and Dad used to stop at these places partly because it was good business promotion. If those bar owners, or even their patrons, were ever in Virginia City, there was a good chance they’d stop in our bar and have one, or several. In those years I don’t think we ever stopped at less than two, and sometimes hit four, depending upon how early we were able to leave Butte.

Mom and Dad at the bar

There was a 9 Mile Inn at the big curve just outside Butte, but we never once stopped there, and I have no idea why.

The next stop was the Nineteen Mile Inn, and we almost always stopped there, as Ray and Jim Capp owned the place and had become good friends. On one stop, we were given a tiny Cocker/Springer Spaniel puppy, that we named “Pablum.” Had her for 14 fun years.

Next stop was the Cactus Inn, at Cactus Junction. We didn’t stop there often, didn’t know the people well and there was never anyone in there.

Turning South at Cactus Junction, we almost always stopped at the Star Bar in Silver Star. Blue, who owned the place, was a great guy. He had a lot of cool animated electric bar signs around, and I usually sat there on one of the bar stools, sipping an Orange Crush and watching Blue’s signs. The best one was the bear fishing on the Hamm’s Beer sign. There was another Hamm’s sign, with a little boy peeing in a pond. I could watch that sign for 10 minutes or so. Blue had a very pretty blonde wife and 3 nice-looking daughters, which I never noticed, of course. It was curious though, as Blue himself was wonderfully homely.

Continuing South, we sometimes stopped at the Blue Anchor in Twin Bridges, which is still there. Phil and Jemima Cook owned it back then. Phil was kind of a skinny guy, while Jemima was huge… and loud… and tough! They had one daughter (whom I sometimes tap-danced with) named Suzy. Greatest legs in Madison county! (Which I never noticed…)

Several miles North of Sheridan was a bar called the Midway. It wasn’t midway to anything that I could see, but there it was, right where a big farm supply building was recently. I don’t remember the bartender’s name, but I remember he’d give me a “bottle of pop” if I sang “Ghost Riders In The Sky” along with the juke box. It’s weird, the things one remembers.

We seldom stopped in Sheridan, but occasionally we’d stop at that strange little bar called “The Sump.” I think it’s still there. And we might stop in for a quick one at the bowling alley, which Chick and Helen LaDue owned back then.

Going on up the road, we might stop briefly at the Laurin Club, just north of Laurin. The building is still there, someone’s home, and has been for probably 60 years or more. It has always fascinated me that the bar’s name was pronounced “LaurAn Club,” while the town of Laurin was pronounced “Lauray.” And spelled “Laurin.” Go figure.

There was a supper club in “downtown Laurin” for a time. My folks never stopped there, but in later years I ate in there once or twice. It was nice, my meals were good, but it probably never had a chance, as the best steak house in SW Montana was just two miles down the road… The Alder Steak House.

My folks usually stopped at Chick’s in Alder for at least one drink. Chick was a good old guy, dry sense of humor, good to kids, and probably half drunk most of the time. His bar had a big Seeburg Juke box, the only one like it in the county, and a shuffle board table over against the far wall. It was always fun to stop at Chick’s.

We never stopped at the Alder Steak House when coming home from Butte, but in later years we rarely missed an evening stopping there for drinks and a steak after a day of fishing the Ruby. Several times, during those years, I’d gotten in the river up over my boots, and my jeans would be wet up to my crotch. Always, ALWAYS, someone at the Steak House bar would look over and grin when we came in, and say, “Looks like young Hulse pissed himself again.”

For all the “ride home drinks” my folks had, we never had an accident or even a close call. Many a night we’d get back to V.C. in a driving blizzard, but we were never worried, for Dad had been a bus driver for years, and was easily the best driver I ever rode with. I would listen to the radio between stops, for the evening radio schedule on Saturday nights back then was a dandy for a kid… Sky King, The Lone Ranger, The Green Hornet, Humphrey Bogart Theatre and The Shadow. After the Shadow, the radio signed off for the night, and for those evenings when we were still on the road, Mom and Dad would usually sing together, while I stretched out on their laps and sometimes fell asleep. They sang the old songs, and Dad had the most beautiful bass voice, which I never realized until much later in life. Mom would sing the melody, and Dad would harmonize with her. I can still hear them in my head.

In The Evening By The Moonlight, With Someone Like You, and I Had A Dream, Dear. I remember these three so clearly, and know all the words to each, as they sang them so many times, for ten years, on those nights coming home from Butte.

Steve Hulse

8 Replies to “The Long Drive Home”

  1. Loved this. I ate at the Alder Steak House once in 1963. I went there with two other members of the VC Players. It was an eye opening experience for a young Hoosier.

    1. Montana wasn’t all that good to you, jtb, but I thought you fit in with it very well. You understood Montana and its people, and I’m a bit surprised that it didn’t call you back more often. I understand why, of course, and it turns out to be a blessing as you haven’t had to see how it has changed… for the worse.

  2. What a precious picture of you, Steve, and a sweet story of a long ride home. As a kid from Butte with teetotaler parents, I couldn’t identify with your story had I not fatefully met your best friend Rick. He not only introduced me to you, but to Virginia City and to my first keg party somewhere in those parts. Thank Heaven for your friendship with Rick and all the memories…..

    1. Thanks, Joani! You and I are very lucky to have grown up in Montana back then. Butte was, and still is occasionally, a hilarious experience for me. It has changed some, of course, but is still Butte!

  3. Very few of those bars are still in existence. Not easy to make it in business in this state, even today. Not that we ever did anything to support them,. We make that drive fairly frequently and don’t recall stopping for a drink along the way a single time. Must be our advanced age. Once headed for home we’re like barn sour ponies, picking up the pace until we can rest in our own comfy digs. Loved the story!

    1. Yes, Patrick. For those of us who lived in Montana back then, it is now only a bad, greed-driven replica of “the old Montana.” Some of the pioneer spirit remains, but the land has been eaten up by greed and bad politics. Too bad.

    1. Yes it was, Mike. A much simpler time, and Montana was wide open back then. I miss those times a lot, and am so thankful for my fairly clear memory of those precious times.

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