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Big Sky CARavan, Colorado Region
June 19th – 27th, 2008

Story by Lonnie Fallin
Photography by Lonnie Fallin, Ron Verschoor & David Schultz

Through the end of 2007 there have been 87 CCCA CARavans and six of those were hosted by the Colorado Region. Those first five Colorado CARavans toured many parts of our state along with excursions to Wyoming, the Canadian Rockies, parts of Idaho, the Canadian provinces of British Columbia and Alberta and Glacier National Park (from the Canadian side). For our sixth CARavan we felt we should go somewhere new and decided on western Montana because it gave us the opportunity to go to both Glacier National Park and Yellowstone National Park. I was fortunate enough to serve as CARavan coordinator.

Since Colorado is a couple of states away from Montana and there are only five Club members living in that state, it was not practical for a number of Colorado members to make dry runs, check the hotels and do all the other things that must be done in preparation for a CARavan. Our Region’s board left it up to my wife Betsy and me to chart the route and make it all happen.

We started in Bozeman because it has an airport served by most of the major airlines and because of the town’s location on Interstate 90. Bozeman is only 50 miles away from our ending point in Big Sky, Montana and just one week before the start of the CARavan there was a four-inch snowfall in Bozeman (six inches in Big Sky) and a blizzard between Great Falls and Helena! Hmm, this could be interesting. I pondered adding tire chains to the list of recommended supplies and thought we’d maybe get to see how the folks that owned these cars in the 1930s and 1940s drove in the snow.

As it turned out, Montana is a lot like Colorado. During June, the snow that comes today is gone tomorrow and everything turns green while the mountain tops are capped white with snow. This was the kind of scenery that greeted us on the entire CARavan and it was truly spectacular. Most everyone felt it was some of the best scenery they had seen for an entire CARavan. Every day was warm and sunny and we had only a couple of evening rains at Whitefish. All in all, Mother Nature treated us to a wonderful week. The CARavan route took us from Bozeman to Helena to Whitefish, back through Kalispell then on to Missoula, Fairmont Hot Springs Resort and, finally, Big Sky. Just over 1,000 miles was covered on the “base” route but almost everyone drove more thanthat with side trips to Glacier National Park, Yellowstone, the Tetons and for some folks, Jackson, Wyoming. We put 1,198 miles on our 1933 Packard Twelve LeBaron Town Car.

We started with 218 adults and six children. Club members representing 24 states took part in this adventure and while many trailered their cars or had them shipped, a number of members from California, Colorado, Washington and Minnesota drove their Classics to Bozeman for the start of the CARavan, completed the tour and then drove back home!

Thursday June 19th at the Hilton Garden Inn in Bozeman, Irene Brewer, Carol DeLockroy, Eileen Loecher, Betsy Fallin and Jo Raines handed out goody bags which were stuffed with hats, jackets, visors, CARavan license plates, the tour book, pens, tablets and even can coolers. Unfortunately, a few people found their cars not quite ready for the CARavan and our trouble-truck crew, Bill and Judy Mote, had to start taking care of problems before the CARavan started.

On most CARavans everyone is interested in what has happened during the day’s travels and a quick recap is presented at the group dinners along with a dubious awards presentation. This award has been given various names on CARavans and on ours it was called the “Buffalo Chip” Award. In order to get the award someone had to do something like run out of gas, leave their suitcases on the curb at the hotel, lock the keys in their car, leave their lights on, drive off without their passenger or end up getting lost. These slip-ups have to be reported to someone and that someone reveals those mishaps and presents the award after dinner. The “winner” gets to keep the award it until someone else does something equally embarrassing at which time it is passed on to the next recipient.

By far the very best person to present this award is Sharon Briskman. She is able to present an entertaining summary of the day’s events from all of the stories the tattle-tales have relayed to her. It always turns out to be a very funny recap and any number of people have to stand and fess up for whatever trouble they may have gotten into that day. She ends by selecting the person she feels best deserves the award.

The first day everyone is anxious to get on the road early and we departed Friday morning for Helena via the back way through the mountains on Highway 86 past the Bridger Bowl ski resort. We saw what we would be seeing for most of our tour: green meadows, snow-capped mountains and deep-blue sky, hence the name the Big Sky CARavan.

Heading north on Highway 89 we could look across the plains and see the snow-capped mountain range we had just come through. Helena is the capital of Montana and has a great history dating to 1864 when gold was discovered on what is now Helena’s main street: Last Chance Gulch. We stopped for a great Italian lunch at the Green Meadows Country Club courtesy of Montana members Ray Prill and his wife Jan who live in Helena. After lunch, a number of us were able to get on the tourist “train” that travels around the town. This historic one-hour ride tours Helena and many of its spectacular 19th-century mansions and buildings such as the St. Helena Cathedral which was modeled after a cathedral in Cologne, Germany. Its towers are spectacular and the interior was beautifully illuminated with sunlight pouring through stained-glass windows.

There was a tour of the old Governor’s mansion, but by the time we got there the tour was over. Barry and Sharon Briskman and Sandi McEwan came out the door with the tour guide. She was a car enthusiast and when she saw my Packard Town Car parked on the street she asked if we would like to see the garage full of carriages that had been used in the early days of Helena. They were in pretty good condition and one of them was supposed to have belonged to a notorious madam who ran one of biggest brothels in Helena.

That evening after dinner, Sharon presented the Buffalo Chip Award to Lee Barthel for something he should not have done. Then Bruce Anfinson, a local cowboy storyteller and songwriter shared his original songs about the West and life in Montana. Saturday morning en route to Whitefish we again enjoyed stunning scenery, this time along the east side of Flathead Lake. No one had any idea what was in store at our lunch destination, just before the town of Seeley Lake. The setting at the Double Arrow Resort with our 90+ Classics parked among towering pine trees was truly unforgettable. Early arrivals pitched horseshoes while the kids played badminton before lunch was served. The freshly-baked cookies for dessert disappeared as fast as they brought them out.

Arriving in Whitefish it was no surprise to see Classics parked near a very popular ice cream shop downtown. During the 1996 Can-Am CARavan we stayed at Grouse Mountain Lodge in Whitefish and we stayed here again because it is the best place in the area for large groups like ours. That evening Sharon Briskman was relating her story and had a prime suspect in mind for the Buffalo Chip, but it was pointed out that she and Barry had made their own blunder, having missed one of the major turns to get on Highway 141 and, based on applause from the audience, ended up as the day’s recipients’ of the award.

Sunday was a free day to tour Glacier National Park. Unfortunately the “Road to the Sun” was closed about half-way up because of snow, but everyone who went really enjoyed as much of the park as they were able to see. Lake McDonald never disappoints with its beautiful scenery and picturesque lodge. Others went to the Big Mountain ski area to ride the chair lift. There also is a two-hour walk on “Top of the Trees”. This is a suspended wooden walkway stretching from tree to tree on cables 80 feet above the forest floor. You wear a harness which has cables attached to the overhead cables and you are literally walking along the tree tops. The views are breathtaking and the experience, unforgettable.

Monday we toured the saw mill at Plum Creek Lumber in Columbia Falls and had to divide up into morning and afternoon groups because only 30 people at a time could be accommodated. We visited the MDF board plant, the plywood plant and the regular lumber board plant. It was amazing what they are able to make from trees. Virtually nothing is wasted and you really have to see the process to believe it. The automation and computer technology used there certainly gave us a different perspective as to what goes on in a lumber mill.

We were back on the road Tuesday morning headed for Fairmont Hot Springs Resort. Our route along Highway 93 took us through Kalispell and along the west side of Flathead Lake. Missoula was our lunch stop after a 130-mile drive and we were free to dine on our own and explore downtown Missoula.

Traveling through the mountains we connected with the Pintler Scenic Loop, a 63-mile drive that parallels Flint Creek. We passed more snow-capped mountains, open meadows, Georgetown and Silver Lakes before descending into Anaconda. The highlight of this route was the town of Philipsburg. It is the seat of Granite County and was a booming mining town in the late 1800’s. Today it is full of beautifully-restored buildings occupied by restaurants, shops and other establishments.

Leaving Philipsburg, we came to a steep grade where there was road construction. Of course it was getting hot and our cars don’t like to sit and idle so there were a few problems. The construction people were happy to assist and nearly everyone got through without any major concerns.

Our destination for the day was Fairmont Hot Springs Resort, 15 miles west of Butte. This is a family resort with two large hot spring pools, one indoor and one outdoor, the latter of which has a 350-foot long water slide. This turned out to be very popular with some of our members. Al McEwen enjoyed it
so much he wanted to stay another day and Ron Verschoor
went down the slide 31 times.

We had a great buffet dinner and Steve Snyder’s Vault Classic Cars hosted the cocktail party before dinner. Skip Ritner, a CCCA member who was not on the CARavan, drove from Spokane with a friend to have dinner and see the Classics. They both said the round trip of 600 miles was well worth the drive.

Wednesday morning we left for Big Sky traveling through Butte and on to the mining towns of Nevada City and Virginia City, two towns founded in the 1860s when gold was discovered in the area. One of the most interesting buildings in Nevada City houses a number of old musical instruments including old pianos and a Key Gavioli Band Organ built around 1900 in Paris, France. It is one of America’s greatest fairground organs and was first used at Coney Island. We know that it still works today because a number of us put quarters in the slot to hear it play.

Just around the curve is Virginia City. Most of the original buildings from the 1860s still line the main street. Our cars filled the street and a lot of folks had homemade ice cream from the Virginia City Creamery or sweet treats from Cousin’s Candy Shop. Some of us enjoyed lunch there while others continued to the town of Ennis for lunch.

The Big Sky Resort was our final destination and we stayed there for three nights. We had our usual cocktail party and dinner Wednesday night with Thursday and Friday left as free days to give people the opportunity to go to Yellowstone National Park, the Tetons and, for those who hadn’t had enough driving, Jackson, Wyoming.

Most of those who did not want to drive their Classics to Yellowstone went there with small tour groups. It would have been a shame to come all this way and not go to Yellowstone, especially if you had never been there before. Old Faithful Geyser is just one of the many wonderful things to see and Yellowstone Falls were roaring because of the heavy snowmelt in the high country. Everywhere we went in the park, groups of cars pulled off to the side of the road so that the occupants could see wildlife. Elk, moose and bear were seen by some and buffalo are downright common. It seems that a number of buffalo like to watch Old Faithful erupt every hour.

Back at Big Sky Resort, our Club got a half-price discount for chair-lift tickets and a lot of CARavaners took advantage of that From the top of Mount Andesite we had a 360-degree panoramic view of the snow-capped mountains that surround Big Sky Resort and felt like we were on top of the world. It was a nice contrast to what we’d seen traveling at ground level.

At the final banquet Friday night CCCA President Sally Perkins talked to us about the future of our Club and what changes are in store. She was surrounded by kids from the CARavan and the girls all told us about the fun they’d enjoyed during the week. None of the boys wanted to say anything but I’m sure they had fun, too.

Sandi McEwan, Karen Hutchinson and Jane Schultz, entertained us with a couple of songs before Sandi and Al McEwan broke into their version of Aloutte. I’ll say it was quite different from any version I’d ever heard before and everyone got a good laugh out of it.

When the awards were presented, Betsy and I received a wonderful sculpture that was given to us as CARavan coordinators. This sculpture, “Field of Battle” by Danny Edwards, depicts two bull elk with their horns locked in fierce battle.

Co-coordinators Carol and Harvey DeLockroy also received a sculpture and Harvey won the Dudney Award for the best-prepared Classic. Barrie Hutchinson received the Deutsch Award for having been the most helpful person on the CARavan and Gene Nau’s 1932 Lincoln KB Judkins Coupe won the Crossett Award for the best Classic making its first CARavan under current ownership.

The final Buffalo Chip Award went to me. It seems that one of my directions in the tour book about which highway to take at Ennis was not as clear as it could have been. I am sure there were more mistakes than just that one. During the week, people gave Ken Matthews the memory cards from their digital cameras and he was able to load them into his computer for a wonderful slide show of places we visited. Thanks, Ken!

The seventh Colorado CARavan? That has yet to be determined!

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