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Destination Alaska Part VIII: A 66-Day Trek to the Last Frontier

Center of the Universe, Smokejumpers and Gatling Guns

This is an armored carriage .45-.70 Gatling gun with drum magazine that holds 40 rounds. It is the only known armored carriage Gatling in existence. (Sheryl Gallup photo) This is an armored carriage .45-.70 Gatling gun with drum magazine that holds 40 rounds. It is the only known armored carriage Gatling in existence. (Sheryl Gallup photo)

By: Sheryl Gallup

This is Part VIII of a nine-part series

Click here for Part I | Part II | Part III | Part IV | Part V | Part VI | Part VII

Monday, July 29, 2013

Hello, Montana! We are making great distance considering we are lugging this trailer behind us.

As we drove along the freeway, with the sweltering hot sun beating through the windshield, we were lured off the highway when we saw a billboard promoting ice-cold Huckleberry shakes. As luck would have it, it turns out the town is quite historic.

Wallace, Mont., Train Depot

Wallace, Mont., is on the National Register of Historical Places and it is a small, quaint town with charming historic buildings all along the main street. The town mostly caters to the tourists, with one gift shop or antique shop after the other. We poked around in a few of them when we noticed a sign proclaiming the “Center of the Universe.” Curious about this, we stood there questioning what this might mean when one of the local residents walked by and told us to follow him. It seemed slightly odd to follow him, but he led us out to the very center of an intersection, waved for the few cars on the street to go around us, then pointed to what looked like a sewer lid in the center of the street. The circle medallion was made from silver and proclaimed to be at the Center of the Universe. We asked the local gentleman what it meant and he explained that back in its day, Wallace was the Silver Capital of the World. Because of the prosperity and pride silver mining brought to Wallace, it became the center of the universe to the people who worked and lived there.

Center of the Universe, Wallace, Mont.

It was an interesting story, so we went over to the visitor center to get more information. They verified the information, and, yes, Wallace did lead in silver mining for 128 years, but today, only about 18 percent of the world's silver is mined in and around Wallace.

In one of the little shops we stopped in, one of the locals shared a little more history about the town when we asked about the Bordello museum next door to his shop. He told us that Wallace used to have three very busy bordellos in town due to the booming silver mining. What we found surprising is that the last of the bordellos was closed in 1991 due to a police raid. Yes 1991, not 1891. When I also asked about this at the visitor center, they verified it was true then quickly changed the subject. No pride in that history, I guess.

Charming and peaceful Wallace, Mont.

The history of the town, and the great antique shops made this a fascinating stop on our way through Montana. By the way, the Huckleberry shakes were also worth the trip.

After I had parted ways with a few dollars spent on souvenirs, postcards and our Huckleberry shakes, we hit the road and left Wallace with the promise to ourselves to return there again one day.

We had an open invitation from our friend Jon to stop in Missoula again on our way home so we took him up on the offer and ended up at his home in the mountains. We had dinner at the Double Front, where they claim to have the best fried chicken in the world. Not sure it is the best in all the land, but it definitely delighted our taste buds. Check it out if you are ever in Missoula. Then, for dessert, after you leave Double Front, be sure and try the Huckleberry ice cream, or any of their other many flavors at a great little ice cream place called the Big Dipper. The line was long when we got there, but it went quickly and as we sat at the patio and ate our ice cream more and more hungry people kept arriving. The Big Dipper is a very popular spot in Missoula.

Great place for Huckleberry Ice Cream in Missoula, Mont.

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

We enjoy visiting with Jon in Missoula, but we are sort of stuck because of the needed repairs on our trailer. The news is not good on the trailer. It is a long description of what is wrong with it, but basically it is an axle issue that was either caused by factory defect when it was manufactured, or the previous owners hit something incredibly hard. Something called “toeing” is happening fairly significantly. What impressed us the most is that the tire shop (Les Schwab Tires) did not charge us for any of the many hours of labor they put in to check everything over. All they charged us for was one new trailer tire. We will be back on the road tomorrow. If you live in Missoula, or ever have truck or car issues while traveling through, we strongly recommend this company.

After we picked up the trailer, we did manage to pick up a little side trip. Missoula is the national headquarters for the U.S. Forest Service Smokejumpers. We toured the visitor center there, but sadly we were too late for the campus tour. The campus includes a dormitory, airstrip, museum and multiple training stations.

Smokejumping was born out of necessity. In 1910, a number of wild fires broke out all over the Pacific Northwest and the Rocky Mountains, leaving behind a devastating four million acres of burnt timber and mountainsides. The devastation was so vast primarily because the fire broke out in remote areas where fire fighters couldn't get to it. The idea of parachuting into these remote areas was conceived and over the next 30 years, the first organized smoke jumping group was established.

As you can well guess, smokejumpers are highly skilled and require a tremendous amount of training. Their role is to parachute out of a plane into fire areas. They are responsible for putting out initial attacks, as they call it, on smaller wild fires, to suppressing larger fires. Smokejumpers provide a critical role in fighting wild fires because they can reach them far faster than they could by driving across the terrain. These skilled individuals also lend support in national disasters like hurricanes. I have always been fascinated by this concept, but to visit the museum and listen to the stories really put it all into perspective for me, especially since we have seen so much fire devastation during our journey to and from Alaska. Fires are currently burning very near to where we are in Missoula and we are on fire watch.

This is the gear and uniform of the Missoula Smokejumpers.


This is the protective tent that the Smokejumpers use if they can't escape the fire. It has saved many lives.

Saturday, August 03, 2013

We spent one night in Bozeman but did not really get out and see the community. While we were there we discovered that our air conditioner on the trailer went out and with temperatures in the 80s it has been difficult to cope during the day, although at night we seem to be able to cool things down with a fan we bought along our travels.

On Thursday this week we pulled into Cody, Wyoming, and quickly fell in love with the community. Based on the historic interests, the museums and the landscape we both felt that this is the perfect size city for us and we found ourselves, once again, dreaming about living somewhere other than Minnesota. We even looked through some real estate ads and talked about “what if we were to move.”

Thursday night we had dinner on the main street of Cody at a cute little place, and then we strolled down the street and hit a few gift shops. This is a very vibrant city for its size.

During the afternoon on Friday, we toured the Firearms Museum located within the Buffalo Bill Center. The museum itself is very impressive, but we were overwhelmed by the tour of the firearms exhibit. At the security desk, I asked if it would be possible to talk to the Cody Firearms Museum curator briefly and told them that I was working on an article for a firearms website and would like to include their collection in my article. Much to my delight, the curator was willing to grant me the interview and Woodzjoe and I were given an exclusive two and a half hour tour by Warren Newman, the curator. He was fascinating as he talked about some of the firearms in the 7,000-gun collection. We saw firearms of the rich and famous, and guns which are unique, rare, old and just plain cool. I took a lot of notes and, hopefully, I gathered enough information for an interesting article for the firearm website.

This is one of my favorites, an armored carriage .45-.70 Gatling gun with drum magazine that holds 40 rounds. It is the only known armored carriage Gatling in existence.

The museum is so large that admission includes a two-day pass, so today we took full advantage and spent most of the second day back at the museum.

The museum is broken down into separate museums which includes; natural history, western art, Plains Indians exhibit, the firearms museum and several others. Today, we started in the Plains Indian Museum and it was one of the best exhibits of Native American culture that I have ever seen. The amount of artifacts, and the way in which they presented them, was magnificent. One of my favorite items was a grizzly bear necklace, which was a beautiful specimen. These types of necklaces were only worn by Tribal leaders.

Tribal Grizzly Claw necklace


This is a combination of a taxidermy mount and carving. The elk head was carved from driftwood.

Once we finished touring the rest of the museum, we headed back to the Firearms Museum and spent a couple more hours there. It was not quite as exciting as the day before when we had a personal guided tour by the curator, but we enjoyed spending more time there.

With the massive quantities of firearms in the museum, I chose just a few to share here.

Percussion Trap Gun, .41 caliber 1865-1870. Referred to as the “Watermelon Patch Gun,” this rifle has four upright lugs (one in each corner) where a cord could be attached. When someone walked into the melon patch and tripped a cord, the barrel would pivot in that direction and fire. They apparently took their watermelon very seriously in those days.


All I could remember on this one is that the red canister said “Generator for Smith's Rapid Fire Machine Gun.”


Flintlock Blunderbuss, Imperial Arms Factory, Russia, circa 1760. Gifted to Louis XV by Catherine the Great.

Whether or not you are traveling to or through Cody, Wyoming, I strongly recommend that you make this city a destination vacation. There is so much to do here and the museums alone are worth the visit. It is also the Gateway to Yellowstone National Park.

When we got back to camp today, we received word that personal matters back home required us to get home within the next few days. This will be our last night in Cody.

We decided that our last activity for Cody would be the rodeo. I have only been to a rodeo once before, and it was more of an attraction than a true rodeo. The Cody Rodeo is held every night of the week and features plenty of real cowboy action with lots of excitement and real cowboys. We thought it was a great way to end our Cody adventure.

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