An Old Broke Montana Rancher On Being Photographed by Tourists

Old Broke Rancher Masthead
Glacier National Park vista

I would have liked to show you a photo of the 1976 Harley FLH, taken on one of the trips in 1977, but the photo albums got toasted when my brother's house on the "Wild Rose Ranch" burned to the ground. The building and most of the transitory material possessions therein can be replaced.

But not, it turns out, the photos. Nor can memories, which fade even if they don't burn. So I reckon maybe I'd better recreate that photo in memory, so that I can hold it once more.

They say a picture's worth a thousand words, but I like to think I'm a man who'll only use as many as are necessary, so let's see if I can paint that memory for you in less than a thousand. If I'm able, I'll consider it a triumph of brevity.

That 1976 photo, the one I have in memory, was taken at what is probably one of the most photographed places in all of Montana is Wild Goose Island, taken from the view point of the same name, in Glacier National Park. If you've ever been there, you're no doubt remembering it's awesome beauty, and if you haven't, then consider yourself empoverished.  

Vintage motorcycle headlight

Now, picture a group of 5 Harleys parked in that self-same parking lot, all strategically placed at parking lot edge to take advantage of the scene. And maybe, if we are to be honest, to make ourselves part of the scene as well. I could feed you a line of bull about how riding Harleys is about the solitary freedom of the road, and it is that, but it's also about being seen looking cool while riding one. So me and my young cohorts arranged ourselves and our bikes for maximum dramatic effect. 

And now picture the group of bikes, and their riders too, as having been on the road all summer. Picture a little road grime smeared out on the whole scene, and as for the riders, you might conjure five unshaven, unkempt, and disheveled dudes. Although we wouldn't have used that inflammatory word, not back then, and not in Montana.

To further flesh out the image: the MC's are all bagged up and ready for an epic long-distance adventure. There are four of the slightly smaller Harleys road bikes, all nice bikes for sure - they would be considered cruisers today. The bed rolls are strapped under the head lights, but above the front fenders. Coolers are placed on the back seats, padded with foam pads to rest the back, during the day, and to rest on in camp at night. My back aches now to think of such spartan accommodations, but back then, we thought ourselves rich men. Especially rich was one of my lucky friends who had either a girlfriend or a wife to lean back on, thus leaving his cooler solely for refrigeration purposes. I know he married her, but I just can't quite remember: which she was at the time, wife or girlfriend?

The whole group was clad in leathers from head to heel. Harley Davidson had a line of MC Clothing at that time called "Dry Riders." You must be ready for any possible weather when touring on a Motor Cycle. But it was a sunny day, so the dry rider gear, too, was strapped to the bikes, for ease of access in case of a summer shower. In short, the bikes, and bikers looked like long distance travelers.

Motorcycle bags

Oh, but now turn your attention away from my companions' bikes, and look at my big red bagger, the one in the center of the picture. It is, of course, equipped with side bags, further equipped with tie down bars along the sides of the bags, and with smaller bags of things tied down to them. 

The back of the big Harley has a rack and on top of this rack is a huge fiberglass bag that opens top up and holds a lot of essential contents. Imagine spoons, forks, salt n pepper shakers, all the assorted cooking gear, and whatnot you need to be comfortable on a long MC trip. Now picture the tents strapped on someplace, and to the sides of the top bag imagine a coffee pot. It's a big one, as there is a need to make coffee for six each time you make it. Imagine what it looks like after literally hundreds of sooty campfires.

Ditto for the wash pot, but this pot is even bigger. Strap all that on somewhere where it can swing in the wind and dangle, on curves. The picture starting to come into view yet? 

The big bagger had more accouterments strapped to it than the Griswold's took on their family vacation to Wally World, for those that have seen that classic portrait of a bygone era in American travel National Lampoon's Vacation.       

Now picture this: a big Prevost Tour Bus pulls into the parking lot, already described as one of Montana's most photographed spots. And hurrying out comes literal a busload of Japanese tourists, many equipped with thousand dollar Canon Cameras. They immediately begin jostling around for the best angle, and, ignoring the view beyond, start snapping and clicking at these dirty boys and their grungy Harleys.  

I step back and get the whole of the melee captured on my camera, and the picture is complete.  

In all fairness, they had probably never seen anything quite like a Harley, as their country was famous, at the time, for the Honda 50.

Yes, Wild Goose Island is photogenic, but in all deference to the land of the rising sun, so is Mt. Fuji.

In my mind's eye, I can picture them still showing the slide shows of the time in Montana when they saw some real Montana scenery. I like to think they break out the slides at all family gatherings. "Look at those five motorcycle hooligans," they say when they get to the slide.  

Or maybe one of those tourists has, like me, lost that photo and now tries to rebuild it in their mind, with a fading but still vital memory.

Low angle of Harley against sky

Gary Shelton was born in Lewistown in 1951 and has been a rancher, a railroader, a biker, a teacher, a hippie, and a cowboy.  Now he's trying his hand at writing in the earnest hope that he'll make enough at it to make a downpayment on an RV.  Hell, scratch that.  Enough to buy the whole RV.  He can be reached at [email protected] for complaints, criticisms, and recriminations.  Compliments can be sent to the same place, but we request you don't send them - it'll make his head big.

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