Pandemic Project PAUSE

June 29, 2020  •  2 Comments

My remodel is going pretty smoothly but now is to the point that really I need to wait for my cabinets to arrive to do anything more.   Besides that the universe very clearly last week told me I need to slow down and just pause - apparent by things like a fall while weed whacking, getting bitten by Iago (it was my fault for not paying attention) and treating myself to an Italian soda that when stirred exploded all over me and the inside of my car and THEN to add insult to injury the 1/2 that was left when I got out of the car the lid popped off and it entirely spilled out on the ground.   Okay - message received.

We had predictions the end of last week (June 26) that we were to get a serious bout of rain storms starting Saturday afternoon.  I really REALLY wanted to go for a drive in the mountains - somewhere, anywhere - so decided to do a short trip closer to town so if it did start pouring rain in the afternoon (we couldn't leave till 11 because of other commitments) we'd be closer to home.  I say "we" as my ever intrepid friend Robin decided to join me and the dogs and spend a girls overnight so we could do a crafty thing on Sunday (you'll read about that next time).

I found a back road that I didn't remember ever being on and we headed out.  Needless to say after looking in my old gazateer I HAD been on it but have no recollection - so it's been a while!   With friend, cameras and dogs loaded up with a picnic lunch off we went.    

Two of them just really HAVE to have the window down so they can see out.   (Sterling and Oliver ride like normal people - haha, but they are in there too).

It was a lot prettier up there than I thought but admit, there were roads on the map that really didn't show up off the road (mind you a magnifying glass to see all the off shoots is kind of required) but who cares, I knew if we stayed the course we'd come out SOMEwhere and if not - we always keep an eye on the road situation and the ability to turn around (which now requires more road than with the small truck) and go back the way we came.  We came across a lovely little wide spot in the road and a small creek with a small cascade so we stopped for a potty break and to let dogs explore. Yes I know Epic is out of focus but forgive my photos - it has been WAY too long since I've been out with the camera!

We also did pretty good hitting the timing of wildflowers which you will also see.

Epic had a grand time playing in the water (of course) and Josie got her feet wet (she idolizes Epic and really wants to be a poodle).   So got a couple fab shots of the intense poodle boy!   Yeah I need to get back into practice with my depth of field.   Geez it has been too long!

We puttered along down the road and dropped out at Corbin.   A teeny little lovely town (I'd retire there) with probably oh 20 houses.   Most of it's traffic (and I bet many of the residents) these days is back and forth to the Montana Tunnels mine that is back there (my understanding is they are pulling out gold from that location).   Here is some history about it (from ):

Another good example of the early railroad development is at Corbin, where a major ore concentrator operated by the Helena Mining and Reduction Company was located in the 1880s.  The concentrator handled 125 tons of ore every day. The concentrator is long gone but the foundations, while crumbling steadily, remain to convey its size and location.  The tall steel train trestle overlooks the town, a powerful reminder of the connection between the rails and mines. It is part of the historic Montana Central line, first built as a wood trestle in 1888 and then replaced with the steel structure found today in 1902.

Apparently the Alta Mine was the largest most productive back in the day and the ore was silver.

The train trestle is insane!    I found these facts about it (it is of course now abandoned but still stunning) and I hoped to find the height but didn't.  

Abandoned Deck plate girder trestle over Corbin Road/Trestle Lane on Great Northern Railway
Built 1902
Total length: 700.0 ft.

All that steel and they even built a curve in it.  It was super cool driving under it and really seeing the supports. 

We also came across an old homestead (quite a large one) that had THE most fabulous old log barn.  Again, sorry these are kinda dark but it was a gloomy drippy day by that time and I am finding editing these on my laptop is probably not ideal as if you move the monitor up or down it changes the lightness of what I'm seeing - time to maybe get a real monitor for it!

As we left Corbin we had the option to pop back to Jefferson City and head home or turn right and see what was down the way.  We of course, went right and towards Wickes.   So here is some more history from

In 1864, an unknown prospector identified the first mine which was called the Gregory at Wickes. It is believed the mines here are among the oldest within Montana and in 1867 Montana saw the birth of its second silver smelter, whose location was where the Gregory had been located previously.

The Alta was the other mine that was discovered here in 1869 that became one of the richest silver mines within Montana. A group of capitalists from New York led by William W. Wickes acquired the Alta in 1876. Later on, the same year, this cartel put together the Montana Company and platted Wickes in 1876 or 1877.

Though the camp of Wickes was already booming by mid-1880, it remained somewhat quiet but there were several establishments that had been put up including a stone structure erected by Vawter & Wickes and a public library was also in place. The Alta Mine grew to become the most profitable and by 1889, it was the largest producer within the Wickes-Corbin Mining district.

Alta Mine was the highlight of this town and had a total of 3 tunnels with the deepest being 250 ft (76 m). Finally, the mill owned by the Alta Company was burnt down by fire in 1882 and the company sold out after the incidence to Sam Hauser, who was one of the company’s stockholders. Afterwards, Hauser was able to offset the debt that the company owed and built the whole of the silver mill.

In addition to this, Mr. Hauser added 6 new charcoal kilns and 2 new concentrators. He was able to do all this through the Helena Mining and Reduction Company (HMRC), which went on to put up a new smelter, the largest in Montana in 1884. The smelter had 3 large masonry smokestacks and as a result of the viability of this project, Mr. Hauser convinced the Northern Pacific Railway to establish a branch line connecting Helena and Wickes.


This mining district kept going strong until 1889 after which the smelter was dismantled and moved to East Helena by the HMRC and shipping of the ore to East Helena or Butte for processing, began.

After this, the Alta Mine continued operating for a period of 7 years and thereafter closed down. The year that followed the Northern Pacific Railway stopped operating the line to Wickes, which was almost destroyed completely in 1901 and 1902 by fires. The Boston and Alta Mining Company later acquired holdings in the district from HMRC and later the same passed through the hands of several other owners thereafter.

Interesting huh?  Well it gets better.  Right along the road is a superbly preserved beehive charcoal kiln.   What is that you ask, well these were used to burn pine trees to create the coal used in the smelters and such for the mines.   A burn could last up to 10 days and create over 1500 bushel of charcoal.   When they were built of course there was almost always a cluster of them, but only some have survived.   Of course the shape (and see the little air/draft holes) and the materials used is what makes them heat up appropriately.   It just amazes me the brick (or stone) work needed to make that domed shape.  You today can find some pottery artists that use beehive kilns (or that shape) to fire their wares.  These however were purely industrial!

 Yes that is a little bit of snow still hanging on up in the mountains.

We got to the junction at Wickes shortly thereafter and couldn't decide where to go.  We headed down what ended up as kind of a single track behind some people on their SUVs (the back country was crawling with them).   Then to our surprise we found this open flat spot and a bunch of the SUVs parked there.  I was like - oh look a spot where people camp (or party or whatever).   Nope.   Then as I drove by I saw this tunnel entrance. 

Here is a video of guys taking their SUVs through it (apparently that is a "thing") -


Now for a boatload of history about it:

Here's some great info from our friends at The Heritage Center in Boulder:

(Also called the Wickes or the Boulder Tunnel)

In 1887 the Montana Central Railway let the contract from Helena to Butte; which included building a big tunnel through the mountain from Wickes to Boulder. Crews worked from both ends. The north end was called Portal and the south end Amazon.
While being built the train ran over the “Skyline” tracks of the Northern Pacific.
The tunnel was started May 1887 and completed October 1888.
September 11, 1888 there was a dynamite explosion where 60 men were working and 10 were killed and 5 seriously injured (read all about this in “Montana Central Railway” by Jan and Bill Taylor page 109).
Great wooden doors were placed at each end and were kept closed in winter to keep snow drifts out and the warm air in. These doors had to be opened, first at the end the train was coming from, then the tunnel was walked through and the second doors opened. After the train had passed through the doors needed to be closed.
Trains started running immediately while rock and shoring continued inside.
At the time it was built it was the longest railroad tunnel in Montana at 6145 feet. Later the Kalispell Tunnel was built which was 6 miles long.
The first train through the tunnel was October 24, 1888. Boulder hosted a barbecue.
Great Falls Tribune dated October 27, 1888 excerpts from article follow: “The Wickes tunnel was formally opened on Wednesday. Many prominent citizens from Helena, Boulder and Butte passed through the tunnel in a train of six coaches. William Bird was the conductor. On arriving at the east approach of the tunnel, a photograph was taken of the train… The train entered the tunnel at 1:10 and arrived at the other end at 1:28, consequently taking 18 minutes to pass through. Upon arrival at the west end the whistles of engines were blown for five minutes…..This shortens the trip by nineteen miles. Incandescent lights are placed 200 feet apart through the tunnel. It cost $1,500,000.00 to build. They intend to line the tunnel with stone and brick, which, when completed, will necessitate an additional outlay of $250,000.”
Due to the tunnel caving in 1891 it was decided to re-line it. They began lining it on Jan 6, 1892 and completed it in August 1893.
As locomotives got larger it created problems in the tunnel because hot stack gasses eroded the 1893 brick arches so they removed the brick ceiling and replaced it with a new material, “Concrete.” Between 100 to 150 men were employed to do this. They started in October 1901 and ended in the spring of 1902. They only lined 2500 feet of it and the rest was granite with granite blocks installed in the roof and inside both portals. At that time the floor was lowered 18 inches which made it 21 feet high and 15 feet wide.
A Nov. 7, 1901 article in the Jefferson County Sentinel Newspaper reported that” it was necessary to erect boarding and lodging houses and a plant for the manufacture of the concrete, and generation of electricity for lighting up the tunnel. There would need to be some business house and residences. The railway built a nice depot, and stationed E. O. Foster as agent. There are about thirteen buildings at present composing this lively little town.”
J. Otis Watson was the manager of the Amazon Mercantile company, which carried a full line of men’s furnishing goods and notions and did a thriving business as did the company store and the boarding house.
V. E. WIlham, ex-county assessor, was the deputy sheriff of Amazon, but there was very little trouble from the unruly element.
An article in the newspaper states that a new school was built in 1910 and our records show that this school ran at least until 1935.
There are no known pictures of this little town and there is nothing remaining of it.
Speed for passenger trains through the tunnel was 20 mph (took 4 min.). Freight trains went 12mph (7min.)
Water pours from the tunnel year round because part of the tunnel was cut through glacial debris.
There are some emergency bays built into the tunnel for a person to get into and be safe, if a train came along.
The last train ran through the tunnel on January 9, 1972.
The Montana Central Railway became the Great Northern Railroad in 1906.

Information is taken from numerous copyrighted materials for which we give credit: Boulder Newspapers (including The Boulder Monitor), The Montana Central Railway by Bill and Jan Taylor, The Great Northern/Montana Central Railway by Fr. Dale Peterka, and Boulder: Its Friends and Neighbors by Olive Hagadone.
Researched, compiled and written by Ellen Rae Thiel – The Heritage Center, PO Box 51, 210 N. Main, Boulder, MT 59632
The Heritage Center is a non-profit organization preserving local and family history. It is located at 210 N. Main St. Po Box 51, Boulder, MT 59632. Telephone 406-422-9879. They are open 7 days a week from 11am to 3pm. You can also visit their Facebook page: The Heritage Center.

Too cool right!   As we heard from the SUV people (they need a cooler label) that the road got pretty narrow farther on, we went back to the junction.  Do we go back to Corbin or try the other road?   Well there were Forest Service signs saying there was a 5 mile trip (remember you aren't driving fast here) to the Occidental Plateau and/or Wood Chute Creek Road (that's the way we went).   We were getting hungry and after passing the back of the Montana Tunnels mine was a big open valley that we kinda thought would be a good lunch stop - except we kept going (not far).   You can see the tailings piles in this photo.

I just loved how you can see the jagged tops of these mountains (because back at some point it burned).   We found a little protected gully that had a place to pull off, let the dogs out and photograph wildflowers (while dogs ate cow poop and stuck their noses in marmot and gopher holes).

This is the ONLY way to "tailgate".

No Josie isn't lost but she is wandering around exploring (which required I put on her harness with the bell to keep track of her).   

After a nice break we drove a bit farther up the road, came across a lovely creek with more wildflowers and then turned around when we saw a parked truck with a bunch of doors and windows open and my gut just said there might be up to no good (and there was a weirdly large amount of odd SUV traffic driving by us at lunchtime - they went up, then went back).   I'm all for trust your gut and I didn't want to get up there and not be able to get around them OR find them doing something they shouldn't.

This last photo above is of wild pink pussytoes (see why it is called that?).  One of my favorites and you don't see them often.   I have as always discovered that taking photos of fields of wildflowers is very difficult.  You just cannot see with the camera the dimension and color you see in person but I did my best.

We headed home and literally got home 30 minutes before it started DUMPING rain!   These guys and us humans had a MARVELOUS time and some more areas we'll probably explore in the future!  I think we hit a lot of SUV traffic honestly because it was mid afternoon.  I'm a fan of leaving early to explore like this so we are kind of headed OUT before most of the SUV-people are up and moving.   There were some pleasant surprises and it is always fun to explore with friends and dogs!

Josie LOVED riding like this!



Far Side(non-registered)
What a great outing! Wildflowers and lots of history! My kind of day! :)
What a therapeutic trip that was. A little bit of mountain driving/riding goes a long way to clear one's head.
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