Tuesday, March 8, 2011



The struggle to get a surfaced highway through Sanders County became as long and arduous as trying to get a bridge across the Clark's Fork River to Noxon. And everyone living in the valley did not approve of the idea.

C. R. Weare continued to promote expansion and growth in anyway he could, and continually repeated his favorite saying."I always wanted to settle up the country."

Tourism, as well as better roads for the residents, was considered by most businessmen to be crucial to their continued existence. Weare, of course, wanted it to go his way. Early in 1928 he contacted the Bureau of Public Roads urging that the road not be put on the old road existing on the south side of the river, but be built along the north side of the river.
"Our Mr. Sawyer made an inspection of this line as proposed by you sometime last summer and he reports that this route appears feasible," A. C. Clark, District Highway Engineer replied. The Resident Engineer in Sanders County would run the line out this summer to make a comparison of costs and other features.
"We wish to express our appreciation of your interest in this matter and hope you will be able to co-operate with the County when we ask them to acquire right-of-way for the new road ..."1.
Always on the lookout for ideas, Weare read widely. The following March 1928 news item in a Tacoma, Washington newspaper caught his attention.
"... many will wonder if the huge eastern power trusts that is putting its grip on the Pacific northwest is not turning water on the wheels of the advocates of public ownership of power plants."
Another news story caused him pause,
"Portland, Ore., July 3 - The $2,000,000 plant of the Hooker Electrical Chemical company of New York will be located at Tacoma ... The decision of the Hooker company is said to have resulted from action by the Tacoma city council, offering the firm, through a special ordinance, electric power at a rate of 1-1/2 mills a kilowatt hour, said to be the lowest power rate in the world.
"Tacoma has municipally owned power. Portland is served by the privately owned Portland Light and Power Company, recently gobbled up by the big eastern company that also has acquired the Washington Water Power Company (in Spokane, Washington), the Montana Power and Light Company (Thompson Falls, Montana) and now according to reports from Wall Street, is buying control of the Stone and Webster interests in western Washington."
Weare immediately wrote to Senator Wheeler, trying to promote a power site, east of Noxon, just below a series of rapids, which he thinks,
"has potential for 75 feet of head, easy, that will not back the river up over five miles." It would have 25 feet more head than the plant at Thompson Falls, with half the cost to build and might generate twice the power. It's the best place in the country that Weare knows of, "I think you will agree that nature has done all that we can expect of her to help".2.
Portions of the highway construction had been gradually extending from Thompson Falls towards Noxon, through the valley lands. Here and there it climbed small hills. Much of it was on the old railroad grade between Belknap and Trout Creek.

West of Trout Creek, builders ran into a serious problem when they came to Mr. Clark's ranch near Swamp Creek.
"Jack Clark's folks lived on the north side of the Clark's Fork, in big white house at the bottom of the hill on the mouth of Swamp Creek," Clifford Weare said. "When they were building the highway, he got into a row with the state engineers. He didn't want them to go through his orchard. So he planted mason jars of dynamite out there. Buried it. Hahaha.
"When they plowed that first jar of dynamite out they quit! Hahaha. Everybody got off!"
"He was an onery old cuss. I knew him. That was as far as the road came west from Trout Creek for a long time, right there. They quit right there."3.
In February 1929, word came down from Missoula that the Bureau of Roads plans to build the uncompleted portion of road
"beginning 7 miles west of Noxon this summer. We hope to be able to let the contract in May or June of this year."4.
"The project to be built this year lies west of Bull River on the section where there is no existing road at present." The contract for clearing will be let together with the contract for grading, surfacing altogether. People interested in this work should contact the successful bidder.5.
During April 1929, Spokane advertised the best road to get to Missoula, was by way of Wallace, ID. The news irked the Clark's Fork valley residents. Businessmen along the river route decided to wage a fight for their road.

But the sad fact was the road on the south side of the Clark's Fork was in terrible shape. People can't get through between Heron and Noxon without getting help. One woman reported the ruts were so deep car had to crawl on its belly with the radiator and springs touching. Men had to pry the car through the ruts using a pole rail. Salesmen were paying between $5-$20 to get helped through on their way. Residents demanded Sanders county commissioners fix it this week!

But the county workmen and road equipment were being kept in the east end, assisting Thompson Falls, Plains and Hot Springs, as that was where the greater tourist trade esisted. And the roads there really weren't any better off. After all, this was the annual spring "breakup" time. Frost, pulled out by rain or sun, turned roads into muddy quagmires throughout northwestern Montana and northern Idaho.6.

More than 1500 men were to be employed building and maintaining roads and trails in northwestern Montana and Idaho forests.

Automobile traveling had become a national craving. Thousands of people made up "camping outfits" fitted especially to their touring car, or pickup, or coupe, and took off. Many of them headed west. Also, gypsies and Indians still traveled, camping by the wayside wherever they could.

Montana ranks 3rd in west in forest and park land under state or municipal control. 566,000 acres of forest place it 6th in the nation in this respect.7. Although this made it a favored destination, it posed problems to foresters. Campfires and smoking were prohibited in Cabinet National Forest without a campfire permit.8.

In May, a bigger highway program was made possible through 5-cent gasoline tax. Sanders County was included in Division 1 of four divisions statewide. Homer H. Smith, of Butte, became chief of the Division 1.9.

June 4, 1929, Sanders county commissioners authorized the county surveyor to supervise the construction of a new ferry at Cedar Spur. The easements for public highways were approved and filed, through properties of Alex Davie, S. A. Fillerup, John F. Donovan, and from R. N. Poirer.10.

While Engineer Sawyer and his outfit moved to Noxon to lay out the right-of-way for the new road there, Idaho had already let bids. Their work would start ahead of Montana. Bid letting for Montana sections would be July 2.11.
"Money is available for about three and a half miles this year."12.
James E. White, Clarks Fork, Idaho, was awarded the contract
"for clearing the right-of-way for two and a half miles of new federal highway on the north side of the Clark's Fork River and east of Clarks Fork" bid at "$87 an acre. A. M. Derr, Clarks Fork was second with a bid of $109.50 an acre.
Clearing operations will start in 12 days or less according to requirements and grading operations are expected to begin as soon as the clearing has advanced a short distance.
"Forest service funds will be matched by a county appropriation in constructing the road, the first link in the projected piece of highway from Cabinet to Clark's Fork to connect the east and west highway."13.
Tourists and gypsies, 'Kings and Queens', are on the roads again.14. 'Local' folks were envisioning a highway, once built, that might be kept open year-round.

July 10, 1929
"Sam Orino of Spokane was the low bidder on the proposed section of three and a half miles of the Clark's Fork highway, west of Noxon, which will open up the north side of the road and eventually provide an all-year route thru to Spokane. Bids were opened on the project at the Bureau of Public Roads, Missoula last Tuesday. Eight contractors engaged in spirited bidding for this project and three of them submitted bids under the engineer's estimate, while a fourth was approximately that amount."
Orino, Spokane, Washington bid $57,025; A. R. Douglas, Kalispell, $60,472; Rhodes and Dillard, Medford, Oregon, $61,910; Sutherland Burns, Kalispell, Montana $64,500.50; Clifton, Applegate and Toole, Spokane, Washington $66,569.60; Tobin and Son, Clarkston, Washington, $70,035.80 ... two more bids to a high of $82,809.60.
"The new contract eliminates two bridges and gives the Clark's Fork route a south exposure to provide an all-winter route. It will be 22 feet wide and surfaced with crushed rock. The project is to be completed early next summer. The Bureau of roads plan to let another contract for a section of the Clark's Fork route in Idaho at an early date."
The enormity of having a surfaced highway through their valley brought forth all manner of ideas every time men gathered. Everyone had opinions on the best and cheapest ways to build road. Each man had special knowledge of what worked well in these mountains where soils and moisture varied greatly. Certainly it differed from building roads in prairie lands or southern climes.
Weare listened well, and had first hand experience with how the land, forestation and weather conditons affected building roads. He wrote A. C. Clark, the roadman, about clearing right-of-way before the grading crews arrived. This would provide work for local men, too.
"After talking it over with Mr. Fitting, the forest supervisor, Mr. Sawyer, the state engineer, and several men who've built roads in the area ... everyone agrees that [clearing] should be done six months or a year ahead of the grade, this gives a chance to pile and burn the logs and brush and the small roots are dead and brittle and do not clog the graders and slips as when green and tough."
Although it would mean letting two contracts, one for clearing and one for grading,
"I believe if the clearing was done ahead, that the grading would be bid in enough cheaper as to save the price of the clearing. Mr. Sawyer says clear and burn and let the party doing grading blow stumps, on account of party doing blowing might leave blind stumps ... I think perhaps best.
"I think local people would bid on this clearing and I believe every contractor would want the clearing done when they arrived on the ground to start grading. I never saw one of your contractors here yet but that was held up on the job on account of the clearing..."15.
Several contractors connected the road in stretches. Tim Lawyer from Butte had the first contract. His portion of the road construction was from the Bureau Camp Hill to Fillerup hill. Camp was set up at Fillerup's farm.

Hugh McConnell was the contractor east of Lawyer's section. Everyone wanting to travel between them rode horseback to and from. McConnell started blasting and clearing a roadway through a barrier of rocky bluffs that edged into the river about nine miles west of Noxon.
"He had an old steam shovel and a couple dump trucks."16.
George Ostlund came from Spokane in late summer and built the camp for the construction crews about eight miles west of Noxon by the creek, on the north side of the road. It consisted of a tarpaper kitchen shack and a tent over a small wooden floor, which hooked onto the kitchen. It was there two years.17.

Yellowjacks by the hundreds were killed in the slop pail by pouring boiling water on them. In the eating tent, fly swatters graced the table.

Mrs. Letterman from Plains cooked for 30-40 construction workers at Bureau Camp Hill, double shift. McConnell's daughter, Dorothy, was cook's helper, serving salad, vegetables, pies, coffee, tea, etc.18.

Everyone soon referred to it as 'Bureau Camp hill'. Used to small road building and clearing jobs funded by the county, this large Bureau of Public Roads project, using double shift crews and motorized equipment attracted on-going attention.

The next camp set up was on the point of land known later as Goose Island. Windows overlooked the river and 'running water' consisted of running from the water barrel to the cook stove with buckets full, dumping them into the reservoir to heat.

Contractor McConnell's daughter, Grace, stayed with Evelyn Berray in the old Ford Harvey house in Noxon so she could attend high school. Mrs. Berray's daughters, Theda VanCleve, and Betty Jo Berray, Grace Carmichael and Grace Marie McConnell, lived together.19.

West of Lawyer's portion, from Pat Duffy's to the state line, Geist built a section, going broke on the contract.

His contract included very difficult terrain. Two major areas where soils were unstable with slipping clay underlaid by springs, one of them known as the 'Hope Fault', plus rocky bluffs that crowded into the Clark's Fork River boosted cost. Blue Creek was at the bottom of a deep gorge causing steep, costly-to-build grades on either side of the crossing.

Sam Orino built bridges. McConnnell built road. McConnell also had a 10-12 in his camp at Blue Creek.
"I was working for Dorothy's dad building the highway. He had an old 60 Caterpillar tractor. You put a bar in the flywheel to start it," Clayton Bauer said.20.
Glen Nelson's uncle and aunt, Orville and Ida Brock lived on Pilgrim Creek. In 1929, Glen came to Noxon with his uncle, Soren. They drove four horses and two wagons from Wilbur, Washington and rented a small place from Clayton Bauer. When Clate needed the house for his mother, he built a cabin for Glen. In the summer Glen worked for the forest service for $30 a month plus board. For a time he worked for Mr. McConnell, who was constructing the highway on the north side of the Clark's Fork River. Until this time the only road was on the south side of the river.

Glen worked on the right of way clearing, west of Noxon and down through the Clifford R. Weare homestead and drove truck hauling gravel from the rock crushers. Stewart Hampton also worked there.

'Happy' Carner was working for the state of Montana Highway Department then.21.

Zenus Carmichael, a harness maker living in Noxon since 1915, worked for James Bauers and George Sutherland on the highway construction. Grace, daughter of Zenus, lived in the Bull River valley with a brother and his family the summer of 1929.
"I was so hungry for a head of lettuce I could have gone into Larson's Store and stole it," Grace said. But of course she didn't. "Larson wouldn't give credit even for a box of tobacco. Time's were tough."

When her father died that year, she returned to Colorado. But not before she'd shot cupid's arrow through Glen Nelson's heart.22.
"From McConnell's portion, eventually they kept adding onto it and it got east to Noxon."23.
Two years and three months after Weare proposed the highway route on the north side, he contracted with Theodore Broderson and Hugh McConnell, for clearing between Station 178 and Station 220; clearing, ($65 an acre), grubbing, ($55 an acre).24.

Dorothy McConnell, dark-eyed, rosy cheeked, and sporty in her little roadster, soon attracted notice. Strong, handsome Clifford 'Buster' Weare was drawn to her laughing ways.

Velma Webster, the petite schoolteacher, also attracted a road building man. Clayton Bauer was a 'local' boy like Buster. Before long the fellas went courting and the young ladies were taking special pains with the boxes they brought to socials.

C. R. Weare's hopes rose when in October the county newspaper said the federal government was surveying four or five potential power dam sites west of Thompson Falls on the Clark's Fork River. W. A. Lamb conducted the geological survey, and reported that 122,000 horsepower at 80 percent is estimated at low water.25.

May 21, 1930
Sanders County Gets $160,000 More To Complete Road from Noxon To Idaho State Line.
"Allotment of the additional $400,000 of forest highway money made available under the Colton-Oddle highway bill was completed by the Montana Highway Commission, representatives of the U.S. Forest Service and Bureau of Public Roads at Helena Wednesday.
"New projects benefited are the proposed McDonald pass road across the continental divide between Helena and Missoula, the Meagher County side of King's Hill, Pipestone Pass extending East from Harding Way south of Butte. Under the program awarded today, the $806,000 available from this source, beginning July 1, 1930, is apportioned as follows- Maintenance, $20,000; Surveys $10,000; Signing $2,000."
The Clark's Fork highway, from Clarks Fork to the Idaho-Montana border, received, "$200,000, of which $40,000 already has been allotted under the regular forest fund. The allotment in which Thompson Falls is most interested, the $160,000 to finish the road from Noxon to the Idaho line which will give an all year route to Spokane, is one of the most beautiful scenic countries in the west."

A caravan of road boosters from Washington and Idaho arrived in Thompson Falls May 21, read the headline story of the Ledger, and were entertained at lunch by the local Chamber of Commerce. They proceeded on to Missoula for the big meeting and a banquet in the evening. The newspaper urged people along the route to, 'Show your hospitality!'26.

May 28, 1930

"The Caravan of Road boosters, starting at Newport, WA, coming to Sandpoint, Thompson Falls, Plains and on thru the county last Wednesday made quite a hit." The men had lunch with Chamber of Commerce, stopped at every post office, "said hello and picked up more cars and by the time Ravalli was reached there were thirty six cars in the parade."
Three cars from Missoula met them and escorted them to Missoula where they arrived at six o'clock. About 250 attended the banquet at the Florence Hotel.

The Forest Service, State Highway, and delegates  from each and every town along the route made speeches. It was one of the most enthusiastic road meetings ever held in Western Montana, and had the best turnout. Some caravaners stayed over to return to Sandpoint via Wallace, being lunched and banqueted in both towns.
"Thompson Falls was chosen, because of its central location of the territory represented, as the home office of the organization of boosters who will be here... next Wednesday at 1 p.m. for a rousing big meeting and election of officers.
".... we are going after the road business and tourist traffic with all our might and to accomplish our goal it will take the efforts of everyone ..." The caravan of 120 included 24 men from Thompson Falls.
One minor accident occurred - one car had a hole knocked in its gas tank, that was fixed at Plains, Montana.
"A proposed Arch Way over the road, just out of Missoula will be put up with a 'Welcome to the Clark's Fork Road' across the top."
Missoula, Montana promised promotion of the route.
"The Clark's Fork highway, fast becoming one of the best and always the most scenic route to the coast in the Northwest." A meeting was held in Thompson Falls that day.
William Chelcie Striker, 'Montana's Nature Poet', well known throughout the west penned a verse for the highway boosters:

© 1930 William Chelcie Striker

Georgeous scenes on either side,
Where the Clark's Fork Water glide
Into lovely Ponderay,
Lake of mystic isle and bay,
Sparkling by this fine highway.

Like the noted Fiords of Norge
Is the ancient Cabinet Gorge,
Where the rushing waters brawls,
Churning madly in its falls,
Beating hard 'gainst stony walls.

And the falls of Thompson roar,
In its harnessed, daily chore,
Here the fish and game abound,
In the mountains all around
Near the trail which you have found.

Next the Wild Horse Plains you pass,
Fields of grain and waving grass.
Then the Mission Mountains rise
Stately, ghostly 'gainst the skies,
Alpine beauty all defies.

Most unique along this trail,
Are the Flatheads in regale,
Here Chief Charlo and his band
Roam this scenic, fruitful land,
Giving tourists friendly hand.

And along this water grade
Charming landscapes God has made,
So new traveler, staunch and kind,
Follow me and you will find
Still more beauties than I have rhymed.27.

The boosters for the highway had 1,000 copies run in a four-page folder and distributed.
Richard 'Dick', Merle and Clyde Jenkins with
the family car and some friends. Courtesy
Steward and Agnes Hampton collection.

June 11, 1930
"Cabinet National Forest Supervisor Fitting made a trip to Noxon last week to secure a right-of-way for a road which will be constructed from the end of the present road in Jacks Gulch to the Coeur d'Alene divide and thence into Deep Creek on the Coeur d'Alene forest in Idaho." Plans included extending "roads along the divide East to peak 80 and west to Pack Saddle Mountain in Idaho."28.
Frank King, Noxon rancher, was in charge of a small crew of men doing widening and improvements to forest roads.29. The first of the equipment to be used in constructing the Jacks Gulch Motorway was due in Noxon the last week of June. Part of the survey has been completed. Work will begin soon after the first of July."30.

During August, the road booster delegation made another 'booster trek' between Missoula and Sandpoint, stopping in Noxon and Clarks Fork, where they were feted with ice cream and cake that was thoroughly appreciated because of the heat.31.

The success of building forest roads interested bureaucrats inWashington, DC, and other forest supervisors. Mr. Hale, Washington office of engineering, an expert on road machinery visited the Jacks Gulch road project southwest of Heron. Hale was studying efficiency of various kinds of road machinery used by the Forest service. Supervisor John Lowell, Bitterroot National Forest also studied the methods being used in the Heron construction project.32.

In November, the forest road project closed for winter due to heavy snows. Good progress was made since work began the first of August at the Lee ranch on the west fork of Elk Creek.

The forest road was constructed to the old tree-planting base camp, thence to the Divide, following Jack's Gulch to the top. Distance from Lee's to the Divide is five and 1/2 miles, a series of switchbacks with a maximum grade of about 12 percent.

From the summit, construction extended along the Divide south towards Eighty Peak, a distance of three and 1/2 miles, northwest towards Packsaddle Mountain, five miles; in all a total of fourteen miles of road constructed. Mr. W. W. Culbert, in charge of operations, is moving the equipment out for winter storage. Most will go to Thompson Falls where it will be available for use early in the spring.33.

December 3, 1930
"More than double the amount of forest highway funds available from the US forest service for Montana and Northern Idaho will be available during Fiscal 1931. $1,220,337 will compare with $569,327 during 1930. Of this amount $837,355 for Montana compared with $397,999 last year."
The Clark's Fork Idaho highway between Idaho line and Clarks Fork is to be included in the program. Montana projects included are, Y.G.B highway, Madison River highway, McDonald Pass highway, West Gallatin highway, Yellowstone Trail near Butte, Clarks Fork highway and the Belton-Glacier park section of the Roosevelt highway.

Throughout 1930 the 'river-route' highway continued to inch eastward. (Another winter passed sans surfaced road or snowplowing. After completion, in 1931, the State of Montana took over maintenance for a two-year period. Clayton Bauer was put in charge of maintaining the highway.)

Conflicts seem to attract themselves to C. R. Weare like steel to a magnet. As winter snows deepened, ending construction for the 1930-31 winter, he couldn't get his disc back from Marion Cotton. When spring came, he had the clearing contract waiting. Ainsworth, the county attorney, advised him to just go get it … "for a man cannot steal his own disc."34.

  1. A. C. Clark, Highway Engineer, letter February 25, 1928.
  2. Clifford R. Weare papers, March 6, 1928. Until his death at age 102 Weare continued to push for hydroelectric power development on the Clark's Fork, Bull and Kootenai rivers.
  3. Clifford R. Weare, tape-recorded oral history march 10, 1970.
  4. A. C. Clark, Senior Highway Engineer, Bureau of Public Roads, letter February 14, 1929.
  5. Bureau of Public Roads, letter April 9, 1929.
  6. Sanders County Independent Ledger, April 24, 1929.
  7. Sanders County Independent Ledger, May 15, 1929.
  8. Sanders County Independent Ledger, May 1, 1929.
  9. Sanders County Independent Ledger, May 15, 1929.
  10. Sanders County Independent Ledger, June 12, 1929.
  11. Sanders County Independent Ledger, June 26, 1929.
  12. Sanders County Independent Ledger, June 19, 1929.
  13. Sanders County Independent Ledger, June 19, 1929.
  14. Sanders County Independent Ledger, May 8, 1929.
  15. Clifford R. Weare papers, August 24, 1929.
  16. Carmen Moore, tape-recorded oral history January 1988.
  17. Velma Bauer, letter 1987.
  18. Dorothy McConnell Weare, oral history December 27, 1990.
  19. Dorothy McConnell Weare, oral history, var.
  20. Clayton Bauer, tape-recorded oral history November 1979.
  21. Grace (Carmichael) and Glen Nelson, tape-recorded oral history January 1988.
  22. Grace (Carmichael) and Glen Nelson, tape-recorded oral history January 1988.
  23. Carmen Moore, tape-recorded oral history January 1988.
  24. Clifford R. Weare papers, May 13, 1930.
  25. Sanders County Independent Ledger, October 30, 1929.
  26. Sanders County Independent Ledger, May 21, 1930.
  27. Sanders County Independent Ledger, June 4, 1930.
  28. Sanders County Independent Ledger, June 11, 1930.
  29. Sanders County Independent Ledger, June 11, 1930.
  30. Sanders County Independent Ledger, June 30, 1930.
  31. Sanders County Independent Ledger, August 13, 1930.
  32. Sanders County Independent Ledger, September 21, 1930.
  33. Sanders County Independent Ledger, November 19, 1930.
  34. Ainsworth, Sanders County Attorney, letter to C. R. Weare, December 1930.

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