We had a quiet 4th of July in Missoula. We spent a bit of time with Ken and Karen, which is always fun. We also got to see the base of operations for smokejumpers.
Our morning plans were to meet Ken and Karen at Fort Missoula for the July 4th pancake breakfast. We got there a little early, so started wandering around the grounds. We saw a fire watch tower, and it was open for people to climb up and take a look. We did so, and it looked almost exactly like what I saw in the game Firewatch, including the wraparound deck, the compass and map in the middle, and other things on the inside. The whole tower was slightly rickety, and there was a sign which said that at most four people could go up at one time. As we were ready to go down, at least four other people were on their way up, and it was a tight fit to pass each other (the stairs go through the deck floor, so you can't make a complete circle). We made our way down, glad we were doing so as other people were walking towards the tower.
We found the Maddens, and went to get into line for breakfast. It reminded me of various pancake breakfasts during my scouting days. There was practically no line, and it was very easy to find a place to sit at the tables. We had a nice, casual meal, then decided to walk around the fort a bit. As we got up, we saw that the line was very long; good timing on our part.
On to the museum. When we first walked in, it looked pretty small, but we found an exhibit room and wandered around. Ken and I were amused that there were several items on display which we used to use or own. He also saw several things which his dad used to have, but what was most interesting to me was when he looked at the historic photographs and explained what buildings were still around, which were gone, and which were changed.
We exited the exhibit room, and saw that Karen was talking with a friend. We enjoyed hearing their history together; the friend went to a venue to book a wedding date, only to see it was already taken (by Karen, she later discovered), so she chose the day before.
After saying goodbye, we saw there were more exhibits on the other side of the building. These were more extensive than the first room, and also went upstairs.
Finishing the rounds in the museum, we went out to the grounds where several booths were set up for the day, including several which had antique tools (mostly things one would use to lay out a homestead) on display. We walked into the homestead display, which had a collection of items which people would have in those days. Ken and Karen happened to know the docent in the exhibit, but she said that later she would be in the detention building, which really interested her. She explained that there were mostly Italian Americans there, and later Japanese Americans were also held. We did a double-take when she said many were taken off ships (such as in the Panama Canal), then transported to Missoula.
After leaving the homestead display, we made a beeline to the detention building, which had a large collection of great photographs from the time.
Exiting the detention building, we worked our way back to the cars, and made tentative plans to meet again later in the day. We went to the Subaru dealer; they were open, but the parts department wasn't, so I would have to try again the next day (when we'll be leaving Missoula).
We had already known we were interested in going to the Smokejumper Center, and our host in Harpster said it's a great exhibit. We were quite early for our tour, so we looked around at the few exhibits they had. One was a mockup of a fire watch tower, and it also looked like I imagined from Firewatch; it seems that it was a very standard layout.
The Smokejumper Center is the Missoula base of operations for Forest Service firefighters who parachute near forest fighters and work to control the fire. There are several centers around the west, but Missoula also does training.
The tour time arrived, and our docent, Barry, showed up and started speaking, immediately demonstrating credibility. He was a smokejumper the summers between his years at the University of Montana, his first of three summers being 1960. After graduation, there weren't open jobs in the Forest Service, so he worked for Air America (an American passenger and cargo airline covertly owned by the government) in southeast Asia.
Barry spent a good amount of time talking about the equipment, as well as some of the changes over the past half century. He then took us to the building where the smokejumpers do their work. We saw rooms where they take material purchased in bulk and sew together their harnesses, packs, closing, and other things. Next was the hanger where used parachutes are hung to dry, then taken to the next room to be inspected, repaired, and repacked.
We then saw the dispatch area, as well as the board which shows which smokejumpers are out, and the list of the people who will be called next. Nearby was another mannequin with a pack which was fully loaded with 125 pounds of gear. Barry invited people to try to lift it.
The next room was the locker room, and there were a few smokejumpers in there. One had just returned from a few weeks in New Mexico. Barry explained that the dispatcher would state how many smokejumpers are required, but more would go into the locker room to help double-check that nothing was missed.
We then saw the cargo bay, with pre-loaded packages, some with provisions, some with tools. Then, it was out to the tarmac where we saw the plane which was ready to go when needed. We boarded the plane, and a pilot and a smokejumper were there, ready and willing to answer questions from the members of the tour.
And with that, the tour was over. We went to the store to pick up a small thing for dinner, and made plans to meet Ken and Karen for dessert. Then, back to the room, where we succumbed to the call of a nap.
After we heated up our dinner, we walked the ¾ mile to Big Dipper Ice Cream. Of course, I had to get the huckleberry, while Melody got Chocolate Whiskey. Ken and Karen were shocked that there was no line; we did see a line earlier on, but it was only 6 or 8 people. After we finished, we all strolled back over the Higgins Ave. bridge into downtown. Once again, there were far fewer people than my cousins were used to in that area. We were wondering how many of the people were out getting ready to watch fireworks, or perhaps at their own family events.
We got to the hostel and showed Ken and Karen around. Once again, Ken found the historic pictures, explaining where they must have been taken and what buildings they were showing.
Eventually our evening came to an end, and we bid them farewell. It was great that they made the time to spend with us, since they're really fun to do things with. Hopefully it'll not be too long before we see them again.