Baseball at Snowslip

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Editor’s note: George is out this week, here’s a column from a few years ago...

Sometime in the long, long ago in this column we told a wonderful story about an historic baseball game played beside the railroad tracks near Snowslip, this side of the Continental Divide. The fine laid-back attitude of our pioneers was clearly illustrated by the tale Bob Gatiss related.

Bob, the man who created the beautiful Gatiss Gardens at Creston lived to be near a hundred and was a good friend to hundreds of Flathead citizens. Bob recalls going east on the Great Northern passenger train with his parents around 1910. This side of the Divide the train encountered a rock slide which had blocked the tracks and the conductor came through the cars to tell people there would be a delay while the tracks were cleared.

Bob said there was a fairly flat meadow near where they were stopped and some of the passengers rounded up a bat and ball ... even a few mitts. There were enough interested people to make two teams so they started a baseball game. It was a closely fought, tie game at the end of four innings and in the middle of fifth the train engineer blew the whistle to get the passengers back on board. Bob remembered that just about everyone ... including the spectators were upset and wanted to stay there until the game was finished.

Here we are a hundred years later, zooming frantically a double lane highway at 70 miles per hour, in a terrible rush for no defensible reason.

Recalled Bob’s baseball story this week while reading some old timer recollections from a book compiled by local historians in 1956. The idea of that ‘56 program was to find and interview still living pioneers who had settled the Flathead in the 1800s. Many many recollections were gathered and the one I’m repeating here was written down by a man named G. M. Houtz in 1937.

Naturally — I nor anyone else can verify these two tales to be solid facts; however, I love these stories and want to believe them with all my heart:

“There was a time some 15 years after the Great Northern was completed to the coast when the rails and roadbed had gotten in such a state that the traffic was too much for them. Derailments and more serious accidents were of almost daily occurrence; in one month there was a record of 42 such mishaps, fortunately most of them were without fatalities. In a number of cases these mischances were not without their laughable features. Two are recalled.

“Once when Charles Buckley was at the throttle, his engine and a car or two were derailed a short distance east of Belton (Now West Glacier). The locomotive rolled down the bank and landed in the Middle Fork river. Rescuers found all the other train men but could not locate Buckley. Finally, after all other possibilities had been canvassed, they clamored down the high bank to investigate the half-submerged locomotive. There they found the missing engineer sitting on the pilot of the machine and ... calmly fishing.

“During this same period Silas Schutt’s locomotive was derailed at a time when there were heavy snowdrifts, and the river was frozen over. Schutt’s machine left the rails near Essex and rolled down to the river, turning over several times as it went. Schutt went with it, and was found almost unhurt in the cab. His rescuers asked him why he did not blow the whistle?

“I did,” he said, “Every time the top was up.”

G. George Ostrom is an award-winning columnist. He lives in Kalispell.

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