North Forker recalls early days, ranch in Glacier Park

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  • Mid Connelly tells a story during a recent visit to her North Fork home.

  • 1

    When Polebridge had a pole bridge. The bridge was reconstructed in 1955. Glacier National Park crews did half, Flathead County the other half. From left is NPS foreman Austin Weikert, Eldon Koon, Roger Anderson and Claude Clausen. The bridge burned in the 1988 Red Bench Fire and was replaced with a concrete and steel structure over the North Fork of the Flathead.

  • Mid Connelly tells a story during a recent visit to her North Fork home.

  • 1

    When Polebridge had a pole bridge. The bridge was reconstructed in 1955. Glacier National Park crews did half, Flathead County the other half. From left is NPS foreman Austin Weikert, Eldon Koon, Roger Anderson and Claude Clausen. The bridge burned in the 1988 Red Bench Fire and was replaced with a concrete and steel structure over the North Fork of the Flathead.

Mid Connelly can look out the window of her North Fork cabin and see some of the best memories of her life stretched out before her, clear to the Canadian border.

Connelly’s father, Austin Weikert, was a noted contractor for Glacier National Park from the 1920s to the 1960s. He cleared portions of the route for the Going-to-the-Sun Road and built many bridges and ranger stations, including the Walton Ranger Station in the Park.

Weikert was an early North Forker. He once had a spread up Trail Creek, which is now owned by the Hoiland family.

His father originally came to Montana as a guide in Yellowstone National Park.

Connelly said her mother, Ruth, seemed to be able to communicate with her husband just by thought. Once he was up on the border working on a project when a big contract they needed had to be signed.

Somehow, Weikert got a feeling and left the job in the dead of winter on snowshoes, making the 30 miles back home to get the contract signed and in the mail just in time.

While Austin grew up in Avon, Ruth was born in Jacksonville, Illinois. Still, she ended up with a strong Montana connection. Her next-door neighbor was the attorney and early Glacier historian L.O. Vaught. Vaught arranged for Ruth’s father, who was suffering from respiratory problems, to move to Montana. The mountain air cured his lungs and he later moved back to Indiana.

Connelly had an interesting childhood, often traveling up the North Fork to visit friends of the family.

After graduating from Flathead High School in 1954, she worked as a “cabin girl” at the Quarter Circle MC Ranch in Big Prairie inside Glacier National Park for two years. Cabin girls made sure the guest cabins were kept up and clean.

It was a big outfit with hundreds of acres in Glacier. There were 10 guest cabins and about 50 to 60 guests at any one time. They had a host of horses and guests would take trail rides to Kintla and Bowman lakes and up to Numa Lookout.

Connelly recalled one time going up to Bowman Lake with packer Frank Evans and guests and having a fish fry.

The ranch also had an airplane and airstrip. The owner, Jack, McFarland once gave her in impromptu ride back to town because she smashed her finger in the woodstove and had to get it fixed at the hospital.

Connelly met her husband, Walter, at the ranch and the pair would later marry. Walter was a packer for Evans.

Walter first visited Montana on vacation.

“His parents brought him here for his eighth-grade graduation,” she said.

But before the nuptials, Connelly spent a summer working on another guest ranch down in Bozeman. It was her job to take care of the guest’s children while they went out on excursions. Connelly, in turn, took the kids out on their own horseback rides; some were as young as 3.

She only recalled one child taking a spill — the horse was well trained and stood still while Connelly retrieved the child, checked it for broken bones, and then continued on their trip.

She only wrecked once herself — while leaning over to latch a gate, she did a complete flip off her horse.

The kids enjoyed the rodeo, she recalled.

Walter was an electrical engineer, served in the Navy and the had a career with the Bonneviile Power Administration and then the couple had a business together where they traveled, testing high voltage transformers for electric companies and co-ops. The couple lived in Washington state, but visited Montana often and in 1982 they bought a patch of land from Evans on a hill off the North Fork Road overlooking Polebridge and Big Prairie to the east.

In subsequent years they built a cabin up on the hill, made from hand-hewn logs.

Walter died in 2002. The trees have grown up and the view isn’t as good as it used to be, but it’s still home, even if the driveway up to the cabin has a 27 percent grade in spots.

The front yard has seen plenty of critters over the years — black and grizzly bears, wolves and lions.

“We even had a wolverine,” she said.

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