On The Road: Back in Billings

We went back to Billings again yesterday. It’s an easy 140 mile drive which makes for a busy day trip or a relaxed overnight. We opted for the overnight, staying at the Dude Rancher again. There are pics of it in the first post of this thread. We hit town around 5:00, just as the sun was setting, but still with enough time to get an hour in at a big antique mall on the fringes of downtown, Marketplace 3301. There were definitely some things there I wish I had bought, but that were just too high- an 1800s bearskin coat for $250, or the sign off the Great Falls Hub store, from which I’ve had a number of pieces that were originally sold there over the years. But if I bought everything I wanted, I’d be broke with a houseful of unsalable things. Not that that’s too far off the mark as it is.


The next morning, we went back to 3301, to finish up the second floor, as we ran out of time Thursday evening. We went for breakfast at a place called the Muzzleloader. It boasted having been in business since 1957, and was out on the industrial side of town. I had visions of a typically western cafe- knotty pine, worn stools and a rifle hanging over the counter. Pulling up we were met with an enormous Cracker Barrel reject looking building, half cafe, half casino. Inside was large and impersonal, with that certain combination of beige and pastel that only late ’80s remodelings can yield. But, it was packed with locals and had a chicken fried steak special, so what the hey, we gave it a shot.

Then on to downtown Billings, for Yesteryear’s antique mall, a sprawling 3 story place. It has remarkable turnover in their stock, and I’ve always managed to find good things there. Oxford Antiques, in business for 31 years, was closed for the day. Last I was there, I was chatting with the owners and they were mentioning that they were easing somewhat into retirement, ramping down their hours and marking lots of the stock in the store down 50% to move it. So hopefully they were out enjoying the last bit of good weather before winter hits in full and I’ll catch them next time.

I made my requisite stop to Montana Vintage Clothing- if you’re ever in the area, you must stop. They have racks and racks of vintage menswear, 1920s-1960s, suits, ties, jackets, shoes, hats, you name it. And while their men’s section has the scope and sheer volume that would make people here weep, it’s small when compared to the women’s side. They’ve been in business 17 years, are extremely knowledgeable and friendly and being located in Billings, have affordable prices. You could score yourself a ’30s suit, tie and hat all for under $200.

Then on to the thrift shops, the big Goodwill outside town, the two St. Vincent DePauls, the Montana Rescue Mission, the Family Service Secondhand. I swear they’ve raised their prices, with better deals to be found at the antique shops. $30 for a mothy ’50s overcoat? That’s more than I could charge with all my experience and contacts. We passed abandoned warehouse buildings bearing the signs of two defunct antique malls, and the abandoned Salvation Army. For a town that’s always been reliable as a source of vintage for me, it seems it hasn’t always been kind to the shops that sell it. There’s a certain desperation to Billings.


We made one last quick stop in Big Timber, where I finally bought a ’30s/’40s suit (sans jacket) that I had seen on the pricing rack the better part of a year ago, but had been unable to buy then. It took its time, but finally made its way out. As we got closer to Bozeman, the temperature dropped and the snow closed in, white specks on the horizon growing into snowy mountains.

Exhausted, we settled back in. This was the trip of Open Roads. Everywhere I looked there seemed to be another one.



On The Road: Idaho

For this past weekend’s picking trip, Alex and I headed down to Idaho, leaving before dawn and taking the back roads. Our first day was spent in Idaho Falls, hunting through all the antique shops and thrift stores.  When we were last in Idaho Falls, Alex bought a Pentax Spotmatic camera and upon returning to Bozeman discovered a roll of 15 year old undeveloped vacation photos from the Grand Canyon inside.  She tracked down the man who sold her the camera and delivered some prints.

I got off to a pretty good start, finding some WWII shipbuilder badges right off the bat, followed up by a ’40s western shirt, WWII USN duffle and an early ’50s fedora in nearly unworn condition.  When I started vintage dealing, back around 2006 at the tender age of fifteen (gosh how time flies), antique shops were chockablock with hats like that and my ceiling price was somewhere in the range of $20. I very rarely found ones at that point any more expensive than that.  Then eBay really took off, the Fedora Lounge boomed and demand exploded.  The supply in antique shops either dried up or mirrored the rising prices on eBay, and I basically was priced out of the hat market.  Prior to 2008, I was almost exclusively a hat dealer, only coming to the rest of the vintage clothes market when hats became too expensive and scarce for me to make a living off of them.  Out here in Montana I still find 1960s western hats with some degree of regularity, but while I love them for myself, the seller’s market on them isn’t great.  Finding a real vintage hat in the kind of condition and at the price I was eight years ago was really a thrill.

On to the neon pictures- Idaho is the land of surviving mid-century signs.  Throw a rock, you’re bound to hit some kind of beautiful signage (metaphorically).



Theme hotels are also big in Idaho for some reason.  We stayed at the Black Swan Inn in Pocatello, in the pirate themed room.  It was delightfully over the top, with an under the sea mural crashing through the side of the sunken “ship” (complete with curved ribs!), a stocked fish tank under the bar, a cannon as the tub faucet, jewels and booty embedded in the counter tops and swords over the door.  A bit pricier than a Motel Six, but who remembers a highway motel after you’ve left it.  I certainly can’t. I don’t think I stopped giggling about all the little details and wonderfully absurd conceits of the room for a solid hour.  Every part of my past seven years of architectural education (I’m a grad student in Architecture on top of this vintage gig, how ’bout that?) wants to hate places like this, but god I love them so much.

Back on the road, and on to Twin Falls, then back to Pocatello.  Sunday was, of course, more of a sightseeing and driving day than a thrifting day. In this part of the country, you’re lucky to find a few restaurants and gas stations open on Sundays, forget about shops. The antique shop in Twin Falls that I made some big finds at on my last trip, back in May, had a hand-written sign in the window that they recently stopped being open Mondays, and the Salvation Army, who we called beforehand, was also closed, and the Goodwill no longer exists.

Deseret Industries, for those of you who don’t have them in your area, are organized by color, which appeals to the obsessive in me, but makes digging through everything time consuming and annoying.  All the DI’s had almost exclusively suits and jackets made within the past 10 years and mysteriously absolutely no men’s outerwear. As they’re a chain, along the lines of Goodwill, each location is set up in exactly the same way inside and I have to say it was disconcerting going into a couple of them in a row, separated by hours of driving.  Like walking through a door into the room you just came from.


Not a bad haul despite the picking stalling for the second two days.


On the Road: Great Falls, Montana

This trip started in Anaconda, nearly a year to the day since my first time in the town, and my fifth or sixth time since the end of August there, helping Alex with a photo project she’s doing on the town.

Old Cars in Anaconda.  Unusual to see the Avanti and the Fiat.

Signs and Such in Anaconda.

Ghost Signs of Anaconda

We went to the Washoe Theater, designed in 1930 by architect Benjamin Marcus Priteca, who also designed the Pantages in Hollywood, CA, among many others. Opening was delayed until 1936 due to the economic ramifications of the depression. The interior design was by Nat Smythe and the murals are by Colville Smythe. It has been on the National Register of Historic Places since 1982 and in remarkable condition, inside and out.
It’s still showing first run movies; Alex and I saw “Everest”. We showed up a bit early to be able to snap some shots before other people showed up. There were a few ghosts, and the house lights went out while we were shooting, causing the manager to run in to flip them back on, finding the lobby completely empty. Spooky.

Great Falls was a mixed bag. Two of the larger antique shops downtown which were the main draw for this trip are closed monday despite what their hours online say. A shop on the outside of town has closed and is empty and for sale. The St. Vincent DePaul was closed today only due to some unforseen circumstance on their part, and the batch of trip-making hand painted ties at the Salvation Army ($10 for the lot, as things stand) were for their auction and can only be picked up in person in five days time. Made a side trip on the way back through Helena to try to salvage some of the cost of the drive from the thrifts there which up till now have been a reliable goldmine. Left them empty handed. So a fair bit of disappointment. But a decent number of low-profit finds, so hopefully I’ll have enough volume to make up for the lack of anything big-ticket this time around. I’ll make the money, it just means that I’ll be making way way under minimum wage with the time I’ll have to put in to pull the finds from this trip out. At least it should be back in the black after a couple weeks of coming up emptyhanded.

In Great Falls, we hit six thrift shops, plus the two in Helena and one in Anaconda, and six antique shops in Great Falls, plus another in Anaconda. So fifteen open stores in all, not including all the closed-for-the-day and out of business ones we tried to hit.

Vintage neon

A view into some of the shops. Most of the other shoppers in all the thrift shops were Hutterites from the nearby colonies. Prices weren’t bad at the shops for the most part, and as usual, I found a ton of skinny lapel suit jackets from the early-mid 1960s but passed on them because of the complete lack of demand. There was a cache of 50+ ties from the 1940s at one of the antique stores, but they were priced at $10-$30 each, with the prices seeming to have nothing to do with era, pattern or condition. One of the shops that was closed had some vintage hats, ties, and sunglasses visible through the front window, taunting me. Maybe some of them will be there next time.

A highlight was the Sip ‘n Dip Lounge. I’ve written about it before on Diner Hunter. We hit it on a night when the mermaids had off (usually they swim up and down in the pool behind the bar) and on a night when Piano Pat also had off (she’s played there since 1963). So we had to take it on its merits as a Montana tiki bar up there on the second floor of the O’Hare Motor Inn. It was Sunday night and we had the place nearly to ourselves, save for a group of young women who left shortly after we came in and one man sitting at the bar. We did as you do at a tiki bar, and we got the fishbowl, complete with orange slices, cherries, umbrellas, swizzle sticks and ten straws.

More old cars.

We just back in and I haven’t had time to really sort through things, but here’s the tally: a Dobbs Homburg, a Stetson 7X clear beaver, Pilgrim porkpie a 1950s tweed overcoat, an early ’60s peak lapel overcoat, Velveteez moc toe ankle boots, a ’60s-’70s pendleton jacket pleat-back corduroy jacket, German Cigarette card collection scrapbook, early ’60s peak lapel suit, 8 vintage ties, a pair of button boots, child sized jeweled and studded western belt and a Sicura (Breitling) automatic watch. I might be going back to buy a 1974 Ford Econoline later in the week, pictured in one of the above posts, if it feels strong enough to make the drive back over the pass.

On the Road: Livingston, Montana

Alex and I took an impromptu, “hey want to go to Livingston in ten minutes?” trip this morning a half hour east of here. Livingston’s an interesting town, a mix of worn wrangler jeans and patagonia fleeces, cowboy bars and high end flyfishing shops.

Time ran short, so we had to skip my favorite thrift shop by the railroad tracks, but we managed to hit a thrift shop, two antique stores, and a secondhand shop. I walked out emptyhanded from the thrift shop for the first time- they had a fair number of early ’60s sportcoats and orphaned suit jackets, but have raised their prices since last I was there, and the online market on late ’50s-early ’60s tweed is below even thrift shop prices. The secondhand store had a lot of things I was *this* close to buying, ’50s fleck, ’40s overcoats, a couple ’50s hats, at reasonable prices, but again, all were the kind of thing that I like, but which the market right now is pretty iffy on and didn’t want to risk. Most of those have been there for the two years I’ve been going, so if things pick back up, or if any of you pass through Livingston, they’ll probably be there.

A little over a month ago, I got an invitation from Tamara Mason, owner of the Mountain West Mercantile to drop by the shop and introduce myself and to chat about vintage. I’ve been in a half dozen or so times since I moved out this way, but still have a hesitation about coming out to shopowners as a fellow dealer. We’re a small community, and nearly everyone I’ve run into or talked to has been incredibly supportive, friendly and helpful, but I still feel like I’m on their turf or somehow in competition. So it was a great feeling to get the invite for Tamara and to get to go geek out. Unsurprisingly, it turned out that we know, or know of a lot of the same people in the business. We commiserated about the difficulty in finding golden era vintage and the changing market. She pulled out some real gems for me to see from the back, and I made some exciting finds. As I’m sure you all know, I’m a fan of the vintage westernwear, and this is the most I’ve seen in one place. A real treasure trove of peak lapel gabardine suits, ranch jacs and vintage hats. If you’re in the neighborhood, it’s a must stop- jam packed with high quality, real vintage from the era we like. It’s at 205 S. Main Street, Livingston, MT

So the finds for the day- a Dobbs Golden Coach thirty, a Stetson Gun Club, a late ’40s Bouldercord suit and a ’50s Miller suit.

On the Road: Virginia City, Montana

Alex and I intended just to make a quick hour and a half or so jaunt a couple towns over to Three Forks, Montana but, as seems to happen with us, ended up going way further. We hit a thrift shop about the size of my bedroom in Manhattan, MT which is new since I was last in that town, replacing an antique shop in the space. Found another thrift shop in Manhattan in the back of a building with a hand written sign taped to the window, unfortunately only open mid-week for a few hours a day. Peering through the windows, it was packed with clothes, so maybe worth a trip back sometime soon. The antique/junk shop I had hoped to hit in Three Forks ended up being closed Mondays, so no luck there, and the stacked-to-the rafters dig-through-the-piles thrift shop downtown appears to have moved from their spacious storefront to a small vacant gas station on the edge of town, all their furniture stock stacked in piles under the gas station canopy with a hand written apology letter from them on the front of the store about the mess. That one was also closed, with people inside moving things around. The one remaining shop in town was open, but while it had a lot of antique knick-nacks and odds and ends, was strictly in the 1980s corduroy blazer world when it came to their men’s clothing selection.
With no joy picking wise in either of those towns, we pushed on to Ennis, where we gassed up the car, got lunch at a drug store lunch counter and hit an antique and thrift shop. Ennis is big in the flyfishing world, and the thrift shop was rife with Patagonia fleeces and Mountain Hardware moisture-wicking shirts, but nothing of the era I look for. The antique shop had a ton of things that were *this* close to being right, but everything was too small. ’50s wide brim fedoras, but all in the 6-3/4 range. Vintage cowboy boots in size 7. Yellowstone souvenir belts in sizes small even by children’s standards. So close, but left empty handed.

Our last stop was Virginia City, a ghost town semi-restored to a tourist destination in the 1950s-1960s. I love Virginia City and hate Virginia City. 60 odd years ago, when doing the restoration, interiors of the surviving buildings were recreated and were stocked with deadstock items sourced from all over the state, dating from the late 1800s-1920s or so. This was back when these things could still be found, of course. Since then, though heavily visited by tourists by Montana standards, all of these things have been more or less left to rot in semi-enclosed, semi-abandoned buildings. Deadstock tweed suits from the 1910s, stacks and stacks of caps, deadstock button boots, ties, you name it- they have it all, but from being displayed in the harsh sun and under leaky tin roofs, it’s all water damaged and sun faded now. Great to see someplace where it exists, and upsetting to someone like me to see it ruined from poor display.
So, 160 more miles on the road and completely empty-handed. Not great business (and this is how I pay all my bills and school, not just some hobby), but still a pleasant fall day in some beautiful places. As I say every time, this business is always a huge gamble every time I leave the house. Sometimes it’s 75 necktie jackpots and secondhand store D-Pocket leathers, sometimes it’s moths flying out of the wallet. But unless you pound the pavement and put in the work, you’ll never make the big scores.

Spotted a lot of older cars today, some as beater daily drivers with current tags, others rotting away in fields like the top center one.

Sometimes out here the difference between a small town and a ghost town can be fuzzy.

Some good vintage signage

Interiors in Virginia City and a few antique shop shots

On the Road: Kalispell Montana and Glacier National Park

This week’s trip was a big one, clocking about 850 miles on the trusty 4 Runner. Starting in Bozeman, Alex and I headed west, through Missoula, up to Kalispell, Montana. The forecast had been calling for serious weather and we got an eerie combination of blazing sun and black skies coming past the old Prison in Deer Lodge. We finally made it up to Kalispell and settled in so that we could get an early start on Saturday.

As soon as they opened, we started looking, hitting every thrift and antique shop we could find in Kalispell and the surrounding towns. By the end of the day, we had hit teh thrift shops and six antique stores. The further away from home I go and the longer I’m there, the bigger the risk I’m taking. Gas, food and lodging start to add up. At the same time, it takes stores time to re-stock, so my range has to expand with every trip.

The two antique malls in Kalispell, which I had been pinning a lot of my hopes on turned out to be complete busts, with not just no finds or purchases, but nothing of interest in any of the booths at all. I probably bought a few things in the thrifts against my better judgement to feel like I had found something. Not junk by any means, but things like late ’50s tweed jackets, which I love, but which there’s not much market for at any price online, and which probably won’t do much more than take up space. But at a couple dollars a piece, at least I can say I kept them from being turned into someone’s zombie Halloween costume.
My luck changed somewhat at some of the thrifts, where I ended up finding a few vintage ties here and a few vintage ties there, adding up by the end to a fair number. The real prizes were two ’40s suede leather whipstitched western Hollyvogues, with the original tags still on. I have a bit of a collection of those already, so we’ll see whether those end up being passed along or whether they’ll join the ones I already have. Alex, who usually comes away with a slew of vintage cameras, had about the same luck as I did, finding a fair number of 1970s Polaroids at steep prices, but nothing much of any real use or interest.

Lunch in Kalispell was a vintage treat. We ate at a place called Moose’s Saloon. It’s a bar from the ’40s or so, done up in 1959 to approximate an old west saloon. Sawdust on the floor, low lighting, peanuts on the tables, and two dollar draughts. In the years since it was done up in saloon style, it’s been heavily loved, with names carved into every tabletop, booth, bench and wall. The crowd was a nice mix of children and pensioners. It had a really nice family neighborhood dive atmosphere, great food and cold microbrews.

Alex and I always play a game when out hunting where we try to identify what we’ve seen an inordinate amount of in the shops that we’ve hardly ever seen anywhere else. This trip it was wetsuits. With all the cold mountain lakes, I suppose that makes sense. On a broader scale, this part of Montana has the most Quonset huts I have ever seen in my life, most of them still in use.

From Alex:
Kalispell turned out to be a haven for little treasures that filled our trip with “wait wait, we have to pull over”. Although we stopped and explored every little strange part of Kalispell and surrounding area that we found, I have a hunch there’s so much more that we missed. Two things that stood out to me as unique to Kalispell were the buffalo in a bullet proof case watching over a mobile home community, and the Moose’s Saloon, a dark, divey bar that screams “MONTANA” the minute you walk in. This Saloon wasn’t like any saloon I’ve ever been to. Maybe it was the sawdust that covered the floor, the sweetest elderly woman that took our order, or the delightfully chilled goblets that the beer was served in, but we were hooked on this place. The pizza was pretty good to boot. I regret not taking a peek in there gift shop, who’s sign read “Moostly Mooses”, which gave me a chuckle.

 photo edit alex.jpgThe other strangely wonderful part of Kalispell was the taxidermied buffalo that towered over a small mobile home community/hotel. Yes, that is in fact a /hotel. In the corner of the enclosed community was an Inn & Suites that looked not too shabby for where it was placed. But that’s beside the point. This buffalo looked like it had been there a while, judging from the shape of the glass and the general dirtiness of it. Nevertheless, I would stay at that Inn & Suites just for that buffalo. Overall Kalispell turned out to be a hoot, with strange “attractions”, if you could call it that, and bars full of character.
We went to Glacier National Park on Sunday. It’s my second time to Glacier and was Alex’s first. It’s post-season there, and all the lodges and gift shops have closed down until next summer. The huge numbers of visitors have subsided, so you can finally enjoy the beauty in relative peace and quiet. The trees were a riot of color, and as we ascended Going To The Sun Road toward Logan Pass, the temperatures dropped and yellow autumn leaves gave way to snow covered evergreens.

We took our time on the way back, stopping in all the small towns we came across, and to get a tire fixed after picking up a screw somewhere along the way. For a hundred miles, we had seen billboards for the “Miracle of America” museum outside Polson, Montana. It’s one of those classic roadside museums, with such a broad focus that you’re bound to find something you’re interested in, and if you’re like me, bound to like just about everything. Historic buildings, rare motorcycles, helicopters, airplanes, vintage clothes, rusty cars, alien autopsies. You name it, they probably had it somewhere in the collection. There were definitely some things in the collection I would have loved to get my hands on.

The haul. No big ticket items, but a decent amount of ’30s and ’40s ties, a pair of vintage hunting boots, a powder blue ’50s suit, a couple of late ’50s-early ’60s jackets and a Nomex flight jacket. With luck, I might just break even. A beautiful and fun trip nonetheless, and any moment of being in Glacier was worth the rest.

The jackets from this trip, photographed. Keep an eye out as I list them, and as I get around to finishing photographing and editing all the neckties, of which there are quite a few.
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On the Road – September 18 and 19

This week, Alex and I did as the song says, and headed west, young man. She’s been working on a photo series in Anaconda, Montana, and I came along to do what I thought would be a bit of casual vintage hunting on the way there and back. I had made a similar loop about two months ago with good results and didn’t expect to find more than beautiful scenery and a good time.   photo blog us.jpg

What a treat to have a blue, big sky country type of day for an outing. Last week was in the 90s, the week before was pouring rain, and the one before that there was smoke from forest fires so thick you could barely see a block in front of you. It’s just starting to be fall here, with shocks of yellow mixed into the pine forests and fresh show on the mountain peaks. Perfect weather for tweed jackets and windows down driving through the mountains.
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As always, there were a lot of interesting things along the way that I didn’t buy.  Every trip and every shop always seems to have a particular thing that shows up in unusual numbers.  This time it was pile lined tweed coats from the 1970s. It killed me to pass on the bow ties in the bottom right corner, probably a hundred of them, mostly from the 1970s, but with a couple 1940s and 1950s ones mixed in.  But as low as the asking price of ten bucks a pop is, with the amount of work that goes into photographing and listing them, and with their era, it’s just too much for someone in my position.
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On the hunt- photos by Alex DeLong. Montana is a goldmine for vintage ties.  Usually I’m finding them in thrift shops in small clusters, but every now and again I find a big cache tucked away somewhere. Well, to be more accurate, Alex found this cache, a big crate of ties, high up on a shelf in a back room I’ve never seen open before. It took a lot of sorting through, weeding out the ones that were too damaged, too new, too thin and too plain.  I ended up with about half of the ones in that pile, and found quite a few more in various thrift and secondhand stores.
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Photos by Alex DeLong.  Anaconda and Basin Montana. Basin’s been in decline since the mid 1920s. Where there were once thousands of residents, there are now 255. Bits and pieces from its mining glory days of the early 1900s still remain, mixed in with abandoned cars from the 1940s-1970s. In short, our kind of town.
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The Haul: Two 1940s fedoras, a Biltmore fedora, a MA-1 flight jacket, sheepskin ranch vest, two work jackets, a B-9 Parka, nearly 70 vintage neckties, a 1930s suit jacket, an early 1950s suit jacket, a 1960s tweed jacket, a 1940s overcoat, an early 1960s suit and a handfull of odds and ends.  Keep an eye out over the next couple of days as I get it photographed and listed.  Yet another good couple of days out on the road!

Until next trip,
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