On The Road – Deer Lodge, Philipsburg, Anaconda

This weekend, Alex had a commission to do some photography back in Anaconda and some thesis photography work that took us to Deer Lodge and Philipsburg.
With snow in the forecast for Saturday, we drove out Friday night, after a stop at an antique fair in Bozeman. I got my shop talk and dealer gossip in with Tamara of Mountain West Mercantile (Livingston, MT) and Brian of Rediscoveries Vintage Clothing (Butte) and found a couple interesting bits of vintage.
Then off to Deer Lodge, a little over 120 miles away. Deer Lodge was founded in 1864, around the Grant-Kohrs Ranch. The Montana State Prison was built in Deer Lodge in 1871 and operated through to 1979, when it was replaced with a new facility outside town, currently the major employer of the area. Deer Lodge was a major railroad town in Montana before being bypassed in 1980. Railroad hotels built in the early decades of the 20th century sit abandoned, The Montana’s ground floor businesses having survived into the early 1980s, while The Deer Lodge was abandoned after a boiler failure in the 1960s. The historic prison is now a museum, comparable to Alcatraz, only without any other people to spoil the creepiness of the experience. An annex to the prison houses a car museum, and buildings across the street are used as an old west museum, toy museum, pen museum, and a local history museum. This is well into the off season. Downtown is more dominated by pawn shops, casinos and bars this time of year.
We woke up to whiteout conditions out our window at the Western Big Sky Inn. Lucky for us, it was more wind than snow and the roads were more or less clear by 10. It hasn’t been that long since we were in Deer Lodge, but two of my “go-to” stops have disappeared, an antique shop in an A-Frame on the edge of town and a thrift/junk/antique store right downtown. The antique store by the prison didn’t seem to have any new stock since my last pass through over the summer and the thrift shop had almost no men’s section. We drove around town taking pictures, through the residential areas, with their one bedroom company houses, through the industrial areas (there is still one large lumber mill just outside town) and through the back alleys of the main drag. It’s always fascinating to see how these towns have changed. How the ground floor of a building was redone in the ’60s, and now bears a sign from the ’80s, but the upper floors are untouched. How the facade of a building may stand, but the building behind is a pre-fab metal shed, erected after a fire claimed the original structure. While taking pictures of one of the abandoned railroad hotels, the owner of a secondhand shop down the street poked her head out and started watching us. In typical Montana fashion, instead of “hey what are you doing, get out of here!”, we were met with the full history of the place, which she now owns and has been working on fixing up when time and money allow, and of the town, with some recommendations on hidden spots for us to shoot.

Then on to Philipsburg (founded 1867), a former mining town which went bust following the closure of mines and sawmills in the 1890s. Starting in the 1990s, the town began to be restored and geared to tourists. It’s a beautiful town, very much in-tact, but with a fakeness stemming from the restoration. The most compelling buildings were the ones on the fringes, still abandoned, still bearing faded signage from the 1920s in the windows. The 1990s does 1890s signage hanging from all the businesses (candy stores, gift shops, breweries, jewelry stores) and the restorations deny the century in between, the rise and slow decay which makes all these western towns so interesting. It’s nice to see a town in this area having found a way to drag itself out of the ashes, but it’s strange to walk down a main street filled with things which are so real yet feel so fake. We had a great lunch at the local soda fountain, a drug store from the late 1800s with a beautifully preserved 1930s Liquid Carbonic Corporation soda fountain and 1990s-does 1950s retrofication. The thrift shop was a gold mine, and we found a cache of vintage hardware at the antique shop for the bus interior. We drove Alex’s ’96 4 Runner on this trip and kept getting stuck in snow or sliding backward down hills while exploring the neighborhoods. Scary, but no harm done.

Finally, we ended up in Anaconda. We’ve done Anaconda so many times now for Alex’s photo projects that it’s started to feel like home. Like a small town that you’re trying to escape. We were set to meet up with a photo client for a commission of some photos of downtown around noon. It later turned out that his short ski trip scheduled that morning had turned into a 20 mile backcountry trip. So we waited. And we waited. It being Anaconda, there aren’t a lot of businesses. It being Sunday, there weren’t a lot open. It being Super Bowl sunday in a sports town, there was nothing open. We’ve so thoroughly done the town on a half dozen other fine-toothed-comb photo trips that even driving around for hours, we couldn’t find much new to shoot. So we sat in the car downtown waiting for the phone to ring for hours, until the sun started to dip behind the mountains which ring downtown. We eventually got the call, halfway back to Bozeman, and all was resolved. Alex had guessed and taken the shots that were needed in the time we were sitting. I made a good enough haul Friday and Saturday to pull the rest of the trip into the black.

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On The Road – Whitehall, MT

The plan was to make a run yesterday down to Dillon, in Southwest Montana. We stopped in Butte for lunch at the reopened M&M cigar store (founded 1890) and at a few antique shops. After a stop at Rediscoveries Vintage Clothing and a lot of shop talk with owner Brian Mogren, who’s owned it since 1980 and really knows his vintage, it started to snow. With deteriorating road conditions in the direction we were planning on traveling, we were forced to turn back to Bozeman, making a brief stop on the way back in Whitehall for some photos.

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On The Road – Red Lodge

Last week, we headed off to Big Timber, about an hour west of here. It’s always been a quick stop on the way to other places, and I’ve never had it as a destination; never really spent a lot of time there. We found a large antique store on the outskirts of town we’d never been to before- “Country Crossroads”, with a sign saying “gifts and crafts” and a front parking lot full of wrought iron patio furniture. It looked like the kind of place we generally pass up, the type of place which deals in scented candles, reproductions and those tack-welded metal letters you see everywhere now. But we were determined to really do Big Timber this time around, so we stopped. Not a craft or gift-shop tchotchke in sight. All good vintage and antiques, all organized by type, size and color. It killed me to pass on a set of large Halliburton aluminum cases, but with the big trip coming up, the less large things like that I buy, the less I have to put into storage.
We swung through Livingston on the way back home, hitting and striking out at my favorite thrift shops. While Alex was out getting some more shots for an upcoming photo series. I popped into Mountain West Mercantile, to visit with its owner and my friend, Tamara Mason. After some shop talk, she showed me a couple of western suits that had just come into her shop. Oddly, the market for that style is much stronger in Europe than it is in the US. It’s easier for me to sell them online to someone in the UK or Germany than it is for her to sell that particular shade of vintage westernwear at a shop specializing in vintage westernwear in the American west. The vintage market is bizarre sometimes. I somehow left a pair of pants from one of the suits behind in the shuffle and in a typically Montana act, she drove over the mountain the next day to hand deliver them. Again, I can’t recommend her store enough- if you’re here, you have to stop.

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Yesterday’s trip was to Red Lodge, MT. Red Lodge boomed in the early part of the century following a coal strike in the 1890s. The mines largely closed during the depression. Tourism bolstered the town’s economy in the 1930s following the construction of the Beartooth Highway and it now straddles the fine line between upscale ski-town and down on its luck Montana mining town. The “antique mall” in town turned out to be a relatively small storefront shop dealing in old-west reproductions and rifles, and the thrift shop inside a senior center, while clean and organized, didn’t have much stock older than the 1990s. The antique shop and thrift shop on the way back, in Columbus, Montana were both closed in that typically small town way that makes you wonder if it means closed for the day or closed for good. So 300-some miles on the car and a tank and a half of gas and nothing for the shop to show for it.

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But, as you can see, an interesting town. We were struck by the herds of deer and especially by the dozens of wild turkeys roaming the downtown. Deer on the steps of the courthouse. Turkeys at city hall!

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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).

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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.
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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.

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

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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.