Chronicles of a Montana County Road Warrior in Eastern Montana (Guest Blog)

by: David Morton, Customer Solutions Coordinator and Guest Blogger for the BMS County Traveling Road Show Series

These are the chronicles of one David Morton, road warrior on a mission to solve client problems for Black Mountain’s Governmental Accounting Software.  What you are about to read is real.

February 24, 2013 – Eastern Montana Tour – Upside-down Latte

There’s a song that’s made Willy a lot of fans and money, and it really sums up my time here at Black Mountain Software: “On the Road Again.”

I almost managed to get through Polson before I stopped for the first time. My son gave me a Starbucks gift card that I hadn’t used yet.  I picked up my first free latte–spiced vanilla–at the local Safeway Starbucks.  At this point I had gone maybe 7 miles–a darned good start!

Knowing the latte was hot, I kept my mitt off it for a while before I deftly gripped it with two fingers and dumped it upside down on my shift console.  As Tricky Dick said often, “expletive deleted”.

My next stop was the Pablo IGA, a staggering 13 miles from home, to pick up paper towel and some other cleaning supplies.  So my free latte cost somewhere around $9 and some excess elbow grease.  After that though, I just gave the Subaru some reign and got comfortable.

Before I knew it I arrived in Lewistown where the car and I both fueled up; 16.3 gallons of regular and a Subway sandwich.  Full and pointed east, the huge bright central Montana moon led the way to Jordan.

February 25, 2013 – Jordan, MT

In Jordan, like many Montana towns, the court house should be easy to spot. It was morning and I was re-caffeinated. I was sure the courthouse was just down the street.  After a few left turns and a few right turns I managed to drive by the hospital – twice. With emergency drive through, ambulance and flag, it was the only really official-looking building to be seen.

Being male, I was reluctant to ask for directions, and opted to put my technology to work instead. I soon learned sometimes a smart phone…isn’t smart. It was time for consultation. I called Janet Scherer, Garfield County Clerk and Recorder. “Look for the building with the flag,” she instructs.  Ah! There it was!

I had a good visit with Janet Sherer and her deputy, JoAnne Stanton, who also has held the clerk and recorder position in the past. Between the two of them there are a lot of years of experience.

In 1997, the original courthouse burned to the ground leaving only the safe and its contents (relatively) unharmed but with smoke damage.  One item recovered from the safe was a print of a Native American camp. As a reminder of the fire they hung it on the wall.

Janet introduced me to two commissioners. Teddy Robertson is the brand new commissioner.  I met her before she was elected last fall when she attended MACo’s annual conference.  If I remember right, she lives out around Ingomar, an area I have romanticized since 1965. A boyhood friend told tales of dinosaur bones, fossils and of an ancient body in a cave.  All to be found on his mom’s and uncle’s sheep ranch somewhere close to Ingomar. My childhood friend might have been pulling my leg, but I still wanted to see it.  According to him, the ranch was 200,000 acres and it took a lot of those to raise a single sheep.  At 9 years old, my ears drank this up.  The country over there is big and nearly empty of people.  Like all places in Montana, it is special.

McCone County

After a good visit, I zipped down the hall to the treasurer’s office.  I met with treasurer, Jennifer Crawford and Terrie Robertson, her deputy.  The short visit revealed things were going dandy.  Both of them said BMS is working well for them.  I said good-bye, then I returned, shortly with sparkling Black Mountain Software lanyards: gifts to encourage perusal of the road warrior blog.

I worked my way east and then north.  Route 20, heading north, between Jordan and Circle would have been the route of choice for a couple of reasons: 1) I have never driven it, 2) It was shorter.  Instead, I needed to make a quick stop in Circle to say hello to folks at McCone County.  That added a few miles.

Just before Wolf Point, not far from where it is released from Fort Peck reservoir, I cross America’s longest river.  The Missouri is already big and the water in it is only about a fifth of its way to the Mississippi.  Once across, snaking my way through Wolf Point, I find US 2 leading west. With another day nearly done, I would be arriving at the home of the Glasgow Scotties just in time to rest.

February 26, 2013 – Lost Again

I had been to the Valley County Courthouse several times over the years.  I knew which way to go, but not exactly where to go.  I drove completely around the courthouse managing to keep about three blocks of Glasgow between it and me.  It was smart phone time again only this time it got me right to the heart of the courthouse, and helping me navigate the two blocks to a fine parking spot on the east side of the building.

Once inside, I saw Jenny Reinhardt, Valley County Treasurer.  She was operating the copying machine like a pro and told me she would see me later.  That was good because it was the plan. First stop: Clerk and Recorders Office, where I was to meet with Lynne Nyquist and crew: Jean Jenrich, Brenda Campbell and Bonnie Evenson.

I got a hug from Lynne; can’t go wrong with that.  Doc Indexing is working well and I asked if the land men were finding what they needed and was told the system was working well for them. I think there may be dust on my LP (long play vinyl record, for you youngsters) because I’ve made a lot of stops and think I am hearing the same thing over and over: everything is working well and Black Mountain has great support.

Lynne and Dave Pippin and I discussed their plan to digitize all of the County’s recorded documents.  They are deciding whether to incorporate the documents into the Black Mountain Document Indexing system or to keep them in a separate data base. And speaking of bases, Glasgow was once home to an airbase.  Unfortunately for Glasgow, it was one the Military closed years ago.  There were a number of ideas on how to make use of the infrastructure–most not too successful.  But the Bakken oil boom is now breathing a little life into the housing development there.  Families are moving in, and moms and dads are commuting to Williston and other places where housing is just not available.

In the Treasurer’s office, I was met by Jenny and Teddi Seiler. Jenny and I discussed a few things. One was menu items that were new features but that were not appearing in her menu. I remembered this one. So we opened Security, found new items that were excluded from her security group and added them.  Now the missing menu items appear for Jenny when she logs in.  I explained that new items appear automatically only for the Admin group.  For other groups where access to the menu item is desired, the item must be included using Security settings. Jenny was good with that.

Roosevelt County

After this brief foray to the west, it was back east to Wolf Point and Roosevelt County where I would meet with Cheryl Hansen and Betty Romo.  Betty, the treasurer, was up first and we had a great visit, discussing SB56 among other things. It calls for counties taking back managing specials.  Betty and a few other BMS Clients around the state are already managing the specials using the BMS Assessor software. In other counties the state DOR employee for the county has been entering and updating specials and that looks to be changing.  So before it takes effect, we will provide some free on-line training to help smooth the transition.

We had a great visit and I got to meet some of her staff before I headed over to the Clerk and Recorders office to see Cheryl Hansen.  It had been years since I had visited with Cheryl so it was good to see her and her crew.  We had been trying to help them find some missing document images. After some discussion it was decided that the best course forward was to make use of images being digitized by another company when they were available. So we have a solid plan and we will get it done.

I had a few minutes so stepped into the commissioner office and said hello.  Commissioners James Shanks and Gary MacDonald were in. As we visited, James brought to my attention that he has a Polson connection: his uncle is Bob Gunderson. Bob worked on Jim’s ranch every summer when he was growing up. Bob is Polson High’s 5-star track coach.

Halfway through the 90-mile jaunt to Plentywood, the land became locked in snow and it was noticeably colder. Driving north to the Sherwood Inn, I passed oil wells burning off waste gas. What a waste! There was a seismic exploration operation all lit up like some kind of controlled emergency: men bustling about, bright lights and semi-truck trailers were all arranged next to a helicopter waiting to go.  This activity is on the periphery of the most intense emptying of the Bakken; another kind of gold rush, a modern one, driven by driving.

February 27, 2013 – Nutmeg and smiles

It’s a Plentywood morning, which means a dusting off of snow on the Subaru.  In search of breakfast, I drive 100 feet and see a barely-identifiable bakery. Had I only known, I could have walked. Inside, many items are gone–evidence that most of this bakery’s customers have come and gone.  But what is there is classic.  And it turns out way good.  The cake doughnuts took me back to my childhood and my mother’s donuts with just the right amount of nutmeg.  Definitely not like those found at the supermarket.

Sheridan County

Kathy Holte, Sheridan County Treasurer, welcomed me to her offices and fixed me up with a coffee.  We visited a bit about some changes she would like with Cash Receipting.  Recognizing that I might not be keeping up she took me out to a computer and showed me. This definitely helped me. Between my notes and some she made, I was able to bring some good ideas back to our development crew.

I then treaded up the stairs to the Clerk and Recorder’s Office. The timing was good.  Clerk and Recorder June Johnson was just finishing a conversation with Bill Nyby. It had been quite a while since I had seen Bill. They echoed what I had been hearing all along in my travels. We discussed some strange errors related to old imported images.  It sounds like when it occurred there was a fair amount of frustration but Chad Newman our image expert helped get it resolved.

It was time to head back the way I had come the night before.  I traveled south to Culbertson where I stopped for lunch at the Wild West diner at the intersection of Highway 10 and US 2.  What makes this interesting, besides the tasty lunch, is the fact that the diner is set up in an old Railroad Diner Car. Food is still prepared in the original kitchen that was part of the car. It has awesome original wood paneling inside.  I will be stopping to eat there again.

Richland County, MT

Full, I headed south towards Sidney and Richland County.  When the county was created, Richland was picked as an enticing name for would-be settlers. Pretty smart!  Richland County counts itself tops in production of many agricultural products: first in sugar beet production and acreage, first in oat production, third in dry bean production, eighth in Durham wheat, and tenth in spring wheat.  Plus it sits, like a lot of its neighboring counties, atop of a lot of oil and gas, making it one of Montana’s top producing counties. Man camps (don’t get too excited girls, I understand these fellas have rough necks) like those in North Dakota exist here too.

The Richland County Courthouse is undergoing a face lift.  And unlike the changing face of Sidney, which is building new infrastructure, the courthouse is being restored in detail, including the gold accents to its interior architecture.  There is scaffolding, dust, and workers on all the floors. The Treasurer’s Office is in tight temporary quarters in the basement.

Next stop: Glendive for the night.  I ate in a bar/grill that reminded me of a bar in Kimberly, BC.  It had this sort of weird harsh bluish light, effectively making the place seem cold and uninviting.  It was close to the hotel, I was tired so it worked.

February 28, 2013 – New territory

Wibaux County

The next morning on the way to Wibaux I made a quick stop at Dawson County to say hi and leave some information with Shirley Kreiman, their C&R.  From there, I headed east about 20 miles where I pulled into Wibaux and decided to fuel the car. I pulled into the Cenex which seemed pretty much the same as the last time I bought gas there many years ago. The pumps were just the same. Back to the old days before you could slide your card to pay. Yep, you have to go in.

Around 10am, I walked in Treasurer Sandra Evans office. Several of the staff were taking a short break and determining why the pope wears red shoes.  Good way to start a visit. It had me smiling.

Sandra said she loves Black Mountain.  I didn’t want to get teary eyed so I stepped into the C&R office where Pat Zinda the C&R was busy.  She was working with commissioners and trying to take care of some various accounting tasks, so I looked at a funky problem she was having. She had several small things she needed assistance with so I jotted them down and turned them over to our support staff.  She shared a cool idea for our Document Indexing system that I turned over to our development team. It would allow her to define parcels in sections split by county boundaries as not part of the county.

In the Commissioner’s Office, I met Leif Bakken and Sandy Nelson.  I didn’t catch on that Leif’s last name was spelled exactly the same as the oil field currently being explored.  In 1951 the first oil to be extracted from the Bakken structure was from a well drilled on the Henry O. Bakken farm near Tioga North Dakota. Had I caught on, I would have asked if it was named after him or his relatives.  He probably gets that question more than once in a while.

Sandy Nelson told me she gets to go to Polson, where most of Black Mountain’s employees work, about four times a year.  She has a cousin, Todd Vandenburg who owns the local Napa store in Polson. She knew the town as if she lived there.  I told her I hadn’t seen Todd for quite a while but that my daughter was friends with his son Brett.  A week later I was in a department store waiting (like a lot of guys do) dutifully for my wife Jane, when Todd walked over into the official man waiting area.  We both had a laugh over the coincidence. Over the years, I have found that this kind of connectedness is revealed more than you would think.

I still had to get to Ekalaka to stop and visit with Pam Castleberry by 3pm, but we were done early enough to mosey over to the Shamrock and get a bite of lunch.  The place was rippin’. There were more folks eating here on a Thursday than…well…I don’t more than what…but it was a lot!

I hit the road south and entered into new country. At this point, I have been in every county of the state of Montana except three: Fallon, Carter and Powder River. Today I would knock a couple more off the list; Fallon and Carter.

Ekalaka is Carter County’s seat and I drove south through Fallon County to get there.  Approximately 20 miles north of Ekalaka I stopped quickly at the Medicine Rocks State Park. Leif had suggested a look before I left Wibaux.  I brought some pictures back.  I’ve heard stories that Ekalaka is kind of desolate place. There certainly aren’t a lot of people but the landscape is inspiring.

The town of Ekalaka has been a BMS customer for a very long time, so I thought I would stop and say hello.  Once again, what seemed should be obvious wasn’t. Finally I stopped at the post office; they would know for sure where the Town Hall was.  Though the instructions seemed clear, I still couldn’t find it. I parked the car and got out intending to go into a store and ask. A postal patron who had enough time to walk all the way downtown from the post office in the meanwhile saw me get out of the car and she asked if I had found it yet.  I said “No, but I think I am close.”  She pointed across the intersection at a unmarked building. Evidently they had recently moved into this building and hadn’t put the signs up yet.

Fallon County

I started to head over and she said then, “oh, they close at noon so no one is there.” That’s something else I have found out over the years: you don’t always get the most important information first.  But if Lisa, the Clerk/Treasurer is reading this, I almost got to say hello. Next time for sure!

The ‘Sooby’ (Subaru) wanted to head west so I set cruise on 79 and headed back north to Baker and then east on Hwy 12 until I reached the interstate and suddenly there were lots of cars and people going places east and west.  I made Billings that night.

March 1, 2013 – Home again

With only 430 miles to go, home is on the horizon. I don’t know what to make of the moniker: Road Warrior. After this week, Road Wearier seems a bit nearer the truth. Tired or not, the journey is worth it!

Share This Post:

This entry was posted in BMS Products, BMS Staff, Customer Spotlight, Small Cities, Uncategorized and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Follow any comments here with the RSS feed for this post. Both comments and trackbacks are currently closed.