July 26, 2014

7/18/14 - Fort Peck Dam

Learning Experiences in Montana

On Wednesday we drove from East Glacier to Havre.  It quickly became a case study of how awful Montana road repair can be.  They don't just patch the bad places in the road, or put another layer on top of the old--they remove everything clear down to dirt, and build a whole new road while traffic continues to roll along!  Then they wet it down so the mud splatters all over the RV.  The road gets all washboardy so everything bounces all over the place.  You can imagine how thrilled (and vocal) George was about all that.

The next day we went on to Glasgow, MT.  When we got there, George noticed that one side of the 5th wheel was way lower than the other.  He crawled under to check it out and discovered that we'd bounced so much it broke the shackles and the springs on that side weren't connected anymore.  (If this makes no sense to you either, you can just skip this part; there won't be a test.)

Surprise--there are no RV repair facilities in Glasgow, MT (population 3,250).  However, it's wheat country and there are lots of farm implement repair shops around.  Tractors have some of the same parts that RV's do. (Something else I didn't know, but this one I could understand.)  One of the dealerships recommended Thompson & Sons to us.  George called, and one of the sons came right out.  He called his brother to confirm they had most of the parts in the shop, and the new shocks were ordered right then to be flown in the next day.  It was a refresher course on how folks in rural communities are a lot more willing to help than those in big cities.

I realize Glasgow might not be on your bucket list.  (It wasn't on mine either, just a place to stop along Hwy. 2 on the way across Montana.)  We had no idea what to do to while away a few hours.  Someone suggested we visit Fort Peck Dam, south about 20 miles.  We learned a lot while we were there.
Now don't go comparing this dam to Hoover Dam.  For one thing it's not made of concrete--it's an earthen dam, the largest earthen dam in the US.  (I didn't know that.)
For another, it isn't conveniently placed in a canyon, blocking the water that flows through through it.  We're talking Great Plains here, and it's pretty flat in this Missouri River valley.  So the Corps of Engineers had to build a dam four miles across to hold the water in place!  (Something else I didn't know.)  
We watched the video in the Visitor Center (another educational opportunity) about the history of the dam:
  • authorized in 1933 by FDR
  • largest hydraulically-filled dam in the world (I learned about this then, but this is now and I don't remember most of it.  If there's a test, I'll have to cram.)
  • one of the largest reservoirs in the US
  • it was featured as the cover story in the very first issue of Life Magazine in 1936

We signed up for the tour of the dam.  The tour should have been more educational than it was, but what you get out of the class depends on the teacher.  Ours didn't half try, didn't remember what she'd been taught, and when you asked a question, if she didn't know the answer, she'd respond like she was answering something else entirely.  (Sorry, no pictures inside the power house.)

After the tour, we went back to the Visitor Center, which is really an Interpretive Center--and a stop on the Montana Dinosaur Trail.  (I didn't know there was a Montana Dinosaur Trail--I would have looked for footprints.)
I had no idea that one of the most complete Tyrannosaurus Rex skeletons ever discovered was found in the sediment around Fort Peck Lake in 1988. They named it the Wankel T. Rex, after the local rancher Kathy Wankel who found it, which is pretty cool.  This is a cast of its skull:
Paleontologists must have hit the lake shore in droves. Another skull was found 9 years later.  Apparently it was found on government property, so it was given the poetic name of Peck's Rex.  They've got a cast of that skull in the museum too (I have no idea what they do with the actual fossils) and a replica that some creative paleontologists think a T-Rex looks like.  Actually, it's a very educational museum.
And the last thing I learned that day?
Farm implement/truck repair shops don't charge nearly as much as RV repair shops do!

Interested in learning more about Fort Peck?  Here's the link:  Fort Peck Dam 

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