From stale bread and syrup to ladies of the night

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To their joy, Clancy and Allen found the road to Spokane so good that they did a glorious 156 miles in a day to be greeted by skyscrapers rather than the log cabins they had expected.

Former brothel in Wallace, Idaho
Former brothel in Wallace, Idaho

Even better, when they got there, the manager of the city Henderson agency treated them to 12 days of parties, dinners and rideouts with local bikers.

However, they paid the price: on their first night after leaving there, they had a supper of stale bread, syrup and water, and fell asleep wrapped in their blankets with only mosquitoes and rats for company.

In the mining town of Kellogg the next day, they were interviewed in depth by the sole reporter on the sole newspaper, and after riding through the devastation caused by a recent forest fire to be greeted by the paved streets, electric lights and tuxedo-clad waiters of Wallace, Idaho, decided that the Wild West only existed any more in movies.

Only to have their certainty overturned the very next night when they arrived in Missoula, Montana, to find a posse in hot pursuit for a gang of desperadoes who had shot at their landlady, stolen the sheriff’s six-shooter and terrorised the town before heading for the hills.

Wincing at the outrageous bill the next morning, they rode off into a thunderstorm so bad that by dark they had only covered 20 miles and were forced to spend the night in the shack of prospector Isam Cox, who rustled up a feast of bacon, beans and coffee for the exhausted but grateful duo.

It seemed like paradise, particularly when the next night, after riding through Clark’s Fork, Missoula, Horse Plains and Palermo, they camped by a river and were eaten alive by mosquitoes all night long.

The next day, they found the land around Butte ravaged by copper mining, and in the town itself hardly a soul who could speak English, every third man drunk, not a policeman in sight and the prices on a par with New York.

The reason, they soon discovered, was that the labour unions were so strong that plumbers wouldn’t fix a leak for less than half a day’s pay. Of course, the shopkeepers took advantage by hiking up their prices so much that everybody lost, particularly visitors like Clancy and Bob.

They had personal experience of it the next day when Bob tried to fix a leak in his fuel tank, only to be told by a mechanic that he couldn’t fix his own tank without a union card.

When he remonstrated, the mechanic told him that a plumber had been fined $50 for fixing a leak in his own house one night rather than calling another plumber; who wouldn’t have come anyway because union rules forbade working after hours.

We set off from Spokane in glorious sunshine, and before long were rolling up the main street of Kellogg, where Clancy was interviewed by the local newspaper.

I wandered into Bitterroot Mercantile, the first shop we came to, and the owner, a pleasant grey-haired man, came out from the back and introduced himself as Gary Corbeil.

“You wouldn’t happen to know what the local paper here was called back in 1913?” I said.

“Sure do. It was the Kellogg Wardner News, covering both towns. It finally closed in 1985 when the mine shut, taking a million-dollar payroll out of the local economy every month. Can’t really survive after that sort of blow.”

“For sure. How do you know all this, by the way?”

“I was the publisher,” he said.

In Wallace, the electric lights were still working and the streets still paved, but the waiters in Albi’s Bar, Sweet’s Café and the Jameson Inn had cast off their tuxedos, as a result of which all three were now closed and up for sale.

Quite right, too. You can’t let your standards slip without paying the price.

Even worse, the brothel had closed in 1988 and was now in a museum. The girls had left in such a hurry that they’d left their clothes behind, and by the looks of it they didn’t have much to wear but a few skimpy underthings, poor dears.

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