Early life and memories living in Troy, Montana

Written by Victor Sather in 1976. Submitted by David Jones.

At our charter night meeting on Nov. 11, 1976, the members got to talk-ing about old times of the chapter and about Troy. Several remarks got me thinking: “What did we do in Troy?”
I arrived in Troy on Nov. 4, 1909, to work as telegraph operator for the Great Northern Railroad. My hours for the first five years were from 3 p.m. to midnight, every day of the year, for $80 per month and no overtime pay. If you can imagine any more inconvenient hours to work, I would like to know.
With such hours you can’t go any place, you miss all the social goings-on of the young folks; no dances, no parties or so-cial gatherings. No girl wants to keep company with you working such hours; you were simply taboo with them. I was only 20 years old when I landed in Troy.

I had arrived in Montana in April 1908 from Minnesota. That year I worked in Boulder, Cascade, San Coulee, Clancy, Basin, Vaughn, and Neihart for the Great Northern. Later I worked in Columbia Falls, Summit and Essex.
I was tickled to death when they ordered me to go to Troy. I knew this job, thank goodness, was to be a permanent one. The operator I was to relieve had been “canned” be-cause he got in bad with a hotel keeper in Troy over a hasher. It seems that the hotel keeper was sweet over this hasher. They got into an argument, a shot was fired, and threats were made. The operator was turned in and as a result got his “walking papers.” I did not like the hours, but I did like the job, the town, and the mountains. I was deter-mined to stick it out. I kept the shift, called “second trick,” as I called it for every day of the year for five long years.

At this point I digress from my story to explain that there were five groups of laborers in Troy. In the order of their prominence or importance, they were; railroading, logging, mining, farming, and storekeeping. Perhaps storekeeping should be first, but being a railroader, I naturally had to place that first.
To write a story about early life in Troy, I must write it from the view-point and though the eyes of first person singular and, as I happen to be the first person singular. I also write it from the viewpoint of a railroader and therefore it will be necessary to refer to rail-road employees who form parts of this story. I am indebted to them for some very pleasant memories. I was thrown into close contact with them in our daily life and in working together.
With all due respect to their memory, I want to mention them. They are all very fine men and I valued their friendship very much. Of course, we had our differences and quarrels, but every work team has some of that.

I fondly recall M.F. Goswiller, roundhouse foreman; Herb Partridge, car foreman; W.R. VanArtsdale, agent; O.H. Sheperd, yardmaster; M.P. Bailey, night yardmaster; Art Satran, first trick op-erator; Harry Lake, third trick operator and others, but these are the main characters of my ramblings. I will call them Mike, Herb, Van, Shep, Mack, Art, and Slim. They were very good charac-ters indeed.
My early life with these characters will give you a partial answer to your question, “What did we do in the early days?” The question is a good one. We had no electric lights or electricity of any kind, no city water and no refrigeration except the ice put up each winter. There was no picture show, and of course no radio nor television. There was no telephone service except for a short farmer line, and no telephone to Libby. In addi-tion, there were no roads to Libby or Bonners Ferry, not a single automobile and no butcher shop. Now with this in mind, you might well ask, not only “what did we do in the early days, but how did we do it?”

Right now, I am beginning to realize that I have quite a subject to cover in unfolding my story to you. “How did we do it when we had nothing with which to do it?” One would think, off-hand, that we were a bunch of saps to stay here at all. At times, I am sure some thought we were saps to stay here especially the single guys who had no permanent ties to keep them.
Operator jobs were very plentiful all over the country. There were an awful lot of “Boomers” that would come and go, as they did not stay long in Troy. Personally, I fell in love with the moun-tains, the climate, and the good water. I also liked the people and had no notion of moving on.
My first thought had been to stay in Troy a cou-ple of months, then to go further west. I kept delaying this move from month to month until I was so firmly sold on Troy and deeply rooted that to my surprise, when I suggest-ed to myself that I move on, I decided firmly not to go. Here I am now, over fifty years in Troy with the Great Northern.
I sometimes stop and attempt to realize what a long time fifty years in one town, working for the same company really means and find that it seems but a short time. Most of my life here has been a very happy one, and if I had it to do over, I would do it the same way again.

Troy, back in the day consisted of the Main Street with the business houses. There were no Doonan Hotel, no Fewkes Store, no bank building, no Adkins Store, no Drug Store, no Jack’s Cafe , no Veterns Bar, and no Sec-ond-hand Store. These establishments were all vacant lots. On Main Street, the first building was the Monios Hotel, next to the beer parlor, which now stands empty. There was no building from the corner to the Monios and nothing where the Masonic Hall now stands. Callows General Store was where the Marshall Wells Store is now, and Jack’s Cafe is now on what was a vacant lot. Next came Morrison’s Baber Shop were Kusner’s Shop now stands. The Morrison family lived in the rear of the shop. There were vacant lots where the Adkins and the Drug Store are now. The Vet’s Beer Parlor is on what was once a vacant lot. Next to come was D.T. Woods General Store and Wood’s Saloon. The store occupied two lots, or fifty feet and the saloon used one lot or twenty-five feet. Next came another vacant lot, and then The Windsor Hotel which was made of wood and two stories high. It occupied four lots or one-hundred feet of the street. A Saloon was in the front left portion of this building and had pool and card tables in the rear. The front right portion was the waiting room or Lobby of the Hotel with living rooms on the ex-treme right side and the dining room and kitchen in the rear. Rooms up-stairs were heated from a stove in the hall. Each room had a pitcher of wa-ter and a bowl for wash-ing and there was a slop jar in each commode. My! Those rooms were cold in the winter and one never could get enough covers.

Fewkes corner lot was vacant and so was the lot next to it. There were only five buildings in this block. Across the corner from Fewkes was the Eureka Hotel, run by old Dad Lyons and his good old English wife, whose first name I just happen to re-member. I will never for-get her as she was a good old soul, named Alexandra. She was well educated and gave piano lessons. She had two children named Gertrude and a boy whose name I don’t remember. She was the stepmother of Minnie Satran, whom most people know. Minnie lived there until she married my friend Art.
I could go on and on telling about other buildings as I watched the town grow up around me. I will say that one of the nicest homes to be built was for Mrs. Fewkes and it was built by Jim Stonechest. Back of the Highway Street was all woods with only five houses between there and the hill.

The population of Troy in 1909 was 300 and of these, there were about twenty-five Japanese families. The Japanese worked in the Round-house, Coal-chute and the Cinder-pit. They were very good, well-behaved people who kept to them-selves. They lived in shacks located next to the tracks across from what is now the Ballpark. Every Christmas they gave me a nice present for little fa-vors I had done. I used to write letters for them, for which they paid me in cash. I also explained many little things to them which they were not fa-miliar. Occasionally, they would put on a big feed of Oriental dainties, the names of which I could not pronounce even if I could remember them. I do remember the rice and sake, a Japanese wine which I imbibed freely whenever it was passed.
Across the track was all jungle, which was a very good name for it. There was not a single residence except for a few engineers’ shacks. The Great Northern powder house was opposite the depot about two-hundred feet away in the woods. The only house was the one occupied by the ferry-man, and it was located where the J. Neils Compa-ny office is now. The ferry was also located there as we didn’t get the bridge until 1912, at which time the ferry was discontinued.

This document ends here, however there are many Western News articles that he wrote and saved in the 1980s about living and working in Troy. In 1984 Victor final-ly left Troy to live with his daughter Marzella and her husband (my mom and dad) in Aberdeen Washington. He died in 1998 at 99 years old.
David Jones, Bull Lake
The photo above is the Troy Depot. The calendar shows 1917, and Victor is seated second from left. Photo courtesy of David Jones.