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© Copyright 1999, Jim Loy
I lived much of my life in Columbia Falls, MT. It is in Flathead County, about equally distant from Kalispell and Whitefish. These three towns are quite a ways north of Missoula. Kalispell is just north of Flathead Lake. Whitefish is north of Kalispell and just south of Whitefish Lake and Big Mountain ski resort. Columbia Falls is East of Whitefish.
Columbia Falls is a small town, about 3000 people nowadays, I assume. There were about 2500 when I lived there. It sits next to the Flathead River (mostly fairly high above the river). To the east of town, the river passes through Bad Rock Canyon, between Tea Kettle Mountain and Columbia Mountain. Farther east is Hungry Horse Dam and Reservoir. Farther east yet is Glacier National Park. The major industries are tourism, timber (with saw mills in and near the town), and the Aluminum Plant (where aluminum is separated from its ore with the use of huge amounts of electricity). US Highway 2 goes through town; it didn't when I lived there. There are no falls in Columbia Falls.
I lived on the northeast side of town. The streets there were dirt. The high school is on the southwest side of town. I walked to school. It was a couple of miles, I was told. The grade school is on the west side of town, near the Plum Creek Sawmill. The First Baptist Church (where I went to church) is on the west side of town, northwest of the high school and southwest of the grade school. I'm not sure what it is called anymore. The Great Northern railway ran just north of town. I'm not sure what it is called anymore. There was a depot there. I remember seeing a presidential candidate (probably Eisenhower) at the depot. Superior Buildings Sawmill, where my dad worked, was just north of the tracks. I worked there, off and on. At the southeast end of town was the "silver bridge" and the "old red bridge," across the Flathead River. The silver bridge now is just a normal freeway type bridge, supporting US 2. And the old red bridge is now silver in color. The main street is Nucleus Avenue, which is perpendicular to US 2. The Anaconda Aluminum Plant was northeast of town. I'm not sure what it is called anymore.
There is a movie theater downtown, on Nucleus Avenue. I remember seeing the Three Stooges, and cartoons, and probably other movies. Just south of there, Nucleus Avenue goes down a hill. The post office is a block west of Nucleus. We had a mailbox there. There was an IGA food store on the block between the post office and Nucleus. It has moved, since. There was a store of some kind north of that. There is a bowling alley, Glacier Lanes, on Nucleus Avenue, a ways north of downtown. At one time, there were three bowling alleys in Columbia Falls, perhaps a world record for so small a town.
We lived on 4th Avenue East. Later, when I was in high school, we moved farther east, to Van's Avenue overlooking the river. Our house at 4th Avenue East was white. It was a fairly small house, at first, just a living room, my parents' bedroom, our tiny bedroom, the kitchen, and a bathroom with a tub. Dad added a garage, not attached to the house. Then he build a huge bedroom for my younger brother and me. We had a lot of toys. Then he built a dining room connecting the house to the garage. He built an enclosed back porch, which contained the washer and dryer. Then he expanded the garage to hold two cars.
We had a large weeping willow tree in the front yard. Eventually, we had a fence all around the property. In the back yard, Dad put up a basketball backboard for us. It was a little short, because I wanted to dunk the ball. There was a clothes line, until Mom got a dryer. Mom planted a vegetable garden. There was a metal barrel, where we burned flammable trash. We played baseball, basketball, football and other sports in the back yard. The neighborhood was always filled with great athletes.
I remember that the Cunninghams lived just to the south of us. Later, the Lundstroms lived there; their kids were great athletes. North of us, two houses were eventually build (and an east/west street was put in), and the Clements and the Tusings (just east of the Clements) moved into them. The Clements moved away, and the Kopitskys moved in there; their kids were great athletes, especially Dennis, who beat me up every day for a while. A block east of us, lived the Kamruds and the Gulicks. The Kamruds moved across the street, and later moved to the other end of town. The McMasters moved in there. Their two boys were great athletes. Their cousins, also named McMaster moved in next door to them, when the Gulicks moved away. Eventually, the Finbergs moved in on the other side of the McMasters. They had one super athlete.
My brother was a great athlete. I remember we bowled and played hockey in the house, scuffing up the floor. In response to all these athletes in the neighborhood, I had to push myself to become a good athlete, too. I had my flaws. I needed a very light bat; otherwise I couldn't swing it around fast enough to hit the ball; everybody had heavy bats. In basketball, my only skill was shooting; I didn't learn to set a pick. I did make 50 free throws in a row. And, I could run very fast. I had very painful little-leaguer's elbow, one year.
I remember that the snow would drift up to the eaves of the house. There were lots of blizzards. And my dad's long underwear would be frozen stiff on the clothes line. I remember playing golf on the crusty snow.
I remember climbing a tall fir tree, right up to the very top. I could touch the top of the tree, as it swayed in the wind. And I could see all over town. I suppose I could have fallen out of the tree. I never did, though. I remember making space ships out of blocks of wood, with nails in them for landing gear, engines, and guns. I remember breaking rocks with Dad's hammer, something I wasn't supposed to do. There is a lot I don't remember.
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