U.S. Highway 2 originally closely followed the tracks of the Great Northern Railway as it crossed Montana’s high plains counties. Today there are places where the modern highway and the railroad tracks diverge, but still you can travel most of the route from Bainville to Glacier and still discover an astounding array of roadside architecture, from the early 20th century to the more recent past, such as the coffee pot above, on the south side of U.S. 2 in Poplar.
This week begins the holiday traveling season. With that in mind, I offer up a range of roadside images from the Hi-Line–places that you may roar by in a hurry to arrive at your destination but places nonetheless worth a stop and visit.
Gas stations of course are a constant, and some may be well kept as an artifact of their function–service stations such as this one on the left in Liberty County–or they may be transformed into ice cream parlors like the station on the right from Chinook.
Motels are everywhere too–but the “mom and pop” businesses of the first 2/3 of the twentieth century have been rapidly replaced by the major chains, from Super 8 to the Hilton and Marriott properties of recent vintage. This classic from just outside of Havre is a throwback to roadside lodging of a generation or two ago.
Of course there are creative types all about the Hi-Line. Buck Samuelson’s collection of roadside sculpture just west of Glasgow not only plugs into that expressive tradition but also in the tourism focus on dinosaurs that you can find throughout eastern Montana. I actually prefer the roadside
signs that you find along the highway. Two from Hinsdale, in Valley County, are favorites. The
painted sign, courtesy of the Matthew Hansen Endowment, remands everyone of community vitality even though surface appearances may suggest otherwise. The second sign is among the state’s most popular–painted rocks in white that outline the first letter of the town–positioned so that travelers and residents can view it.
Commercial signs are another constant along the Hi-Line. Most of course are just like millions across the nation–back-lit plastic signs. But places like Sam’s Supper Club in Glasgow
and the line of bar signs in the middle of Shelby remind us that once travelers were enticed to stop and jump into another world of flash and class behind the neon signs of U.S. 2.
The roadside of U.S. is nothing if not varied, and I can spin many more words and images about the compelling and the mundane along the roadside. We do keep up with the trends, and try out best to merge the roadside with current events, as this coffee stand in Culbertson proves.
But I will close with this image from Dodson as a reminder that the roadside can be fleeting, and a place that I enjoyed in 1984 is falling apart today as everyone gravitates to the standardized chain-experiences that define our time.