A Dinosaur and a Galloping Goose
Along the road just south of my hometown of Bridger, Mont., a new historical marker has been erected. Just a few miles from there, in 1964, Professor John Ostrom of Yale University discovered fossils of a rare dinosaur species. Named the Deinonychus (Terrible Claw), it was an intelligent carnivore, about five to eight feet tall, which could run 25 mph and hunted in packs. Evidence suggests it had “switch-blades” on its feet and may even have been warm blooded. Professor Ostrom’s discovery revolutionized the study of paleontology and changed the understanding of dinosaurs as we knew it.
I have discovered during my travels, that each little “hometown” has its share of interesting and unique people. Characters really, who add color and personality to their communities. Often they are also the local historians and if you want to know anything, they are the ones you ask. Wanting to get more details about the dinosaur fossils, I headed into Bridger to meet with the one person I knew could fill me in.
On the southwest corner of Main Street, in one of the original buildings in Bridger, Rich and Annette Anderson operate Valley Printers. Here businesses and folks from all over Carbon County and beyond come to have their printing work done. Opening the front door of the shop, I noticed dozens of pots of baby tomato plants happily growing in the sunshine streaming through the big front glass windows. A cheerful “Hi” greeted me as I walked passed an antique printing press, old mimeograph machine, stamp dispenser, and all types of interesting looking contraptions to the main counter. “What can I do for you today?” asked Annette.
It didn’t take me long to discover that Annette was very well versed in the local dinosaur lore, filling me in on its habits, vicious hunting nature, and that the Jurassic Park movie raptures were based on Bridger’s own Deinonychus. Within minutes she was filling the top of the counter with models, puzzles, magazines and books she’s collected about this rare dinosaur. She even had a beautifully mounted small replica of its skull, long teeth and all. Annette showed me commemorative cache envelopes from Romania and Gambia, featuring the Bridger dinosaur, as well as several toy models.
“Here is a replica of one of its claws. It was one wild killing machine in its day and we’re lucky it’s no longer around, ’cause it would be eating us!” she chuckled. “I only wish we had a life-size model displayed in Bridger … sure’d make the tourists stop.”
Annette’s roots in the valley go back a long way. Her relatives worked in the coal mines in Bearcreek and throughout Carbon County in the early 1900s.
“My father hated working underground in the mines.” she told me. “He learned blasting so he could stay above ground … much smarter. He ended up working with mules, building roads, and even assisting with the Shoshone Dam.”
Looking around the walls of the print shop, I noticed large reprints of old time photos of Bridger, several from when it was still called Stringtown. On the opposite side were historic prints of Fromberg and local coal mines in the areas. The prints are all taken from hundreds of historic postcards that Annette has been collecting for years.
“Postcards are such interesting bits of history. Here is one of the Bridger hospital in 1909 … who makes a postcard of a hospital … but it was the only medical help for miles at that time. It burned down but it was located on the corner where the Bridger Fur Company is now.”
Each old postcard she showed me had an equally interesting old story. I learned about the coal tipples and railroad, including the unique Galloping Goose rail car. It was a large torpedo shaped covered car with porthole windows down its metal sides, built by the McKeen motorcar company.
“It carried the mail on the short rail line between Bridger and Bearcreek, ending it’s days abandoned and rusted in a local field. There were less then 200 of those rail cars made and we had one in our valley.”
Annette is on the county Preservation Committee and has written several children books about local history. Saving the historic buildings and their stories is a priority with this lady. With knowledge ranging from the native Crow pictographs in the area to the origins of heritage beans (which she collects in jars, colorfully lining her shelves), Annette is one of those special local historian heroes found across the roads of the American West. Stop in sometime and ask her about her favorite dinosaur … maybe she’ll show you the “claw.”
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I have been rather preoccupied lately and haven’t been writing my editor’s note. So, for those who have called and emailed to make sure I’m still on this Earth, I’m still here.