Orphan Girl Headframe

Last week I shared about my journey from writer to million dollar art packager at the World Museum of Mining. We finished the art and John, the owner of Headframe Spirits, asked one of our supervisors if we could go up the Orphan Girl Headframe. She paused, looked around skeptically and said, “We’re going to the office. What you do is up to you.” A huge smile streaked across John’s face. He later admitted that he’d been trying to get up the Orphan Girl for years.  He guessed less than 50 people in as many years had been allowed to climb to the top.

A headframe is a large steel or concrete structure that’s used to lower miners and equipment into an underground mine shaft. In Butte, Montana there are more than twelve still standing, providing beacons to the city’s rich mining history. The Orphan Girl Headframe stands 100 feet tall and once lowered miners 2700 feet into the earth. During its run from 1875 to 1956 the “Girl” pulled out 7,500,000 ounces of silver. While that’s a large amount, it’s only 1% of the total silver produced in the area.

Butte has an incredible history and for further reading I would highly recommend The Battle for Butte by Michael P. Malone.


[Click on pictures to enlarge]

Posted in Adventures Tagged , |

Museum Work

Here’s a long overdue story from last spring I’ve been meaning to share. In March, I interviewed John and Courtney McKee, owners of Headframe Spirits, for an article in Mountain Outlaw. I had two unique experiences while spending the day with them.

During my interview with John he was recounting all the people in the community who had helped him in the early days of the distillery. “In fact, what are you doing this afternoon, are you busy?” he asked. I thought he was going to let me work in the distillery so I told him I had no plans. “You’re going to put your coat on and come with us. We’re going to run up to the Mining Museum for about twenty minutes. They’re the people who loaned us this tasting bar. They have some paintings they’ve pulled out of their archives they need wrapped up. I’m going to drag you along, sound ok?”

He hustled his electrician, father-in-law, and me into his truck and we headed to the World Mining Museum. I didn’t understand the importance of what we were doing until I saw the size of the paintings. “How much are these worth?” I asked one of the two women who was supervising us. Two to five million dollars per painting was her response.

We wrapped plastic around the front of the painting, taping it to the dusty frame in the back. Then we bubble wrapped the edges and in some cases right down the middle. There were five paintings in all. The whole process was quite nerve wracking because I really didn’t want to drop one, puncture a canvas, or “ding” a frame. Thankfully there were no casualties that day.

After we finished, we did something that very few people have had the opportunity to do in the last fifty years. Watch for the next blog coming soon.


Posted in General, Interviews

Black Feather Cocktail

Oh, that my home bar were so big that it had it’s own name. This is true of Robert Hess, one of my favorite bartenders. Not the typical bartender, he plies his craft not in a restaurant or bar but on the internet. A Microsoft employee by day, Robert teaches his cocktail craft through his website and how-to videos on Small Screen Network.

As I’ve learned more about cocktails, he’s one of the first sources I go to when I have questions or am trying to master a new drink.

Recently I watched a video on how to make a Black Feather, a cocktail he named after his home bar. I like the drink because it’s a little sweet with a hint of dryness.

The ingredients and Hess’ video of how to make the drink are below.

2 ounces brandy

1 ounce dry vermouth

½ ounce Cointreau (he forgets to add during the video)

1 dash Angostura Bitters

Black Feather Cocktail – The Cocktail Spirit with Robert Hess from Small Screen on Vimeo.


Posted in Drinks

New Liquor Shelf

This past week our good friend Jens put his superb woodworking skills to good use and built us a liquor shelf. Our previous cabinet could only fit about 3/4 of our selection. The shelf is awesome because it has 2 rows for wine on the bottom with 3 shelves for spirits. The spirits can stack about 4 bottles deep. Now we can organize by type of spirit, which thrills my OCD soul. It’s hard to tell from my iPhone photos but it has a really nice stain finish. The front has distressed metal strips which give it an older look. We love it and look forward to filling it!




Posted in Drinks

Published in Mountain Outlaw Magazine

Some good news on the publishing front. I recently had two articles published in the summer issue of Mountain Outlaw Magazine. They’re based out of Bozeman and in partnership with Big Sky Weekly, who previously published one of my stories.

These two assignments were a blast to work on. The first, One Track Mind, is about cyclist Tejay van Garderen. Tejay grew up in Bozeman, now lives in Boulder, but travels around the globe racing for one of the top cycling teams in the world. The list of people I got to interview for this story was great.

I spoke to Tejay over the phone while he was in Italy training between races. He’s very kind and surprisingly humble for how big a star he’s becoming in the cycling world. His dad was also great to talk to and shared fun stories of Tejay growing up. I interviewed Carl Strong of Strong Frames in Bozeman. When I was a wannabe mountain biker in middle school my friend Nate and I dreamed of owning one his bikes. And finally, through Team BMC’s press officer, I was able ask legendary American cyclist George Hincapie some questions. Hincapie has been a part of NINE Tour de France winning teams. I look forward to watching him and Tejay attempt go after another Tour for their leader Cadel Evans starting June 30.

The second story, Distilling Butte, is on John and Courtney McKee of Headframe Spirits in Butte. What I thought was going to be a simple interview turned into a 5 hour interview complete with tastings, moving million dollar artwork at a museum (more on that next week), climbing to the top of a mining headframe (also more on that next week), and bottling gin. They make some very good spirits with reasonable Montana prices, which is refreshing when coming from Seattle. I particularly like their Anselmo Gin and and Neversweat Bourbon Whiskey. Their Bourbon Girl Cream Liqueur is also good and when blended with vanilla ice cream produces one of the best milkshakes I’ve ever had.

Below is a picture of the magazine cover as well as the first pages of both articles. They can be read in the writing section of this site. I thought the magazine did a great job with the layout of both articles. Enjoy.

Posted in Adventures, Cycling, Drinks, Interviews, Published

Spring Break Photos and Cru Blog

I posted last week about how I was going on a road trip spring break with Cru at UW, documenting their journey along the way.  I’m in Minot, ND and we have three days left on the trip.  I thought I would be able to write here on my own blog but editing/posting photos and working on their blog has taken up more time than I thought.  People have asked to see my work so click on the links below to follow our road trip and flood rebuilding.

Click HERE to see the blogs I’ve written for them

Click HERE to see the photos I’ve taken


Posted in Adventures

I’m going on Spring Break

I’m 30 years old and I’m going on spring break. I’m pretty excited. Cru at UW has invited me to document their trip as they take twenty college students to rebuild flood damage in Minot, North Dakota.  Here’s part of an intro to the trip I wrote for their website:

On June 22, 2011 sirens pierced the quiet streets of Minot, North Dakota.  Flooding of epic proportions was coming and the city was recommending citizens to pack up what they could and leave as soon as possible.  Over 12,000 people left that day and the waters came hard.

A larger snow pack than usual mixed with a very wet spring caused the Souris River to reach record levels, beating the previous record set in 1881 by more than three feet.  For days water poured through town, in many places reaching the roofs of homes.  Many businesses were also ruined.  Water came just feet away from the roof of gas stations, service shops, and a Burger King in one of the popular business districts.

The aftermath.  Over 4,000 homes were flooded.  Twenty percent of Minot sustained some level of loss with an estimated two hundred and fifty to three hundred million dollars in damage.  People returned to their homes to find soaked carpets and the ability to push fingers through their wet drywall.  Neighborhood streets began to look like the dump, as people tore their ruined homes apart and threw away belongings.

Cru at UW has been blessed with an opportunity to spend spring break (March 16th—24th) traveling to Minot to help rebuild homes that were ruined by the flood.  We’ll be working with organizations in a variety of ways, mostly rebuilding homes.

Trip photos can be seen here


Posted in Adventures

Baptism Photos

Yesterday was a big day at my church.  Jeff Bethke read his new poem Sex, Marriage, and Fairytales.   His video “Why I hate Religion, But Love Jesus” saw over 18 million views in a month.  A photographer from Time Magazine was taking pictures of him during the first service.  There was also 17 people who got baptized over the course of the day.  I was there taking pictures.  Below are some of my favorites.


Posted in General

Barrel Aged Cocktails

This week I’ve been reading a little about barrel aged cocktails.  That’s cocktails  you mix and  put in a barrel for a desired amount of time.  The results vary, obviously, but some are saying you can get a lot more depth and character.

From what I’ve read, a bartender in Portland named Jeffrey Morgenthaler helped bring this latest trend to the U.S.  A blog about his discoveries can be read here.

And a video I liked by Jamie Boudreau is below.  If I ever get the chance (read $$) to do this I will post on this blog how it turns out.


Posted in Drinks

Montana Roadside Attractions

I was astonished to discover on a recent road trip that my friend Bryon had never been to the Rock Creek Lodge.  Home to the famous Rock Creek Testicle Festival, the bar/restaurant/gift shop in rural Montana is a treasure trove of weird and sometimes inappropriate gifts.  In college, I frequently stopped to purchase a magnate that pictured a cartoon bull with steam coming out of his nostrils and read “I had a ball at the Rock Creek Testicle Festival.”  Several of my close friend’s moms have that magnate hanging on their fridge as a gift for letting me stay with them. You’re welcome.

Bryon was likewise surprised to learn I’d never stopped at the 50,000 Silver Dollar Bar in Haugan, Montana.  Both stops are between Bozeman and Coeur d’Alene on I-90, a route we’d traveled more than thirty times.  We pledged when our ski trip was over we’d stop at both locations on the way back to Idaho.  Below are some pictures and the highlights of each stop.

Rock Creek is right off the interstate and besides a large parking lot and stage for the festival, it feels abandoned.  Not pictured are men’s and women’s g-strings, a life size wood bull with large testicles that almost touch the floor, and racy post cards.  My wife and I caught the tale end of the festival two years ago and had the opportunity to try a Rocky Mountain Oyster.  They taste like chicken.  The party had died down when we were there but from what I’ve heard it’s a pretty rowdy four days.


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Pictures: Bryon stands outside the $50,000 Silver Dollar Bar in Haugan, Montana.  Second picture, there are plenty of cheesy items to purchase.  Third picture, inset in all those pieces of wood are silver dollars, many with an accompanying signature.  Above the door there’s a current total count, 58,390 silver dollars.  Last picture is of Bryon, I really think he should have bought that hat.



Cheep knives, air soft guns, cross bows, t-shirts with wolves on them, gaudy jewelry.  Within the Silver Dollar Bar is everything you could ever want to bring home and throw away two years later.  While Bryon and I were checking out the weapons a man accidentally shoved a knife through its holder and cut himself on the hand, bleeding everywhere.

Both locations were quite the experience for us.  I can confidently say we will never go to both again.  At least not on the same day.


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