Trip to Montana… Part 1

Well, Vera and I just returned from a week in beautiful Ennis, Montana! We had a fantastic time there, thanks to our hosts, John and Terrye Tebbetts, and their daughter Kas. Here is a photo of their beautiful home, which was designed and built by John. It is made of steel and concrete, and is designed to have the feel of a mine. John included mining cars, drills and picks, as decoration, along with amazing furnishings that John made himself. It is truly a work of art! Take it from me, a guy who has an antique bandsaw in his living room (thank you for putting up with our tastes, Vera and Terrye!).

John and Terrye Tebbetts’ Montana home.

We of course did some light painting (two images at the bottom of this post, and more to come in part 2). We also did some ATV riding and lots of exploring of the old mines in Butte. We were also treated to some of the best southwestern cooking I’ve ever had! Having grown up in New Mexico, I thought I had sampled chile rellenos at their best, but I was so wrong. Terrye’s were the absolute best I’ve ever had, and so different; crunchy and absolutely delicious. John treated us to a Texan style meal of chicken fried steak that was also unbelievable. Vera and I are now truly spoiled.

John and Vera in the Gravelly Range as a storm approaches.

Here is the the amazing view from the Tebbetts’ living room:

An evening storm passes over Ennis.

Mining in Butte, and the World Mining Museum.

The massive Head Frame, which supported the cable system for the Orphan Girl Mine.

Kas Tebbetts and her father, John, are both very interested in and have a terrific knowledge of the history of mining in Butte, Montana, and they delighted us with so many interesting facts about the mines during our stay. In fact, two years ago, Kas and her father created a DVD featuring her interviews with miners Tom Holter and Ed Drabandt (available in the Museum Gift Shop). We were amazed to learn that there are 10,000 miles (Yes, you read that correctly… 10,000!) of mining tunnels under the city of Butte! Something else we learned… at any given time, there were 1100 mules underground working in the mines! These men and mules helped make electricity available to the rest of the country, as the copper that was mined in Butte went into electrical wiring. Oh, the things we take for granted…

John managed to get us unfettered access to the Mining Museum’s old town, with its authentic stores full of artifacts from the era when mining was booming in Butte. Dolores Cooney, Museum Curator, was kind enough to allow us to photograph in the museum and in the Anselmo Mine. Thank you, Dolores!

We were also very fortunate to have been given a private tour of one of the mines by a former miner, Tom Holter. Tom was an iron worker in the mines, and worked with the all-important cable systems that lowered men in to the mines (and more importantly, brought them out again). Tom took us down and showed us some of the machinery used to bring out the ore, and also showed us the rapid-fire sounding of the bells that signaled to the cable operator (called the “rope man”) when, how far, and in what direction to move the cable. A simple code – the number of bells sounded in a certain pattern told the rope man all he needed to know.

Here, retired miner Tom Holter explains mining tech to Harold Ross and John Tebbetts (l to r)

One of two tandem spools of large steel cable, used to lower and raise men, mules and ore.

John also garnered access to the now abandoned Anselmo mine, and we did two images there. One image is of the huge motor which provided power to the massive cable system which was used to lower men and mules down into the mine. Each “cage”, as they were called, held seven men, and they would lower five cages at once, one hanging from another, sometimes to a level of 2,700 feet underground. The temperatures in some of the Butte mines would often hit 130 degrees, and the miners would layer on clothing to stave off the high temperatures. And we complain about rush hour!

The “Cages”, which held 7 men, and were connected 5 in a row, lowering 35 men at a time.


A postcard from days of old showing the stacked cages of men.

Light Painting in the Anselmo Mine

Yes, we did do some light painting while in Butte! Here is a photograph of one of the huge motors which powered the massive spools of cables above. (Or, maybe it’s the propulsion system from a starship?). The disc-like components near the back are approximately 8 feet in diameter!

In another part of the Anselmo mine, we found this amazing collection of huge wrenches. John suggested we hang the chair on the wall for scale. The chair is a full sized one, but I find it so interesting that our minds try to make the chair seem small, in a subconscious attempt to comprehend the size of the wrenches:

The next blog post will feature more Montana scenes, and light painted photographs taken in the Assayer’s shop (think chemistry lab) at the World Mining Museum.

We decided to do an image of some of the lab equipment there. We were both taken by the blue green copper sulfate deposits on the glassware. There was also a beautiful old safe in the shop, which we photographed.

Until next time!


~ by Harold Ross on August 27, 2013.

4 Responses to “Trip to Montana… Part 1”

  1. Harold thanks for sharing your photos and telling us about your visit. Stunning images, as usual. I am envious of your trips into the mines as I am pretty crazy for abandoned spaces. Looking forward to the next post! Hi to Vera!

  2. Holy Moly!!!! everything is larger under that big sky!

  3. Harold, I am in love with your still life light paintings. What I’d give to take a workshop with you! But I am also enjoying your mine images from Butte, Montana. I, too, have photographed there (see Lenswork, Issue #107, or see, and can see that you felt the same sense of awe and mystery as I did. I did not light paint my images, but some of them are 30 second exposures. I grew up just south of Butte in Dillon and much of my best work is done there. Again, I love your work. Best wishes, Trula Blize

    • Hi Trula, thanks for your comment! We are fellow LensWork Alumni! (issue # 93 for me). I saw your article, and noticed that we photographed the same subject in a couple of cases. I had just returned from Montana when I saw it, and I was thrilled to see your photographs, which captured that sense of awe so well. It was quite dark in there, so I’m not surprised about your long exposures! Thanks again, Harold

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