August 12, 1999
Seeley Swan Pathfinder
Seeley Lake, Montana
Leona and Herb Styler were Grand Marshall's
n this year's Fourth of July Parade in Condon.
by Suzanne Vernon
For the Pathfinder
S. Vernon photo
The one-lane road into the Swan Valley from Kalispell was nothing but two parallel ruts when Herb and Leona Styler first moved to the Condon area in the 1950s. The mudholes were legendary and the road lived up to its reputation of being horrible during Herbís first trip into the valley in April of 1953, when he came here from Columbia Falls to work for the Forest Service.
"We came in a 1937 Ford car. We were stuck and out pushing and prying all day long. We got to the old station at Condon Creek late in the afternoon, just about suppertime," he said. Herb and his co-workers were glad to see the old Ranger Station at the end of that long day. Leona Styler and the couple's three oldest children, Bonnie, Linda and Gary, also moved to Condon that spring. Daughter Karen and son, Fred, were born after the family moved here.
The family settled into a small log cabin while Herb went to work building trails in the Lion Creek area. Amenities like electricity and telephones hadn't arrived yet in the Swan Valley. But that didn't discourage this hardy family. Swan Valley looked familiar like their native Minnesota. There was work here, good schools and friendly people.
"This is the best place to raise kids, right here," Herb said, commenting on the rural atmosphere that still exists in the Condon area.
Herb's work at the Condon Ranger Station that summer impressed his supervisors, and he was quickly hired on as a permanent employee. He stayed with the Forest Service at Condon for more than 20 years, supervising trail crews, fighting fires and cruising timber. He and Leona raised their five children here, and now enjoy 15 grandchildren and an equal number of great grand-kids who either live nearby or visit often.
"Coming out here was a good move," Leona explained. "It's nice. We all like it."
The Stylers have been active in many community organizations, including the American Legion, the Saddle Club, the Lutheran Church, and in earlier times, the Salmon Prairie Ladies Club, and the Condon Search and Rescue. The community has been good to them, they say. "There are good people in this valley," Herb said.
Herb became acquainted with many of the people here because the Forest Service hired a lot of local people. "They wanted people who knew the country then. They hired them to do a lot of the packing and stuff, especially for the fires," he explained.
Herb fought forest fires all over the valley during the twenty years that he worked at the ranger station. During his first year here, a lightning caused fire in the Cold Creek drainage kept crews busy for several days. "The fire would burn uphill during the day and the stuff would roll down over the fire line at night," he said.
Another time, when he was following a trail to a fire in the Cedar Lake area, he spotted the wreckage from a downed plane.
"It was above Rainbow Lake. It crashed right next to it. An old pack trail went by there. There was a fire up the hill and I was headed for it. Then I found that plane. Three guys had been in it, but there was nothing left of it. It all burned," he explained. "I had a lot of company there the next day," he said, shaking his head.
Herb encountered many emergencies over the years. He even delivered a baby during a winter when he had been teased that he would maybe have to deliver his own child here. But the child he delivered was the son of a friend who worked for the Somers Lumber Company.
"They tried to get to town, but a logging truck had jack knifed on the hill down there, on the old road. They came back from up there, and I went down to see what I could do to help . . . and that was that," Herb said. "The doctor said he couldn't have done better himself, when they finally got her to town." The baby ended up with a long name: Ray Michael Herbert, Leona explained.
Leona laughs at the story. She was pregnant at the time, but Herb made sure she went to town earlya month early, in fact. They werenít taking any chances.
Although there were several businesses in the valley during the 1950s, the community still lacked a doctor, and the roads weren't improved until much later. The Forest Service airstrip serviced the area in emergencies, but luckily, the Stylers all stayed in good health and rarely went to town. Leona worked for local businesses, and also helped out at the Forest Service kitchen during fire season.
Local stores served most of their needs. "Strom's and the Buckhorn carried almost everything you wanted," Leona explained. All of the valley's early residents cooked with wood and heated their homes with wood, and Styler's were no exception. To this day, Leona cooks the family's meals on a beautiful antique cookstove that Herb restored several years ago, and they still heat their home with firewood cut locally. "I just love cooking with wood," Leona explained.
For refrigeration, early residents used iceboxes or gas refrigerators. After electricity arrived, a locker plant was built at the Buckhorn (where the Mission Mountains Mercantile is now located). Telephones came along in the 1960s. Soon after, local residents started organizing a volunteer fire department and quick response unit for emergencies.
The Stylers will celebrate their 52nd wedding anniversary in August. The advice they offer to young people is straightforward. Hard work pays off, they said. Set goals and work for the things you want.
"There was good work here," Herb explained. "And we are lucky that all of our family has had good health, too."