Old Fashioned winters
at The Tamaracks

An "Ice Hole" at Seeley Lake below The Tamaracks Lodge
during World War II. Photo courtesy of Tom Demmons.

Cutting ice wasn't all work. Members of the Tamracks
work force are having a few cool beers.
Photo courtesy of Tom Demmons.

September 21, 2000
Seeley Swan Pathfinder
Seeley Lake, Montana

'I Remember When...'

Stories From Long Ago About
The Tamaracks of Seeley Lake Compiled by Jack Demmons

This is part 5 of a series of articles about The Tamaracks Lodge, which were prepared by Tom Demmons, son of Ken and Valle Demmons, who were long-time residents of the Lodge and helped manage it through the years. Part 5 contains stories told to Tom by his brother Sandy, and his uncle Frank Anderson. At the time of these stories - World War II days - Frank had taken over the Seeley Lake Post Office and was managing Kenny Freshour's store while he was in the Navy. (Frank had married Allie Demmons, Ken's sister.)

Frank said, "One morning I got up at Seeley Lake real early, around 5 o'clock to get the mail ready to go to Missoula, 'cause the fellow who hauled it was Tex Baker, and he did not want to have to wait for the mail. It was in January I think. Tex drove the Seeley Lake Stage; he hauled people and mail, and everything else he could carry. And this one morning when I got up - and boy it was cold - I looked at the thermometer, and it said 55 below zero. Tex was on time and ready to go, as usual, no matter what the temperature was.

"The snow was right up under your armpits. It was just a job of digging trails to the 'john' out back, to the store from my cabin, or to the bar across the street - there was always a good trail to the bar. As I walked across the street from the cabin, there was this friend who worked for the county. He name was Dave Hand and he had this old snowplow parked where he parked it every night and he was under it with a blow torch, holdin' it onto the carburetor and the intake manifold. I said, "Dave you're goin' to blow the damn thing up and yourself with it," and he said, "Oh I hope so Frank, I hope so." Fifty-five below zero. Oh Jesus, and it just went on and on. You thought spring would never come.

"And the winters at The Tamaracks caused a lot of work. You had to keep the roofs shoveled off, you had to dig trails everywhere, and you had to thaw out the pipes. The ground was frozen four feet down. And sometimes the pipes ran under the road and that's where they'd most often freeze, and in order to find where they froze, you had to dig holes down four feet to the pipes. The ground was just like concrete. So Ken would gather up all the old tires he could find in Seeley Lake - and anything that would burn - and he would throw a couple or three of those old tires and sticks of wood on the ground, and anything else that'd burn, and just forget it. Then a couple of hours later he'd come back and start diggin' until he got down to the pipe, put a blow torch on it and if that didn't work, he'd just move 20 feet further down the line and start all over again."

(The following are explanations by Sandy Demmons, son of Ken and Valle, of the problems caused by the cold at The Tamaracks, as well as what people did to combat it.)

"When all the pipes were frozen we didn't have enough water to flush the toilets, so we had to let everything collect in the toilets. Then, after each time they were used, we'd just light some toilet paper on fire, drop it in there to get rid of the smell, then about once a day flush them. That's no kidding. The smell of burning paper would cover up the smell of the excrement. And in order to get water to flush the toilets, we would have to walk through five feet of snow down a 30-foot embankment to the lake and then dig through two feet of ice in order to get fresh water to drink and cook with.

"Mom would heat up the water on the big potbellied stove, enough of it to put in the tub, and from that we'd have a sponge bath. What was left over she'd use on the floors, and if there was still any left, into the toilet it'd go. Nothing was ever wasted around there."

Tom Demmons stated that the winters at The Tamaracks did provide an essential without which it would have been difficult to survive - ice. "There wasn't any electricity anywhere at Seeley Lake until 1953, and so all of the residents living in the community and along the edge of the lake had to rely on the lake's ice for refrigeration. Each cabin at The Tamaracks was equipped with an icebox and the ice to fill them came out of the lake," Tom said. "Ice was cut for a long time by hand with long saws. It was cut during the coldest months of the year - usually January or February - and only after the 'ice hole' had been kept free of snow so that the ice was the hardest, bluest it could be. The cubes were usually two feet thick, and once they were free from the edge of the ice, tongs were attached to them and two men would haul the chunks out of the water. Occasionally someone would fall in, but no one drowned or froze to death. Once the ice was taken from the lake, it was hoisted - again by hand - onto a sleigh. The cubes were then hauled over the ice and through the snow to The Tamaracks 'ice house,' and covered with layers of sawdust, which kept the ice from melting until used the next summer," Tom commented.

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