“You know, this was not in the brochure… “

Mitch in City Slickers was telling the truth (pre, but I can’t make that claim about Grant-Kohrs. On the official website, it states, “This is a working ranch (not a dude ranch or petting farm) with year-round chores directed by the seasons.” Not a dude ranch, so no nonsense like City Slickers and not a petting zoo, so leave the cows and horses alone! (although Fox will permit it if the cowboy riding him says you can)

But what does a “working” ranch mean? I haven’t had to do any ranch or animal type activities this summer, just avoid stepping in things. It does mean some of our cleaning has been, if not pointless, then not noticed since you can’t truly keep out cats and bugs.

However, I have seen two ranch activities done in historic styles. The calf branding has been modified to their benefit, but most ranchers brand them when they vaccinate them these days, not in a separate procedure.

You know what just occurred to me? Roping is stupid. This is a cow, not a gazelle, watch. Get off the horse, huh? Ok. And then you walk up to the cow. Look at how good this is working. Then you say “Hi. I’m Bob Vila with ‘This Old Herd.’ We’re going to rope you today.” Then you take Mr. Loop and put it around the head of Mr. Cow.

Okay, maybe not like that. The haying was the other activity and it made me glad not to be the other interns here this summer.

They were down in the giant cage or crib tamping down each layer of hay to make this huge square bale as tight and secure as possible. This wooden contraption is a beaverslide, and it’s pretty limited to this part of Montana. Some people still use it around here. The only mechanization possible is switching your horse for a tractor. They had three horse teams (with two sets waiting) working. One set pulled a rope and pulley that moved the platform up. The second used a hay rake to gather the hay at the base. A third followed collecting the loose hay for the second to get again. Earlier that week, they used horse-drawn mowers to cut the grass.

This drew quite a crowd! Although not as much as the calf branding, people still like to see old ways of doing familiar or exotic chores.

Mitch: Those cows trusted us.

Ed: Trusted us? They followed us because we yelled, ‘Yah’. They’re cattle.


Keeping Cool – or differences in house museums

My museum experience before this summer was limited to visiting various ones and volunteering at an art museum. The art museum in Knoxville was blessedly air conditioned, although the summer sun could cut you and the artwork before the curtains were lowered.

My experience with house museums? Even more limited – I’m from Memphis and I’ve never even been to Graceland! According to Sherry Butcher-Younghans’s book Historic House Museums: A Practical handbook for Their Care, Preservation, and Management, house museums “capture an essence” not found in other historic sites.

There are three types of house museums: documentary, representative, and aesthetic. Graceland, Mount Vernon, Colonial Williamsburg, and Grant-Kohrs are examples of documentary houses – they illustrate a specific time and person or people. Representative museums are examples of a way of life, not tied to an individual even though they are still legitimate. These are seen in log cabins and plantations. An aesthetic house museum is a setting for a special collection in a house. All of them use their location for a claim of authenticity.

I’ve seen an example of that essence found in authenticity here. The Granite County Museum in Philipsburg, Montana has a mock-up frontier kitchen and bedrooms, along with a miner’s cabin. The artifacts are real, but the setting is artificial – even though the museum is housed in a historical hotel! At Grant-Kohrs, the quotidian details are more tangible. An artfully arranged Victorian parlor in the Powell County courthouse would mean less and the bunkhouse shower room would almost be pointless without the context of the surrounding ranch.

However, I have seen a museum that combines a new building with a house museum intensity – the National Civil Rights Museum in Memphis, Tennessee. It is at the former Lorraine Motel, where Martin Luther King, Jr. often stayed and where he was assassinated. But they didn’t leave the building as is – there are additions and only two rooms were left. You walk past Dr. King’s room. Then you go across the street to the other half of the museum – because they also bought the rooming house James Earl Ray stayed in and you can see the spot he allegedly fired from. Combined with the subject matter, the integrity of the historic location makes for a very powerful experience.

However! On a lighter note, it is hot in Montana in July. So very hot – but none of the historic buildings are air conditioned, as that would greatly violate their integrity and be far too expensive. But the Hemingway home in Key West, Florida – well, they’ve got their AC. Integrity doesn’t mean much if you’re injuring guests and artifacts!