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February 04, 2014 8:22 am

MY LOUSY WORLD: A burning bar full of memories

Written by Doug Blough

The year was 1978, and it was a warm autumn Saturday. The day began with great promise but slid rapidly downhill into the longest, drunkest day I’ve ever spent in the smallest, wettest town I’ve ever spent a day in.

This is only relevant when in context with yet another outdated newspaper gem I came upon while “cleaning” my living room floor. The 12/12 headline read: “Bar Burns in Fromberg — History up in smoke at the Little Cowboy Museum.”

I knew instantly I had drunk at the Little Cowboy Bar, although I have no memory of an attached museum. But then again, if it was further away from my barstool than the men’s room, I’d have had no interest. I’m not much for history, the photo of my high school girlfriend in my wallet notwithstanding.

Nonetheless, my hoarder-refusal to throw away unread newspapers less than two months old has paid dividends many times by escorting me down Memory Lane. And the lovely Memory Lane is a much more scenic route than that paved Road to Hell.

I had just relocated from Pennsylvania to work for my brother Jess in his new roofing business. With my first summer savings, I bought a gorgeous ’67 GTO, my dream car.

Former Legion baseball teammates like Bobby Moore and Dave Beemer would attest to our bus rides to out-of-town games when I’d often serenade the team with old classics. My favorite was “Little GTO, you’re really looking fine; three deuces and a four-speed, and a 389 … listen to her tacking out now; listen to her whine (yi yi); wind it out, tack it out, blow it up, GTO.”

On this particular Saturday five years later, I was driving my red and white GTO to Billings for a weekend of gambling debauchery. I would typically get a motel for the weekend, admire girls at the mall in the afternoons, then play poker at various bars like the Crystal Card Room at night.

A block away on Montana Avenue was the scary Empire Bar, where after drinking and losing enough to drown any fear, I would join the hookers, pimps and dregs to visit my bookie who ran the Empire card room.

But a strange thing happened on the way to all that fun: several miles after Bridger, I heard a loud, disturbing pounding underneath my hood which forced me to a stop to look under the hood, although I had no idea what to look for. Unless there was a cat mangled in my fan blade, I hadn’t a clue what would cause such violent thumping.

With cell phones decades away, I don’t recall how the tow truck found me, but I was hauled to a little garage in a town I’d barely even noticed before, Fromberg. After the garage owner “generously” offered me $100 for what was left of this classic GTO with a blown engine, I chose to “think about it.”

A 22-year-old with a drinking/gambling problem stuck in a tiny town with more bars than houses is not a tasty recipe. I entered my first bar — widely accepted as the most strategic locale for serious thinking — at about noon. I drank beer, played solo billiards, and bounced back and forth between the three bars like a pinball racking up free games.

Ten hours later, I astutely decided to refuse the $100 offer and hitchhike home. A long-haired, bearded, stumbling, mumbling mess when I staggered to the main highway, I just assumed anyone in their right mind would eagerly pull over for me.

Thankfully, my old Sunday school teacher and Legion teammate Ronnie Crosby’s mother Bernadien and George Crosby spotted me and picked me up.

A sad turn on this Memory Lane was the reason they were returning from Billings, which was George’s bone cancer treatments. I asked George what cancer felt like, and he said, “Remember the worst toothache you’ve ever had and imagine it all through your body.”

George died soon after, and his words have always stuck with me. Bernadien, now 89, and I rehashed that ride recently in that same Mountain View Church of God from 40 years ago.

My brother Jess drove me to Fromberg Monday after work and towed my broken GTO back to Cody. My precious Little GTO was again “… looking fine, three deuces and a four-speed and the 389” merely needing a $15 broken push rod replaced.

Kudos to Dale’s Texaco and a Chicken Pox on the house of that Fromberg shyster!

I drove my GTO back to Pennsylvania that winter, where I again hopped bars and sheared off a telephone pole on Tire Hill during a blizzard on the way home. Ironically, the local junkyard matched the previous $100 offer, and this time I had no choice but to accept. A broken axle beats a broken push rod in any game.

The moral of this story?

Well, first off: Never throw away a newspaper you’ve not yet read.

And lastly: Memory Lane should never be driven while under the influence of alcohol. It’s the sudden stops that’ll kill ya!

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