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Tuesday, June 2, 2009

HOM: Customers

There are a few folks still shopping here who started when the store was in the Books West basement, but the two most memorable aren't around any more. One was "The Elephant Man". Jerry nicknamed him because he was large and gray of face and (untrimmed) hair & whisker, with saggy features, baggy gray clothes, a drooping gray hat and a zoo-like aroma. He'd pop in a couple of times a week, select a paperback and pay cash for it, then leave. Then Jerry would open the door and spray everything down with Lysol to try to kill the residual odors that were left behind. When we moved the store to its present location, he disappeared. I guess he either couldn't find us or he just preferred basement lairs. I guess we were relieved . . . (When we moved the store, we changed accidental visitors too. The basement had housed a barber shop at one time, and every now & then someone would come in for a haircut and depart in confusion. At this present location, it was pretty common to look up and see someone standing in the door with a chainsaw and a puzzled look since this building housed the local McCulloch dealership for many years. Yeah, I bought my first saw in this building.) The other memorable person was Thain White, who really needs to be written up in a book instead of a blog. Any Flathead old-timers have many, many, Thain White stories to tell. --- Here is a SHORT Bio:

Thain White was born in Milburn, Illinois on January 26, 1913, the son of Ernie and Hazel White. In early childhood, the family moved to Rollins, Montana, where Ernie White established a sheep farm called the Columbia Sheep Company. (Ernie's sheep shed was listed as the world's largest in an old Ripley's Believe It Or Not for some years.) While working for his father and later on the Fort Peck Indian Reservation and in Glacier Park, Thain developed an interest in the history and archaeology of Montana. He conducted archaeological digs with Carling Malouf, Gordon L. Pouliot, and Duane Hampton, developing precise documentation for the sites. Among the sites he explored were the Big Hole Battlefield, the Bear's Paw Battlefield, various Mullan Road and Lolo Pass sites, and others.

In 1949 Thain and his father established the Flathead Lake Lookout Museum at Lakeside to display artifacts of local interest. The Museum also sponsored Thain's research and many of his research papers bear the imprint of the museum. In later years he lived at Dayton, where he died April 30, 1999. He was survived by his wife Fay White.

Lone Pine Park was donated to the state by Ernie White. At one time Ernie and Thain owned literally miles of the west shore of Flathead lake and most of Cromwell island.


Thain White, proprietor of Flathead Lake Lookout, Lakeside, Montana, ("Population 5 -- 2 peeps, 2 dogs, 1 cat"), turned his tourist museum on the shores of Flathead Lake into a consuming interest in the local history of his area. Since Flathead Lake has been the center of both Indian and white occupation and exploration, he uncovered much information useful to scholars outside the area. Lacking library resources he spent considerable time in the field going over the ground of the earlier explorers. Backing this up with as much information and research as he was able to procure by mail, he (sometimes in collaboration with others) produced a lengthy series of brief articles on aspects of the history of western Montana. As many remained in manuscript, although a few were published in mimeograph form in small quantities in order to make them more available to students and scholars, Mr. White placed them in the Washington State University Library.

The museum housed one of the early-day Flathead Lake tugboats, perched high on a rocky promontory above the lake.

The "Paul Bunyan" was built at Somers for Somers Lumber Co. in 1927. It was a logging tug with a 120 horse power Fairbanks Morris diesel engine. The 100 ton tug was 65' x 19' and cost $126,000. It was discontinued in 1947, moved to Flathead Lake Lookout for years and later sold to the Miracle of America Museum in Polson.


Thain was a character. His favorite remark in parting was "Don't drink out of any strange toilets -- but the one at the Post Office is pretty good!" He drove around in a nicely restored classic 1955 Thunderbird convertible. Thain figured out that he worked with my uncle Bus when Going To The Sun Road was under construction and so took somewhat of a personal interest in me. There WILL be more on Thain here! TBC (Me) (Blacktail Books)