Missoula Grange Meeting

Big Fat Mike

So we had another Grange meeting and made some more progress, thanks so much to Annie Heuscher for facilitating-in-absentia and preparing such detailed notes.  We began the meeting reviewing the previous meeting’s minutes and discussing some of the points from the last meeting, then began with this month’s agenda:

In Attendance

Scott and Marie Nicholson mtstategrange@earthlink.net

Anne Little solianna.mt@gmail.com

Steven Hale stevenhale99@yahoo.com

Alton Helm primose.station@gmail.com

Maximillian Smith missoulagvc@gmail.com

Meeting Space

Anne Little was kind enough to volunteer to host the meeting this time at the Sunrise Coffee Shop.  For the time being her space could be used again, but a much larger group of people would require us to relocate the meeting.

Social Media

I’d like us to find more ways to engage to Grange page of Facebook to increase our reach.  We’re always making steady progress but it could definitely be growing faster.


This was the meat and potatoes of our meeting, Annie provided us with an excellent framework to identify players in the local ag space, what they contribute to our community, and eventually identify holes that we can fill through the formation of our Grange chapter.  After refining our ideas we came up with a list to further consider, of areas that we can be beneficial to our community through a Grange:

Heritage and Tradition: The Grange is an organization with roots, with rich heritage and traditions.  This organization is local, but also benefits from a network of time tested and resilient organizations with an eye to rural values and improvement of ourselves and each other.

Older/Younger Farmer Connections:  It’s been mentioned at all of our meetings, outreach to young farmers who don’t necessarily come from that background hasn’t been entirely successful.  The grange could be a place to bring together new and energetic farmers with experienced farmers to help keep small/medium scale production alive in our area.

All Under One Roof:  A lot of the organizations we discussed during our brainstorming were very specialized, the Grange could be a platform for the individuals and organizations to work together more effectively to benefit the community.  A Grange is a place where you could learn about bees, equipment, network with producers and consumers, talk to people about insurance, etc.  Having access to all different sorts of people in one place could be beneficial to the membership and the community.

Scale:  The Grange is a huge organization with a state and national leadership structure, which many organizations lack.

Farm Product Transportation (Rail):  The Grange could be a vehicle for all sorts of cooperative effort amongst our members, and one of this could be arranging for transportation of produce in a more efficient manner to feed Missoula.

Connect Organizations:  Mentioned above.

Outreach/Broad Base:  Because of the mass appeal that our organization could have (in addition to our state and national support), we could use a Grange chapter as an effective vehicle for outreach.

Double Snap/Education:  The Grange could be involved in the Double Snap program to help our members sell healthy local products, but also to educate people to help them use their benefits to buy healthy raw materials and make them into healthy tasty meals (or even preserve some of them).

Filling/Growing Programs:  With the broad base the Grange could provide, we could help fill positions in existing programs or work with other organizations to help them promote and grow existing programs.

Working With Other Granges:  One of the great benefits of the Grange is a network of thousands of other community organizations.

Fun:  ’nuff said.

Tool/Implement Share:  Small-scale farmers in the area could be greatly benefitted by a program to give them access to equipment through a Tool Library model, which would also increase the perceived value of Grange membership and help to grow our numbers.

Bulk Purchasing:  Some organizations already do have bulk purchasing programs, but some are very specific or specialized, and a large Grange chapter could connect people with similar needs.

Organizing Volunteers:  The Grange could be an effective vehicle for organizing volunteers to help in emergency/time sensitive situations.  Not only could we help each other through monthly barn raising style events, we could be a large group of volunteers to mobilize in reaction to specific local events.

Promote Montana Outside our State:  The national reach of the Grange, and the cooperation of our local Grange members, could be opportunities to promote Montana Ag and businesses outside our state.

Farm Days:  The Grange in Missoula could organize an annual community even to bring together consumers and producers in a fun way to educate and build community.

Food Hubs:  Our Grange could organize more locations for members to sell fresh produce and value add products as a benefit to members and a convenience to our community that values walking and biking around town.

Upcoming Events

Junior Grange Camp (5-14 YO): Elliston/Echo Valley Camp Ground-18-21 June

Western Regional Leaders/Youth Conference: Couer d’Alene, Camp Lutherhaven-31July to 02 August

Next Meeting

30 June 2015, 6:00 PM

Thanks to everyone that came to the last few meetings!  If you’re from the Missoula area and are interested in agriculture, gardening, ag-related entrepreneurship, food, whatever, consider coming to our next meeting and learn a little more about the Grange and where we are in our process to form a chapter here in Missoula!

For those interested I can be reached at primrose.station@gmail.com, or at 757-775-0507, or go to the Missoula Grange Facebook page: Missoula Grange


National Grange Membership Director Coming to Missoula 23 APR

First off you’re probably wondering what a “Grange” is.  Well according to the website, it is a “nonprofit, nonpartisan, fraternal organization that advocates for Rural America and agriculture”.  Don’t let the word “fraternal” scare you off ladies, the Grange has always had full equal voting rights for all members, 50 years before the Women’s Suffrage movement.  Over the past few days I’ve been in touch with the President of the Montana Grange, Scott Nicholson, to find out more about the organization and what it can do for our community.
The Grange’s Declaration of Purpose focuses on values, business relationships, non-partisan cooperation, and equality, all things that are valuable to our community.  The Grange’s agrarian roots should appeal to Missoulians, who come out en masse to support local producers at farmers markets.  We have an exciting opportunity to learn about the history, structure, and benefits coming up next Thursday.  Dr. Michael Martin, the National Grange Membership Director will be in town and will be speaking to us next Thursday, 23 APR, time and place TBD (I’ll post an event on Facebook).  I encourage everyone in our community that is interested to attend, as this may be the starting point for the formation of Missoula’s own Grange.
Networking and building relationships is important to the success of a community, and fraternal organizations have always been a part of that process.  I was a member of a few growing up, and relished the opportunities to learn about leadership and charity from the organization, as well as making friends with other members.  The Missoula small farm community is strong and growing, and I think we could all benefit from an organization that would allow us to network and share resources, focus on educating each others about agriculture, and outreach to our community through charitable works and community events.  An issue with agriculture in general is that it is an aging population; the average farmer these days is at retirement age and they aren’t being replaced fast enough, leaving family farms to be subdivided and sold off, and our communities dependent on trucking food across the country.  We have a vibrant, young, hard-working community, and I would love to bring a Grange chapter to Missoula to promote small local ag-focused businesses and help us to all be more successful, together.
Below you’ll find a bio of Dr. Martin from the Grange website.  If you’re interested in attending please drop us a line on the Primrose Station website (www.primrosestation.com), or on the Facebook page.  We’d love to get as many ag community stakeholders together as possible to welcome Dr. Martin and learn about the Grange.  If you know someone who may be interested please send them our way!
Dr. Martin’s Bio:
Michael J. Martin, Ph.D., is the Membership/Leadership Development Director for the National Grange. Martin, a native of Cummington, Mass., has been an active Grange member for over three decades. Martin said he is looking forward to giving back to the organization that provided leadership experiences for him as the Master of local subordinate and Pomona Granges in Massachusetts. He also served as Membership Director and state officer of the Massachusetts State Grange. As a young adult, Martin served on the National Grange Youth Team as National Grange Youth Ambassador. ”The leadership skills learned in the Grange are exemplified in community leaders across rural America,” Martin said. He is looking forward to working with Grange leaders across the nation. ”The future of our country rests on the strength of our agricultural and rural communities,” Martin said. Prior to joining the National Grange staff, Martin was a Cooperative Extension professional for 25 years and most recently served as executive director of the North Carolina 4-H Development Fund where he spearheaded the initiative to raise funds to support the 4-H youth development program in North Carolina. Martin has experience as a 4-H youth development agent in Massachusetts, Vermont and Pennsylvania. He was an International 4-H Youth Exchange (IFYE) Representative to Costa Rica, and also worked to establish and strengthen the 4-H youth development programs in the Republic of Albania and the Republic of Armenia. Martin holds a B.A. from Oberlin College, and M.Ed. from Cambridge College. He earned a Ph.D. in Workforce Education and Development from the College of Education at Penn State University. Martin and his wife Wendy reside in south central Pennsylvania. Michael is a member of Valley Grange in Pa.
Our presentation will mostly about the Grange,  a little history, some about the structure with a focus on the potential advantages and benefits of being a member of the Grange.

A Ladies Guide to Guns, Meat, and Hunting Season

I’ve lived in Montana most of my life. I was raised in eastern Montana in a single-wide trailer with ugly shag, green carpet on the middle of a 360 acre piece of land that had one lone tree. My dad’s closet was lined with guns. He didn’t take them out, he didn’t take them hunting, and he didn’t shoot them. They just sat there collecting dust.

He told me I should be able to handle a weapon, but I never saw him handling one. He told me I should be able to shoot a weapon, but he never took me shooting. I wasn’t afraid of guns until I got older. When I was young, guns were just like any other home ornament that sat there without moving—like a wreath on the door or a candlestick holder sitting on the table. (On a side-note, he definitely should have had them unloaded and in a gun safe, safety first! But he didn’t put them in a gun safe and they also didn’t spontaneously gain artificial intelligence and hurt anyone.)

I’m pretty sure my ignorance made me afraid of guns. Ignorance tends to make people irrationally afraid of things they don’t understand. When I moved back to Montana, I began to meet more and more people who hunted and guns entered back into my life. The connection for me was that my friends shot animals and I then ate those animals. Elk steak, deer jerky, and deer sausage became part of my diet and my friends generously shared their bounty.

The people closest to me know that I am the cheapest person you will meet. I will go out of my way for free food all the time. Free nacho bar at the strip club? Cool. Potlucks? I’m in. I’m stuck in some Rich Dad, Poor Dad vacuum and have only realized my financial potential through Dave Ramsey’s mentorship. He agrees that being frugal is cool though, so a $13 deer tag for hundreds of pounds of meat is a no brainer…going to Costco to eat free samples for lunch…meh, I’m going to say that’s also pretty cool, but a whole deer for $13 is better.

So, back to guns…last year for Christmas, Alton bought me an M4. Ten months later, it’s still in the box. He gave me a rifle. I’m not sure which one of our rifles is mine. It turns out that I have ADD when it comes to weapons. They’re cool for a little while if I’m with people on the range, but shooting has not become a hobby of mine that I go out of my way to do. Why is this? I’m pretty sure it’s for a few reasons:

1) I’m lazy and it takes work to learn about something new that has so much power that it could kill an animal or a human being. (That’s a lot of pressure!)
2) Society has evolved so that I can get food at the grocery store where my family-sized portion of meat is neatly wrapped in cellophane.
3) I’m irrationally afraid of guns. I start to feel physically anxious around them. I could compare it to being at a zoo around a wild animal. I am aware of its power and for that reason I become docile so as not to arouse it’s attention or make it angry. How dumb, huh? I know it’s an inanimate object as I mentioned earlier, but it makes me feel some type of way.

When hunting season rolled around this year, I went hunting for the second time in my life. The first time, Al and I were dating and we did not see or shoot at any animals. It was like a practical joke. “Erin, just walk through those bushes that direction and I’ll wait up here.” “Well, let’s just keep walking, maybe we’ll see something past this creek bed.” Little did I know at that time that hunting is all walking and staring out the truck window hoping that you will see an animal…that you have a tag for, that is the correct size and gender, that is far enough off of the road, but not so far that it will be a nightmare getting it back to the truck.


This is what I’ve learned so far about hunters. They are sexually attractive. These people prepare the night before for their trip, wake up before dawn, get in their rig to drive around the wilderness, know how to read a map, are physically active, have good aim and eyesight, and know enough about biology to gut an animal, then they provide for their friends and family by sharing their food. Hot, hot, hot.

On my second hunt, Alton shot a deer. It was so exciting. I realized later that I had imagined it being like a scene out of the Evil Dead with thin, red blood spurting out everywhere. It was in no way horrifying. He shot the deer in the heart, and it fell over. Then, our friend Wade gutted it, which was also not horrifying. It was fascinating. We humans can be so separated from the biological processes of life that we never even learn how muscles and tendons and organs work. We said our thanks for this deer’s life and then took him home to make into breakfast sausage, and deer steak, and jerky.

I spend that evening cutting around the bullet wound and preparing the deer for quartering like I had done it a hundred times. It was no different than dealing with any other type of meat, like a roast or turkey or ham, this animal’s steaks just happened to still be attached to the rest of his body.

This Thanksgiving, I will unwrap my M4. Right now. I’m going to do it. I’ll keep you posted after I learn which rifle is mine and bag my first deer or elk…


Primrose station made The Missoulian!

Good morning! I woke up this morning to a great article published in The Missoulian, our local paper! Take a look at the article here! Obviously we’re pumped to get the building featured in the paper, but the timing is a little off. I’ve been working on a kickstarter campaign for Primrose (well, a still and maybe a cider press at Primrose), and I can’t launch it until my bank account is confined. This being the weekend, that means I missed a good opportunity to have it up when new people show up here from the article. Oh well, I’ll still move forward with it as soon as possible. We’ll have to get together with our friend Dawn Anderson down at Garage Tees, because contributors to the kickstarter campaign will be receiving a t-shirt with this on it:


Kickstarter is a mystery, wrapped in an enigma for me right now. I’ve seen people funding some AMAZING things, and I’ve also seen people successful in funding things like potato salad. I’ll be doing an article later this week about my trials and tribulations during our first kickstarter project, in case you may want to start one too!

Comments are always welcome, and if you like our blog please find us on Facebook and like and share the page! Please take a moment to stop over at The Missoulian and check out the article!


It’s July, Let’s Make Pickles!

My sisters drove up from San Diego to visit the…epic project that we have unleashed upon our little neck of the Missoula valley, and they brought with them–straight from their southern CA garden–fresh cucumbers!  (Thanks A & E, love you!)

The thing is, Alton hates cucumbers.  It doesn’t make any sense to me how someone could hate something so strongly that has such a subtle, fresh flavor, but I don’t understand a lot of things about Alton.  So, we used our grandma’s recipe to make a creamy, dill cucumber salad and his great-great-grandma’s recipe to make pickles.

When life gives you cucumbers–make pickles!!

Here’s how I made pickles in twenty-four hours and twenty minutes.

1. Step One: Supplies.  Invite your grandma Marlene over for 4th of July.  Ask her to show you how to make pickles.  If you don’t have access to my grandma, start by buying a simple canning kit.  I spent $14 on my canning kit and $11 on a few accessories.  My canning kit included: a spring action jar lifter, a magnetic lid lifter, and a canning funnel with headspace measurements.  Extras include: pickling spice, Ball jars, rings, and fresh seals.    

Choose your own adventure! If you’re bored, move on to Step 2, but if you want to know a few more tidbits about canning supplies, stay here for a moment.

Did you know that back in the good ol’ days, they did not have magnetic lid lifters (MLLs) to easily take your seals out of your boiling water when canning?  People used to use a fork.  Sounds dangerous.  So, if you want to impress your lady friends, wave your MLL around. I did, and I felt like a real pro.

Also, my jar lifter is a spring action.  Spring action!  This makes it easier to pick up and put down scalding hot jars of produce without hurting anyone.  It is also duel action and can pick up cans sideways and upright.

2. Step Two: Ingredients.  Ask your grandma Marlene for a handwritten recipe that is maybe a hundred years old.  I really lucked out on this one.  It reads: 1 quart vinegar, 2 quarts water, 1 cup salt, 1 cup sugar, boil together and put on pickles hot, then seal, let stand in hot water over nite.

I put this mixture on 1.5 pounds of pickles (or two – four pickles depending on how well your garden grows).  

photo 3

3. Step Three: Let’s do this.  Cut up your cucumbers.  I cut mine into spears.  Take out three pots. Boil the above vinegar mixture, a small saucepan with water and your seals, and a larger pan a third of the way filled with water and your Ball jars.  While you’re boiling your vinegar mixture, you’re also sanitizing / preparing your seals and jars.    

When your vinegar mixture is boiling, get ready to do the following steps.

– Take one Ball jar out of it’s water bath and add another jar to the water bath.
– Put 1 teaspoon of Ball pickling spice to an empty 16 oz. jar.
– Cram your pickle spears into your jar until it’s full. 
– Pour your vinegar mixture into the jar until it’s up to the brim.
– Use your magnetic lid lifter to grab a seal out of your small saucepan and place it on your jar.
– Seal with a ring.
– Repeat.  

Now, wait 24 hours, place your pickles out on the dinner table and bask as people, (including Grandma Marlene) try them and smile, surprised that they turned out in a mere twenty-four hours and twenty minutes.  Forthcoming, Primrose Pickles & Preserves. 


1/2 Way to the New Year, Goal Review.

Big Fat Mike

1. Grow our family of animals to be 20 chickens and 50 rabbits without purchasing any new chicks or kits at the store. (Kit is short for kitten, the term for a baby rabbit–cute attack!)

– So…we’re up to 24 chickens and have cuddled 32 kits. Al snuck quite a few chickens into our life when Murdoch’s had a 3 for 1 sale after an especially cold spring. One Sunday, we walked out with 18 chicks and 2 Khaki Campbell ducks. I thought this number was insane until I met someone whose husband had bought out Murdoch’s whole chicken operation during a 2 for 1 sale and came home to over 100 chicks. That woman is a saint and I have a lot of gratitude for our “manageable” chicken operation. Oh, Al also saved one injured pigeon who now lives in the chicken coup and thinks he’s a chicken too.

2. Host our 1st annual 4th of July celebration. Complete with a BBQ, bunting, and fireworks.

– After the trials and tribulations of scheduling anything when you’re in the military, which sounded like this: Are you at training that weekend? I wonder if I’ll go accelerated for OCS. Will anyone even be home during the 4th of July? We’re now one week out and WE’RE HAVING A PARTY! Our first soiree will be close friends and family and we can’t wait to share photos of the festivities in a few weeks! *Spoiler alert! I’m teaching my sisters how to make cheese that week!

Shipping Container

3. Build new homes for the chicks and rabbits so they no longer have to cohabitate.

– This spring, Al and I purchased our first set of shipping containers. They are 10′ x 10′ and this beautiful, bright blue color and rustic like any good DIY purchase should be. We’ll be transforming them into a posh house for the animals over the summer. That project should be finished by August so we’ll keep you posted on the progress. We may also make one of them into a tiny house…a tiny, TINY house. Oh to own a 5,000 sqft building and live in a 200 sqft shipping container, that irony will be unbeatable.

4. Purchase the neighboring property to expand our homestead.

Neighboring Land

– We have a contract from our cowboy neighbor to buy enough land to get us a 5 acre plot and cut some county red tape. As any small business owner can contest though, getting the start-up capital we need without sharing our investment is tricky, so we’re working on funding this endeavor.

40lb 3/4mi Ruck with a 640ft Elevation Gain. Spring 2014
Al's Birthday Trip, 2014

5. Stay active and prioritize our fitness by hiking, running, and working out.

– The military makes this easier for both of us. We have to pass regular physical fitness tests. So, we’re working out and taking advantage of the beauty of Montana by hiking our way through the nearby wilderness.

6. Pay off Primrose Station.

– Nailed it. Deed in hand. February 2014.

Starts! Spring 2014

7. Expand our garden.

– We planted out a slew of tomato plants, peppers, cucumbers, herbs, and flowers. We harvested our first batch of strawberries last week and are now enjoying them in some gluten-free muffins. More to come on the production levels, but we went from seed to start and that’s progress from last year!

8. Plant 50 fruit and nut trees and berry bushes.

– Al bought me a few Quaking Aspen trees because I love the look of the bark and we planted twelve more fruit trees (peaches, cherries, and pear), so we’re up to 25 trees in the last two years. Our raspberries survived the winter and our apple trees from last year are growing apples! Nature is so cool.

9. Construct a working bathroom.

– Umm…six more months to work on this project.

10. Get Primrose Station on the National Historic Register.

– Yep. Nailed that too! Thanks Jon Axline for all of your research and diligence!


Primrose Station on the National Register of Historic Places

After half a year and a lot of work by our amazing Historian, Jon Axline, yesterday Primrose Station’s NRHP application was voted on in Seeley Lake. Although we were out-of-town and couldn’t attend, it was very exciting to hear from Mr. Axline that our State Historic Preservation Office voted unanimously in favor of our application! The finalized application should be in the register by 01July. I’m too excited to wait that long so I’m publishing most of the text of the draft nomination here for posterity. The beginning is a technical description of the architecture of the building, but if you scroll down you’ll find a history of the MILW and our building in particular!


Primrose Station in operation.


Original plat map showing the location of other buildings.

Summary Paragraph

Milwaukee Road Railroad Substation No. 10 is located on Mullan Road (Montana Secondary Highway 263) about ten miles west of the City of Missoula in Missoula County, Montana.  The substation is situated in the northwest quadrant of the junction of Mullan Road and Primrose Drive and faces south toward Mullan Road.  The substation was a significant component of the railroad’s electrified section between Harlowton, Montana and Avery, Idaho from 1915 to 1974.  It was one of 22 substations on the line and the best preserved of the four existing substations in Montana.  The abandoned Milwaukee Road Railroad grade (24MO0713) passes by the substation to the south.

The T-shaped substation is 87 x 74 feet fronting on the abandoned Milwaukee Road Railroad grade.  The building is composed of brick and has a flat roof.  Large windows on the substation’s south façade indicate that natural sunlight illuminated much of the interior.    The substation is divided into two sections: the section that housed the motor-generator sets and the operator’s office, and the 2½ story section, which sheltered the transformers and switches. The 2½ story section still has the original lightning arresters and dissipaters (horn gaps) on the roof.   The rather austere appearance of the substation is accented by recessed bays and brick detailing on all four sides of the building.  The entry vestibule on the façade of the substation has a decorative brick cornice.

Narrative Description

Milwaukee Road Substation No. 10 is a T-shaped Industrial-style brick building that was constructed in 1915 by the Chicago, Milwaukee and St. Paul Railroad (Milwaukee Road).  The building consists of a 2½ story with a two story section attached on the south facing the abandoned railroad grade.  Both sections are integrated by a corniced brick header string course and a decorative 20-inch wide brick water table.  Brick pilasters divide the walls into bays on all four sides of the building.  A header brick continuous sill girdles the second story windows.  All windows are warehouse-type multi-lite casement units that were designed to provide natural lighting and supplement ventilation to the electrical equipment inside the building.  The substation rests on a plinthed concrete foundation.  The building has a flat roof with parapet walls sheathed in asphalt.  The 2½ story section still displays the original lightning arresters and dissipaters (horn gaps) associated with its function as a substation for an electrified railroad.  The walls are comprised of red brick laid in running bond with a brick header cornice.  Tiles are situated on the roof cornice, terracotta tile on the roof edge.  Entries are located on the façade and west elevation of the two-story section of the building.  The substation is oriented north and south and faces south onto the abandoned Milwaukee Road Railroad grade, which is located a few yards south of the substation and now functions as an access road to a residence.  The substation was the most distinctive feature of the Milwaukee Road’s Primrose railroad station.

South Section

The south section of the building is 53 x 17 feet and is divided into recessed bays by brick pilasters.  It obscures much of the south façade of the 2½ story section of the building.  This section housed the motor-generator sets which stepped the 100,000 volt alternating current (AC) that entered the building down to 3,300 volts direct current (DC) that was distributed to the locomotives.  This section also contained the switches used to control the amount of electricity fed to the lines powering the locomotives.  The second floor has three window openings each with 30-lite casement windows.  The central and west bays are occupied by two 100-lite casement windows that are currently protected by fiberglass sheets.

A 17 x 5 foot gable roofed brick vestibule occupies the east bay and projects from the east façade.  It was the location of the substation operator’s office, the ticket window, and a waiting room.  The copper electrical catenary wires entered and exited the building through conduits through openings on the façade above the window.  An I-beam and angle section structure also supported the wires that provided power to the locomotives and projects from the wall above the vestibule’s central window.  The vestibule roof is sheathed in asphalt and has a tile cornice with a brick header course and a corniced string course.  A sandstone plate with “Substation No. 10” etched into it is situated on the gable-end.  A 50-lite Industrial-style casement window occupies most of the façade (it is currently protected by a fiberglass sheet).  The window opening has a flat arch lintel with header bricks and the sill also has header bricks.  The entry to the substation is located on the east elevation of the vestibule.  It has a large fixed-lite transom and the original wood paneled door with a single fixed lite.  The west elevation of the vestibule has a window opening with a *-lite industrial style window that allowed the operator a view of the track to the west.

East Elevation

The second floor has two 30-lite casement windows.  There are no window openings.  The concrete foundation is extended 14 x 8 feet at the ell.  According to the standard substation design, it was designed to support a small flat-roof brick addition.  It is not known if an addition was ever located here as modifications were made in the standard design according to the site needs.  The foundation currently supports a metal grate installed to supplement the ventilation of the machinery inside the building.

West elevation

The fenestration on the west elevation is the same as the east.  The window openings on the second floor and the window type are the same as the east.  On the ground floor, however, a window opening occupies the south bay of the elevation; it is currently protected by a fiberglass sheet (the original window muntins are still intact, however).  The north bay contains an entry that has the original double leaf wood doors.  The doors are comprised of vertical boards with exterior braces.  Both doors have a 4-lite transom and the north bay door has a man entry with a modern wood door installed.   This entry was accessed by a railroad spur.  The spur and tracks terminated inside the building, allowing the railroad to remove and replace the heavy equipment in the building.  On the pilaster between the recessed bays there are metal rungs embedded in the wall that provide access to the roof of the substation.

North Section

The north section once housed the high tension transformers and switches for the substation.  It is 2½ stories tall.  All of the multi-lite industrial style window panes on the façade and rear of the section windows on the façade have been broken out.


There are seven twelve-lite Industrial-style casement windows on the second story of the south façade of the substation.

East Elevation

The central bay of the second floor exhibits paired 12-lite casement windows.  The central bay of the ground floor has a window opening that once held a 72-lite casement window.  The opening is currently in-filled with plywood sheets.

West Elevation

The west elevation has the same configuration as the east elevation, including the paired multi-lite casement windows on the second floor.  The window opening on the ground floor has been enlarged, possibly in the 1970s when the electrical machinery was removed from the building.  It once held a 72-lite casement window.  The opening is currently in-filled with plywood sheets.


The second floor of the rear façade has three sets of paired 12-lite casement windows corresponding to three of the five bays.  All of the glass in the windows is no longer extant.  The ground floor has three windows openings that are missing the muntins and are partially in-filled.


This section has a flat roof sheathed with asphalt.  Parapet walls encircle the roof on the south, east, and west.


The original electrical equipment inside the substation was removed and salvaged by the Milwaukee Road in the late 1970s.  The two sections are divided internally by a brick wall.  The wall has a large opening with a steel plate door and a man-entry.  The north section also has a large pit along the north wall that facilitated the ventilation of the equipment once located there.  The front section of the building could be accessed by a railroad spur.  In keeping with that function, a ten-ton, hand-operated traveling crane is still located in the front section of the building.  Also located there is a two section machinery bay separated by brick partitions and conduits through which wiring could pass between the two sections of the building.  The interior has a concrete floor.  The interior reveals that trusses were used to support the roof of the motor-generator sets section of the building, while steel I-beams supported the roof of the 2½ story section – just as indicated in the standard Milwaukee Road substation plans.


The Primrose Substation has excellent integrity.  The building retains all of original architectural detailing and footprint, and features standard to the design development by the Milwaukee Road Railroad in 1915.  The fenestration is largely intact as are the original windows.  Openings on the east and west elevations have been in-filled with plywood sheets, but the openings themselves have not been altered.  The brick walls still retain their original detailing and the lightning arresters and dissipaters on the roof are intact along with the catenary support on the façade.  The building exhibits enough of its original appearance to strengthen its association as a Milwaukee Road substation.  The setting of the property has diminished somewhat with the cessation of railroad activities on the Milwaukee Road and the removal of the tracks, ties, ballast, and other appurtenances associated with the line.  The abandoned grade, however, is still extant and observable as is the substation’s association with it.  All but one of the buildings and structures associated with the substation have been removed, but their elimination does not significantly detract from the overall integrity of the building.  There are no intrusive buildings or structures located in close proximity to the substation.

Statement of Significance

The Primrose Substation is eligible for listing in the National Register of Historic Places under criteria A and C.  The building is eligible under Criterion A for its association with the Chicago, Milwaukee, St. Paul and Pacific Railroad (Milwaukee Road), the third transcontinental railroad to cross Montana.  It is also associated with the Milwaukee Road’s electrification of its line between Harlowton, Montana and Avery, Idaho in 1915.  The electrification enabled the railroad to efficiently traverse the Rocky Mountains and made the line one of the most technologically advanced in the United States at the time.  The substation was a critical component of that electrified line.  The Milwaukee Road had a significant impact on the agricultural and commercial development of the state between 1909 and 1980.

The substation is also eligible for the National Register under Criterion C as representative of the standard design for Milwaukee Road substations developed by the railroad’s architects in 1914.

The building is an excellent and intact example of this architectural style with its footprint, fenestration, and architectural detailing intact and unchanged.  It is also the most undamaged remaining Milwaukee Road substation in Montana.  It retains excellent integrity of design, materials, workmanship, and feeling.

Narrative Statement of Significance

The Primrose Substation is eligible for the National Register under Criterion A because of its association with the electrification of the Milwaukee Road in 1915, “an historic step . . . thus far unprecedented in the history of American railroads.”  The railroad had a reputation in the early twentieth century as the most technologically advanced line in the United States, largely because of the electrification of its Pacific Extension in 1915.  The Primrose Substation was a critical component of that system.  The Primrose Substation was one of thirteen substations strung along the length of the Milwaukee Road’s Rocky Mountain Division between Harlowton, Montana and Avery, Idaho, a distance of 440 miles.  It is one of only four substations remaining in Montana.  The Milwaukee Road had a significant impact on the economy of Montana and the electrified section carried freight from and destined for Montana consumers.  The substation was also important to the operation of the Milwaukee Road’s passenger trains, such as the Hiawatha and Olympian Hiawatha.  The Primrose Station also served as a railroad station and was important to the development of this section of the Missoula Valley.   The Primrose Substation is emblematic of the standard Milwaukee Road substation design and was in use between 1915 and 1974.  It is the most intact example of this design remaining in Montana.

The substation is also eligible for the National Register under Criterion C as an excellent and intact example of this particular architectural type.  The substation was constructed from a standard plan developed by Milwaukee Road Railroad architects in 1914.  The fenestration, footprint, and architectural detailing standard to this design are intact and unchanged.  It is recognizable as a Milwaukee Road substation and its appearance has not been altered since its construction in 1915.  The setting of the property has diminished somewhat with the removal of the railroad tracks and buildings associated with its operation from 1915 to 1974, but the essential characteristics that make this building eligible for the National Register are intact and in good condition.


The Lewis and Clark Expedition and British North West Company agent David Thompson were the first known Euro-Americans to provide descriptions of the Missoula Valley when they visited it in 1806 and 1812.  The valley was part of the aboriginal territory of the Salish, Pend d’Oreille, and Kalispell people and provided a link between the Bitterroot Valley to the south and the Jocko Valley to the north.  The valley’s central location made it an important gathering place for Native Americans and, by the 1820s of the British Hudson Bay Company.   In 1846, Great Britain relinquished its on what had become known as Oregon Territory, turning it over the United States south of the 49th parallel.  The HBC, however, remained active in the area, as did American fur companies.  American influence in the area became much more pronounced in 1841, when the Jesuits established St. Mary’s mission in the Bitterroot Valley about forty miles south of the substation.  In 1850, Major John Owen purchased the mission site and converted it to a trading post known as Fort Owen.

In 1853, the federal government initiated surveys to determine potential routes for a transcontinental railroad.  Isaac Stevens drew the assignment for the northern transcontinental route across the northern Rocky Mountains and Pacific Northwest.  In 1855, Stevens met with representatives of the Salish, Pend d’Oreille, and Kootenai tribes at Council Grove about a mile south of the future site of the Milwaukee Road substation.  They managed to hash out a treaty that established a reservation and allowed the federal government to build roads across their territory.  Five years later, in 1860, Lieutenant John Mullan constructed a 624-mile wagon road between Walla Walla, Washington and Fort Benton, Montana.  Part of the road traversed the Missoula Valley along the route of present Secondary Highway 263 (called Mullan Road) approximately just south of the substation.  The Mullan Road was the route that connected Missoula with nearby Frenchtown, the Cedar Creek Mines near present Superior and, ultimately, the settlements in Idaho and Washington.  For a time between 1914 and 1925, the Mullan Road also functioned as a component of one of the nation’s first interstate highways, the Yellowstone Trail.  The route, which consisted of a series of interlinked county roads connected Plymouth, Massachusetts and Seattle, Washington.  In 1925, the Montana Department of Transportation constructed a new alignment of the highway to the north of the Mullan Road and designated it U.S. Highway 10.  The old road became a secondary highway in 1942.

The Mullan Road provided the impetus for development in and around the Missoula Valley.  In 1860, Christopher Higgins and Frank Worden established a small trading post, called Hellgate, on the road near where the Blackfoot and Clark Fork rivers joined about twenty miles east of the substation.  A rough and tumble settlement, Hellgate was quickly eclipsed by a new community, Missoula, in 1862 when Higgins and Worden established a flour mill in the valley.  While Missoula steadily grew through the 1860s and 1870s as an important commercial and transportation center, it boomed after the completion of the Northern Pacific Railroad in 1883.  The establishment of the Flathead Indian Reservation in 1855 and the allotment of much of its land for non-homesteading in 1910 also made Missoula an important distribution center for supplies destined for the reservation.  In 1893, the State of Montana established Montana State University (the University of Montana after 1965) in Missoula, which further strengthened the city as an important metropolitan area in western Montana.  From Missoula, NPRR branch lines radiated down the Bitterroot Valley and up the Jocko Valley to Polson at the foot of Flathead Lake.  In 1909, the Chicago, Milwaukee, St. Paul and Pacific Railroad (Milwaukee Road) completed its Pacific extension, thus cementing Missoula’s significance as a major transportation hub in western Montana.  The City of Missoula continues to experience growth and is now the second largest city in the state.

The Milwaukee Road Railroad

Organized in 1874, the Chicago, Milwaukee, St. Paul & Pacific (Milwaukee Road) Railroad incorporated in Montana in 1905 when company chairman Roswell Miller decided to extend the line through the state to the Pacific Coast.  Winston Brothers began construction of the line between Butte and Avery, Idaho in August 1908.  The firm employed subcontractors to provide supplies and construct bridges and tunnels along the route.  Winston Brothers built different sections of the road concurrently with all segments connected at St. Regis in January 1909.   When completed, the 105-mile segment between Missoula and St. Paul Pass was among the most scenic along the Milwaukee Road’s entire westward extension.

The Milwaukee initiated passenger traffic on its western extension in 1909.  Two years later, in 1911, the railroad’s famed Olympian and Columbian passenger trains began service on the line between Chicago and Seattle.  After the section was electrified in 1914, it meant a much smoother and smoke-free ride than what the steam locomotives offered.  Indeed, for a small fee, passengers on the Olympian could ride in an open observation car attached to the rear of the train.  By far the ultimate in mid-20th century passenger trains was the Milwaukee’s Olympian Hiawatha.  Developed by Milwaukee Road engineers in the 1930s, the streamlined art deco-style steam locomotives were among the fastest in the world and the passenger cars were designed for comfort, incorporating the latest technology to make the rides smoother, quieter, and more comfortable than ever before.  The distinctive maroon and gold color scheme of the Hiawatha was a common sight to local residents from 1947 to 1961 cruising through the rugged mountains of western Montana at speeds up to seventy miles per hour.

Even before the Milwaukee Road had completed its extension westward to the Pacific Ocean, company president A. J. Earling began laying the groundwork to electrify the line in the Rocky Mountain Division, which encompassed 438 miles between Harlowton, Montana and Avery, Idaho.  Earling, however, conceived of a plan wherein the railroad would provide its own electricity to power its locomotives.  General Electric, at Earling’s direction, had initiated studies regarding the electrification of the railroad.  In 1909, however, the Milwaukee Road’s board of directors appointed a new member to represent the Pacific extension, John D. Ryan, president of Montana’s Anaconda Copper Mining Company (ACM).  Ryan had considerable interest in the potential of electrifying the railroad based on his experience with the electrified Butte, Anaconda & Pacific Railroad between Butte and Anaconda.  An electrified railroad would require large amounts of copper for the line.   Ryan’s interest in electrifying the Milwaukee Road was two-fold – he also owned majority interests in the Great Falls Power Company, the Thompson Falls Power Company, and power companies in Washington State.

Because of Ryan’s experience and influence, he was able to convince the Board of Director’s that it would be advantageous for the railroad to make arrangements with existing power companies, like the Great Falls and Thompson Falls firms, to provide energy to the Milwaukee Road rather than construct its own power stations.  The directors also determined that it was cost effective to electrify the line over the Rocky Mountains rather than depend on more costly and inefficient steam locomotives, which had limited ranges and required frequent stops to take on fuel and water.  The director’s believed, rightly, that electrification would lower costs and improve service.  Consequently, in 1912, the railroad decided to electrify its line through the Rocky Mountain Division and contracted with the Great Falls Power Company for electricity to power it; the directors made a similar deal with the Thompson Falls Power Company the following year.

The Milwaukee began work on electrifying the Rocky Mountain Division’s 440-mile line in April 1914.  Construction involved the installation of 100,000-volt power lines to the substations  strung along the line in Montana and Idaho.  The line carried a three-phase alternating current (AC) to the substations, where it was stepped down to a 3,000-volt direct current (DC) that was “applied directly to a heavy copper cable paralleling the track . . . and connected to the trolley on two copper wires . . . supported over the center of the track about twenty-five feet about the rail and directly feeding the locomotives the energy needed for propulsion by means of a pantograph.”  By use of a regenerative braking system, locomotive systems recovered about sixty percent of the energy required to pull trains upgrade.  The first train using an electric locomotive occurred between Three Forks and Deer Lodge, Montana in November 1915 with the entire Rocky Mountain Division electrified in 1916.  The following year, the Milwaukee’s Board of Director’s authorized the electrification of the railroad’s line between Othello and Tacoma in Washington State.  Company historian, August Derleth, later wrote, The company discovered almost immediately that the operating efficiency – especially of freight trains – under electrification was astonishing.  Compared with the operation of steam locomotives, the tonnage per train was virtually doubled, and the operating maintenance expense, owing to the regenerative braking process, was significantly reduced, while the at the same time safety of operation was increased.  Overall efficiency was increased to such an extent that, in the initial eight years of operation, the road estimated a saving of $12,400,000 had been effected by electrification.

Electrification was an unqualified success, making the Milwaukee Road one of the most technologically advanced railroads in the United States.

The Milwaukee Road relied on a series of substations to transform the 100,000 volt AC current to a 3,000 volt DC current to power the railroad’s locomotives.  General Electric Company electrical engineer A. H. Armstrong and his staff designed the electrical equipment that would be installed in the substations.  The railroad ordered the equipment for the stations in November 1914 for delivery in May 1915.  The installation of the equipment was supervised by Reinier Beeuwkes, also an employee of General Electric.  There were 22 substations, thirteen in Montana and nine in Idaho and Washington.  In Montana, the stations were spaced an average of 37.3 miles apart.  The stations were substantial brick buildings that housed the motor-generator sets and low tension switching equipment in the front part of the structure and the high tension transformers and switching equipment in the 2½ story section of the building.  The motor-generator sets converted the AC to DC that was fed to the locomotives.  Substations housed either two or three motor-generator sets, with one functioning as a back-up.  Lightning arresters and horn gaps were located on the roof of the transformer section and the power lines were connected to the building through the motor-generator section.  The foundations and roofs of the buildings were reinforced concrete and walls comprised of brick.  There were two styles of substations designed and built by the Milwaukee Road.  The majority were flat-roof buildings, while those in areas of heavy snow-fall had gable roofs.  Only the substations at Drexel and East Portal in Montana had gable roofs.  Pits were located below the concrete floors.  They functioned to aid in air circulation around the electrical equipment.  The large windows “are of steel sash construction and are of liberal dimensions and carefully placed to insure good general illumination;” they also functioned to assist air circulation inside the building.

The Thompson Falls Power Company fed power into the substation through electrical connectors on the façade of the operations office portion of the building.  The operations office contained the switchboard for the motor-generator sets and also functioned as a ticket office and waiting room since most substations also functioned as railroad stations.  The extended bay overlooked the track, which enabled the substation operator to “keep in touch with train movements and perform other duties besides those pertinent only to substation operations.”  Substations were manned on a 24-hour basis with operators in more remote locations residing in houses near the station.  The operators controlled the voltage to the lines feeding electricity to the locomotives, started and stopped the motor-generator sets, and recorded power usage.  Originally, locomotives required a minimum of 1,800 volts for power, but that amount was raised to 3,200 volts in the 1950s.  Milwaukee Road locomotives were supplied with current by more than one substation at a time to ensure continuity of operation.  The utility companies supplied the power at about $.0054 per kilowatt hour.  Spur tracks from the main line entered the motor-generator room of each substation.  It allowed heavy equipment to be unloaded from railcars with a 10-ton crane inside the building (the crane is still present in the Primrose Substation).

In 1948, the Milwaukee Road hired electrical engineer Laurence Wiley to institute low cost changes to the railroad’s Rocky Mountain and Coast divisions (Washington State).  In 1950, he devised a method to automate some of the substations and operate them from remote control.  Milwaukee Road engineer Earl Barnes developed low cost methods for achieving remote control operations.  The first remote control system was installed in the Rocky Mountain Division at Tarkio, about forty miles west of the Primrose substation.  It allowed the Tarkio operator to control operations at the Drexel and Primrose stations.  Only three substations could be controlled from one spot.

By the late 1960s, the railroad’s electrification system was in need of costly upgrades.  The trolley wires that carried the electrical current to the locomotives were in good condition, but most of the forty thousand wood poles that carried the wires were in need of replacement.  In addition, most of the electric locomotives needed to be replaced.  The Milwaukee Road estimated the cost of the upgrade to the system at around $39 million.  After considerable debate among the railroad’s board members, they decided to scrap the electrified system as too costly and purchased additional diesel locomotives.  Milwaukee Road maintenance crews began removing the wires in 1973.  The section including the Primrose substation ceased electric operations in 1974.  The railroad sold most of the substation to salvagers, who demolished the buildings.  In Montana, only four of the railroad’s thirteen Montana substations escaped the wrecking ball: at Loweth west of Lennep in Meagher County, the Gold Creek substation in Powell County, the Ravenna station between Missoula and Drummond, and the Primrose substation ten miles west of Missoula.

The Milwaukee Road was the third and last transcontinental railroad to cross Montana.    Established primarily to haul freight, the Milwaukee Road faced declining revenues throughout much of its history in Montana and declared bankruptcy in 1925 and again in 1938.  Competition from the Northern Pacific and Great Northern railroads along with cyclical drought and two economic depressions prevented the Milwaukee Road from becoming the cash cow the board of directors envisioned in 1909.  After a short boom during the Second World War, the railroad again found itself in dire economic trouble, finally abandoning its lines in Montana in 1980.

Primrose Substation

Section 31, Township 14 North, Range 20 West was initially claimed by the Northern Pacific Railway as part of its 44 million acre Congressional land grant in July 1864.  Joseph and Maria Martel had acquired the property from the railroad by 1900.  They sold it to Patrick and Louise Lavoie on the last day of December 1901. The Lavoie’s sold a strip of Right-of-Way to the Chicago, Milwaukee, & St. Paul Railway Company in March 1907 and then sold 1.4 acres to the railroad for the substation in August 1915.

Officially designated Substation Number 10, the Primrose Substation was designed by Milwaukee Road Railroad architects and followed a standard design that was utilized in Montana, Idaho, and Washington.  A railroad contractor built the substation out of brick according to the standardized design in 1915.  It was the flat-roof architectural design that embodied eleven of the thirteen substations in Montana.  The substation was operational by 1916.  The station housed two motor-generator sets and employed three men, each working an 8-hour shift.  The men lived on-site with their families.  The Milwaukee Road established Primrose as a station in 1914 and named it for the plant, which grew profusely in the area.  In addition to the substation, the Primrose Substation complex included a water tank, pump house, operator’s car body, shed, two residences, an outhouse, tower, coal and oil house, stone house, ice house, garage, and a two-story section house.  The railroad tracks, ties, ballast, and other appurtenances associated with the railroad were removed in the 1980s.

In 1951, the railroad automated some of its substations, including Primrose.  It was operated remotely from the Tarkio Substation about forty miles to the west.  The Primrose Substation remained in operation until 1974, when the Milwaukee Road ceased electrical operations and concentrated on diesel locomotives.  The railroad itself declared bankruptcy in 1980 and ceased operations in Montana.  Contractors removed the tracks and associated materials in the 1980s and the substation was sold to a private individual.  The current owner purchased the building in 2013.


Megan brought the kids to visit and took some pics! (click here)

Megan brought the kids to visit and took some pics! (click here)

My sister brought the nephews up recently and took some great pics of the property and us all playing in the snow.  Right now I wish it was gone so I could built some stuff, but it sure was fun last weekend!


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Profit and Loss

first rabbit sale

Well, it’s been a tough couple of weeks.  If you’ve been following the blog you know that we’re trying to build a legitimate homestead.  Not only do we want to sustain ourselves and serve farm-to-table meals at our B&B, we want to build a real agricultural business as another revenue stream (albeit small) for the business.  We’ve set numerous goals in this respect, and we’ve had some great successes and some disappointing setbacks.

First off, the bad news: I killed our rabbits.  Not in like a crazy, Lenny kind of way, but because of my inexperience raising them I made a mistake.  Apparently you can’t move rabbits to fresh veggies and fruits right after weening, and though I thought I was being extra nice, what I was actually doing was messing up their digestive system.  Now I know better, but I feel horrible about those baby rabbits dying.  We still have our breeding stock but we sold our previous litter to farm supply store in town.  Also, our incubated chicks hatched, but only five hatched and survived out of the 40 eggs we incubated.  We broke open the rest of the eggs after we were sure they wouldn’t hatch and found that almost all of them had fully developed chicks in them.  Another problem to solve, saving up eggs for a second run starting next week.  Time to rebuild…


On a lighter note, we made our first sale as a business!  Murdoch’s (the farm supply store in town) buys rabbits to resell, they told us our first batch was very well-behaved (I tried to handle them whenever I fed them).  This is a huge milestone for us, we wanted to start developing income streams from the property and here is one!  We also attended a cheese making class to learn how to use our goat’s milk (part of our goals for this year is to raise goats), and have had so much fun making cheese together!  I’ve mentioned it before, but you Missoula folks need to attend the GFS class on cheese making, this fresh cheese tastes so much better than stuff from the store.

Next week I will be in Seattle while Erin is attending a small business incubation seminar here in town, called Start-up Weekend!  We already ordered her some business cards and worked on refining the business plan, she’s going to kill it!  This week we have a meeting with architects to plan the development of the inside of Primrose Station, and our National Registry of Historic Places app is finished!  Thanks to the historian, Jon Axline, for the awesome application he put together for us, we learned so much about the history of our property!  If we didn’t have feet of snow on the ground we’d be busy building raised beds to prepare for the impending growing season, but that will have to wait.  Guess I’ll learn more about brewing beer while I wait…


Oh yeah, some family and friends came to visit and I got to do some of that stuff only uncles get to do, like dragging the nephews behind a tractor on a plastic lawn toy!


It’s Easy Being Cheesy!–Or–It’s March, Let’s Make Cheese!

Well, Al and I had an epic weekend last week.  We saw family and friends (check out some photos by M. Helm here!), played with our baby chicks and kittens (the cute name for baby rabbits remember) and most importantly for the sake of this blog, learned how to make homemade cheese!! 

Everyone should do this.  EVERYONE.  Unless you’re lactose intolerant or live under a bridge with no access to a heating element, but even then, it’s so easy that you could probably just light a bonfire in a garbage can and make your own, fresh cottage cheese.  If you’re my friend in real life, consider yourself tagged in this post already, because I will expect a report of how awesome your cheese was by next weekend.

Here’s what you do to make the best cottage cheese you’ll ever eat:

  1. Buy the freshest whole milk possible.  Try to find a local source for quality milk, if you can’t, use what you can find as long as it’s not ultra pasteurized.  If you live in western MT, whole milk from the Kalispell Kreamery works great.  I said WHOLE milk, we’re making cheese, so indulge a little (also the cheese making process is basically separating the milk fat from the water, so whole milk yields more cheese).
  2. Prepare the following 4 ingredients: 1) 1 gallon of pasteurized milk, 2) 3/4 cup white vinegar, 3) 1 & 1/2 tsp kosher salt, 4) 1/2 cup half & half or heavy cream.
  3. Make sure you have the following 6 items on hand: 1) A large stainless steel pot (without a copper bottom) 2) Cheesecloth 3) A large, stainless steel slotted spoon 4) A colander 5) A waterproof digital thermometer (an analog thermometer will work, but you will have to calibrate it every time).  6) A small bowl (large enough for 2 cups of cottage cheese)
  4. Begin!
  • Pour your gallon of milk into a pot on medium heat.
  • Heat to 120 degrees and remove from heat.
  • Pour in vinegar and stir slowly for a few minutes.
  • Cover it and let it sit for 30 minutes.
  • Next, pour your mixture into the colander, lined with cheese cloth.
  • Let it drain freely for a few minutes.
  • Then, pick up the corners of the cheese cloth, twist, and hold them together as you gently run the wrapped cottage cheese under cool water for three minutes while you gently squeeze it and move it to cool it down.
  • Shut off the water and squeeze it to get it dry.
  • Move it from the cheese cloth into to a small bowl, add salt, and stir to break up the cottage cheese.
  • Stir in half & half or heavy cream right before you serve.
  • Enjoy within 5 days and impress your friends!!

PRO TIPS (for the detail-oriented):

  • Before you pour your milk, dust off the outside of the jug, so you don’t get any dust in your cheese.
  • When you rinse your cottage cheese while it’s wrapped, it will still drain white–that’s okay!!  We’re not rinsing off a paintbrush, we’re making cheese.
  • You can use the extra whey (white run-off) on your plants!
  • If you don’t want to gather all the supplies on your own (like cheese salt, rennet, and citric acid for the fancy cheeses that we’ll show you soon like mozzarella), you can order a cheese making kit here for $24.99.
Cheese Making Supplies
Cheese Making Supplies


Cottage Cheese

Disclaimer: These hairy man arms are not mine, but Al’s.

Cottage Cheese

Hey apricot tree, you look hungry for whey…


It’s February! Let’s Make Sauerkraut!

Little did you know that the delicious, fermented product sauerkraut has über-amounts of nutritional goodness!  You were probably too distracted by that giant 3.81 lb polish sausage from Costco to realize it’s relish actually has supreme health benefits.

Here’s the breakdown:

  • ImageSauerkraut is a natural probiotic!  That means it has healthy bacteria that will aid your digestion.
  • Sauerkraut is high in vitamins C, B, and K.
  • Sauerkraut is used to treat stomach ulcers; so if you have kids, a mortgage, student loan debt, or are trying to start your own business, you’ll probably want to keep some on hand.
  • Random Fact: During WWI, we nicknamed sauerkraut “Liberty
    Cabbage” because we were pissed at the Germans.

Here’s what you do:

  1. Buy cabbage.  We bought red and white.
  2. Chop up the cabbage in long, thin pieces.  I used 1.5 cabbages.
  3. Add salt.  I used 4 tablespoons of table salt.
  4. Use your hands to massage the salt into the cabbage until it begins to change texture and become limp.
  5. Add any other veggies that you might want to ferment with your sauerkraut.  We added white onions and carrots.
  6. Pack the veggies into a jar.  Place cheesecloth over the top of the jar so that it can breath and release gases, but still stays secure.
  7. Check on your sauerkraut multiple times the first 24 hours to make sure there is enough juice and its staying underneath the brine.  If necessary, weigh down your sauerkraut with another dish to keep it underneath the brine.
  8. Check on your sauerkraut and when it’s sauer enough, eat a bunch and get rid of that nagging ulcer!  It can take anywhere between 72 hours to a few weeks–just keep checking!

What a Difference a Day Makes

I have been home in Montana for just under 48 hours and my life has transitioned nicely from one of strict schedules and expectations to a girl’s dream–a life of cuddly, warm animals, fresh, homemade comfort food, and a sexy man to share it all with.

Erin - AIT graduation

I graduated from my Advanced Individual Training (AIT) in construction on February 14 as an Honor Grad.  So, that felt pretty good–but it felt better to be sitting on my first of many flights back to Montana.  Luckily, (or as destiny would have it) I sat by a fantastic woman on my flight between Atlanta and Salt Lake City.  Her name was Diane, she and her husband had retired to eastern Montana, and from what she told me, they carried between them five decades of experience working in the field of therapeutic recreation.  Since we are seeking the right individuals for our Board of Directors and our long-term goal is to serve veterans who may be having trouble finding work, reintegrating back into their communities, or being treated for physical or mental health conditions–an expert in the field therapeutic recreation could be quite valuable to our long-term work.  As with everything, we’ll pursue that relationship and see where it takes us.

Free-range omelet

When I woke up on Saturday morning, I saw my first chick hatch (Valentine–who is doing fantastic, by the way).  Then, I ate a fluffy free-range Oglethorpe / Bearded Lady omelet.  It felt a little bit awkward cracking eggs for my omelet whilst listening to the cheep of baby chicks trying to break free from their egg prisons, but I shrugged off my distaste for the situation and focused on how great it was to eat such a great, healthy meal provided to me by the same chicks that I had held just a year earlier.

Next, Al’s mom and I bought all of the supplies for a brooding box for our chicks.  This is too easy.  You need: pine shavings, a heat lamp, and a food and water source.  To offset the $50 we spent at Murdoch’s getting our brooding box together, we’ll be hitting you up to vote for us in the Murdoch’s Love Your Pet photo contest (winners get a $50 gift card) when our photos come online, so be prepared for that!


I also bonded with our two new litters of kits–if you don’t have baby rabbits in your life right now, in the middle of this cold, blustery winter, you are missing something in your life.  Rabbits = Love.  I used to think owning a rabbit would be some terrifying experience out of the creepy cartoon (that IS NOT for children) Watership Down.  Thanks mom, for exposing me to this little beauty on the left. It is from the movie, based on the book by the same name by Richard Adams marketed as, “The timeless classic novel of exile, courage, and survival,” or as we call it in my house, “Why Erin was irrationally paralyzed by fear at the sight of cute, cuddly rabbits.”

Luckily, as every normal person knows, rabbits are not indeed the blood-thirsty, angry, demonic spawn of Satan.  There is no easy transition here, so to wrap this champagne induced post up, having baby animals reminds you that spring (and your childhood issues) are always lingering around the corner.

P.S. Mom, I no longer have nightmares.  Love you!  Erin



Meet our new chick Valentine!  I got home from my military training at 1am Friday, February 14 and Valentine was born at 10:54 am the next morning, right on schedule.  So, I slept in (hallelujah!), then woke up to meet two batches of kits (baby rabbits) and then saw my first chick hatch!

We’ll keep you up-to-date with all the new babies around Primrose Station.  It’s 8:54 pm and we just helped another chick out of his/her shell.  More tomorrow…

Our first chick hatching from our incubator!
Valentine getting out of his/her shell.

Gaining momentum in the right direction.

Sign-Primrose MT substation

I’m constantly referring back to our new year’s goals to make sure we’re on track.  Every time I check and find I’ve made progress I just want to go faster and try harder; having concrete goals and then seeing us working towards them just adds fuel to my fire!

Besides the written goals specifically addressing projects at Primrose, I’ve also been tracking some business development goals.  The education I’ve gotten from the Oklahoma State University Veteran’s Entrepreneurship Program has really shortened the timeline on a lot of my goals for developing Primrose into a successful business venture.

First off I’d like to thank OSU, the faculty, the students, the alumni, and the donors that made that program possible.  I’ve been with 22 other entrepreneurs all week brainstorming with and learning from some of the most successful and effective people I’ve ever met.  At the end of the program we left and went our separate ways, but we’ll be collaborating online and with mentors this year to keeping pushing us towards our goals.  That being said, in the interest of accountability and telling the story, I decided today that I should write it all down.

Marketing and Branding.

So far we’ve secured our URL and begun a blog (obviously) to track the story of building our homestead and business.  The blog is providing something else too that’s important to businesses these days: search engine optimization.  If you’re going to have a business with an online presence (and I can’t think of one that you wouldn’t want to have one), the most reliable way to make sure that someone looking for you, finds you and not someone else, is producing content for your site and updating it often.  Search engine optimization companies charge you money to do little tweaks and tricks to rocket you to the top of a google search for specific words, but because search engines are constantly changing the way they rank sites, the best way to make sure you stay on top is to provide original content and update often.

Additionally we started collaborating on logo design, I’ll throw up our latest at the bottom of the page when we’re finished!  I could write a book about my feelings on logo design and graphic design in general, but in the interest of brevity I’ll just say this: less is more and keep it simple (think about printing).

Goals: develop our brand, keep consistent with updating the blog, solicit local subject matter experts to provide some homestead and entrepreneurship targeted content, refine our business and marketing plan.

outside-no windows-Primrose MT substation (3)

Primrose Station.

One big part of our project (arguably the biggest part) out here is building Primrose into a farm-to-table B&B.  That’s going to require a LOT of funding and work.  We solicited a historian to prepare our national historic register application, and it will be done soon.  We’re excited to preserve this historic piece of the old Milwaukee Line and develop it in a way that we can share it with visitors to Montana and members of our local community!  I can’t wait to read the application when it’s finished, I’m sure it will have a lot of cool facts about the property.

Goals: get on the national historic register, have an architect draw up new plans to reflect our vision for the building, get cost estimates, secure funding to start work.


Last year we grew vegetables in raised beds, planted trees, planted bushes, planted Merlot grapes, etc.  We started raising chickens and rabbits (holy cow are we ever going to meet our rabbit production goals!).  Now we need to take our experience from last year and build on it.  Luckily we have some friends in town that are very knowledgeable about food production and they’re going to be helping us out  I went to a farm business class at the local extension office, and we’ll be attending the rest of the series together when Erin returns.  Erin applied to NRCS to get us help setting up a greenhouse on the property this year.  I applied to the Veterans to Farmers coalition and last Friday they chose an advisor for our endeavor, so we’re very excited to work with them to accelerate our production goals at Primrose.  When all is said and done we want to be producing enough that we can feed all the B&B guests and have enough left over for monthly events and a roadside stand or farmer’s market sales.

Goals: get a greenhouse, plan out our aquaponics system, purchase neighboring land to increase our production, sell enough farm products to be considered an agricultural property to qualify for certain grants and loans.

In addition we’ve got some bigger goals, like forming a board, getting involved in the community, planning monthly events out at Primrose, etc.  Make sure to check back next week when our first incubator-load of chicks should be hatching!  Thank you to everyone that has supported our efforts so far, from helping out at the building to commenting on the blog!


The Gift Economy: Recession Proof and Responsible


“All mankind is of one author, and is one volume; when one man dies, one chapter is not torn out of the book, but translated into a better language; and every chapter must be so translated…As therefore the bell that rings to a sermon, calls not upon the preacher only, but upon the congregation to come: so this bell calls us all: but how much more me, who am brought so near the door by this sickness….No man is an island, entire of itself…any man’s death diminishes me, because I am involved in mankind; and therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls; it tolls for thee.” -John Donne (1572-1631)

No man is an island indeed.  Although I’ve striven in life to learn as much as I can, I’ll never scratch the surface of the vastness of human knowledge.  Although I’m sure I could merely survive on my own, at least for a while, I don’t know how fulfilling it would be (or what my quality of life would be like).  Modern society requires interaction (if you don’t believe me check your W-2), but how and why we interact is ours to decide.  My recent work to get “back to the land” has had an interesting side-effect: I’m also getting back to humanity.

The concept of a gift economy is not new, and it’s actually debated frequently by people who have useless college degrees.  The concept is simple: humans do things for one another out of a feeling of obligation and responsibility to each-other (unless they are sociopathic) and if you expand the number of people who you have helped, you’ll expand your circle that will feel obligated to help you.  The more cynical among us might stick on that point, but let’s not.  I don’t help people to make them feel obligated to me, I help them because I already feel obligated to them because we are both human.  The wonderful side-effect is that when I am down, or life takes a bad turn, or I need help with a project in an area I have no expertise, someone will come to my aid.

It’s the old concept of the barn-raising.  Nobody can do that work alone, so everyone within a few miles comes to help raise your barn.  You serve food, knock out a heavy chore in a day, and all of a sudden you have a grand, useful structure on your property.  Having that big beautiful barn is going to increase your prosperity, and you can now use it to help raise others’ barns.  This type of communal work increases your sphere, meeting people with special skills that you may really need some day.  What does it cost in today’s dollars to build a big beautiful barn, in time and money?  That is an important question, and the reason we should work hard to help others, barter work and goods when we can, and grow our communities together.

Dollars are important for a market-based economy: they allow us to exchange unequal goods and services and allow us to save our effort in a jar for a later day to be exchanged.  This is very convenient, especially for those that print dollars, for they then can then print “effort” to exchange for your goods or services, without having to actually work.  What happens is that the amount of effort put into the economy has stayed the same, but the dollars have increased, and they are always equal.  If the total economy contained $40 and four hours of effort, you could say that hour you worked was worth ten dollars.  When someone prints $40 more and throws it in the pot, without four more hours of work, it causes the value of your effort to be halved (while giving them $40 worth of your effort for nothing).  This is the sad part of a credit based economy, we will all always be playing catch-up because every hour we work is consistently devalued by “stimulating” monetary policy, and it is leading us into further economic depression.

All that aside, a way we can insulate ourselves from this phenomena is by trading our work and goods with each other, those things hold constant value.  We can also bank our excess now in the gift economy, in case we need help later.  If the economy became so bad that a dollar was worth absolute zero, I’d require a little help from my friends, but I would also be ready to give it!  Another way to protect yourself from reckless fiscal policies is to buy a productive piece of land to live on.  If everything goes south, hopefully you can at least grow your own food.

Another way that working together can benefit us is the economy of scale.  Big companies don’t buy or do things one-at-a-time, and that’s how they do things cheaper.  Getting together with your circle to do group buys, or work together on projects instead of individually, can benefit everyone.  Imagine the cost per ounce of every person buying their own canning equipment, heating their own water, and spending their own hours canning jam.  Now imagine one person owning the equipment, everyone dividing up the work, and heating water once.  It just makes sense for us to find more and better ways to work together!  This could apply for any number of homesteading activities, like gardening, making soap, canning, collecting seeds, etc.

In this vein I’m excited to announce that a few friends from town will be helping out with the projects at Primrose Station this year.  I’m relatively inexperienced in the growing area so our friends Dawn and Mike are really going to be valuable sources of information, plus they can help us grow food!  In exchange for providing land and water and food, we’ll gain the assistance of some experts and help with labor.  More importantly, we can run this homestead as a community, and not an island, because the value of our human relationships is paramount to our success and happiness.  Plus, isn’t it more fun working on a project with your friends instead of trying to do everything alone?


A Poor ($80,000!) Decision


I wonder why more people aren’t opening their own businesses today.  I think that it’s because our population is so segmented that people don’t have the dreams, vision, or drive to do it.  I have to admit, I spent my twenties “going with the flow” without a clear plan for my future.  I went from decent job to decent job until ten years had passed and I realized I was still sitting at a desk without any new, concrete plans for my future.

It is necessary to dream your life into reality.  Dreams are the most powerful and exciting part of my days now.

It’s only when you have confidence in yourself and you remove every mental barrier to your potential future that you can open yourself up to dream big.  I believe in the success of Primrose Station so deeply that it makes my heart warm and gives me the energy to not be dissuaded by the obstacles and challenges that will come our way.

Granted, I am not in Montana right now, doing the day-to-day chores like Al is, but I have my own challenges here in Mississippi.

When Al and I got married, we moved to California so he could attend a military school and I decided that I might as well use that time to further my education.  “…Might as well…” being the significant phrase in that sentence.  I’m pretty sure that my decision was based on a combination of (a) feeling competitive with my friends who were getting graduate degrees (b) feeling like I was lacking something without one, because we are in a tough job market these days, and (c) feeling a desire to travel internationally (and The Monterey Institute of International Studies does have the word international in it).

The irony is that I got the least marketable degree possible for my life.  Overall, I could count the decision to go to grad school (with it’s $80,000 price tag) as an EPIC FAIL.

It should be pretty obvious that a graduate degree in International Policy with a focus on Nonproliferation and Terrorism for someone living in a small town in Montana doesn’t make sense.

Now, Al and I discuss this sometimes and justify it in the following ways: (a) you learned a lot and bettered yourself (b) you met some really good people (c) you can get a PhD now and work at the university…but to be 100% honest with you, I’ve always thought that paying for an education is bullshit.  In our society, it may be essential bullshit, but it still smells like a sewage treatment plant.

Don’t get me wrong, I LOVE going to school, but we all know that degrees are pieces of paper that cannot and should not define us.

And, on top of that, $80,000 is a lot of money to work with. $80,000 could have gotten us well on our way to having a functional building.  We probably could have had our radiant floor heating, windows, plumbing, and electricity by now.  And, Alton would not have had a wife whining about living like a hobo for nine months.

So, to compensate for my moronic decision to spend $80,000 that I didn’t have on a degree that I didn’t need, I enlisted in the Army National Guard.  Now, $50,000 of my student loan debt will be paid off over the next eight years by someone besides me!!  Thank you Army, hooah!  I moved from one challenge to a completely different challenge and now I’m in Mississippi learning how to become a 12W, Construction and Mortar Specialist–remember this is “the wife” writing this, so I went so far out of my comfort zone it was like I was jumping off of a cliff deciding to commit eight years of my life to military service, then learning a job that is in a male dominated field.  Yet, the decision to go into military service to learn construction fits so perfectly into my life that everything makes sense again.

I can’t wait to write some posts about laying concrete, building walls, and framing in buildings.  Al is the prepper in the family, but now that I am learning a trade and not just pushing papers, we can work together to better our future and make an awesome working homestead.  In this instance, a few wrongs did make a right, and that is the life of an entrepreneur–to confidently move forward without knowing what the future holds, because as we evolve and adapt, our plans will evolve and adapt until we become more sure about what we want and who we are.  Take a chance on yourself, it will lead you somewhere interesting, even if its somewhere you didn’t expect!

And stay tuned for new chicken coops and rabbit hutches when I get home!


Let’s talk about chicks, man.

Big Fat Mike

Today I started expanding our chicken family to meet one of our 2014 goals out here at Primrose Station. It’s important to us to incubate, hatch, and grow our own chickens for a few reasons. First of all we love the chickens we have, a good mix of different types leaves our egg baskets looking like easter all year. Second, we want this project to be sustainable (and somewhat self-sustaining), I feel that saving some of your eggs to sprout new chickens from your “root-stock” is just like saving seeds from your favorite heirloom tomato. It doesn’t hurt that if half of my first batch of eggs hatch, it will be cheaper than buying that many chicks, and now I own the equipment to hatch subsequent sets of chicks at no cost.

Let’s take a look at what it takes to “roll your own”:


First off you’ll need an incubator. Farm Innovators offers a few options, I chose the 4200 model because it regulates the temp better with an element and fan, plus it includes an automatic egg turner. Egg turning is something you have to remember to do every day up until three days before hatching, this auto-turner will save me from having to remember to turn them, but more importantly will keep me from having to open the incubator as often and causing temperature fluctuations. Mark the sides with x’s and o’s to keep consistency and see which ones you’ve turned already that day, you can even put x’s and o’s on your calendar to see every day what side is supposed to be showing.


Let your eggs get to room temperature, if you stored them in a cool place, so that the incubator can get them up to the proper temperature faster.


You’ll need to bring your incubator up to your ideal temp and let it run while you make small adjustments to the temperature knob, then let it run for a few hours to make sure it’s set correctly. For chicken eggs you’re shooting for 99-100 degrees, and the analog thermometer built into the incubator lid isn’t calibrated or accurate enough to rely on. Get a probe thermometer that shows tenths of a degree, there are plenty of little holes in the lid to probe all over inside. I picked up this little number at Target (and used cash so my identity didn’t get stolen).


Before adding the eggs you need to put water into the troughs molded into the bottom of the incubator, this will help keep the humidity up for your eggs. Use warm water so once you get the eggs in the incubator will get to operating temperature faster. Once you put the eggs in the auto-turner it will be impossible to see the white troughs in the white base under the white egg turner, so I put some food coloring in with the water to make the troughs more visible (and patriotic!).


Set the egg-turner into place being mindful to line the corded corner up with the notch. This egg turner can hold 42 regular eggs, and you can order different sized trays to accommodate different types of eggs.


Put your eggs into place!


At this point it will take a while for the incubator to get back up to temperature, just remember to keep checking and make sure it doesn’t need more adjusting. Add water when you need to, monitor temps, and in 21 days you should have chicks hatching! In 18 days take the egg-turner out and let the eggs rest on the screen inside so the chicks can settle into place and get ready to bust out of their shell!

Pretty simple, although I did leave out some things that are covered in-depth in the instructions that come with the incubator. Three weeks from now I’ll post a follow-up with some fresh pics and the success rate for our first hatching. Fellow chicken farmers, please share incubating pro-tips in the “comments” section below!


Montana, “The Last Best Place”

If you’re from Montana, like Al and I are, you will know that we Montanans take tenacious pride in our state. We are home to Glacier National Park, Yellowstone National Park, the Rocky Mountains, and a stable economy during an unstable time. We like to hike, fish, camp, and drink beer. We work hard and we play hard.

Celebrities come here to live on ranches, or write albums and books. Bikers drive through to get to Sturgis with a stop by the Testy Fest, which is such a wild party that it was featured in a Chuck Palahnuik book. We have fifteen ski resorts, twenty-one microbreweries, and just over a million people in the whole state.

We often tolerate people from other states, and welcome them with open arms only if they are willing to adapt to our way of life and our values—if you can put in a hard day’s work, drink a beer with us, and don’t want to take anything away from this beautiful state that we love, we can become lifelong friends. But if you mess with the charm, beauty, and magnificence of Montana—we’ll have words. 

When Al and I discuss our dream for Primrose Station, it is with this kind of protective mentality in mind. We are protective of the open space near our property, so we want to purchase more land to maintain its beauty. We are protective of our health and welfare, so we want to reconnect with the land and animals around us so that we are eating food that we have had direct contact with. And we are protective of the legacy that we leave our children and future generations, so we want everything we do to be thoughtful and long lasting. In addition, we in no way want to build this dream alone.

Places that steal your heart include more than natural beauty; they include good people. My experience working and living in Missoula has been so positive that we’re staying there even though there aren’t a lot of high paying jobs and our “international airport” only flies to Canada. 

My expectation for the next year, is that we will connect with people already working in cooperatives, coalitions, and networks across the state that value local meat, produce, and products. These folks have already been investing their time and energy into getting healthy food distributed all across our valley, and we are excited to be another spoke on the wheel of this food distribution network.

The closest thing right now to a “food hub” in our area is a (cough!) gas station! Our competition will be Monster energy drinks and M&Ms and that’s okay…we just hope people will also stop by our roadside stand to have some fresh berries and buy a dozen free-range eggs—laid for them by our Bearded Ladies and Ms. Oglethorpe.

I feel like we’ve just opened ourselves up to an extended family of people that we haven’t even met yet. So, we’ll be here, working hard/patiently waiting for you to come pay us a visit. Here’s to good health, new friends, and Montana! 


Adjust fire…

Chickens and Fruit Trees
Chickens and Fruit Trees

I’ve been greedily devouring any information I can get my hands on regarding farming, homesteading, even B&B business planning in an effort to be as prepared as possible for problems that could arise. Of course through this process we are always refining our business plan and our goals. Recently I was looking up some info on the Missoula County extension office website and found a flyer for a seminar on starting a small farm and I decided to sign up. The info was good, but the most benefit came from being in the same room with 15 people all with the same type of goal we have: to produce healthy, organic, and local food products and value add products.

At the end of the seminar I stayed late to talk to a few of the other beginning small-farmers and exchange ideas, and one subject that came up was the idea of a “food hub”, or specifically our location becoming a “food hub” for our local area because we have the space, will presumably already be retailing our own produce, are located smack in the center of a 20 mile diameter circle with no food retail at all, and are conveniently located right off a main thoroughfare. I think it’s a great idea and as we move forward I’m going to be looking at the feasibility of setting up a small retail stand/area to carry products and produce from other local small farmers to maximize value for our customers and work together with other folks starting out just like us.

The process for us so far has been to “just do it”. “Lean start-ups” just do it. We can’t wait for years to save enough money to build out everything at once, nor do we want to. An incremental process will allow us to start small and slow in all areas of production and find out what we really like and what performs well in our model. Chickens are a great example, we just had seven chickens our first year to learn about them, decide if they were worth the effort for us, and develop systems. Now that we have been working with ours a while we were able to make an informed decision about whether to expand our chicken operation, and we are as we speak! Taking this approach to every facet of our homestead will minimize our exposure to financial risk and flatten the learning curve.

During my weekly phone business meeting with the wife we decided we want to get all of our land into production this year, why waste it? We want to offer areas of our property that won’t be used by us this year to folks in our area that maybe don’t have any space for a garden, but want one. We’d like to set up a kind of share-cropping deal with some local folks so we can get a little food in exchange for the water and electricity, and provide them with a place to grow their own food or animals!

My year is going to focus on planting trees. We need to get that done this year because they need time to get established and grow. In addition to trees I’m going to be setting up raised beds to grow a few different high-dollar-per-acre crops so we can see how they perform and make a decision about what we want to grow out here long-term.

Stuff happens, and things change. It’s exciting to be living on this property and growing it, and growing with it. I’ve learned so much this last year and can barely sleep at night thinking about the potential this venture holds for us. I’ve got a lot planned for this summer, from planting and building to networking in the community and focusing our brand. Stay tuned because I’m going to be hitting y’all up with a Kickstarter later this year to purchase a small still that we can use to produce alcohol from our fruit trees, I intend to let others use it for a fee or a small share when we get it up, running, and licensed.

Anyone interested in homesteading, backyard chicken ranching, small-scale farming, etc., take a look at your county extension office’s website for some helpful information and opportunities to find like-minded folks to bounce ideas off of.


Nose? Meet Grindstone…


The week in review!

First off, I went back and read some of our previous posts and lately it sounds like everything is going smoothly. In reality there are always setbacks, but I prefer to focus on the positive. I intended to post a tutorial the other day on making some awesome chicken waterers that actually keep the water clean, and everything went great until the very end. The valves I purchased won’t stay closed without a certain amount of water pressure, so now I need to order different valves. Also I came home today to find a large excavator parked in the front yard (it seems people see that area as a good place to park or turn around), next time I’m going to just open the door and lock Big Mike inside the cab.

Weekly successes include: moving the rest of our belongings from the house in town we sold, started working with the bank to purchase some neighboring property, got the frost-free yard hydrant installed so watering will be MUCH easier this year, and buying an egg incubator.

Next week will begin our first round of incubating our fertilized chicken eggs! We are waiting to do a run of twenty, and I have 16 saved, so after tomorrow we should be ready. All of our hens produce very unique eggs, so it’s easy to tell who they came from, and we have a good mix from all the ladies. This first round will bring us very close to our goal of hatching twenty more chicks this year to increase our production. Since we don’t expect all the eggs to hatch, it may take two runs to hit our goal, but it’s early in the year so we’re not concerned, we’ll get there!

The baby rabbits are growing so fast! They are already venturing from their nest to find their mother and feed! We learned a bit about rabbits recently, most importantly that you need to protect your bucks from the does when they are getting ready to give birth, our lop pulled a ton of his fur off to build her nest. We separated everyone, and I built another rabbit cage so they could cool off and he can heal. This year we hope to build two buildings on the property, one a much larger chicken coop, and one a building to house our growing rabbit operation. At the rate they multiply, we’re going to have our hands full!

As our homestead grows we’re going to need more and more feed for all these animals, so I’m trying to come up with some creative ideas to save money and use waste. I intend to approach some local restaurants and bakeries and propose trading fresh eggs for waste, or just taking it off their hands instead of letting it go to the landfill. I’ll also continue saving all our food scraps for the animals, some days all they eat is the cuttings and peelings from meals we prepare. If anyone else has any good ideas on this front please post a comment!


2013 Photo Review

Dawn and One of Our Bearded Ladies
Dawn and One of Our Bearded Ladies
A Music Video on the Roof--Grandma's Little Darlings
A Music Video on the Roof–Grandma’s Little Darlings
Fixing a Leak
Fixing a Leak
Our First Fence
Our First Fence
A Pantry
A Pantry
Heat in the Bedroom
Heat in the Bedroom
Gonzaga's Old Basketball Court, or Our Flooring in 2014
Gonzaga’s Old Basketball Court, or Our Flooring in 2014
Gonzaga's Old Basketball Court, or Our Flooring in 2014
Gonzaga’s Old Basketball Court, or Our Flooring in 2014
Al's Dinner
Al’s Dinner
A Generator for Electricity
A Generator for Electricity
Gary Busey
Gary Busey
Chickens and Fruit Trees
Chickens and Fruit Trees
Our First Garden
Our First Garden
Our First Kits
Our First Kits
The Making of a Modern Homestead
The Making of a Modern Homestead
Bedroom Windows
Bedroom Windows
2013 Photo Review
2013 Photo Review

Simple? Steps to Living Your Dreams


The most liberating day came for me last year when I realized that I wanted to be an entrepreneur. It was a paradigm shift. I observed my whole life in a new way. Everything I did became more meaningful and important. Every decision I made (or Al and I made together) was a strategic to move us together or myself forward toward a new goal and challenge. And every ounce of effort I put into my life, I realized would pay off somehow, someday.

I’m sure that you all know people who seem to have it all figured out. I’ll give you an example to illustrate the person who highlighted this for me.

Her name is Emily. She is my childhood friend from elementary school. And even though I moved away when I was eleven, I remember her vividly, because we learned how to type together in third grade.

Emily and I both excelled at typing. I remember memorizing words in my head by “typing” them out to practice, because I took it that seriously. Our scores were always within a few points of each other. Since this is my blog though, I’m going to say that I definitely beat her at typing every time–in accuracy and speed–when I was eight years old.

Fast forward to college and Emily becomes a stenographer. A stenographer?! I honestly did not even know that was a real career. Google it–it is, and they make good money, especially if they own their own business and contract themselves out.

I am in no way jealous of Emily (who is now in Asia becoming a certified yoga instructor). Instead, I am inspired by her. Every time she conquers a fear, it makes me want to become more fearless.

So, here is some honest and hopefully helpful advice about how to live out YOUR dreams, whatever they may be. Hopefully we can inspire people by never giving up on ours…

1. Know yourself and be confident in what you know

From the type of ice cream that you like, to your style, to how well you manage your finances, get yourself on lock down. You might need to begin by honestly evaluating where you’re at. So…
– Take a week out of your life to do a gut check with everything you do and make sure you are in line with that still small voice inside of you.
– Continue doing what you enjoy. Your love of __x__ will inspire others because you will give your hobby/career a life that no one else can. If you do not enjoy anything, work on step one and dig deeper.
– Move forward every day. Create goals and remind yourself of them as often as possible. I don’t believe in creating goals that I know deep down I’m not going to accomplish. If you do this, you have just given up on yourself without even beginning. Set attainable goals, achieve them, then set harder goals.

2. Do something that scares you every day.

I had no idea how many things scared me until I began to seek out my fears:
– I was afraid of running outside because I thought I would sprain my ankle. Fear conquered.
– I was afraid of chickens because when I was little our rooster chased and pecked at me. Suck it, fear. Hello chicks.
– I was afraid of starting a garden because I didn’t want to kill all of the plants and feel like a murderer. (Thanks Al for helping out with this goal!) Garden #2 will be coming this spring.

Knowing your fears is also a part of knowing yourself–so look at the good, the bad, and the ugly in the face and begin to work towards the life you really want. Your dream life. Then, give your dreams some traction and think through how to make them achievable and attainable.

Plan. Move forward. Work hard. Don’t give up. Watch your dreams unfold in front of you.


Paid In Full!

Our Lop

Well today is the day!  After working our butts off and some well timed good luck, I’m on my way to pay off the loan on Primrose Station!!!  I’m sure my lovely wife wouldn’t have believed me a year ago if I told her we’d be done that soon, but then again, I wouldn’t have either.

This year one of our major goals with an eye to self-sufficiency was setting a budget and doing good financial planning.  Soon Erin is going to write a much more in-depth article regarding financial preparedness, so I won’t go into any of that here.  Suffice to say that when we started intensely tracking our spending, we found a lot of income that had just been flying out the window each month.

In other news, don’t tell my wife but there is still one connection to make to actually get the water from the well into the building, the contractor didn’t get the hole bored through the foundation in time and some of the ground froze.  Back to work!  Later on today I’ll be down in the hole again with a propane heater thawing things out so I can get that project off my list!

I finally had the opportunity to meet our baby rabbits and they are so cute!  I feel like Lenny, I just want to hold them, and pet them, and love them…  We had to separate the mother and kits, so now our buck is tending to the other lady rabbit, so we will have another litter shortly!  Unfortunately the little guy is in rough shape, the other doe pulled a bunch of his hair out to build her nest.  Glad I’m not a rabbit… also glad my wife isn’t one.

The weather isn’t great, I’ve been on the road for a month, I have so many projects to do before my wife can come home, but I finally feel so relaxed jettisoning a large portion of our monthly debt load.  If you’ve read the New Years Resolution post please leave some feedback about our upcoming project and/or more ideas (I’d like to build some cold frames too) to make this homestead a success.  Would love to hear from some other homesteaders!




Anyone that knows us knows that we have given up a lot of creature comforts over the last year to attain our goals. At the end of last year I was still stationed in California and Erin had already found a job up here and moved back to get us established, and during that time to save up money I lived in an RV. Parked on the street like a crazy person. 1SG hated it but as he noted it “wasn’t technically illegal” so he “had to let me do it”. Not only was it fun, like camping every day, but it did free up a lot of money to pay down debt, get our projects in Montana rolling, and fix the RV up to be our base for a bit when I finally moved home. I archived the experience here for those that are interested: The original forum thread this page was born out of..

We’ve had a lot of challenges with all of these projects, but I’m confident we’ll succeed, we will obviously do almost anything to make sure of that! This year is going to be a huge year for us as we expand our homestead operations at Primrose Station and learn as much as we can about self-sufficient and sustainable living. Thanks to everyone for all of their help and encouragement!

Also, I need to get my hands on some sugar beets if anyone has a few laying around…


New Year’s Resolutions


1. Grow our family of animals to be 20 chickens and 50 rabbits without purchasing any new chicks or kits at the store. (Kit is short for kitten, the term for a baby rabbit–cute attack!)

2. Host our 1st annual 4th of July celebration. Complete with a BBQ, bunting, and fireworks.

3. Build new homes for the chicks and rabbits so they no longer have to cohabitate.

4. Purchase the neighboring property to expand our homestead.

5. Stay active and prioritize our fitness by hiking, running, and working out.

6. Pay off Primrose Station.

7. Expand our garden.

8. Plant 50 fruit and nut trees and berry bushes.

9. Construct a working bathroom.

10. Get Primrose Station on the National Historic Register.


Babe! Merry Christmas! I Got You Running Water.

7 Gallon Aqua-Tainers

You know that moment when you’re really excited about a great idea? Finally wearing those sexy shoes out, taking your child on a large roller coaster for the first time, the family vacation to Disneyland, or moving in with your life-long best friend…then, your feet start to hurt, your child begins bawling, the stress of buying a $15 pickle and waiting in a 3-hour line makes you want to jump on a large firework, and…you no longer have a best friend.

Yea, you know what I’m talking about. The exhilaration of the great idea becomes reality. And sometimes reality looks directly into your eyes and picks its nose.

We moved into Primrose Station last year in April. I will never forget the honeymoon stage of the first few nights there. It was so romantic. We built a fire…inside the building. We drank wine and watched the sun set. We turned on a propane lantern and read before going to sleep. It felt like we were camping—because we were literally living in an RV inside our crazy 5000 square foot windowless monolith.

I felt like I had a pretty good attitude all things considering. We did not have running water. We did not have electricity. We did not have windows. Don’t even get me started on those other creature comforts like HOT water, toilets, or refrigeration. I secretly stashed clothes in the lockers at work and showered there every day.

Now that I think about it, it was probably not-so-secret. I am not a very subtle person, so people probably noticed that I ran through the building in some kind of weird track outfit in the morning and were surprised when they saw me later in the day wearing something more work appropriate.

Since we didn’t have a refrigerator, we bought a $329 Yeti cooler to keep our perishable food in. Which leads me suddenly to the conclusion that this whole project may have been some kind of farce to trick me into getting Al all of the sweet gear he’s ever wanted. WHO BUYS A $329 COOLER?! I’m sure that Al will make a post someday about all of the technical aspects of the Yeti cooler and why it was so important for us, but for all of you husbands out there who think you can trick your wives into buying a warehouse somewhere to fill with all of the gear you’ve ever wanted…I’m on to you now. For the record, and maybe to make you jealous, he does also have: a riding lawn mower, two complete sets of power tools, and a tractor.

Since we didn’t have running water, we used 7 gallon Aqua-Tainers to hold our water and we carried it in from the water pump outside. I learned just yesterday that 1 gallon of water weighs 8.34 pounds, so those damn Aqua-Tainers weighed 58.38 pounds!! It is no wonder that on lazy days I would throw Al a cold can of chili to eat for dinner instead of lugging one of those giant jugs into the “kitchen” to make something more substantial.

Our Iveco Z-100

Since we didn’t have a toilet…

…I just want you to stew on that for a moment…

We had a toilet in the RV that Al used, but I refused to use. So, *TMI coming, click away right now if you have any respect for yourself at all.

If you’re still here, I’ll tell you what I did. Ladies, I peed outside. Every. Damn. Day. And Montana in April is not warm. Luckily, I have total control over my body (except when I run into or drop things), and I was coincidentally near functional toilets any other time I needed them. Try to put that into your iCal.

So, we survived our first Spring. I may have come to work looking like a hobo, but at least I had a job that had a locker room and showers. Al may have been malnourished, but at least he had new man-toys to cuddle him to sleep. And because every good husband wants to please his wife, my Christmas present this year was RUNNING WATER! And an AR (an Armalite rifle), but that’s a story for another day. Happy New Year everyone!


Electric trains come to MT. In 1915! Check out the video!

The building we’re working on turning into our business and home is an electric train substation built around 1915.  We’ve already learned so much about the MILW and our building, but I’ll wait until our historian finishes our National Historic Register application and post it here to make sure all the facts are 100% correct.  This video features one of the electric train substations in Montana, not ours but the station east of Butte, which is unfortunately gone now.  We’ve ended up with one of the last ones, so we’re committed to getting it registered and rehabbing the outside of the building.  How cool is it that Montana, Idaho, and Washington were all connected by an electric train line so long ago?


On Chickens…



Chickens are a great example of something that seems really difficult to do until you actually do it (it did for us anyway).  Every time I’m skeptical about trying something new, I just remember the anxiety I felt when we first got into “chicken ranching”.

Believe me when I say that we lost some sleep over these chickens, especially since neither of us had raised them before, so we were relying strictly on book knowledge and tips from the girl at Murdoch’s.   Chickens are actually quite easy to raise and keep happy, we even free-range ours during the warm season and they put themselves to bed in their coop at night!

Chicks, Man!

They’re so cute!  They’ll be cute for a while, and the best part is at this phase they are not only easy to please, they aren’t big enough to get into mischief.  To take care of hatched chicks you just need a brooder, food and water dispensers, and bedding.  A brooder is a box, with a heat lamp hanging about a foot above it.  Chicks have a fuzzy coat of downy feathers that keep them very warm, so set your heat lamp up above one side of the box.  You’ll notice the chicks regulate their own temperature by moving closer to, or further away from, the heat lamp.  You’ll also notice it’s just super cute they way they fall asleep standing up every few minutes, they’re so tired from growing!  Just make sure they have plenty of food and water (some sources recommend spreading feed in the bedding too to give them something to scratch for).

Ugh, Teenagers…

Five or six weeks in you’ll notice your cute chicks have grown into awkward teenagers.  Chicks grow really fast, you’ll be surprised how much they change from week to week.  Watching them grow up under your care is rewarding and fun, and by this point they are quite hardy.  Their cute downy coat will be replaced over time with real feathers, and at this stage they look a bit like they have the mange.  At this point we had ours in a coop running around and they loved it, although we did keep the heat lamp in next to their nesting boxes until their adult feathers had come in all the way.

Our Chickens


It can take around six months for chickens to fully mature, hopefully by this time you’ve identified all your roosters and given them away on Craigslist (just kidding).  Most urban areas that allow chickens don’t allow roosters, but if you can keep them we recommend one, he’ll protect the ladies and provide some order.  Having more than one rooster is a gamble, we had three total, and two of them ganged up on and killed the third.  Roosters are aggressive and “cocky”, and will chase and attack even large things like you…, or a truck.  Roosters’ natural “attitude” is something to consider if you have small children or other animals, but it was our experience that ours eventually learned we were above them in the pecking order.  Ready for eggs?  Now’s the time!  If your chickens get to this point and they aren’t laying there are some things to consider.  Is something stressing them out?  Is their diet sufficient?  Is it too late in the year?  Chickens will naturally stop laying in the winter months when the days get shorter, you can trick them into laying all year using timed lights in their chicken coop!  Do some research before you buy your chicks if you want differently colored or sized eggs, different breeds all have different characteristics, including number of eggs per year and even how much they’ll tolerate children.  If you aren’t handy OR want a head-start, buy a pre-built chicken coop with nesting boxes that are accessible from the outside, OR use a chicken tractor!

When feeding your chickens, remember that they’ll eat most table scraps (even egg shells, which are a great source of the calcium they need to make more…egg shells.).  Instead of throwing vegetable cuttings straight onto your compost, we recommend feeding them to the chickens.  This will improve your compost AND save money on feed.  It is NOT recommended to put large amounts of chicken droppings straight into your garden, it is very high in nitrogen and needs to be composted or “aged” a bit before use.

Chickens are surely worth the effort, after coddling ours all summer we now get up to five multi-colored eggs per morning!  Chickens are a great first step into homesteading and will become a valuable part of your homestead’s ecosystem, providing food, insect control, great compost, and a safe healthy alternative to cable television!


The Leap of Faith Between a Dream and Reality

Welcome Home

I will never forget the exact moment that Al told me about Primrose Station. He took me out to eat at one of our new favorite restaurants, the Lalla Grill, in Monterey, CA. He sat me down, showed me photos online, and started talking to me in a gentle but urgent way about his desire to buy this piece of property. His passion for this particular building was apparent by the way he thoughtfully crafted the argument that we needed to purchase this building—as soon as humanly possible.

I’d known a few important things about Al before we got married (which was just a mere six months before this conversation). He loved old brick buildings with a lot of history and character. He loved Montana. He was wicked smart and worked hard. He dreamed big and was tenacious about accomplishing his goals. So, when he told me he wanted to purchase Primrose Station, I said, “Great! Let’s work on saving up for a down payment on that property. It might take us 20 years, but I’m totally supportive.”

Fast-forward one year, Al had been watching the property online and mentioned that the price had dropped substantially a few days before. I was intrigued and asked him to look it up so that I could view the property again. He went to the realtor’s website and it had dropped again just that day. My entreprenereual husband saw this as an opportunity that he could not pass up and wanted to move forward any way possible—I, on the other hand, was scared shitless.

Fear is a funny thing because it freezes your brain and makes it impossible to think creatively, rationally, or dream big. I knew what Al and I brought to the table: an intimate knowledge of our local community, a strong work ethic, supportive friends and family, a sense of adventure, a love of learning new things, and a desire to leave a legacy for our family and our community—but—as with anything or anyone that you are intimately connected, I also knew our weaknesses.


The next 12 hours were a leap of faith for me…and a boxing match for Al. I chose to trust him in this decision and he navigated me through the process of “winning” the bid to buy Primrose Station. I had never purchased a vehicle, nonetheless a 5000 square foot historic landmark on a piece of land. I was in grad school. I had no income or savings. I was switching careers. I was a newlywed. He confidently rushed forward and I held on for dear life.  Now, this is not to say that I did not participate in the purchase. I did, every step of the way, but our attitudes toward the project were like oil and water. He wanted to win. I wanted to know that our future was still secure even if we did something as seemingly crazy as buying an abandoned train power station outside of town.

My sense of adventure (or ignorance), Al’s persistence, and some creative financial management enabled us to buy our dream property 19 years early and here we are! We have moved past that first important benchmark—which was to have a beautiful space in which to build a business and home. Now, we have a whole slew of other challenges/opportunities knocking on our door. But more importantly, we are ready to have you join us on this journey as we build our small business. We will be establishing the site on the historic register, making improvements to the building and the land around it, becoming more self-sufficient as we grow an annual garden and raise animals, and working to move forward every day.


Eek! We’re Starting a Business

Hummingbird Feeder

I’m Erin, the wife. I think that I can say that I am like many other women in this modern era.  In my twenties, I was moderately ambitious with my career and thought little of tending to a home. I was proud to have more than one kind of cheese to offer at a party where I distracted my guests with copious amounts of wine. I could make chocolate chip cookies and chicken. Most of the time, I shopped at the “cool” grocery store, with a bulk food aisle and organic, locally-grown produce. But–here’s the irony–I didn’t really know what made that grocery store so “cool”. I just knew that the products they offered were often too expensive for my meager wage, but I still wanted to shop there.

It took a few more years (and a lot of help from my patient husband) for me to truly understand the vibe that thoughtful, local  business emanated. It invested in local farmers. It created an inviting space to do a mundane chore. It smelled good, everything looked fresh, and as ridiculous as it sounds, you wanted to shop there because you would either bump into someone you knew…or bump into someone that you wanted to know.

So, now we are building our own business! We want Primrose Station to remind us of every beautiful, inviting place that we’ve ever visited. We will challenge ourselves by doing construction projects on the building, raising animals and food, and making this location as dynamic as possible. Join us on this journey as we report on our latest projects, skills, and adventures!


What’s our goal?

Primrose Station

This blog is all about Primrose Station, an ongoing project my supportive wife and I embarked upon just a little over a year ago. We know where we’re going, and this blog is going to serve as a reminder of where we’ve been, and hopefully will inspire and motivate others to dream big!

I’m Alton, the husband, and I’m really interested in self-reliance. My wife, Erin, is really into community. We found this piece of property and thought it would make an amazing home: plenty of space, out of town but close enough, beautiful historic building, and the price was right. As time went on we decided we’d really like to make a business out of it, to allow us to have the freedom of being our own bosses while also getting us more involved with our local economy and community. We’ve come to the conclusion that we’d like to expand into some neighboring properties to get a small farm going, while renovating the train station into a small B&B. To this end we’ve accomplished a fair amount in the last year, and we’ll keep pressing forward. I was accepted into the Veteran’s Entrepreneurship Program at Oklahoma State University, and that program is helping to refine the business plan and really get ready to own our own business. We planted fruit trees, started chickens and rabbits, grew our first garden, and bought an old 1939 Ford tractor. We’re learning how to farm while slowly moving forward on getting the station fixed up.

After this introductory post I’m going to post pictures and stories, how-to’s, links and info often. Anybody interested in entrepreneurship, homesteading, self-reliance, or old tractors, please drop us a line or stop in to MILW substation #10 some time (that’s Primrose Station) and say hello!