Finding home away from home

Stephen Kalb-Koenigsfeld, Pioneer Editor
Wednesday, June 27, 2018

Betty Lemley and her 4-month-old Dachshund, Sully, pose in front of their Pleasure-Way camper. They travelled from Logan Township, New Jersey for this year’s get together (STEPHEN KALB-KOENIGSFELD / Big Timber Pioneer).

Gathered among their fleet of campers, the vagabonds gathered last week at  Spring Creek Campground south of Big Timber. Some might have noticed their armada flowing in and out of town for the past 10 days or so, helping themselves to the bounty of Big Timber’s business district.

Some came from western Montana, but most came from hours and timezones away, seeking refuge among others in their own Pleasure-Way vehicles. Many bought knick-knacks and keepsakes, but for most, there was an invaluable souvenir that had no price value: Company.

“It’s very impressive small-town patriotism and love for each other,” said Ron Ray, who traveled four days and 1,400 miles to Big Timber. “You don’t see it around St. Louis. The most we’d have is a fireworks celebration at the local elementary school on the Fourth of July, and you didn’t even talk to the people on the blanket next to you.”

Ray, who lives in a suburb of St. Louis, said he was floored by the small-town feel of the 2016 Sweet Grass Fest. Usually, the Pleasure-Way convention in Big Timber happens to be the weekend of Sweet Grass Fest. Because of some scheduling conflicts, this year’s get-together happened a week early. But not even that and a stout thunderstorm would shake the nerves of weary-eyed travelers. 

After being a part of the first gathering, coordinator Joan McDaniel said it’s becoming a yearly tradition. Her friend, Robbin Higgins, got the first Pleasure-Way convention together in 2016. After believing it was a one-year deal, Higgins enlisted in McDaniel to help organize the 2017 festival. This year, McDaniel took over after Higgins sold her Pleasure-Way and handed over the reins. 

“[Higgins] mentioned her summer home in Big Timber, and said I should come up here because it was founded by Norwegians and there’s a big influence,” McDaniel said. “I knew I wanted to come here, and when Robbin put out on Facebook asking people to come for the Pleasure-Way [gathering], I came up here a week early to see Robbin.”

McDaniel lives down at the campground all summer before heading back home to Chico, Calif., during the bitter winters. It’s a lavish life she lives, McDaniel is reassured, and  she keeps Big Timber in mind when she heads west for the winter. 

“There are special people here, and I’m assuming everybody who have businesses here have to go to work all year round,” McDaniel said. “And I think about that and tell the people here, that they’d love to see us come to town. Because I’m sure it’s hard to make a living in the winter time.”

One person McDaniel has shared that passion with is Betty Lemley, a retired flight attendant from Logan Township, New Jersey. Lemley makes the trek each year, and has since the gathering’s inception. Once unsure about making the two-third’s country travel, Lemley said she’s thrilled to have made it — and won’t be disappointed if she never gets to hop on an airplane ever again. 

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