Not every town along U.S. Route 12 in Montana is a ghost town. Nonetheless, elements of that eerie remoteness still seem to hang in the air of what are clearly more prosperous habitations.
This is how I felt this as we stopped off in Harlowton around midday to find a sandwich and milk shake.
It's a town with a distinctly Western feel, closer to the towns we have previously visited far to the south in Texas and New Mexico than any Midwestern settlement. Unlike Ingomar, here was a far more active sense of renewal too.
Certainly, there were abandoned buildings with boarded-up windows, but they gave no sign of further decay. Instead, it was clear that renovation was going on.
Much of the stonework showed signs of recent tuckpointing, and in places there was fresh paint. A small group of workmen were laying new paving stones. Recently opened or reopened restaurants and bars were doing business. Cars, as well as aged range trucks, were parked on much of main street.
I was happy to see that the repairs were dedicated to restoring the old facade of this charming town. No late 20th century make-over for this town; it still looked and felt like a relic of the 1950s.
That was probably the reason it shared some of that strange out-of-time atmosphere that I felt in the ghost towns. Modernity was not smearing away the character of this place.
This gladdened me. Increasingly, both here and elsewhere in the U.S., I have noticed more attention to history and to preserving the past that was in danger of being swept away in a tide of pre-fabricated McDonalds, Diary Queen and Hardys fast food shops.
(Part Two here)