The Unofficial Mayor of Gardiner, Montana

August 30, 2017

Kara Kornhauser

This afternoon, while wandering around Gardiner, Montana, I had a fascinating conversation with a man named Joe in a coffee shop. Joe was probably around 90 years old, and was willing to share some of his life experiences with me and a few others. I struck up conversation with him by asking what he did for a living and how he ended up in Gardiner. He told us that he had come here working for the railroad. He had been transferred to many places around the country and this had been his fourth time in Gardiner. He began working for the railroad company in Washington in 1954 and was hired after taking interest in the telegraph that they had in the railroad office. Once he was in Gardiner, he took people into Yellowstone on the train. He said that he enjoyed taking new groups of people to the park to see the wonder on everyone’s face. While he did like working for the railroad, he said that his first job running a dairy queen was by far his favorite. Joe Worked on the railroad in Yellowstone until 1975 when it was shut down and eventually torn out. He remained in Gardiner as their unofficial mayor, taking care of the town and making sure that the chamber of commerce fixed road signs, cut weeds and took care of things in general. Everyone in Gardiner seemed to know Joe and appreciate his spirit and care for the town and the people that live there.

My chat with Joe reminded me that everyone has a story, and if you never ask you may miss something amazing. Joe’s experience with the railroad also reminded me that along with helping settle the west, the railroads made places like Yellowstone accessible to more people. While this can be viewed as a positive and negative impact to Yellowstone and the west in general, it poses the question of who should be able to see these wonders and how accessible natural places should be.

If you want to know more about the railroad that used to run through Yellowstone National Park, follow the link.