Marooned In Montana – A Weekend Dedicated To A Woody Boater’s Rare Lincoln Continental


1961 21' Chris-Craft Continental Hard Top

This story really begins at the Warner Collection Auction in Winsted, Minnesota last October. That’s when fellow Woody Boater’s Paul & Karen Harrison picked up their 1961 Chris-Craft Continental to add to their impressive collection of antique & classic boats. This particular 21ft Continental is one of only 96 – 21 footer’s built by Chris-Craft in 1961, and reported to be one of only 7 built with the rare Gull-Wing Hard Top option. The Continental is also powered by a “Top of the Line” 430 Cu.In. Lincoln engine producing an impressive 275 HP which weighs in at over 1,200 lbs.

Paul & Karen also successfully bid on another period correct 430 Lincoln V-8 at the Warner auction, to keep for a spare motor just in case. Mike Mayer from Lake Oswego Boat Company hauled the Continental back to his shop near Portland, Oregon to begin the preservation (not restoration) work on classic Chris-Craft.

Fast forward to January 2011 when Paul received news that the 430 Lincoln motor that came in the Continental had some previous repairs to the block, and the motor shop recommended that a substitute block would be the best way to proceed. The decision to grab the spare Lincoln 430 ended up being a good call, as those old motors are not always shelf items…

What most folks don’t know is that transporting classic boats and motors across the USA / Canadian border can some times be challenging if you don’t accompany the boat or motor across the border. In this case, the easiest way to get the spare Lincoln 430 delivered to the motor shop in Portland was to deliver it to Kalispell, Montana and have it shipped by transport to Portland. In normal driving conditions, this is around a 4-1/2 hour one way trip from where Paul & Karen live in Calgary, Canada.

So on Saturday morning, Paul loaded up the motor and headed south for what was to be a quick trip down to Kalispell, Montana.

First Sign Of Trouble Ahead - The Rotary Snow Plow

Three hours into the trip, just after crossing the border into Montana the wind started to blow, which is not uncommon for this country, bordering the majestic mountains along Glacier National Park. But the 90 plus MPH winds barreling across the rolling hills were unexpected. The first sign of trouble is when you pull up behind one of those big rotary snow plows, cutting a swath through the snow drifts. But you think, it’s probably just this section of road and continue on… Did I mention that there’s not much of anything along this 40 mile section of Montana highway, and even when the road conditions are favorable you get the feeling of being out in the middle of nowhere – because you are!

No Problem - Just Keep It Between The Walls Behind the Rotary Snow Plow

Once the rotary plow cuts through the snow drift, you then follow behind the plow staying between the freshly cut walls of packed snow. Paul said, “In order to get 1 Ton truck through the drifts I had to stop and fold the side mirrors in” which he was glad to do to keep moving forward. “Then you just hope none of the vehicles ahead of you get stuck in the snow, and plug the only access through the drifts”.

The More The Wind Blew - The Narrower The Highway Became

Paul said that the howling wind was so strong that visiblity was becoming a concern, but if you stopped to wait for the rotary plow to cut through the next drift, the snow would quickly fill back in. Then it happened… Paul said…

“I have simply never been in anything like what I was in on Saturday. Semi truck blown off the road while sitting still. If you opened the door into the wind, it was tearing it out of people’s hands and bending it forward so it wouldn’t close again. I was driving a 2008 Chevy 3500HD Diesel Dually 4×4 with the 1200LB. engine in the back – probably no better rig than this for these conditions and it was hopeless.”

Paul was stopped on the highway, unable to move forward because a truck and ambulance were stuck, turned sideways ahead of him on the road, and he was unable to go backwards because the road was blocked behind him. With the snow drifting around his truck, he had no choice but to abandon ship and he was fortunate to catch a ride back to the nearest town – Browning, Montana.

When this kind of kayos enuses on the highways, the local motels fill up fast with stranded travelers. Paul was able to secure one the last available motel rooms in the small town of Browning where he would wait out the wind storm. This was on Saturday afternoon… Paul said he was thankful to get one of the last rooms in town at the popular Western Motel. The only problem he had was that the door to his room kept blowing open from the howling wind, but he just worked around it.

The Popular Western Motel In Browning, Montana

The wind was so strong that it ripped the front of this building off in Browning. It was reported that the wind gusts reached in excess of 130 MPH that day.

The Building Wall Was No Match For The Record Winds

Somebody decided to park a grain truck where the missing wall was for security.

The Grain Truck Worked As A Temporary Fix For The Missing Wall

On Monday afternoon (two days later), the roads were now being cleared from the storm and Paul was able to get back to his truck, with the help of a local tow truck they would attempt to free the truck that was almost totally encased by the blowing snow on Saturday.

Note That The Truck Is Parked On The Road - Not The Ditch

He said that in all his travels thorughout the years, he has never experienced anything quite like the wind packed snow that was drifted around the truck.

Feb. Wind Storm

It Was Amazing How The 90 MPH Winds Engulfed The Truck

Feb. Wind Storm

The Six Foot Snow Drifts On Monday

By the time they reached the truck, the plow had cut a swath around the truck and with the help of the big wheel loader, they began the task of first digging out the truck so the tow truck could hook on and winch it out.

Always Use the Right Tool For The Job When Digging Out

Paul said… “I didn’t get out until 4:30 PM on Monday. A 5 ton wrecker could not move it an inch. He was trying to winch it out of the snow and the front end of his truck was lifting 3 feet int he air. We got a chain and used a huge loader the Dept. of Highways was using to clear the road – the chain broke. We got a bigger chain and got it out, just as that chain broke. Believe it or not, the loader was really having to pull to move it. Remember, my vehicle never left the pavement – this was all happening in the middle of the road.”

The Wheel Loader Finally Works To Free The Truck

And after 2 days, Paul was back on the road to Kalispell and delivered the big Lincoln motor to the shipping depot, who would then transport it to Portland, Oregon.

Finally Unloading The Big 430 Lincoln V-8

On Monday we spoke to Paul about his experience, and mentioned that it would be fun to do a story about his adventures over the weekend, but certainly didn’t want to make fun of his unfortunate experience. Some times that just what it takes to get the job done… In an e-mail Paul said,

“No problem – I often find myself chuckling at the uncomfortable misfortunes of others – the key being uncomfortable, as opposed to serious”. “That is all this was – a pain in the butt… but not harmful or even expensive, really. It was an unforgettable Valentines Day for all the wrong reasons, but still noteworthy”.

“I haven’t read the (Tuesday) story yet, but this might be an appropriate time to introduce the fact that, for me at least, 4 weeks TODAY is when I am on the plane to Tavares, to the warmth, the boats, the Woody Boater House!”

“As you might imagine, I have thought about Florida quite a bit over the past 4 days.”

Thanks Paul for sharing your story with us… every time you fire up that 1961 Lincoln Continental, just for a split second you will remember what you had to endure to get her preserved and back in the water where she belongs!


14 replies
  1. Jim Staib
    Jim Staib says:

    I have been to that area in June and some roads are still closed because of snow! Tire chains on the big wheel loader sorta tell you what you are up against.

    • Texx
      Texx says:

      When I spoke to Paul on Monday night, he said there was an elderly couple parked on the highway waiting, with the nose of the car pointed straight into the howling wind. The snow quickly got in under the hood of the small car and the engine stopped running because of the packed snow…

      They eventually had the car hauled back to Browning and it sat in a heated service bay for a day to thaw out!

      Most of the locals just took the whole thing in stride…

  2. anonymus
    anonymus says:

    Snowblind boating in a hulking diesel dually that met it’s match. Note to self to bring the cross country skis next time. YOU MUST STRUGGLE TO SURVIVE!!!!

    • Texx
      Texx says:

      Stay tuned to Woody Boater later this week, we are working on a story about how folks moved around the country in the winter before the days of Rotary Snow Plows and Snowmobiles…

      Back in the 1930’s & 1940’s.

  3. Scott Robinson
    Scott Robinson says:

    I must be nuts, we are selling our home in Southern California and moving back to New Hampshire. Oh, they just shoveled off the roof of our home in NH, It only had about 2 feet of snow ! Scooter

  4. Rick
    Rick says:

    Gotta ask the obvious. Was there nothing in the weather reports about this coming? I think Paul is lucky things turned out as well as they did. Stay safe.

  5. Mike M
    Mike M says:

    Rick…I asked the same question. The weather report called for “wind”. Apparently the skies were blue and the sun was out. That’s when it happened…..the wind kicked up and all the snow was from drifting.

  6. Paul H.
    Paul H. says:

    Weather forecast – Good question. When I left Calgary the forecast was for warm temps and strong winds – this is a “Chinook” in our area, and very typical (and welcomed) during the winter. Calgary is on the leeward side of the Rockies, and winds like this are just as common in MT on the leeward side of the moutains there. Southern AB is a windy place, and the weather conditions there are often shared with the Montana side of the border. On Sat. AM the wind was up but it was clear with a few clouds. Temps were anywhere from 30-45 Deg. F for you fahrenheit types.

    By the time I hit MT, the only thing that differed was that the winds had exceeded what was normal and there was black ice all over. This is normal for here. It was clear, but the snow which had fallen a few days earlier was being blown about. There was no new snowfall at all during this episode, it was all blown from the MT mountains and off the plains going eastward. The temperature during this time was right around freezing, but the oddity was that if you were 40 ft. in the air, the visibility in most cases would have been perfect. At ground level it was near zero most of the time.

    I don’t like to take unnecessary risks any more than the next guy and I check weather and roads, but a forecast for a clear sky, strong winds and and warm temps in the winter means good to go out here. Wind is the least of the possible issues. I have driven all over western Canada and the US for about 30 years and always try to take precautions.

    It is worth noting that I later found out the road I was on had been closed. The sign was not there when I went onto it – I was later told that the original closure sign had been blown away by the wind, but here were no cops or barricades. When I was returning to town in a wrecker after the truck was stuck a new sign was there – it was a pile of rocks blocking the road with the sign affixed to the front. I wish they put that there in the first place. In Canada, and probably in most spots in the US, there are gates in place on most roads that have frequent weather closures, but not here.

    Rick is right about shi*t just happening sometimes. No matter how hard we try, we can’t take all risk out out of everything we do. Winter can still be perilous.

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