On her way to countless hikes in Glacier National Park over the years, Joyce Siblerud Schmautz would always marvel at the engineering wonder of Going-to-the-Sun Road. The fascination had a personal element: two of her uncles, Harold and Maynard Siblerud, helped build the iconic alpine highway nearly a century ago.
Schmautz, a third-generation Montanan raised on the same farm as Harold and Maynard, started diving into historical texts to learn more about the road, as the idea of writing her own book was coalescing in her mind. Then she put pen to paper.
“The words just came,” Schmautz recalled recently from her Kalispell home.
What resulted was the text of a children’s book. But the words sat for years in need of an illustrator. Schmautz ultimately found one in her own family: her daughter Kadyn Schmautz Paya, who majored in art in college and works as a graphic designer. And, as fate would have it, Paya had newfound freedom to pursue such a project last year, courtesy of the pandemic.
“With the lockdown, I had a lot of extra time,” Paya said.
Paya painted with watercolors every day at her mother’s dining room table. She grew up hiking frequently in the park with her mom and other family members, and later worked for four summers in the park, including as a ranger. That intimate familiarity with the area is evident in the illustrations’ details and landmarks.
Moreover, in addition to Maynard and Harold working on the road, the family’s history is further intertwined with the park through Kadyn’s paternal grandfather, who was one of the architects of the Logan Pass visitor center.
“We feel a lot of connection to the park,” Paya said. “For those of us who love the park, the book is a neat way of transferring that love to the next generations.”
The book is called “Who Built the Road, Daddy? The Story of Going-to-the-Sun Road.” As its title suggests, the narrative is framed through the lens of a boy asking his father about the history of the Sun Road. The pages oscillate between modern scenes of the boy and his dad exploring the park and historically accurate depictions of crews building the road, based on both Schmautz and Paya’s research.
As part of her research, Schmautz examined photos from her uncles’ time working on the road.
“You just had to be so brave to work up there,” she said.
The book, which Paya said helps fill a void in children’s historical park literature, has received thumbs-up reviews from local Glacier aficionados such as George Ostrom and Blake Passmore, who has written a guidebook series about climbing in the park.
“I loved this book,” Passmore said. “The story and illustrations are great. There are a lot of hidden gems in this book to keep a child’s interest. I will be reading it with my grandchildren.”
Paya’s two brothers are Seth and Will Schmautz, co-founders of Nomad Global Communication Solutions, and the boys’ inquisitive questioning while exploring the park as kids provided inspiration for the book’s storyline.
Schmautz wasn’t sure if she would ever see her dream become reality. In addition to the usual logistical challenges of getting a book in print, she has undergone four brain surgeries, including one from which she was recovering last year while Paya painted.
“It feels like magic, like a blessing,” she said. “I didn’t know if it would ever get to the point of getting published.”
Paya said it was a special experience to work on the project with her mother.
“It’s really neat to see this dream she’s had for so long come to fruition,” Paya said.
The book is available anywhere books are sold in the Flathead Valley, as well as Glacier National Park gift shops and Amazon. For more information, visit the website of publisher Farcountry Press at www.farcountrypress.com.