Uncommon Ground

Neighborly Times

It’s little wonder people across America want to live in the Flathead

By Mike Jopek

“Shake his hand son,” the father said to his boy as they’d walked over to see if I needed help after the farm van broke down on the corner. The man had taken a break from mowing the lawn with his rider. I recognized the corner yard as the place friends lived decades back.

The father and son walked back across the street and said, “If you need water come on over.” I thanked him, it was a generous offer, and stuck my head back under the hood.

I was bringing supplies back to the farm from up north when the old trusty van decided to stall and I’d coasted to a stop on a back road in Whitefish to avoid the main traffic barreling down the highway.

The father offered suggestions that the fuel filter was clogged or the fuel pump failed, both reasonable ideas considering the age and make of the rig. After referring to the internet on my phone, I checked the fuel pump fuse and tried to find the filter near the frame without success.

I mumbled to myself on why the owner’s manual was not in the van. Somewhere I recall was an auto fuel shut off switch which was common on this model van. But where?

The neighbor whose yard I had coasted upon came outside. He’d been working on his auto in the driveway earlier. “Fuel or spark,” asked the helpful voice? I guessed fuel but was unsure, could have been either. “Does it whine when you turn it over, like the timing slipped?” “No,” I remarked.

He chatted a bit longer while I poked my head under the hood and fender well, trying to locate the fuel filter that I suspected refused to allow gas to pass from tank to injectors. The neighbor knew what he was talking about. It was clear he worked with his hands and mind.

A short while later a friend, who recognized the van stranded, shouted, “what happened?” I shrugged my shoulder and smartly said it broke down. We stood in the shade of the tree and chatted a bit about nothing, about everything, like friends often do.

I was nowhere closer to getting the van back to the farm. I cranked the starter again. The battery held strong. Plenty of juice but no fire. Just the dreadful cranking noise of a rig that won’t start. How obnoxious, I thought. How annoying.

An hour later I was back on the farm with the van full of supplies, thankful that the day had turned better after the broken ordeal. I thought back to the neighbors who came outside. All were friendly, super nice.

Small town Montana is still full of good, friendly people behaving like neighbors to strangers. It felt good. It was the reason we moved to town decades earlier in the late 80s. Hard to beat a small town of good people, especially one with great public amenities and outstanding access to the Great Outdoors.

We’ve got it good in rural Montana. It’s no wonder everyone and their dog wants to live in town. It’s hard to find authentic places to live with friendly people, great public schools, open lands, easy access to helpful hospitals, and even an international airport within a minute’s drive.

Give locals a chance and they’ll do right by you most every time. Our neighborhoods are full of good people, living lives, and raising kids. There’s no other place we’d rather live than in rural Montana.

We see those fast, authentic smiles appear on the faces of locals when they find friends in town. It’s little wonder people across America want to live in the Flathead. It’s still a real place, one where strangers help strangers.

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