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Montana Road Trip Inspiration For Local Author's Latest Work


How do you become reacquainted with your native state when you have been gone for 25 years?

Road trip.

And it became the most recent book, Fifty-six Counties: A Montana Journey, for author Russell Rowland.

Credit Farcountry Press

It was an idea first suggested by his uncle; travel the depth and breadth of the state, visit every county, and talk to the people that call that place home.

“Even though I grew up here I had sort of felt like I lost my connection with Montana when I came back,” said Rowland. “So I wanted to re-establish that. It’s a place that I love very much.”

Rowland decided that the best way to get reacquainted was to talk with the people who call the vast expanses of Montana home, so he hit the road, and visited each county.

Instead of a chapter on each county, Rowland looked at life of Montanans through its major industries of farming, ranching, mining, timber and the railroad.

“It is sort of a travelogue-slash memoire-slash social commentary,” Rowland said. “The book is a lot of things mixed together.”

He found vast differences among the counties and its residents (east v west, prairie v mountains, energy v timber); he did find a common thread.

“There’s this ingrained feeling of optimism in Montanans that things are going to work out," said the Billings author. “And if they just continue to work hard and do good, there is a real commitment to that kind of attitude that things will eventually turn around. It seems pervasive all over the state."

He did notice more of a mistrust in eastern Montana. He called it a wariness to “let you in,” born from a long history of boom and bust.

“I wouldn’t say they’re less friendly,” added Rowland. "They just take a little while."

Rowland is working on his next book. He calls it a memoir of his own, talking about growing up in Montana, focusing on the kind of pressure men in Montana and the West feel to be men.

Fifty-Six Counties is available through his publisher FarCountry Press, online, and in independent bookstores.

Kay Erickson has been working in broadcasting in Billings for more than 20 years. She spent well over a decade as news assignment editor at KTVQ-TV before joining the staff at YPR. She is a graduate of Northern Illinois University, with a degree in broadcast journalism. Shortly after graduation she worked in Great Falls where she was one of the first female sports anchor and reporter in Montana.