This Montana Life: Martin City's Cabin Fever Days
February 04, 2009
"The project is considered economically feasible, subject to the development of its power market. Power installations should be made in advance of a promising power market."
— Abe Fortas, acting secretary of the Interior in 1944, in commenting on Sen. Mike Mansfield's bill to create Hungry Horse Dam
BY DAVE REESE
When they take to the streets in Martin City this winter for Cabin Fever Days, riding barstools on skis, betting on mouse races and laying wagers on where a chicken will "mark" a bingo card, most people probably won't realize that they wouldn't be there except for the work of Mike Mansfield some 60 years ago.
No, Sen. Mansfield didn't create Cabin Fever Days, a series of happenings this weekend that have been tamed from their bar-the-doors past to "family events." But Mansfield did introduce House Bill 3570 in February 1944, which led to the creation of Hungry Horse Dam, a project that spawned that rambunctious little town near the foot of the dam where people have been known to ride horses onto pool tables in local establishments.
Spurred by Kalispell newspaper publisher H.J. "Hungry Horse" Kelly, who saw the dam as a way to provide cheap power to run manufacturing plants in the Flathead Valley, Mansfield introduced House Bill 3570 "To provide as an emergency war project for the partial construction on the Hungry Horse Dam on the South Fork of the Flathead River in the State of Montana, and for other purposes."
It was either build Hungry Horse Dam or raise the level of Flathead Lake, a concept that raised a hue and cry from a group called Flathead Valley Citizens Committee. (Does that name sound familiar?) According to the 1944 minutes of House hearings on Mansfield's bill, raising Flathead Lake would have inundated parts of Kalispell and vital cropland that might have to be used in wartime (as if cherries were crucial to the war effort).
With the current energy situation, it's worth looking at how fast things got done back in the 1940s, when our dads and granddads ran the show. Mansfield initially introduced legislation to build the dam in 1943, and construction started in 1948 with Montana Gov. Sam Ford setting off the first round of dynamite. The dam, the nation's fourth-largest, took only four years to build. That's less time than it's taken to do an environmental impact statement on the widening of U.S. 93.
Martin City sprang up as a town to serve the thousands of workers building the dam, and the town had one of "the best girls' houses" in the valley, one local history buff told me.
There won't be any red lights. Just chicken bingo, mouse races and skiing on barstools.