October 15, 2004  
 

 

Terry Anderson’s Montana Homestead

By Linda DuShane White

As is true of many multi-faceted SLAC employees, Terry Anderson’s (TIS) avocation is quite different from his graphics work.

Farmyard showing a barn Terry’s grandfather built in the early 1930’s. The two mountains you see in the background are West Butte and Gold Butte, and make up part of the Sweetgrass Hills bordering Montana and Canada. (Photo courtesy of Terry Anderson)

Anderson was born on a ‘dry land’ wheat farm in Montana on the high plains near the Canadian border. The nearest town (Chester, population 800) is 30 miles away by dirt road and the nearest neighbor is two miles away. ‘Dry land’ means the farm is not irrigated. Anderson says, “Whatever the weather brings, when it rains, that’s it. It’s a tough life. The area gets about 12 inches of moisture per year, which is considered arid and not suited for farming. But somehow a few people have stuck it out. They are a tough breed.” Anderson loves the place, loves to revisit his past. “After my dad died three years ago it sank in just how much the farm meant to me, and its link to our family history.”

Anderson explains his ties to Montana. “My grandpa came from Sweden to homestead his wheat farm in 1912. That first winter he lived in a canvas tent surviving on jackrabbits and coffee. The other Homesteaders called him the Little Swede on the Hill.”

Anderson believes his grandfather was misinformed by deceptive flyers sent to Sweden promising free fertile farmland to lure immigrants to populate the American West. “They needed to build a railroad across the Northern U.S., linking Chicago and Seattle. To do this they needed stops along the way and got the idea to use the Homestead Act. Farmers needed supplies, and little towns sprung up all along Northern Montana to help support the Homesteaders. It’s dying back now, going back to the prairie.”

Move from Montana

Anderson was first introduced to graphics as a draftsman/cartographer for the Montana Highway Department.  He then came to California and began doing technical illustration. “I remember when I came out here and found out that snow was optional. That was a real treat. The two things I don’t miss about Montana are the long cold winters and the constant wind.”

Terry Anderson with the family farm in the background. (Photo courtesy of Terry Anderson)

Anderson had heard of SLAC while still in Montana. Over 20 years ago when he saw an ad for a SLAC technical illustrator, he applied for the job.

His interests have taken some surprising directions.  “My younger brother has a PhD and MBA so he handles most of the business decisions and legal contracts.  I do all the planning and day-to-day decisions.  We have a couple of gas wells on the place and needed to negotiate new leases and easements. I knew nothing about the gas business but learned quickly.”

During the year he consults by phone with his cousin who leases the 420 acre farm. “I get a kick out of talking to him while he is sitting out on tractor or the combine during harvest. I know when I was a kid driving tractor you couldn’t hear yourself scream.  I certainly never imagined at that time being able to talk to someone on a phone while working the fields.”

Anderson’s graphic skills come in handy, too. Using a satellite image of the farm as a base he has superimposed all the information he has gathered about the place: crop information, gas well locations and production numbers as well as historical information about when land was acquired and from whom. “I can look at that map and tell you anything about the farm. It really comes in handy when dealing with the gas companies or talking with my cousin. Dad was always telling me things about the farm when I was growing up, but I didn’t really listen. It wasn’t until after he was gone that I realized someone had to pass on this information. Hopefully this map will be able to do that.”

This piece of Anderson family history is also American history, and Anderson works to keep it alive for future generations. People wonder why they don’t sell or why they bother fixing up the old buildings, but to Anderson and his brothers, “The way we look at it, our Grandpa and Dad spent their entire lives working on that place. The least we can do is keep it from falling down. I would love for my children to take up the reins after I am gone, and keep it going. As a young adult I remember telling Dad when he was about to retire to just sell the place. He told me he wouldn’t sell it, that he wanted to keep it in the family. I thought he was crazy. I guess I am, too.”  

 

 

 

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Last update Thursday October 14, 2004 by Emily Ball