Hunter D'Antuono – A Selection of Written Work

THE MYSTERY BEHIND 'MONTANA BANKSY': Anonymous Livingston artist shares story behind beautiful works of natural guerilla art

April 2016

A notion exists that humanity cannot improve on nature — a sense that the aesthetic splendor the good, green Earth has already created cannot be groomed past what we already see. But one inspired artist, who happens to call Livingston her home, shatters that basic assertion. 

As of late, she is becoming known to the world as the “Montana Banksy” — a play on the title of the renowned British graffiti artist Banksy, whose spray-painted pieces spark a sense of wonder on the otherwise cold, drab and indifferent gray walls of the globe’s cityscapes. 

And just like the famous Englishman, our Banksy remains earnestly anonymous. 

Montana, being the wild place that it is, has inspired the Montana Banksy, or “MB,” as she goes by for short, to blend elements of the earth with human creativity — bringing out the most captivating aspects of both and enrapturing an exponentially growing audience every day, thanks in large part to social media. Something about MB’s work seems to resonate resolutely with anyone who senses even the slightest shred of the harmonious potential between art and nature. 

Her most recent and popular works have included a series of designs crafted from carefully color-sorted river rocks around the Yellowstone River’s frequented Carter’s Bridge fishing access. As of this week, an 8-foot-long rainbow trout still remains intact above the spring runoff on a sandbar on the east bank, alongside a bison and a figure of a galloping horse striding away from a pair of pleasing circular patterns. 

A butterfly, also borne of hued river rocks, is displayed in the sand just downriver from the bridge. In the wooded area adjacent to the Moja Campbell Dog Park next to Mayor’s Landing, the sprouting spring grass is swallowing a panda bear of MB’s making. As a geologist by training, MB’s affinity for rocks is evident, but her past works have integrated wood, sticks, snow, sand, leaves, bones and animal skulls.

At the suggestion of a family member, she now leaves a “calling card” on her designs — a solitary stone with an ornate, black “M” painted on it within the design. She is also responsible for the small painted stones places in random locations around Livingston bearing the same initial. 

MB, who agreed to be interviewed only via email to retain her anonymity, said she is more than a bit flustered from the spotlight.

“I am a bit freaked out by all the attention,” she typed on April 15. “I have always felt awkward around people, even eye contact is hard for me, which is quite honestly part of the reason I’d like to stay anonymous. People are hard for me ... I am much, much better with animals and nature.”

But even for one who feels challenged getting comfortable with humans face-to-face, she’s inadvertently forged a social connection much deeper, and with a fan-base far bigger, than she could have ever anticipated. 

MB has created nature art since her childhood. She grew up as a “farm kid” in America’s flatlands, moving around the vast expanses of the Midwest several times with her family. Her first land art projects were intricate pieces constructed from hay bales. MB would conjure a design and then enlist the help of her siblings to bring them to reality. 

Before reaching adulthood, her designs would cross many state and international lines. 

“In my teens, I made a giant sea horse, and a sea turtle, out of sand on a beach in Florida, and then spent the rest of the day watching the reactions of people who came across them,” MB wrote. “So, even though I was never formally taught, I was always doing art in some form, even if I didn’t realize it at the time.” 

Further south, the “Land Down Under” was adorned by one of MB’s first, and largest works. Uluru, or Ayers Rock, as it was more commonly known when she climbed it, is Australia’s iconic sandstone monolith.  

The climb took a lot longer than she and her brother anticipated, and the sun was sinking low. Their destination was a logbook listing past climbers that was across the mountain from where they’d ascended. To not lose their way in the dimming light, MB created a series of large arrows out of rocks on the top of the formation to trace the way back to their descension point.

She recalls the pattern she’d created in their wake as “this interesting, repetitive pattern” that was “very large, obvious, artistic and cool.”

“However, because of the scale of the line of arrows and how obvious they seemed,” she continued, “I had an attack of conscience, and so my brother and I wrecked each arrow as we went past it on our way back down the mountain.”

But she and her brother had been gone so long that their worried mother had assembled a team of rangers, who received them when they climbed down.   

“I think it made me realize that art was everywhere, and not just something I drew in my sketch books,” MB wrote. 

“That, and don’t climb mountains at night. It makes people worry,” she typed, ending the sentence with a winky face.

Her entrancement with Montana began early on, when she would head west to visit her grandparents, who lived in a mobile home on the banks of the Yellowstone. As an adult she’d settle in Livingston, where she’s lived for over a decade.  

“Even living, and traveling, in places like Australia, England, Europe and Russia didn’t dim the fascination I had with this place,” she wrote of Big Sky Country.  

Her desire for anonymity is rivaled only by her modesty. After sharing tales of her world travels, she expressed concerns in follow up emails, worried she might come off as “pretentious.”  

Her admirers have even started creating tribute rock art pieces alongside her work. An rock owl, not of MB’s making, appeared next to her Carter’s Bridge designs. It’s something she said she loves to see. 

One of her most popular works, the large rainbow trout, is 8 feet in length. Banksy said she’s found it takes her about an hour to piece together every foot of a design. She’ll often start sorting and stashing rocks for the weeks at the design site and will work as swiftly as she can during the twilight hours of the day, so she can limit her chances of being spotted.   

But perhaps the greatest beauty in her work stems from its ephemerality. The rocks of the panda will eventually be sucked back into the soil by the vegetation growing up through it, and the designs on the river will inevitably wash away. 

As for future pieces, MB said she already has the site for her next creation scoped-out. It will be in an unspecified spot in a frequented area of the Yellowstone.  

“Dog walkers, and other joggers, should keep their eyes peeled!” MB typed.  “And, of course, my @montanabanksy Instagram account makes it a bit easier to find my installations, too.”



CHARGING FORWARD: Local man shares life experiences with Gardiner students four years after surviving freak hiking accident 

April 2016

It was hunting season again. Eduardo Garcia hiked up Beattie Gulch, a prime hunting area just northwest of Gardiner. He knew the landscape of Park County intimately. 

About 3 miles into his excursion on Oct. 9, 2011, he came across an odd-looking dark mass on the ground. It was a dead bear cub. 

Garcia would later say it was  “just  out of curiosity” when he poked the carcass with his hunting knife. No one could have foreseen what would happen in the seconds that followed that seemingly innocuous action.

He would never use his left hand again.   

The Emigrant man said he remembered seeing his hand holding the knife and feeling heat through it. 

“Then it was lights out,” Garcia recalled. 

When he came to, he was looking up at the sky. He didn’t know how he ended up on his back. 

But he knew he had to find help. 

“I remember the sound of gravel under my feet, the sound of a meadowlark,” he said. 

It wasn’t until part way back on his trek to the nearest sign of civilization that he realized he’d been shocked by an electric current. He didn’t put two and two together until he looked down at his left arm. 

“My hand was a black, charred mess,” he said. 

Garcia would later learn the bear carcass rested on top of a hot power line on the ground, coursing with 2,400 volts of electricity. His metal hunting knife was a perfect conductor. 

Walking was a generous term for what Garcia was doing at that point. He could only shuffle through the sagebrush. Any misstep could be his last in his debilitated state.

He felt no pain — at least not yet. That would come four days later, once the shock wore off.  

When first responders arrived for Garcia, their consensus was he almost certainly wouldn’t make it. 

The shock had burned much of Garcia’s torso, tearing nine exit wounds throughout his body, with two particularly nasty ones on his scalp. How could such a burned mass of a body possibly house a soul for much longer? 

Paramedics said Garcia was talking but he wasn’t making any sense. 

Joel Byrd, an EMT serving the Gardiner area, on Wednesday told Garcia, “We found bits and pieces of you — burnt skin” all around the bear.  

A $42,000 medical flight later, Eduardo found himself in Salt Lake City for the advanced care he would need if he were to survive. Upon his arrival there, in good- spirits considering, he asked an EMT, “How am I going to get home tonight?”  

And as if his travails weren’t enough, during his time in the hospital Garcia learned he had Stage 2 testicular cancer. 

He’d spend the next 48 days in the burn ICU recovering from the accident and a year battling cancer, undergoing a total of 21 surgeries. 

The trek to recovery looked a lot longer than the shuffle off the mountain.

RECOVERY

Four and half years later, and five miles away from the site of the accident, Garcia shared his myriad of rich life experiences, both the good and the bad — and especially how to overcome the negative ones — to a rapt audience of Gardiner middle and high school students in the school’s gymnasium on Wednesday afternoon.  

The accident had taken much of his left forearm, and he now uses a prosthetic fitted with a hook. 

Garcia told the students about his 11 years as a cook on private yachts that took guests to every corner of the world. He relayed his childhood and teenage years growing up in Park County. He started out in the working world flipping burgers at Chico when he was 15. Food would become a central passion to his life. 

Never one to sit still, his insatiable curiosity and overall rebelliousness proved disruptive in a classroom setting. Garcia said he was “kicked out of every school in the county,” including the Gardiner School — twice. 

“I had definitely had my wires crossed at a young age,” he said. “Cooking was a way to stop stealing money from my mother.”

The accident wasn’t Garcia’s first missed date with death. He came within inches of being smeared by a semitrailer while bicycling on the streets of Seattle; he evaded Davey Jones’ Locker after falling overboard after dark in the middle of the Atlantic; and survived a poorly-timed hike that left him pell-melling off the slopes of an erupting volcano in Italy. 

Garcia is one of two things: either an exceptionally unlucky, or an exceptionally lucky, young man — depending on one’s bent on the oft-hashed “glass half full or half empty” query.  

His can-do attitude and “carpe diem” gusto exuded from him as he spoke in front of the projector, handling the mic with his prosthetic with ease. His speeches are organic and totally unscripted.

He asked students to close their eyes and find their pulses. All sat in silence, listening to their heartbeats for 30 seconds. 

“That’s the definition of life,” Garcia said. “That’s a miracle.”   

He encouraged students to lean on one another, friends and family when things get rough.

He and his twin brother, Eugenio Garcia, who accompanied Eduardo to the presentation, have a special slogan, the acronym of which comes out “like a Wookie sound,” said Eduardo — WAW, which stands for “Wake up and Win.”   

During the question-and-answer session, one curious student wanted to know how he opened and closed the hooked pincers at the end of his prosthesis. Garcia asked who else wanted to know. Every arm shot up in the bleachers. He explained it was done with an elastic cord anchored to a harness on his other shoulder. Shifting that shoulder shortens and lengthens the cord, opening and closing the hook, allowing him to clasp a range of items. 

Seventh-grader Chase Cunningham said Garcia’s presentation “definitely inspired her to travel the world,” adding, “I’m not going to stay here forever.”  

Garcia continues to cultivate his passion for food. He is the co-founder and lead chef at Bozeman’s  Montana Mex, where he creates all-natural Mexican food products. After his accident, someone with an enterprising sense of humor once gave him an apron with the phrase, “Don’t Poke the Bear.” 

Garcia’s story will be reaching an ever-increasing audience with a documentary called, “Charged: The Eduardo Garcia Story.” Garcia said the film is expected to premiere early next year. The trailer can be seen at www.ChargedFilm.com

“Take your lives and go kick some ass,” he said to the assembled Gardiner students. “Be the author of your own story.”  


The Second Golden Age of Craft Brewing

May 2014

On the patio, there isn’t a single free table, and for every occupied chair, there are twice as many foam-laced pint glasses glinting in the early evening sunshine.

Inside at the bar, long lines form next to two rows of eight taps. Offbeat names such as, “That’s What She Said," “The Flying Red Carpet” and “Bare in the Bush,” are inscribed on the handles.

Beer ranging in hue from an opaque black to a translucent red cannot flow fast enough into the empty glasses of thirsty customers. College kids rub shoulders with their professors and parents, while a toddler digs a blue plastic truck out a toy box in the corner.

This isn’t your traditional drinking establishment. Draught Works Brewery of Missoula, Mont. is just one of many craft breweries thriving in this booming industry.

“It’s almost become a way of life. It’s become more than just the beer itself, it’s a community-center hang out,” said Jeff Grant, owner and Master Brewer at Draught Works. “In Montana people often bring up that the taprooms are a different feel than a bar.”

The bustling taproom atmosphere reflects the statistics. According to the Brewers Association, there were 2,768 breweries in the U.S. in June 2013. All but 55 of those were craft brewery operations.  

A craft brewery is defined as a beer-making operation that produces a limited about of product and is independently owned. By 2012, new breweries were opening at a rate of one a day, according to the Brewers Association, with, 413 new craft breweries opened last year alone. The industry experienced 13% growth in the past five years, according to the association. Craft breweries now hold 10% of the market share by dollars in the U.S.  

Overall beer consumption is in a slight decline in the U.S., but “macrobreweries” are taking the hit,  including Anheuser-Busch, the largest U.S. brewer and the makers of Budweiser, which is experiencing flat or declining growth rates. Mergers and buy-outs have occurred among the larger brewing companies, but that trend is one the craft brewery culture actively resists.

“We don’t have any real plans of acquiring or being acquired. That’s not like our exit strategy. We aren’t like ‘Oh boy, we cannot wait until Anheuser-Busch gives us that 20 million dollar deal!” said Neal Leathers, one of the founders of Big Sky Brewing, Montana’s largest craft brewery.   

In the world’s increasingly corporatizing economy, microbrews represent one of the last bastions of businesses succeeding with a local-centric model.

“Consumers are interested in drinking locally. A lot of what is driving the movement are producers innovating and matching their products with their local environment in a way that’s very difficult for a large corporation to do,” said Bart Watson, P.h.D., a staff economist for the Brewers Association.

But because of exponentially increasing growth on top of already well-established competition, getting into the microbrewery business is not a guaranteed ride to a profitable business. According to the Brewers Association, 44 breweries closed last year.

“I certainly think there is going to be a lot of growth, and not everyone is going to be successful.  You better be brewing good beer, and your location has to make some sense,” said Leathers.  

Jim Lueders, owner of Wildwood Brewing, a smaller operation in Stevensville, expresses a more cynical outlook and feels the market may already be at saturation, at least in Montana. In order to survive, new breweries will have to brew exceptionally good beer while setting themselves apart in another way, he said. Lueders has achieved the latter by being the only brewery in Montana with 100% organic ingredients in its full line of brews.  

“There will be no room for any mistakes in the future,” he said.

Yet the industry is deep into a second golden age that is already much bigger than its first.  The last time breweries were anywhere close to current levels was in 1877, when the U.S. toted 2,011 craft operations.

H.R. 1337, signed by former president Jimmy Carter, legalized home brewing and planted the seed for the resurgence of the industry when corporate and craft brewing was at its lowest since the Prohibition Era. In 1971, there was only one craft brewery in the nation. By the end of 2014, there will be over 3,000.

But is the microbrewery industry careening into a bubble?  Watson doesn’t think so, at least not for the foreseeable future.  

“One thing people get caught up in is the number of breweries rather than the amount of beer those breweries producing,” Watson said.

Overall U.S. beer production was nearly 200 million barrels in 2013. Anheuser-Busch currently sells 92 million of the 200 million barrels of beer produced. To put that in perspective, Big Sky Brewing is a regional distributer and produced 47,000 barrels last year. More common small taproom operations such as Draught Works produced only 1,100 barrels.  

“Because there is so much beer produced by those big guys, a drop of one percent of one of those would support hundreds of small breweries,” Leathers said.  

But growth rates are far from consistent across the country.  The Pacific Northwest and northern New England enjoy the highest concentrations of breweries, and more continue to open.  

“It’s success begetting success rather than reaching a saturation point,” Watson said.

Vermont leads the nation in per capita craft breweries with one brewery per 25,000 people, compared to Mississippi which has one per for every 300,000.  

Despite the federal legalization of home brewing in the 70s, Mississippi was the last state to legalize home brewing in 2013.  There were three craft brewery operations in the state in 2012, according to the Brewers Association.  Robert Purviz, Brewery Ambassador to Lazy Magnolia, Mississippi’s largest brewery, said in the past 18 months six new businesses have opened, and he knows of three more in the planning stages.  Lucky Town Brewing Co. is one of newest breweries along for the ride.

“The culture has really started to grow between 2010 and now. Beer used to be this commodity. It was just ‘beer’,” said Chip Jones, director of marketing and sales at Lucky Town. “Now you see people who actually care about what they are trying.”  

Meanwhile in Montana, Jeff Grant slops around on the wet brewery floor among large chrome brewing vessels in his rubber boots. He is still in his early thirties and his enthusiasm for the business is unbridled.  

“I think it’s good lots of places are opening and the whole industry is thriving, he said. “Commercialized beer was around long enough.”


First Cast

A newbie's first fishing float down the Yellowstone 

October 2015

By day they wet themselves with the waters of the Yellowstone, by night with aide of a few beers in Livingston’s fine taverns.

This eclectic Montana town is the headquarters of an angler’s paradise. Unquestionably one of the best places to trout fish in North America, our corner of Big Sky Country offers the Yellowstone, a veritable crown ­jewel.

As a result, spotting a flyfisherman around here is about as easy as hitting the broadside of barns with a baseball batt – damn near impossible to miss.

But it wasn’t until last week that I made my first foray into perhaps the most iconic of Montana rituals: wetting a line from the seat of a raft. Sure, I’d floated the Yellowstone before, but in a tube, and I’d fly-­fished before, but only from the banks of modest Blodgett Creek in the Bitterroot Valley.

My editor, Justin Post, generously provided his boat, fishing gear and angling expertise to get me out on river. Livingston native Michael Delich was second in command, helping man the oars after putting ­in.

The experience was rolling like any other activity composed of three unmarried men – full of quips unsuitable for newsprint, coupled with canned refreshments unbefitting of a soda machine.

It couldn’t have been a more beautiful day. Sunny, with temperatures in the 70s, and the banks turned golden by the changing cottonwoods. 

The motion of the boat took some getting accustomed to. Even with the anchor dropped, the illusion of downstream movement persisted. 

In the meantime, the crew coached me. 

"Cast closer to the bank," said Post. "Now strip. Keep stripping." 

My deplorable casting was only further challenged by the heft of the streamer and a stiff 8-weight rod. But even when I got my line in range, there was nothing. Not even a nibble. 

"Look at that honey-hole over there, said Delich, pointing out the spot to me. "There's gotta be something in there." 

But there wasn't. 

The now-purple-and-pink Absarokas above reflected marvelously in the water. But still no fish for any of us. 

As we rounded the bend and drifted past John Mayer's riverside house, my hopes for a pan-fried trout dinner fizzled. 

We pulled out at Pine Cree – fishless, but still satisfied with an afternoon so well-spent.

But I'm already itching to get back out on the boat to catch a big, hungry brown. It's safe to say I'm hooked. 


The Pig on the Block 

March 2015

On a warm afternoon stroll through the neighborhood,  one expects to spot animals of the canid variety, or even an unruly human toddler, at the end of a leash.   

But on East Callender Street Friday afternoon, Hamlet the pig moseyed down the sidewalk with his owner, Liz Rogers, and her boyfriend, Steve Anderson. 

“He’s definitely not a dog — not even a little bit,” said Anderson. 

Hamlet, however, is fully house trained and seems to enjoy his walks as much as any dog, even if he takes them at a more leisurely pace.  

“If we make it all the way around the block, that’s big,” said Anderson. 

Weighing in at about 65 pounds, 4-year-old Hamlet is considered a “mini” pot-bellied pig.  

Rogers adopted Hamlet — pot-bellied pigs are her long-fancied pet — when she was in college. 

“I always wanted a pig since I was little,” she said.  

Hamlet attracted the attention of several curious passersby in the short time he was outside. Some stopped to snap photos on their phones, and even the local FedEx deliveryman, Joe Pipes, got out of his truck to offer the pig some dog biscuits, which he gladly gobbled up. 

Hamlet is a certified emotional support service animal, which allows him to don the red vest and the reason why Anderson said the inside of his ears are painted green.  

In many ways, Hamlet acts very much like a human, according to Rogers and Anderson. 

Not only does Hamlet consistently wipe off his feet on his own before coming inside the house, he also regularly opens the fridge in an attempt to help himself to a snack. He likes to keep clean and burrow into piles of blankets on the couch. 

“He chews gum, too, believe it or not,” added Anderson.  


The Man in the Tunnels  

April 2014

Dale Steinz sits in a worn office chair with purple fabric. There is no computer at his desk or much of anything resembling 21st century technology in sight, save his cell phone. The entire building drones loudly from the noise of giant fans. Creaks from an antiquated canopy of pipes and nozzles add to the mechanical symphony. A box of disposable orange earplugs rests by the door.  It’s warm and the faint scent of gas and damp concrete saturate the air.  

Steinz’s phone rings. After hanging up, he slips downstairs to adjust a valve.  In the basement, a few cramped tunnels running in different directions carry colorful pipes and wires of all sizes into complete darkness. Wisps of steam escape from the creases in the metal.

“You never want to get caught without a flashlight down there,” he said.  

Steinz is a boiler engineer at the University of Montana, where he’s maintained the school’s heating plant for five years. At age 57, he is the newest and youngest of five engineers who maintain the facility. The heating plant has kept campus buildings warm and its showers hot since 1922.

He pauses and perks up.  His deafening work environment has left him with hearing aids, yet he can somehow single out one underperforming  fan in the seemingly unfluctuating white noise. He bends down and places his ear close to a large blue apparatus in the corner.  

“They talk to you all the time. You just have to understand their language. When you aren’t operating, you’re listening,” Steinz said.

The natural gas powered plant has three boilers, two of which are about 50 feet high. The building’s most distinguishing feature is its smoke stack that towers well above the stadium lights in adjacent Washington-Grizzly Stadium. The steam flowing from the stack on cold days adds a dramatic touch to a sunset view from Mount Sentinel's M Trail.

A maze of almost four miles of tunnels runs underneath the campus and links all the major buildings. While the pressure varies in each individual pipe, the plant pushes a total of 65,000 pounds of steam through the system when temperatures dip below zero.

The amount of energy and stress on the pipes from a boiler is enormous, and more care must be taken in repairing leaks than a leaky kitchen sink.

“Six-hundred pounds through a pinhole leak will cut your fingers off,” Steinz said. “You take a broom to check. When the broom blows up, you know you’ve found it.”

Steinz started his engineering career without a high school diploma at the Smurfit-Stone Container Corp. mill in Frenchtown, where he worked for 31 years in the boiler room. He started at the mill after realizing his grocer job wasn’t taking  him anywhere. Opportunity for advancement and higher wages existed at Frenchtown’s paper and pulp mill. After 6,000 hours of labor, he earned his first class boiler license.

“I could get paid a dollar more an hour and could work all the overtime I wanted,” he said.

Twelve-hour shifts were typical at Frenchtown, but he could take two weekends off a month and up to four days off a week. But the working environment was far from healthy. Paper mills are incredibly noisy and the sawdust can be a significant source of air pollution. Steinz’s hearing was permanently damaged over the years.  And the air constantly stinks.

“The clothes you wear in a mill are clothes you wear only at the mill,” he said.   

Harvey Millhouse, one of Frenchtown’s senior boiler room operators, thought highly of Steinz.   

“He was a good worker. We had a lot of jackasses there too, you know. But Dale was the exception.”

Millhouse recounted a time when Steinz drove into work for a midnight shift, a drunk driver followed him into the parking lot and accused him of not dimming his headlights when he passed him on the highway. In retaliation, the angry drunk smashed out both of Steinz headlights with a hammer.  Though Steinz did indeed dim his headlights, he did not lose his temper.

“Someone just got mad at him because they thought he didn’t dim his light. But he wasn’t that kind of a person who wouldn’t do that,” Millhouse said.

Steinz was fortunate to come out of the Frenchtown mill with only his hearing loss and a couple of busted headlights.  

The mill’s largest boiler exploded on May 14, 1991. The corners of the boiler opened up and 500-degree steam blasted the room. Steinz happened to be in the control room at the time of ignition, which is designed to withstand explosions.

Boiler operator, Larry Casse, had his arm stretched toward the boiler when it exploded.

“The skin on his entire lower arm was sheared off,”  Steinz said. “But somehow, not a single light bulb hanging overhead broke.”

The scalding steam and the vaporized caustic materials at the bottom of the boiler burned Casse’s lungs from the inside out. He died a week later. He was 36 years old, only two years Steinz’s senior at the time.

A report by the Occupational Safety and Health Review Commission determined the cause of the explosion was “unforeseeable.”

Steinz continued to work at the mill and didn’t secure his current university job until a few months before the Frenchtown mill closed on Dec, 31. 2009. All 417 remaining mill workers were left jobless.  

“‘The writing was on the wall’, he told me several times,” said Jerry Gibbs, one of Steinz’s current co-workers, who has worked at the university heating plant for nearly 13 years.

“People were saying he was crazy to come here and take the pay cut,” Gibbs said.

Steinz is happy to report he can go other places without having to change his clothes at his current job, but he doesn’t like the shift schedule as much.  

Federal law mandates at least one operator must be on site 24 hours a day to reduce the likelihood of catastrophic explosions.  Four engineers, including Steinz, are on 8-hour rotating shifts. A fifth engineer covers vacations, so the university doesn’t have to pay anyone overtime.

Steinz normally works from 7 a.m. to 3 p.m., but on occasion he has to pick up multiple swing shifts in a week.

“Sometimes I don’t see my wife for five days at a time.”

He advised his three children against a similar line of work.  

“You’re never healthy on shift. Rotating shifts is hard on your body.”

There are inherent risks to being a boiler operator, and Steinz’s time at the university heating plant has not been without incident.  

Two skylights illuminate the plant’s two largest boilers. Two panes in the left window are much cleaner than the others.

“That’s were my boss fell through the roof last fall,” he said.

Mike Burke, the heating plant supervisor, crashed on the walkway railing on top of one of the large boilers, cracking his ribs and ultimately losing a kidney and his spleen.

But that was the university’s heating plant’s only major injury to occur within the last decade, said Mike Panisko, manager of workers’ compensation administration for UM, in a report released by the Montana Kaimin.  

What Steinz enjoys most about his work is the solitary nature of being a boiler room operator. Twenty some engineers came shuffling through the plant on a tour Monday morning. The university = plans to build a new technology center on the parking lot outside and is investigating how to tie in the heating plant’s services into the future building.  It is bringing in all kinds of consultants.  

“That’s more people than I see in two months here,” he said.

The boilers at the university, and most of the technology that runs them, were last updated 1966, but the engineers go to lengths to soften all of the incoming water in the system, to delay corrosion of the pipes.  

Despite their age, the boilers remain efficient, recapturing 80% of the water used for steam, compared to the Frenchtown mill, which ran around 60% efficiency.

Steinz likes to contrast the University of Montana’s heating plant to the boiler set-up at Montana State University in Bozeman, which has up-to-date construction and technology.    

“At Bozeman, they get concrete tunnels, because they are an engineering school,” he said.  “Here it’s a liberal arts school. They let the artists design it, so we have dirt floors.”

In the event of an electrical outage, it takes 30 minutes to switch the boilers to a backup WWII diesel generator in the basement. At Bozeman, it takes a mere four seconds to switch to backup power with their computer-controlled system.    

Modern boiler rooms are equipped with touchscreen controls at a central computer, and animated diagnostic tests can be run on screen  of the whole system. In contrast, at the university boiler room, a Compaq laptop is wired into the dusty base of the control board’s 20-year-old computer.

“It’s pretty antiquated, but amazingly, it still works,” he said. “These will still be running when I die.”    

Steinz glances through his silver-rimmed glasses at his watch and jumps up from the worn purple office chair.  

“Oh! I gotta take a sample.”

He snatches his clipboard and records the reading from the needle-charts and low-resolution screens on the control panel. He’s a couple minutes late on the three-hour reading. He walks over to a spigot below a large yellow smiley face painted on the end of one of a large white pipe. He fills what looks like a tiny kitchen scale with the water to test it for salt content. Steinz returns to his chair, leans back and looks at the ceiling. Only the hum of the fans responds.  

“I’m looking forward to Thursday,” he said, “I got four days off in a row.” 

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