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BECK'S WHY I FARM ROADTRIP: Montana FARMERS, Harry & Ellen Allen

Published on Tuesday, July 11, 2017

When she was just 19 years old, Ellen Allen’s father passed away. He left her Pocket Creek Ranch in southern Montana, and she was determined to carry on his legacy.

“Dad had such dreams for this place.” She says with a sentimental smile. “It wasn't really mom's cup of tea too much because she had been an Illinois farm girl and she loved fertile land. This place was a little dry and a little rough for her.”

The challenge of the landscape excited Ellen. In fact, that’s why she fell in love with the place as a teen. 

“When I got up here, the first time I ever cowboyed was when dad bought his partner out and he had a cowboy from Texas named Joe Williams that was working for him. It was time to move the cattle up to the Sharp Place, which is at the south end of the ranch. It’s high country.” Ellen explains. “We were short-handed and I was probably all of 14 or something. We rode, and we rode, and we rode, and we rode.”

“There were only three of us, Dad, Joe and me, and he said, ‘Can you hold them?’ I said, 'Well, I'll try.'” Ellen continues. “So, I had the drags and they got in the lead. It's really a steep climb up to Sharp Place up there, and I held them as long as I could. Of course, the calves started breaking back. I did my best, but I couldn't hold a lot of them. I remember just feeling so bad that I'd failed them. Finally they both came back and they'd gotten some of them up there, and they said, 'We'll just have to come back some other day. The cows will come back.'”

“But I fell in love with the place then because that was the most excitement I'd ever had. Even though I'd felt like a failure, I'd never had that much fun cowboying because this was an adventure! You had to think up here. It wasn't just follow the cows like you did on the mountains. I was just kind of hooked on Pocket Creek Ranch at that time.” Ellen beams.

When the ranch became hers, Ellen wanted so badly to stay there. “But Mom leased it from me and I went on to college reluctantly.” She recalls. “I just wanted to come home to the ranch because that's what I always loved to do.”

Later, Ellen married Harry, who helped make the ranch more suitable for their young family. In the beginning, the family had to go 22 miles out of their way on a dirt road to get to across the river. 

 

 

“Harry had a dream that he could put a bridge across here and we could come up here and live.” Ellen remembers. “I was very lucky to marry the man I did. He is very creative and innovative.”

“He bought the old Springdale bridge and they tore it down, piece by piece, put it on flat beds and hauled it to the ranch. It took 12 days, and they brought it down. It just looked like a bunch of scrap iron.” Ellen recalls. “It was pretty disappointing to look at. But they had color coded the base, and they put it up. Building the bridge was something. They put it together in the field while they could still kind of remember how it went.”

Ellen credit’s Harry’s bridge for bringing the ranch back to the 20th century. Once the bridge was in place, the family continued to make improvements. They installed a feed lot, water lines, and cross fencing.

 

 

But, even with all these improvements, the challenges of the climate and landscape persist. “This ranch, you love it, but it will eat you.” Harry says in a knowing way. “It can be just horrible. We’ve been in pine needle trouble, we’ve been in flood trouble. We’ve had snow as high as this dining room table! Keeping the cows alive in that is bad.”

With their dedicated family, the Allens keep pushing forward. “Ellen’s day starts at 4:30 a.m.” Harry explains. “Then we get up and eat breakfast. And in the summer time, we get the plane out. We get her in the airplane, and she's gone. We've got an antique plane and we prop it over for her and she flys all the wells, all the fences. Flies everything there is to see and she's back in 20 minutes. If there's a fire, she can call us and we're on our way before she gets on the ground. She does all that kind of stuff and does all our books.”

“I love it. I've been the luckiest woman in the world. In a lot of ways, Harry has fulfilled Dad's dreams. The ranch is a lot about legacy.” Ellen says.

“I think after you put a lot of yourself into a place, you just love it. It's home. You have a feeling about it that is just unbelievable. It's yours. You have planted a lot of things on it. You've worked hard on it. It's freedom.”

That’s why Harry and Ellen Allen farm.

 

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