A Science for Everyone, Community

Energy’s Unyielding Numbers

I’m a positivist – which basically says my science is confined to numbers.  Since I’m also a stats guy, it means my numbers aren’t always precise – the world is usually plus or minus.  That’s OK.  Then there is the problem of units of measurement.  They need to be consistent.

So here’s a local set of numbers – Eureka is about 50 miles of deadhead run from highway 2.   A gallon of gas provides enough energy to move a ton of material about 50 miles by truck, or about 200 miles by rail.  Folks fortunate enough to use barges and water can move that same ton about 500 miles – but Koocanusa just isn’t set up for commercial traffic.  A century ago Fortine Creek was commercial navigation – logs moved downstream to the mill in Eureka – but we don’t have commercial waterways like the Great Lakes, the Mississippi, Ohio, lower Missouri, etc.

Basically the economics of energy mean that our retail prices have to be higher than Kalispell.  As fuel prices increase, that 50 miles of deadhead run costs twice – once to get the munchies to the grocery store in Eureka, and once to get the empty truck back.  That same economics of energy isolates us further from the county seat in Libby – 37 is a deadhead route either way, while Libby and Troy are on Highway 2.

At Trego, I’m 50 miles from Walmart.  Eureka is 30% further.  Stryker is 10% closer in terms of energy.  The equations don’t change.  They affect our shopping patterns.  They affect our ability to market local products.  This chart  shows the energy equivalents in terms of gallons of gas:

Gasoline Gallon Equivalents

Fuel TypeUnit of MeasureBTUs/UnitGallon Equivalent
Gasoline (regular)gallon114,1001.00 gallon
Diesel #2gallon129,5000.88 gallons
Biodiesel (B100)gallon118,3000.96 gallons
Biodiesel (B20)gallon127,2500.90 gallons
Compressed Natural Gas (CNG)cubic foot900126.67 cu. ft.
Liquid Natural Gas (LNG)gallon75,0001.52 gallons
Propane (LPG)gallon84,3001.35 gallons
Ethanol (E100)gallon76,1001.50 gallons
Ethanol (E85)gallon81,8001.39 gallons
Methanol (M100)gallon56,8002.01 gallons
Methanol (M85)gallon65,4001.74 gallons
Electricitykilowatt hour (Kwh)3,40033.56 Kwhs

I’d make a wild guess that it takes somewhere around 100 gallons of gasoline equivalent to run a logging operation for a day.  The cost of fuel for a truck was a management decision when that log truck could run to American Timber (Olney), Ksanka (Fortine) or Owens & Hurst (Eureka).  With fewer mills, more distant, energy costs reduce the value of our main product.  Increased energy costs effectively reduce the value of labor as they increase the cost of living.

Electric vehicles for transportation?  We’ll know when the cost of fuel has begun to match the cost of electric vehicles when we see Lincoln Electric linemen driving electric trucks.  As long as our electric co-op finds it cost-effective to use gasoline and diesel, they operate as an indicator – heck, they buy fossil fuels at retail or close to it, and buy electricity wholesale.  The numbers may not be precise when I type at my kitchen table – but they are good enough for the calculations I need.

The cost of housing increased dramatically with inmigration – unlike our boomtown days with the highway and railroad relocation and the tunnel, private investment isn’t moving in to supply more housing quickly.  I see what may be the beginning of a trend – long-time residents selling and moving away.  I’ve looked at what happens when an area moves into the recreation dependent and retirement destination classifications.  The first noticeable step is long-time locals moving into jobs that serve the new landowners in new houses – the folks who are replacing them.


On Graduation Day

This article is the board chairman’s speech for Trego’s graduation.  It comes after a year of strife and the board’s decision to move to a new model of education that recognizes the level of expertise and education that is present within our community.  The era of the single-classroom generalist teacher has passed.  We’ve recognized that our school will be better integrated into the community by accepting the 21st Century and hiring adjunct faculty to teach the specialized classes our students need as they move from 5th through 8th grades.  Call Shari at 882-4713 if you’re interested in being part of the team – you may have a great idea that hasn’t crossed our minds.

Fifty-nine years ago, I graduated from Trego’s eighth grade.  The graduation speaker was a forester, who seemed to be directing his remarks to Marvin Osler, explaining that Osler Brothers Mill wouldn’t be there for his career.  He was right – as I drive by the old mill site, I see a Koocanusa Brewery building and sign where the Osler brothers once supplied dimension lumber to the nation.

I graduated from a different building, with 3 classrooms down where the outside basketball hoops grow from the asphalt.  This school building came along three years later, as Trego became a boom town for the tunnel and railroad relocation projects. 

I think of the sawmills that are gone – Ksanka, Osler Brothers, Tobacco River, Stevens, Owens & Hurst – and how the timber industry powered the economy in the valley.   Now, the Economic Research Service classifies us as recreational, government dependent and retirement destinations for the economic drivers. Trego school remains.

A century ago, my mother was finishing the first grade at Trego.  I don’t know how much she learned, but I recall two stories.  The first was seeing a bear as she walked to school, and how her teacher didn’t believe her.  “There aren’t any bears in Trego.”  The second was a tale of technology – you see, toilet paper was a new technology in 1922, and that same teacher was teaching students to use that new technology.  One square per trip to the outhouse.  I don’t recall the teacher’s name – but I do recall the lesson that my mother didn’t accept.  I guess we could say that the teacher was preparing her students for the great covid toilet paper shortage of 2020.

A century ago, Trego’s main industry was transportation – specifically transporting logs to Eureka from the old dam on the Dickinson place.  Picture if you can – the gates of the dam blasted open with a dynamite charge, and a crew riding that small flood filled with logs for the 20 mile trip to Eureka.  The dam was last used around 1954 – that industry is gone.  The one-room log school of the twenties burned.  Trego school remains.

Marvin went on to become a teacher – he completed his master’s quite a while before I got mine.  Mom went on to nursing school in Spokane – along with the invasion of Guadalcanal, the Navy put a hospital in grass huts at Milne Bay in New Guinea.  Trego’s home industries were gone – but education pushed their way into future careers. 

The eighth grade is the first big step.  When public education began, it was the step into the working world.  Now, it’s the step into high school.  Congratulations.  You are Trego’s final graduate of the old model.  It was a good system, serving the purpose of preparing young people for the working world.  Still, we probably should have made the change from the 19th century model at least 20 years ago.

The students you’re leaving behind are going to enter a different world of education – and the first change will be learning from specialized teachers instead of generalist elementary teachers for fifth grade up.

Our first goal is that our eighth grade graduates will have the opportunity to bring a credit in algebra and a foreign language credit with them as they enter high school.  Not everyone will pass high school algebra in the eighth grade – but if you do, that credit travels with you.  We’re looking at filling that fifth block with a foreign language that can travel with you to high school.

The friends you leave can expect classes based on blocks and a trimester system.  Imagine for a moment, having a professional wildlife biologist teaching life science for thirteen weeks, then getting 13 weeks of Newtonian physics, followed by 13 weeks of earth science from a geologist.  The friends you leave behind will be moving into an exciting world that takes them further into the sciences.

Social studies – this is my area . . . I became a sociologist and demographer – but next year, the friends you leave behind will move into social studies as well as history.  Think for a moment of 13 weeks specializing in Montana history . . . of 13 weeks learning enough economics that you could CLEP the first college course . . . CLEP?  College Level Examination Program – your friends might not learn enough at Trego to take the test and get credit – but I’m betting at least half of them would.  Between the blocks and the trimesters, your friends will have experts preparing them for high school.  In college, the teachers would be called adjunct faculty – coming in to teach what they are really, really good at teaching – subjects that they love.

Math?  I spent 3 years with dear Mrs. Price – and may have moved ahead 3 months.  Picture a math program that includes the real world applications of surveying, of forestry, of statistics.  Math is power, math is fun – and next year, Trego’s students will be studying math in ways that use real world applications that make math fun and relevant.

English?  Three teachers over a year let us have a teacher who loves grammar, a teacher who loves teaching speech and drama, and another who teaches writers.

I haven’t even started on the afternoon half-blocks.  Picture a two-hour block taught by a professional artist on Monday, moving to Tuesday’s music class.  When I went to High School from Trego, band wasn’t an option for me – I hadn’t taken the required classes in Junior High.  We will be correcting that long-term omission.  Picture 13 weeks of learning electrical wiring, followed by another 13 weeks emphasizing solar energy.  I could go on – 3 trimesters and 5 blocks each week will let us offer fifteen artistic,  vocational and PE classes each year.  Who knows?  We may even rebuild the greenhouse and get some horticulture going.

The 21st Century perspective offers opportunities.  We can’t out-Eureka Eureka.  Eureka has a century of experience at developing outstanding athletic teams.  We can’t out-Fortine Fortine – they still have their first school building in operation.  Our first burned down, and our second was dismantled by Tommy and LeeRoy.  We’re moving on to be the best Trego we can be.

This summer will see some additions to the playground – centered around the idea of individual, life-long sports.  A combination frisbee golf and pitch and putt course will be set up – forms of golf that don’t require a lot of travel or expense (or break windows).  We’re looking at a cross-country ski course for our students – I’ll cheerfully admit that the ability to use cross-country skis kept me employed for six or seven years.  We’re talking about adding air-rifle training – all activities that qualify as PE and can be added to the afternoon half-blocks.

Fifty-nine years between us – and we’re both examples of the old model.  That’s OK – previous graduates have shown that you can go anywhere from here.  The world will provide you a living – you just have to work every day to collect it.  Grab it with both hands – you’re the last of the old model.  From your peer, over 50 years in the past, my heartfelt “Congratulations.”  I envy the things that you will see.

Community, Demography

Economic Drivers and Housing Shortages

Back in 1960, Lincoln County was timber, mining and farming.  There was a fairly stable population, jobs were available, and both small and large ranches.  Along with the Corps of Engineers planning Libby dam, and looking at flooding the lands near the Kootenai, by the middle of the decade our communities became boomtowns, needing housing for the newcomers who would be working on the tunnel, the railroad relocation, the highway relocation, and Libby dam itself. 

I was in high school – and Dad was looking at a trailer court, pretty much where the trailer court is today in Trego.  His advantage in negotiating with the company that had the contract for the tunnel was me being in high school.  Gail Tisdell, a classmate  who worked at Lynn’s Cafe over lunch hour, kept me informed about the company honchos lunch table discussions.  Long story short, we wound up with a trailer court built pretty much to the specifications they brought in from San Mateo.  Jack Price put in a trailer court down by the substation.  Up the creek were two more: Westwood Acres and S&S.  All told, Trego went from being virtually trailer-free to about 200 spaces in the course of a year. 

Likewise, when the tunnel and the railroad relocation ended, so did the largest trailer courts.  Across the county, we had a surplus of trailer spaces that would last for decades.  Many weren’t built to those California standards – I recollect septic tanks built from laminated cull 2×4’s.  The materials were cheap, the construction sub-marginal, and a place that had once housed 50 families emptied and left to collapse.

A half-century later, watching the ads and listening to people looking for housing shows me that we’re in a new housing situation.  Kind of a 55-year cycle – in 1910, all it took to resolve a housing shortage was an axe, a crosscut saw, a froe and a chisel.  In 1965, the spirit of capitalism moved in to develop trailer courts across the county as labor boomed in construction projects.  Now, we’re looking at a county that the USDA Economic Research Service lists as Government dependent. 

It says something when your county’s largest economic drivers are federal and state government employment – the definition is that over 14% of annual earnings are from federal or state government jobs.

Additionally, the ERS lists Lincoln county as a “low employment” county – and the definition is “less than 65 percent of county residents 25-64 were employed.”  The examples are often anecdotes instead of data – a friend from my youth, who hasn’t migrated out for work, explained that his highest paid years were in the seventies.  We’ve been migrating out for work, then returning, for several generations.  It makes a difference in the statistics. 

If you note the classification as a retirement destination county – “where the number of residents age 60 and older grew by 15 percent or more between the 2000 and 2010 censuses due to net migration.”  Home building, home purchases, are a bit easier for folks who are moving in at the end of their careers.  Some of our retirees are returning.  Others, not originally from here, still have the same motivation – in both cases, “going home to a place he’d never been before” is somewhat appropriate.

Anyway, watching the rental market shows that the world has changed.  An axe, saw and froe no longer combine with a strong back and a willingness to work to build a home.  There are safer, less regulated places for venture capital than building a lot of housing rapidly.  Young families compete with retirees – and it’s a lot easier to buy or build that second or third house when you’re holding the check for the house you sold in Oregon, or Washington, or California.