Jer Gregg: Resurrected

Jer Gregg: Resurrected

“Everyone loves something that is authentic, and Jer Gregg is an authentic artist that not only honors and creates the music he is passionate about, but honors and looks after those that make up the company he keeps.” – Stephen Salyers

Jer Gregg (est. 1984, Elwood, Indiana) has always believed in himself.
From his days working in the cornfields at 13 years-old (saving up money for a Fender strat) to his days laying low in recovery after devastating vocal surgery, he hasn’t let any obstacle come between him and his dream.

First, Jer wanted to rock, pushing himself to learn how to play like Tom Petty and sing like Chris Robinson of the Black Crowes. In his late teens, he was making his way into the Indianapolis rock scene, which he outgrew in a hurry.

Jer moved to Nashville, where he shifted his focus to the art of songwriting while also finding his own place. He started tending bar, befriending many in the community. Doors started to open, leading to adventures the small-town Hoosier never imagined possible.

Through the years, Jer has toured the United Kingdom, Australia and all over the United States (coast to coast). In the spring of 2015, he had the opportunity to open for childhood idol Jonny Lang while on tour with the Runaway Saints.

“I’m blessed to have played in multiple countries,” Jer said. “I’ve had a weekly residency with a stellar band, I’ve played many songwriter festivals and I’ve been around many talented people. Playing for 10,000 people in Australia was amazing. It was just as good as the first time I played the Troubadour in London to the time I played sold-out shows in Scotland.”

Jer’s journey has had its highs and lows. In 2014, he faced his biggest challenge.
“I lost voice voice right before my 30th birthday,” he said. “I was in the middle of a song and it just stopped completely. I was so swollen and inflamed that it paralyzed my vocal cords and ruptured my blood vessels. I didn’t sing my music again until nearly a year later.

But Jer never allowed this adversity to detour his dreams. Salyers and others admire his courage and strength through this time.
“I believe he created the great narrative of his career during those silent times, in the shadows of the stages that he was born to be on,” Salyers said. “I am confident that his patience and his passion are about to catapult him – with even more ammo – back onto the stage, equipped with new music and even more swagger.”

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Jer Gregg, 2018

Back in the spotlight, making up for lost time, Jer is currently putting together a summer tour playing “American music that’s storyteller inspired with rock n’ roll delivery.” Originals such as “The Burn,” “Jet Lag,” “Pretty Girls” and “Drugs and Money” are examples of his newfound sound.
Jer’s bringing it and taking his sound to another level. He’s also connecting, befriending many younger musicians and working with them on the essence of songwriting.
“I’m trying to be an advocate for artists who were frustrated and reckless like I once was,” Jer said. “I do this by being real, and they recognize it. They can tell I’m not giving them the cookie-cutter, frozen veggie bullshit. It’s so much more organically grown.”

Jer’s songs are engaging and empowering, which is exactly what he hopes to do for listeners at songwriting festivals around the country – just as he did last year when he hit up Lyrics on the Lake in Virginia, the Key Largo Songwriter’s Festival and the world-famous Tin Pan South in Nashville.
“Playing the Tin Pan South Songwriter Fest in 2016 was a career highlight for me,” he said.

Giving it his all, Jer is ready to hit the road, and he looks forward to making his way to your music festival.
“I’ve already been beaten up and kicked down If they wanted me to die, they should’ve pulled the trigger,” Jer said. “Now, I’m back with even more determination from all the damnation. Thank y’all for listening.”

 

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Still Smiling: 94-year-old cowboy loving ranch life

Sitting in a wheelchair by his wood stove at his cabin on Gilt Edge Stage, 94-year-old Eldon Snyder reads Louis L’amour’s “The Riders of High Rock,” entering the world of Hopalong Cassidy.
“I’ve read a lot of books since I quit riding two years ago,” he said. “That’s one of the main things I do: sit around and read…but I did a lot of riding up to this point.”
The middle of 11 children from Mount Trumbull, Arizona, Snyder has spent his whole life riding and ranching, A former professional saddle bronc rider and 2015 inductee into the Montana Cowboy Hall of Fame, he is a legend to many, revered around the state as one of the true cowboys of the West.
But you wouldn’t know it by speaking to him. Calm and reserved, Snyder keeps to himself, reading his books and only stepping outside to feed his horse, JJ Bars.
On his way back into his cabin from visiting JJ, he often takes a look out at the Judith Mountains and smiles, proud to call this area home.
“I love Central Montana,” he said. “I’ve traveled all over the U.S., Canada and Mexico, and there is nothing I like better than right here. I knew that the first time I stopped through in 1948. That’s when I met Julia Jackson. “
At this time, Snyder said he was “getting to the top” of the rodeo circuit.
“I was winning pretty regularly,” he said. “I figured I could ride any horse that came my way. I never found one I couldn’t, and I rode a lot of bucking horses. For a while I was doing 30-40 rodeos a year.”
His last rodeo was in 1957, and he won that one, too.
Although he could have kept going, Snyder let it go, choosing to settle down instead.
“I ended up marrying Julia,” he said. “She wanted me to put that life behind. I think she was afraid if I kept rodeoing I’d chase other women.”
For 29 years, Snyder worked the Jackson Ranch, and it didn’t take him long to get the hang of it, especially considering his ranching background in Arizona.
Although a part of him wonders what would have happened if he stayed with saddle bronc riding, he’s glad he stumbled upon this part of the world.
“I’ve had extremely good years here,” he said.
A large part of this is Snyder’s passion for ranching and horseback riding of all kinds. This includes teaching riding, which he did through 4-H for almost 20 years.
“My wife was a 4-H leader and helped start a 4-H horse project,” he said. “I was asked to help them with their horses. I’ve always liked helping young people and I had some standout students.”

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Eldon Snyder sits by the fire at his home on Gilt Edge Stage in January.

Community Cowboy
When Snyder and Jackson split up, Snyder was unsure what his next move was going to be, but he soon remarried a local woman named Barbara. They worked together as outfitters, operated a hunting camp and regularly would go on pack trips in the Little Belts and the Bob Marshall Wilderness.
“I had a license to pack anywhere in Montana,” Snyder said.
Snyder also stayed busy helping friends out with sorting, branding, trailing cattle and training horses and mules. He’d help out at the Schultz Ranch, Wickens Ranch, Rickl Ranch, Teigen Ranch and many others.
“It was nothing for me to go to seven or eight brandings,” he said, “but now my horse is old like me. I’d probably still do it if I had a different horse.”

Overcoming Tragedies
Wanting a change of scenery, Snyder and Barbara moved from their place on Upper Spring Creek to the place Snyder lives now on Gilt Edge Stage, but sadly their partnership would not last much longer.
“We were only living here three years when a horse kicked Barbara in the head and killed her,” he said.
“I’ve been by myself ever since then. That was in 1991.
Five years later, Snyder lost a leg after a mule ran him into a corral post. Such tragedies would debilitate many men, but Snyder pushed through, getting back in the saddle the following May with an artificial leg.

Blessed to be in Central Montana
At his age, Snyder admits life is harder now, and he appreciates the support he receives.
“I can’t go out and cut wood anymore, but I have neighbors who do it for me. I can’t believe it. I’ve never asked anybody for help in my life.”
Snyder can’t say enough about the people who have helped him out, as he can’t imagine a different lifestyle, and caring members of the community have made it possible for him to stay at home.
“I’d be lost if I lived in town,” he said. “I have to be out in the country.”
Snyder doesn’t ask for much: a warm fire and a good book is enough to keep him smiling, which he intends to do, no matter what comes his way.
“I’m a firm believer in smiling,” he said. “Smile when you’re in trouble it will vanish like a bubble: if you only take the trouble to S-M-I-L-E. I’ve believed that my whole life.”

(as published in the Lewistown News-Argus)

 

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Seeing the Rolling Stones with my father – a trip of a lifetime

My dad is well known for his surprises.

About two months before his 60th birthday, he Facetimed with a wild proposition.

Drinking his Fresca, we locked eyes through the phone screen and he said, “You know how I have been thinking of doing something wild and crazy for my 60th birthday? Well, I think I have an idea. How would you like to see the Rolling Stones in Boston? If you say ‘yes,’ I’ll get the tickets right now.”

The gritty adrenaline-fueled guitar riff of “Start Me Up” popped into my head immediately. It was like I was already there.

“Are you serious?”

I already knew the answer to that. At times impulsive, my dad will present outlandish ideas. His mind works fast, too. I knew he had already outweighed the pros and cons of the plan.

“I’m in.”

Anticipation grew and grew as I geared up for my dad’s epic birthday, which coincidentally fell on Father’s day weekend.

“This is a perfect time for us to have one of our adventures,” he said.

We’ve had many: New York City, guitar camp in Connecticut, two trips from Louisville to Montana in a Ford F-150 and many more.

But seeing the Rolling Stones at the TD Garden in Boston – the city where my father was raised and went to college – might just take the cake.

The Rolling Stones: arguably the greatest rock ‘n’ roll band of all time besides the Beatles.
A big Beatles fan himself, my dad raised me on “Hard Day’s Night,” “Help,” “Sgt. Peppers” and all the other Beatles records. They were a big part of my childhood and are a big part of my life as a musician.

My dad, a retired Presbyterian pastor, has always known there are people out there who consider the Stones “evil,” but he was never able to deny their ability to make sensational rock songs. I remember him singing along to “Sympathy for the Devil” in the car, teaching me why it’s a great song.

“Listen to how they build the song up to the climax,” he said. “The background vocals, the guitar riff, it’s amazing song structure.”

Having just read Keith Richards’ memoir, “Life,” my dad was more excited about the band than ever. The Beatles might have rocked on “Let It Be,” but the Stones were always more the rock ‘n’ roll band.  And that’s what we were ready for: the ultimate rock ‘n’ roll show.

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My Dad loving every minute of the Stones concert June 14, 2013 at TD Garden in Boston

After getting through a heightened amount of security personnel, we found our seats and began waiting for the action to start.
“The Stones don’t need an opening act,” my dad said. “Their fans warm themselves up by waiting 45 minutes.”
He was right. There was no opening act necessary. The lights went out, the spotlights went on, a mini-documentary interviewing famous fans and concert-goers in the ‘60s and 70’s played and then it happened: Mick Jagger, Keith Richards and Charlie Watts took the stage to a raucous applause. Now in their late sixties and early seventies, it was incredible to see three original members still together, keeping alive something greater than they ever could have imagined.

They still had it.

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Keith Richards tears it up during “Sympathy for the Devil”

The Stones opened with “Get Off of My Cloud,” with nearly all 17,565 people in the sold-out crowd singing along.

Jagger held nothing back, doing his chicken dance, slithering around from one end of the stage to another. He even took off his long-sleeve shirt, revealing a tight black muscle shirt. At 69, the women were still screaming for him.
Although not all the guitar riffs sounded verbatim to the recordings, Richards played them with his signature coolness. He always made it work. Whether momentous or subtle, everything he played rocked, including the two songs he sang – one of which was a tribute to the early Delta blues.
Watts held down the beat and played the same drum patterns he did on recordings spanning the decades with perfect posture and the occasional smile.
With a career spanning nearly six decades, it’s no easy task to put together a set list that will please everyone, but they did it in Boston on June 14.
“I have seen the Stones 25 times and I’ve never heard them sound this good,” a guy next to us said after they played “Midnight Rambler.”

My dad and I had not seen them before, but we had been to several concerts together: Bruce Springsteen, B.B. King and Bobby Bland, Eric Clapton, to name a few, and this was perhaps the best show we had seen – together or otherwise.
This was especially on our minds when the Stones played “Sympathy for the Devil” and “You Can’t Always Get What You Want,” two of our favorites. My dad was giddy, displaying one of the biggest smiles I’d ever seen on him – and that’s saying a lot, because he’s often smiling.
The Stones closed with “Satisfaction,” which indeed satisfied the crowd. People were screaming, some in disbelief. My dad was one of them. So was I.

“The way I want to celebrate my 60th birthday is by seeing the Rolling Stones with my son,” he told me on the phone. “I can’t think of anything better.”

Neither can I.

(inspired by column written for Lewistown News-Argus in June 2013)

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Keeping the New Year tradition alive, sort of

Read more.

Exercise more.

Get a girlfriend.

Every year, Trevor and I would put our New Year’s resolutions under the shed behind his house on Madden Place.

We were crazy then.

Before we put the resolutions under the shed, we’d do the “polar bear club” lap of shame and run around Trevor’s house in our boxers.

Of course, it wasn’t as cold as Montana, but you’re kidding yourself if you don’t think December in Indiana is cold – at least when you’re only in boxers.
Trevor and I would stick three or four resolutions each under that shed.
At the time, we were all about it, certain we’d stick with our plans, certain we’d become better people.

The following New Year’s Eve, we’d return to the shed and check our progress.

Trevor’s family shed on Madden Place, Fishers, Indiana

No sign of the resolutions.

Where’d they go? Had they withered away? Decomposed? Or did Trevor’s older sister find them and dispose of them just for a laugh?

I still remember those looks of dismay once we couldn’t find them.
“How do we know if we’ve improved or not?” we’d ask, often unaware what our resolutions were in the first place.

Whether we could remember them or not, what mattered is we did it together. Follow-through didn’t matter, either. We were young, naïve and arrogant high school kids.
Year after year, the same thing would happen. Only once did we ever find one of our resolutions
Keep a girlfriend.

It was Trevor’s.

And, no, he didn’t keep a girlfriend that year. In his defense, however, not keeping that girlfriend remains a good thing to this day.

Trevor is married more than 10 years now, living in Nashville, where he lays tile and works as a recording engineer. He always wanted his life to revolve around music. For all we know, “become a recording engineer” may have been a resolution he put under the shed.

I’m married now, too, and I can honestly say I’ve never had a better woman. Sometimes I wake up amazed, wondering how I deserve her. We live in Lewistown, Montana, where I write for the local newspaper and she works at the local library. We enjoy small-town life and feel fortunate to have found each other here. And, like Trevor, I haven’t abandoned my passion for music, as I perform originals and covers regularly, playing guitar and singing both solo and with a band.

Our resolutions of the past have withered and wrinkled, decomposed, but it’s safe to say we’re living the lives we hoped we’d be living when we put the resolutions under the shed 15-plus years ago.

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Although we both live miles away from our hometown, every New Year’s we keep in touch, sharing new resolutions via text message.

We don’t get carried away, but we share some practical promises we hope to keep in order to improve our lives. This year, my resolutions include being a better husband (listening more intently and being more direct), writing more essays for myself, furthering my freelance career, spending less time on my phone (be it texting or perusing social media), exercising more regularly and meditating more.

Trevor has some, too: embrace the change in career (and make a big move forward), get back to healthy eating after the holidays, write more and “make only music I love.”

We could go on and on, but we want resolutions to stay practical. No one needs to go overboard: resolutions should be fun, and they should be a challenge. Here are a few good examples of resolutions I saw in the Boston Globe: experience awe, be adventurous, eat foods that improve your moods (nuts, seeds, salmon, avocado, spinach), expand your friend zone, learn something new and nurture your inner artist. The last one on their list puts it pretty perfectly: do good and do better.

If you are writing new year’s resolutions this year, I wish you the best of luck and I hope that you are able to improve your life, no matter how big or how small the change.

No need to put your resolutions under a shed or run a lap around the house in your boxers. I don’t know if the tradition ever helped our resolutions come true, but, who knows…

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It Truly Is A Wonderful Life: Lessons learned from a Christmas classic

On Christmas Eve this year, instead of going to church, I went to a different kind of service. My fiancée, her older sister, their mother and I went to the Art House Cinema and Pub in Billings to see Frank Capra’s 1946 classic, “It’s a Wonderful Life.”
I’d never seen this movie on the big screen. Suddenly having the opportunity to do so was something I couldn’t pass up.
As long as I can remember, “It’s a Wonderful Life” has been a Christmas tradition for my family. When I was a child, I remember my mom bringing a box a Kleenex to the family room along with the popcorn. Every year, my father was a mess. The cheery ending always got to him. Tears of joy would stream down his face.
“George Bailey taught me how to be a nice guy,” he’s told me. “He’s taught me how to truly appreciate life.”

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A retired Presbyterian pastor, my dad would use the mesmerizing clip of George Bailey (played brilliantly by Jimmy Stewart) outside of his mother’s home. The camera zooms in close on Stewart, who looks scared and on the verge of insanity. His mother didn’t recognize him. No one knows him and everything is awry. Clarence, George’s angel, gave the struggling character a great gift: a chance to see what the world would be like without him.
In this scene Clarence (a convincing Henry Travers) delivers the masterful line, “Each man’s life touches so many other lives. When he isn’t around, it leaves an awful hole, doesn’t it?”
By high school, that message was speaking to me, and I started introducing the movie to friends myself and carrying on the Christmas tradition. As I grew and experienced, I’d always come back to the film. Like my father, I started needing the Kleenex for the climax.
Now as a small-town reporter and musician embracing the community of 5,000 I’ve chosen to call home, the message of the movie is more powerful than ever.
Too often the message is lost, too often we choose not to count our blessings and instead focus on the negatives. We get down on ourselves for not working harder, for not being as ambitious as we once were, for not living our dreams. We worry about retirement and how much money we have in the bank.
Don’t get me wrong; by no means can one movie flip a switch and change your life forever. Life isn’t that easy, and it especially hasn’t been that easy for my fiancée’s family. Early in 2015, her mother was diagnosed with cancer. She’s been fighting it through chemo treatments and surgeries and, although its been challenging, she is keeping a healthy attitude and is not giving up. However, the more positive gestures she can muster, the better.
“It’s a Wonderful Life” is not just an entertaining, captivating way to spend an evening, although it certainly is that as well. If you open your eyes and your heart, the movie can serve as much more, reminding us what’s most important in life: relationships.
I stop and take a moment to focus on these relationships. I think about the people who have changed my life and the people whose lives I have impacted. I step away from finances – whether they are favorable or not so favorable – and think instead about those I love and those who love me in return.
When I do this, I realize what Clarence helped George realize: it truly is a wonderful life. Whether it’s Christmas time or mid-June, we all can use this reminder. That’s why “It’s a Wonderful Life” is my favorite movie. That’s why, every year, I need the Kleenex. Seeing this classic helps me appreciate the people here in Lewistown and the friends I’ve made. I appreciate and love my new family. I feel rich with relationships, and that’s what matters to me.
As Clarence wrote to George, “no man is a failure who has friends.”

(as published in the Lewistown News-Argus Jan. 2016)

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“Inner City Blues” experienced firsthand by rural reporter

“Hey, call the cops. I’ve just been shot,” the man said.
He walked slow, appearing tired, worn and shocked.
Had he been shot?
The man held his arm and walked haltingly and uncomfortably to the nearest seat in the lobby of the Cincinnati Greyhound Station.
I was there waiting to board a bus to Asheville, North Carolina, to spend time with my sister, brother-in-law and my two little nephews. I’d just been spending time with my fiancee’s family in South Lebanon, Ohio, a suburb of Cincinnati. I had planned on renting a car from the Cincinnati area, but no cars were available.
“We’re not really sure what’s going on,” a Florence, Kentucky Enterprise rental car employee told me. “I ain’t never seen it like this.”
Desperate to find a way to see my family, I checked the Greyhound schedule and found a late-night ride that’d get me there.
Little did I know by doing so I’d get acquainted with the violence all too common in Cincinnati City limits.

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Photo taken minutes prior to encounter, Sept. 2015

Holding his side, the man bent down and sat in a chair, looking like every move was torture.  I could see blood showing on his white boxers hanging out of his saggy jeans. As I looked closer, I could see more blood splattered on his navy blue hoodie. The man looked pale, almost lifeless.
“I’ve been shot,” he said with a weak, defeated voice, more to himself than to anyone else.
He put his head down briefly. I waited for him to say something else, unsure of what to do. I was shocked myself.
No one else had noticed him yet.
“Knoxville, Tennessee,” a Greyhound employee yelled. “Now boarding Knoxville.”
I thought about calling 9-1-1, but I kept thinking to myself, ‘where is the shooter?’ I could not shake the thought.
Surely the cops would be here any minute. Right?
He lifted his head and looked around. There was a little blood on his neck tattoos. I didn’t know how many times he’d been shot, but it looked like he’d definitely taken a bullet to the chest. The rest of the blood was probably a result of bloody fingers.
I started walking toward the boarding area, looking for an employee to tell about the troubled man.
“This man’s been shot,” I heard someone yell. Others gathered around the man as he collapsed on to the tile floor. In seconds, a big black police officer wearing a helmet walked through the double doors. He went right to the man, who now had a small gathering of people around him.
I later discovered, in an article by WSMV Cincinnati, the gunshot victim was a 34-year-old Bethel, Ohio resident who drove three miles from Avondale to Cincinnati before pulling over to get help. He had a 23-year-old woman with him in the vehicle. She was grazed in the knee by a bullet.
According to a news report, there are no suspects. The man claimed the gunshots came from another vehicle when they were at an intersection.
Sadly, this is just one example of Cincinnati crime spiking. According to a recent article in the Cincinnati Enquirer, the number of shootings on city streets has gone from 236 in 2014 to 320 in 2015 as of Sept. 1, and the year is far from over.
Although the shooting on Sept. 16 is technically an Avondale incident, it certainly made its way into the inner city and made an impression on those at the Greyhound Station, shining a negative light on the place once known to many as Porkopolis.
“This is bad for business,” a short black man with a small Afro said, as we got ready to board. “Let’s get the hell out of here.”
A girl in her twenties with short hair, tattoos on her arms and a piercing in her lip looked at me and said, “What the hell, man? This is my first time at a Greyhound Station.”
“Me too,” I said.

Taking a seat in the Greyhound, I listened to Marvin Gaye’s “Inner City Blues” as we passed the entrance to the station. It was lit up like the Vegas strip with blue and red lights. Cop cars, an ambulance, a news crew; it was a true crime scene. This wasn’t Lewistown, and it wasn’t where I could see myself living.
It is easy to take what we have for granted, but the more we travel the easier it is appreciate home.
Having the quality of life we do in a quiet, peaceful, safe, beautiful place – well, it’s hard to beat, and I’d take it over inner city life any day.
When you go out and see the world, you learn a lot about yourself. Even when you are out of your comfort zone starting at gunshot man, it’s worth it. It’s times like these when home is appreciated the most.

(as published in the Lewistown News-Argus Sept. 2015)

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Six days alone: Lewistown man found in Little Belts

Monday, Oct. 30 was just another day for 83-year-old Tacoma, Washington native Donald Maesner, but it would lead to six days of desolation and near starvation on an isolated road in the Little Belts.

An avid hunter who just moved from Moore to Lewistown about two months ago, Maesner thought he’d go explore the Little Belts and see if he’d have any luck spotting big game. It was the only thing he could think to do that sunny fall morning. And why not? He’d wanted to be a little more active and get out, which isn’t always easy. Life has been slower and harder since his wife, Virginia, passed away two years ago. They’d been married 55 years.

“I grabbed my rifle and took off,” Maesner said. “I grabbed a diet drink, a hot chocolate and a breakfast sandwich from McDonald’s, and then I headed out past Utica, past the Circle Bar and took a right. I went to the ranger station and then took a right across the river up toward the ridge. My boy and I had done this trip before.”

But this time, Maesner said, he had a little trouble.

“I got turned around in my Ford Pickup,” he said. “I went down a road where I didn’t see any tracks. I went about 18 miles and thought I’d come out the other side. It dead-ended.”

Maesner couldn’t help but feel a little concerned.

“The road was terrible,” he said. “There were a lot of rocks and stumps. Coming back out, one driver-side tire came off the rim. I kept going another 5-6 miles. Then another tire started coming off of the back passenger side. I got another 4-5 miles, and that’s when the other front tire came off.”

That’s when he stopped.

“I just sat there,” he said. “I was there all day Monday and I didn’t get too excited. It wasn’t bad, really, except I didn’t have anything to eat. I had a space blanket, which really was one of the best things I had. It helped keep me warm, along with the heater, which I would use about once an hour. I had half a tank of gas so I could let the truck and the heat run when necessary. I was using my head.”

Maesner didn’t panic. Trying to see if someone was out there, Maesner took his rifle out and shot a box of shells – three shells at a time.

“I did that about four days in a row,” he said. “I also honked my horn incessantly. Three or four times each hour.”

Determined to live, Maesner stayed warm with his space blanket and stayed hydrated by drinking melted snow from atop the truck. He feels fortunate it snowed as much as it did. He didn’t have to get out of his truck and search for snow. He couldn’t anyhow. By the fourth day, he was physically unable to get to his truck.

“I never got too far,” he said. “One day I went about a half a mile, but I had learned not to leave my vehicle, so I stayed nearby until I couldn’t get out of the truck anymore. It was awful. I was peeing my pants. My kidneys shut down.”

By Thursday, Maesner started to give up on someone finding him during the week, but he had hope a hunter would come across his truck when the weekend rolled around. He just had to make it that long.

“I knew someone was going to come find me,” he said. “I knew it. How could I be there a week without anyone finding me? But just in case I couldn’t hold out, I started writing letters to my kids. I call them my death letters.”

The “just in case” goodbye letters also helped pass the time, which was another challenge Maesner faced.

“I had a lot of time to think,” he said.

He also had a lot of time to play on his phone. He didn’t have service, but he did have solitaire.

“I played 159 games,” he said.

On that 159th game, however, he was interrupted.

“I had my head bent over, playing my game, when I heard someone knocking on the window,” he said. “I thought ‘what the heck?’” I looked up and there was a man. He helped me out of the truck, put me on the four-wheeler and drove me out of there. He had a cabin out there and got me a candy bar. That was the first thing I ate. From there we took off in his truck and he got me to the hospital.”

 

The man was Ken Shaver, a Lewistown native whose family owns a cabin out at the Little Belts. Earlier in the week he’d purchased the four-wheeler – a Polaris Ranger – and he wanted to take it for a ride in familiar territory.

That’s when he saw Maesner’s red truck right in the middle of the road.

Right away, Shaver could tell the truck was stuck. He examined the tires and saw the empty, worn rims.

“Something in my mind told me to check inside,” he said, “so I shut off my Ranger and walked up to the window.”

When he looked in the truck, he saw Maesner with his head down, and he immediately assumed the worst.

“I thought, ‘oh my God, I just found a dead guy,’” Shaver said. “I didn’t know what to do. My mind was racing.”

Hoping he was wrong, Shaver tapped on the window, and he immediately got Maesner’s attention.

“He had tears in his eyes,” Shaver said, “and he kept asking me if I was real.”

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Ken Shaver, left, and Don Maesner celebrate Don’s return home

Strange hallucinations

Maesner may not have heard anything while he waited for help in the Little Belts, but by the third day starvation started messing with him.

“On the third night I started seeing Weimareners and Golden Retrievers,” he said. “I saw about 50-75 dogs. One little black-and-white dog hung out beside the car door every night.”

By the fourth night Maesner’s hallucinations even created a little music festival, albeit without volume.

“There were two Texas bands – one on the left and one on the right,” Maesner said. “There were about 10 people in each band jumping up and down hurrahing and all that. Most of them were older men with big white beards. I also started seeing mobile homes with men, women and children all around. The people were walking around, shuffling their feet and staring at me.”

On the fifth night, Santa came to visit.

“There was an 8-foot Santa and a 7-foot Santa,” Maesner said. “That made me excited. I rolled down the window and told them to get the hell out of here unless you’re going to bring me some food.”

Maesner said all of the visions he was having were people waiting for him to die, but he wouldn’t have it. He wasn’t ready.

“I’d had enough of it,” he said. “I didn’t want to be one of the living dead walking around.”

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Don Maesner reads some of his “death letters” in acute care, two days after being found

All in the timing

Looking back, Maesner he wouldn’t have made it if Shaver didn’t find him precisely when he did.

“I was afraid I’d be gone by the end of the hour if he didn’t find me,” he said. “Ken saved my life.”

“I didn’t do anything,” Shaver said in response. ”It was the grace of God.”

When he found him, Shaver said he could tell Maesner didn’t have much time left. It was clear in his appearance, his condition and the words he’d written, as his last letter was left on the dash.

“It was the last letter he wanted people to find,” Shaver said. “He wrote which crematory he wanted his body to be sent and he said something about 83 years old being a long time.”

Shaver agrees 83 years is a long time, and it’s OK for him to accept that he can’t get around like he once could.

Helping Maesner out of Central Montana Medical Center, where he stayed in acute care from Saturday to Monday, Shaver gave him a gentle tip to prevent tragic events in the future.

“Don’t leave the house,” he joked. “That’s where you went wrong.”

“If I do go somewhere,” I’ll let someone know,” Maesner said, “and I’ll bring food…and a space blanket.”

Maesner shook his head.

“What a thing,” he said.

(as published by the Lewistown News-Argus Nov. 8, 2017)

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