Thursday Apr. 24, 2014
Entertainment & Lifestyle in the Flathead Valley, MT
From left: Blair Moore, Seth Axelsen and Jeffrey Funk take apart the Old Steel Bridge along the bank of the Flathead River on April 17. Greg Lindstrom | Flathead Beacon

When the Old Steel Bridge was put into place spanning the Flathead River in 1894, just south of what is now Highway 35 and along Holt Stage Road, it offered a solution for everyone who needed to get across the waterway in a more reliable way than by cable ferry.

For more than 100 years, the bridge held strong for people crossing from bank to bank, even putting up with the type of traffic it wasn’t built for, such as automobiles.

But after it was decommissioned in 2008, the bridge has languished on the riverbank, waiting for a new life.

And last week, local blacksmith Jeffrey Funk found a way to make that happen. He and his crew methodically took apart the bridge, saving it from the scrap heap, and destining the wrought iron pieces for future use in tools, art, and architectural uses.

“Frankly, I had my eyes on it before they tore it down,” Funk said.

Other sections of the bridge had already been removed and cut up for scrap, he said, and he didn’t want that to happen to the remaining structure. The wrought iron used to make the bridge, which he considers the “old growth” of iron, isn’t made anymore, replaced by steel.

“I can make things with this I simply cannot make with steel,” Funk said.

There weren’t any automobiles here when the bridge made its way into the valley by train, and a team of oxen pulled it into place. From 1894 until 2008, the bridge served for everyday use, helping people cross the river regardless of the weather.

After it was decommissioned, Pete Skibsrud bought the bridge, hoping to transform it back to its former glory somewhere else, possibly spanning the Stillwater River near Flathead Valley Community College.

However, the money and the logistics weren’t there, and the bridge sat at the fishing access bearing its name.

Funk said he was involved with the project when Skibsrud came onto the scene, and wanted to help revitalize the structure if possible. But when that didn’t seem like it was in the cards, he offered to take the metal so it could be saved from the scrap heap and be made into new creations, all the while acknowledging where the metal in these creations came from.

The blacksmith has taken on similar projects in the past, using materials from a decommissioned bridge in Bigfork. Finding wrought iron these days can be a chore, he said, but it’s the metal he prefers to work with.

“It’s a material that’s really wonderfully plastic under the hammer of a blacksmith,” Funk said. “I don’t want that material to get melted down, because they don’t make it anymore.”

The bridge has held up well over the last century, Funk said; when he took the structure apart, it was sound. The footings were the problem, he said.

After strategically dissecting the bridge over a period of three days, Funk was left with about 14 tons of material. Much of the compressed material will go on to be part of architectural structures, and the remaining 7,000 pounds of bar stock will be used for various blacksmithing projects.

Since there’s so much metal, Funk said he would be using plenty of it for his own projects, including forging axes, gates and tools, as well as selling some of it to other blacksmiths around the country seeking out wrought iron.

He will use some of it to make a creation for Skibsrud, Funk said, as a way of saying thank you for the years he fought to keep the bridge from disappearing. He also intends on forging some pieces for the Museum at Central School in Kalispell.

There are also plans for a small interpretive site at the fishing access where the bridge was, Funk said.

Overall, Funk said he is pleased he could extend the life of such an historic structure.

“I kind of like to immerse myself tactilely in history,” he said. “I can feel the history under my hammer.”

For more information on Jeffrey Funk, visit
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Desserts served at the FVCC Chef’s Table dinners, like this chocolate pudding, are designed to evoke nostalgia and deliver a complex culinary experience. This pudding will be a favorite on its own, but you can make it even more intriguing by serving it with the slightly bitter salted caramel sauce and deeply caramelized brioche croutons.
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The cast of 'Opal' rehearses at the Flathead Valley Community College Theatre on April 11. Greg Lindstrom - Flathead Beacon

When Nick Spear first appeared in the musical “Opal” more than a decade ago, Robert Lindsey-Nassif, who wrote the music, book and lyrics, was on hand to share his vision for the production.

Today, in his debut as co-director of the play, which premieres April 17 at the Flathead Valley Community College Theatre, Spear has divined his own unique inspirations for the ensemble piece.

“When I was in this musical, Lindsey-Nassif came and helped direct. It was interesting having the composer there to share his vision versus trying to produce the story from a published version,” Spear said.
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Chaske Spencer stars in “Winter in the Blood.” Photo by Michael Coles | Courtesy image

When James Welch published his debut novel, “Winter in the Blood,” in 1974, it marked the arrival of a powerful new literary voice that put into words the reality of being a Native American living on the reservation. Born in Browning to a Blackfeet father and Gros Ventre mother, Welch went on to produce five novels and become “our greatest writer,” according to Sherman Alexie, another preeminent Native American author.
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There are a few variations on preparing calamari, but my favorite way to use an influence of Asian flavors. Using rice flour makes the batter extra crisp and slightly puffy, and this powerful salad is perfectly enhanced by a spicy and sour dressing. I hope you will enjoy preparing and serving this perfectly fresh, crisp and unique dish during one of your upcoming springtime occasions!

Yield: Four servings
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John Rawlings is retiring from FVCC at the end of the spring term. Greg Lindstrom | Flathead Beacon

John Rawlings has not printed out his resume in nearly 20 years, but the seven-page document sitting on his desk shows a diverse career that spans five decades, includes a half-dozen schools and several awards. Now he’s hoping to add a few more projects and exhibitions to that list as he steps down as Flathead Valley Community College’s art director.

After 49 years of teaching art and more than two decades as the head of FVCC’s bustling art program, Rawlings is retiring at the end of the semester. Rawlings said he’s considered retirement for a few years, especially after some health issues arose. But even when he does clean out his office inside the Arts and Technology Building, his presence there will still be measurable. He says he will stay just as busy, and involved, after he retires.
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With the arrival of spring it’s time to excite the palette with some exotic, bright flavor. Your taste buds are begging you to switch up the long winter’s comfort food routine. Here we travel to East Africa for a taste of its traditional flavors using Berbere (pronounced bahr-beh-REE). Berbere is a spice blend usually containing pepper, paprika, fenugreek, ginger, cardamom and a variety of other spices.
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Gothard Sisters
The Gothard Sisters. Courtesy photo.

With a final performance on March 29, nonprofit Flathead Valley Live on Stage will close out its 75th season of bringing family-friendly musical acts to local audiences.

The 2013-2014 season was relatively successful, Live on Stage president Betsy Wood said last week, though it has been a bit of a challenge getting the word out about the organization’s name change.

Live on Stage was formerly known as the Flathead Valley Concert Association, and before that it was the Community Concerts Association.
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