Looking back on some memorable hotel experiences

My most memorable hotel experience was at Miles City, Montana in 1948.


My most memorable hotel experience was at Miles City, Montana in 1948.

I had driven to this location of the USDA Beef Cattle Research Facility to review the beef cattle performance testing research being pioneered by Bradford Knapp.

I was also interested in the strain of pigs, the Montana #1, that had been developed here.

My companions were interested in Knapp’s inbred line of performance tested Herefords, a strain already tapped by George Ross of Manyberries for inclusion in the new strain he was developing, a strain he simply called ‘The Breed’.

The first hotel in sight, an impressive new structure in mid-Miles City, was not yet open for business but an equally imposing building stood just across the street.

Its doors, obviously activated by an electric eye, swung open before us to reveal a spacious atrium and a lush carpet leading to a long marble-topped front desk.

Most impressive!

We registered, each receiving a massive skeleton key attached to a heavy metal ball.

There was little likelihood that any client would forget this treasure in their jeans when they checked out.

How quaint we thought as we crossed the lush carpet to the wide, curving stairs; still the nature of the room keys raised no alarm bells nor did the absence of any offer of assistance with our bags.

Once around the curve of the stairwell however, and out of sight of the plush entrance, the carpeted marble steps gave way to well-worn wood.

It was then we realized that the grand entrance and the elegant foyer were merely a façade.

That this was an ancient, down-at-the-heels hotel became abundantly clear when I entered my room.

The ill-fitting door scraped on the floor as it opened.

The furniture was desiccated to the point that the front of the dresser drawer pulled off in my hands and the ancient armchair collapsed when I set my suitcase across its arms.

At least the metal bed frame was solid although its coil springs threatened to penetrate the thin mattress.

My companions fared no better.

We were not disappointed. Elegance had been neither expected nor sought.

Any concerns we may have had about our lodging were completely dispelled by the warm welcome and challenging discussions with the research station staff the following day.

Thirty years would pass before I would again experience such memorable lodging, this time in Paris, France, lodging probably two centuries older than the hotel in Miles City.

This one was advertised as a five star hotel. It had an impressive entrance to match that rating and its plush stairwell led to a large landing from which sprouted several alternatives.

From here on in, it fitted the description of a rabbit warren.

Amenities included enough cockroaches, robust and athletic, in numbers that blackened the floor when the lights were out, and tile on the shower floor that clung to the feet to give protection from slivers as you clattered out onto the wood flooring.

Here I spent three nights while serving as a department appointed technical advisor to a delegation of Canadian pig producers.

It boggled the mind to contemplate what a Parisian four-star hotel might have provided. Incidentally the accommodation had been reserved by Ottawa.

However, the most unique hotel experience of my career involved a motel in Kamloops, British Columbia.

My colleague, Milton Weiss, and I had been invited here to address the annual meeting of the British Columbia Beef Cattlemen’s Association.

Accommodation was reserved for two but motel management agreed that, provided we supplied the required bedding, we could share the space with our three young sons who were eager to accompany us.

So I loaded camping gear into my van and we were on the road the moment school was out in the late afternoon of a beautiful June day.

We did not stop until we had crossed the Columbia River west of Revelstoke.

Here, in a small mountain meadow with nature’s silence broken only by the occasional rumble of ice tumbling from distant glaciers, we rolled out our sleeping bags and slept under the stars.

Next morning, after our camp breakfast, we proceeded on to our Kamloops motel.

It was closed!

Staff at the front desk referred us to the alternate accommodation they had reserved, and then explained the situation.

The motel had also been the venue for a week-long loggers’ convention.

Very early that morning, while we had slept in nature’s solitude, several well-oiled delegates, deeming the motel rooms too confining, had proceeded with their chain saws to rearrange accommodation to their satisfaction.

Doorways cut through brick and plaster walls had converted all guest rooms on the second floor into a single long room.

Since that date I have searched in vain for a chain saw of comparable capability to replace the pickaxe in excavation projects.