Here’s why the lights went out in Terry, Montana, in 1958.
Every small town in America has unsolved mysteries. They can range from “Who tipped Pastor White over in the outhouse back in ’48?” to “Who carved his undying love for Dianna Jones on the big oak in front of the old high school 50 years ago?” And while these enigmas might stem from pranks, they can also be the result of an accident—which is what happened to the Christmas lights in Terry, Montana, in 1958. A year before I was born, my then-20-year-old dad was driving a truck headed east on U.S. Highway 10 on a cold winter night. He was hauling Washington state Red Delicious apples and his load had to be in Glendive, Montana, the next morning. At about 2 a.m., Dad was hungry and decided to stop in Terry and grab a bite at the old beanery, a lunchroom along the rail lines. So he got off the highway and rumbled through the sleeping little hamlet. After a good meal, he rolled out of town, enjoying the bit of cheer offered by the Christmas lights strung above the streets. In those days Terry’s population was maybe 200, and there wasn’t a soul in sight. As he shifted, Dad heard something odd and looked in his sideview mirror. All of the town’s Christmas lights were dancing behind him! For a second, it seemed as though the holiday display was just for him and he felt like a kid at Christmas. He drove on, mesmerized, until he realized that the lights were hooked onto his trailer. The “dancing” was the lights blinking out as they were pulled from the utility poles. That’s when my father made a decision. He checked both mirrors to make sure no utility poles had been pulled over onto the road. And when he was sure there was no danger, he just kept going because he had to stay on schedule. Dad’s truck was the legal height and the road was a legitimate route for truckers, but the lights were hung too low. He was the unlucky one who discovered the mistake. So if there is anyone out there who wonders what happened to Terry’s Christmas lights in 1958, now you know the answer. Dad is still driving and going strong at 80. He does his best to steer clear of Christmas lights and not drive off with anyone’s holiday cheer.