Sheep Notes


Bud and Mary Pearl Lode

Sheep Music: The Lode Ranch and Orchestra


Mary Pearl and Bud Lode have been football fans ever since their son Russell played the sport at Harlowton High and they followed him all over the territory. Recently, quiet Bud and vibrant Mary Pearl stopped at the editor’s house to sit for an interview en route to a Saturday ball game. The Lodes came to town to support their great nephew Daniel Barnhart who plays in the line for the home team. (The Engineers defeated White Sulphur Springs that night.) Mary Pearl loves basketball, but doesn’t get a chance to see a game very often these days. Bud isn’t that much of a booster for either sport but goes along for the ride and to get out of the house.

The Lodes drove in from the Lode Ranch 15 miles northwest of Harlo. Bud’s ancestors on both sides came from Holland arriving in America between 1889 and 1893. His parents, Harry and Ida, lived first in a Dutch colony in Michigan where they met. They moved on to Park, South Dakota, where they were married. Then to Harlowton where they bought the first parcels of the present Lode property and raised Harold, Harim, Irene, Gertrude, Janette and Henry (Bud).

Mary Pearl Beerman was born in Lewistown and moved at age three with her family to an irrigation farm near Power, MT. She attended the Power schools. “We had two grades per teacher.”

Bud was born at the Lode Ranch and went to the Lode School (located a 3/4 mile from the ranch) through the 8th grade. Mother Lode was school clerk until its doors closed around 1963. Young Bud boarded in town when he attended Harlowton High with Axel Johnson, then Mrs. Ortwine. “I weighed 90 pounds when I started high school.” He graduated HHS in 1946 and went to work fulltime on the Ranch which had been his part-time occupation for many years as he helped his parents as they aged.

Mary Pearl finished school at Power in 1953 and attended the College of Great Falls for a two-year teaching program, finishing in 1955. She then taught 1st grade for one year in Harlowton. “Theo Beley taught her first grade class in the morning and I taught mine in the afternoon. We both had full days and classes.”

During her first year in Harlowton, Mary Pearl taught Irene Lode Davis’s son in her class and got invited to Sunday dinner at the Davis home. She was thus introduced to Bud who drove her home after the meal in his new pickup.

Bud seemed to follow Mary Pearl as she took on her next teaching job at Helena. “He kept track of me.”

“I drove the Deep Creek Canyon a whole lot of times.” After a year at Helena, Mary Pearl took a job at Augusta, but was home in Power on weekends. Bud redirected his pickup to the northwest.

Bud and Mary Pearl married in 1958 (51 years ago). Mary Pearl was a substitute teacher for a time at the Lode School filling in for Ruby Lammers (mother of John Lammers). “She took that first December off and I got to do the Christmas program.” And, the next year she did the same.

By the mid 50s, Bud’s parents had moved to Harlowton and Bud took care of the ranch by himself. The Lodes eventually purchased the properties that Harry’s three brothers had owned since 1915.

It was mostly sheep and a couple horses in the early years. Farming was wheat and oats in the early days. “The machinery was all worn out when I got it. But, you can fix almost anything with bailing wire.”  

By the mid 60s, the Lodes began custom haystacking for Pete White. Bud bought a Farmhand and brought in extra income with the help of a hired hand. Eventually, the Lodes got another Farmhand which Mary Pearl and the kids ran. Business came from small irrigation farms and the Winnecook.

The Lodes have three children: Russell who with his wife Bonnie runs the Lode Ranch these days, David who is a salesman in Portland, OR, and Mary (Dolly) who ranches between Harlo and Melville. The Lodes have two grandchildren and two great grandchildren.

In the late 60s while raising the family, Mrs. Lode taught kindergarten and music at the Two Dot and Shawmut Schools. For 21 years, Mary Pearl conducted Play Skool at the Federated Church. Two sessions a day on Mondays and Wednesdays during the school year. 3-4 year-olds in the mornings and 4-5 year-olds in the afternoons sat with Mrs. Lode. What began as a play group to help youngsters socialize before going to school became Harlowton’s PreSchool program for over two decades.

Music, music, and more music became an intertwining thread for Mr. and Mrs. Lode as they grew up, married and matured. Bud was introduced to piano in his early teens by his eventual sister-in-law. Helen Tucker, a Lode School teacher, planned a basket social and auction to raise money to buy a piano. The social was such a success that Helen also got herself a Lode husband. Harim was smitten enough to make a big bid for Helen’s basket, help the school to purchase a piano, and make points in procuring his wife.

Bud also took some lessons from a man who passed through and stayed with the family. But, he never really liked piano. And never read music, not really - or so he says. “I would have the teacher play a piece through. Then, I looked at the music, but played by ear.”

His 7th and 8th grade teachers both were musically inclined and played banjo and violin at country dances. Bud was “fascinated. I practiced with Oliver Rock. I played banjo in school while August Winsky played guitar.”

Bud’s father eventually bought him a mandolin which was to his liking. Sister Irene took up the accordion. She left it behind at the ranch one time. “I picked it up and soon could play it as good as she could.”

Irene taught at the Langston School where Bud eventually started to perform for the public at Saturday socials. Soon, he was playing mandolin as well as accordion for country dances with Art Schanke on fiddle and Mrs. Dewey on piano. Later, his partners were Mr. and Mrs. Myers, drums and piano. Still later, Iverson and the Buccaneers, and Ballantine. “I spent a lot of time practicing. There wasn’t much else to do.” Accordion and guitar eventually became Bud Lode’s instruments.

Mary Pearl had a different path to music. Her mother sent her to classical piano lessons in Great Falls for five years. While in high school, she accompanied the school chorus as well as the church choir. “I played by notes for years. When Bud and I got together, I had to learn to play all over again. By ear.”

Mary Pearl joined a family that liked and enjoyed music. Bud’s brothers played the mouth harp, his sister did the accordion, and mother could sing - as could Bud. When the family got together music was the regular entertainment. “That’s how things got started. I could only play classical then. I had to learn something else to keep up with the family.”

The Lodes bought a used piano for their home on a trip to Great Falls. “At first, I just did chording with the piano. But then, I added harmony and melody.”

That particular piano was a bit of a test, but also gave Mary Pearl lots of learning opportunities. It was pitched a half tone lower than Bud’s accordion. So, Mary Pearl played on the black keys a lot. “It helped me learn how to play in different keys.”

Before long, the Bud and Mary Pearl became The Lode Orchestra with the help of a drummer, sometimes David - or Max Lenninger or George Ullman. The Lode Orchestra played country and western and old standards on the weekends at area schools and taverns. “There were other bands. But, we took over. We were good and they liked our music. And, we were cheap. We started out at $10 a night apiece.” Their signature as well as closing tune was “Detroit City.”

Mary Pearl and Bud both played with the Musselshell Mudcats from the 60s. But, Bud often was drawn away for lambing in the spring - especially as their flock grew in numbers - and couldn’t join the group.

The Mudcats began with the Kiwanis Minstrel Show and continue to this day. Mary Pearl joined them early on and has been a Mudcatter for all but one Kiwanis show over almost 50 years. Early players were Mike Maxner (the Boss) on tuba, Freddy Fulks on
trumpet, Jim Berg also on trumpet, Marvin Berg drums, George Volseth on saxaphone, and others too numerous to mention.

The Lodes also performed in Harlowton’s Brand New Opry for several years. They accompanied various singers and showed off some of their own special songs. Bud’s all around favorite is “Whispering.” Another favorite is “Have I Told You Lately That I Love You.” Mary Pearl’s favorites include “Blue Moon,” “5 Foot 3,” and “Never Felt More lIke Singing the Blues.”

Bud Lode was injured in a fall at the Moose Club in 2000. He was in the hospital in Billing for some weeks followed by a month at the nursing home in Harlo. His eyesight was permanently affected. Another injury, a broken neck, followed in 2002 and a cardiac bypass operation in 2004. Bud says, “Mary Pearl has learned to be my nurse.”

Bud had a big birthday party on July 19 to celebrate his 80th. Over 100 people attended and friends Julie and Lynn Sanders from Big Timber provided musical entertainment.

While Bud Lode will never be a big sports fan, he still keeps a hand in music. Mary Pearl and he go to the Wheatland Memorial Nursing Home the first Sunday of the month to entertain the residents. Bud sings and strums the guitar and Mary Pearl plays piano. They occasionally do the same at nursing homes in Big Timber, Lewistown and Billings.

Bud Lode is pretty quiet these days. Takes a bit to get a rise out of him. He does grant that his wife is “a pretty good piano player. If I could sing it, she could play it.”