Dane Elwood spent the weekend in Victor, MT, preparing to lease the bakery he owns there. How was the trip? “It was good. The Bitterroot was gorgeous.”
What's happening here in Harlo? “It's kind of a quiet time right now. The Rail Trail project has slowed quite a bit. The west sign will be going up soon along with entrance signs at each end of the trail. The painting of the E57B was finished, which was a wonderful volunteer effort. The Depot Committee (City-County Preservation) is pretty stagnant, though. We need help there. Our old railroaders are fading away.”
“Quite a bit happened earlier this season up at the (Jawbone Creek) golf course. Lots of donations of trees - we've planted about 75 trees and shrubs over the past couple seasons. Our hope is to get half of them to survive, which we've bettered by some. But it's pretty harsh climate up there on the hill.” Elwood is the immediate Past President of JCCC. Although the president generally holds his office for a one-year term, Dane's term was for 2 1/2 years.
“It's an ever-evolving golf course. We've put in some new teeboxes and have some plans for a couple more. These changes require landscaping and additional irrigating systems, so they do take some money. But, they add so much to the course -- change of distance, new angles off the tee, trees to entice you to play the fairway.”
Elwood has been playing golf “pretty much forever.” He started when the Harlowton Country Club was a sand green course. The same place, but a little different layout. He first tried golf when in the 4th grade. “I was friends with Blake Piper. His dad, banker Red Piper, took us golfing and I got hooked.”
Mr. Elwood is somewhat notorious for playing golf - even in the winter. “I used to make it a point to play every Christmas Day. It's good fun playing with snow banks here and there, and if you hit the frozen lake the ball just keeps going and going. I used to played barefoot in the summer a lot, too. Won a couple tournaments that way, which brought some interesting comments.”
Dane has been going to the Harlowton City Council meetings religiously for two years. Some people consider him the seventh councilman. Hasn't missed a meeting. Why?
“I'm interested on the one hand. But on the other hand I guess I consider myself the public's watchdog. This is basically a volunteer council. Their interest is kind of sporadic, and things can get lost between the cracks. I think it's important that someone from the public takes notice and makes sure that doesn't happen.”
“I've had a lot of experience in meetings and dealing with people in my computer work. Computer people can be incredibly difficult to work with, so that has provided me with at least a reasonably good foundation for working with the Council.”
What has he seen in two years of council watching? “I think there have been improvements. There was a shift to using an agenda and getting more organized on the Council, which was really needed. Some good things came out the Capital Improvement Planning Committee. That was a good process. If it continues, the CIP will get us a new water tower. The Committee turned in a plan and the Council adopted it. We also proposed the formation of a street maintenance district. The Council is considering that proposal now.” If adopted, the street maintenance district would cost each household four dollars a month and the monies collected would go for street, curb, gutter, and sidewalk projects around town where they are needed the most. Dane was the chairman on the CIP Committee and other members were Dale Schmeling, Jeff Sell, Ian Reed, John Crowley, and Audrey Massing.
Will he run for city office? “I may run someday. I think I would do a pretty good job as a councilman, but not as a mayor -- that's management, and I'm not sure I'd do so well at that. I tried it once with a programming group and it about did me in.”
Mr. Elwood has been employed by Education Logistics (on the web at edulog.com) during two periods of time for over twenty years. He is a computer programmer and writes pupil transportation planning software. “We basically help school districts plan the busing of their students to their schools.”
His company has its headquarters in Missoula in the old sugar factory building behind Target. “When I started in 1985, there were 25 employees. Now, there are over 200 in the Missoula office alone. We have branch offices around the country. The programming staff has fifteen to twenty people. Several work away from Missoula from their homes, as I do.” (Elwood used to program in C++ but now uses Java.)
Many city school districts have huge bus costs. “Our company used to do consulting with schools, take their data and make recommendations for optimizing the use of their buses. Now, we write software which can be used by school administrators at their own sites. The software uses some pretty heavy math -- network theory and such -- but it's fun. The owner of the company, Hien Nguyen, was a graduate school professor of mine. I took the last class he taught before he quit teaching to run Edulog full-time.”
“The software is fairly expensive, but it can save school districts large amounts of money so it's a good investment for them. Originally, we worked only with the big school market. Now, we have software for smaller and smaller districts. Edulog actually hosts their database and they access it online. It's been interesting to be part of a software evolution from mainframes down to the little PC's of today.”
Most recently, Elwood and his Edulog colleagues have been using mapquest.com resources to offer pretty base maps for their software. The new programs will debut at an upcoming convention of the National Association of Public Transportation. “Everything is going to GPS (Global Positioning Systems) enabled applications for live tracking. Kids now have cards to get on their school bus. Each kid can be tracked. Parents can see at any time where their child and his bus are.”
Dane grew up in Harlowton with his four older brothers. He was the valedictorian for the Class of 1981 and went to the University of Montana on a Bair Scholarship. He took a BS in Computer Science and almost got a Master's in Operations Research (Mathematics). If he had finished the graduate program, he said with a laugh, “I probably would have gotten the same job at Edulog that I did get.”
Brother Mike is a geologist living in Bangkok, Thailand. (Mike, wife Dang, and daughter Gwen helped with painting E57B this summer. Their family did the previous paint job in the 90s.) John is a pharmacist in Elko, Nevada. Rob is a computer guy for McKesson Pharmaceutical north of Devner. And, Jim is an English teacher in Tokyo, Japan.
The original volunteers in the Elwood family were mother Donna and father Warren. Donna is the chairman of the board of the Wheatland County Senior Citizens Center and active with the Depot Committee when the latter is. Warren was very involved in the Upper Musselshell Museum, the Senior Center (he helped get the senior van started), and the Depot Committee.
While community service and golf seem to be built in to Mr. Elwood's makeup, Dane also has a deep and abiding affection for bread baking. He bought his bakery in Victor in 1996. “I experimented for a couple years. Sold bread and goodies at farmers market for a couple years, and then had cookie jars in several locations around the Bitterroot Valley for a while after that. When I came back to Harlo in 2002, I set up the bakery here and baked here for a while.” Baking now? “Um, no -- I baked one loaf of bread last year,” he said with a smile.
Elwood's short-lived Harlowton bakery was called Slow Rise, as is his email address. “It's about method in baking, but it's a metaphor for life as well. It comes from my favorite bread cookbook -- Brother Juniper's Bread Book. Slow Rise is a wonderful approach to baking bread and to living life. You don't force things -- you create an environment that encourages things to happen and then give them the time to do it. I still use it, or at least try to.”
“I love baking, and the whole bakery feel. I used to go visit my mom when she worked at the Scally Bakery next to the post office in the early 70's -- she was the donut cook. I love the smells, the sounds, the big equipment -- all of it. I'm sure I got hooked on it then, and it just took a few years for the opportunity to try it myself came about. I'm not baking right now, but someday I'll probably retire from computing and take up baking again. We'll see.”