• U.S.

MONTANA: Ghost Town, 1943

2 minute read

The handsomest ghost town of World War II—Mouat, a $15 million investment in chrome—sat on a shelf of Montana’s Bear Tooth Mountains last week, all but deserted.

Shiny new fire engines parked unused.

A bowling alley’s polished lanes were unscratched. No patient had slept in the sleek new 50-bed hospital, fitted with X-rays and incubators. A mess hall (capacity: 450) had finer equipment than any hotel in Montana, but nothing and nobody to serve. A dozen boys and girls shouted down empty corridors of a school-house built for 200. Lloyd Badgley’s store had piles of canned goods, a soda fountain, gleaming meat refrigeration, no customers.

War Baby. Two years ago Mouat was a wooded mountainside, green with Douglas fir and jack pine. Its population consisted of jut-jawed old Prospector Bill Mouat and his wife. Then the U.S., needing chrome sorely, found it at Mouat. Japs had choked off the chrome supply from the Philippines; the Nazis blocked the Mediterranean route from Turkey, Nazi subs imperiled shipping from South Africa. The Government moved in with old Prospector Bill.

At Mouat, Metals Reserve Co. cleared away the hillside, honeycombed it with six levels of tunnels, perched a mill twelve stories high in the canyon below. Mouat would supply two-thirds of U.S. needs, and never mind the cost.

Production began June 1. Nine hundred construction workers and mill hands crowded into the five rows of new grey clapboard bungalows “downstairs”by the mill. Another 1,000—workers, wives & children—moved into the .upper town, planted grass around their houses and dormitories.

Shutdown. But Allied victories in North Africa and Sicily brought death to Mouat. Chrome could be shipped again more cheaply than Mouat could mill it. The mill closed down. Workers wandered off to work in Butte’s copper mines. The Anaconda men who operated Mouat for the Government went back to their old jobs. All that was left in Mouat, three months after production began, were guards, maintenance men and their families, an occasional bear nosing through empty garbage cans, and old Bill Mouat and his wife.

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