I used to fly out of Gallatin Field in Belgrade, Montana quite a bit as a student. During my terms of office with the American Institute of Architecture Students, Gallatin Field became a regular point of departure / point of entry for trips to the east coast and other points. My alma mater, Montana State University, is located in Bozeman, Montana, and Bozeman is located at the very end of a broad but contained plain, the Gallatin Valley. The Bridger Range is at Bozeman’s doorsteps, so the only location flat enough, and with enough flat land on either side to support aircraft approaches is a town several miles away – Belgrade.
Belgrade’s a small town, out of a Hollywood western movie. The Malibu Supper Club used to be there before they had a fire and it burned down. It had a wooden grain elevator that was a seed cleaning plant and a water tower. They had a ‘walk up’ style mexican restaurant that served food on plastic plates.
Gallatin Field was a small airport with tremendous airline connections, the only airport at the time in the Northwest Orient Airlines route system that didn’t have a control tower. One year, the MSU “Fighting Bobcats” football team made it to a national championship of some sort. The Bobcat Booster Association chartered a DC-10 to fly out of Gallatin Field: waiting until the wind was blowing in the right direction, it barely made it over the mountains. The terminal building at Gallatin was a comfortable place; it even had a wood burning fireplace. Peter Fonda – a local – used to have a morning routine of breakfast at the airport cafeteria where other locals would fly in to partake of the runway view over coffee and huevos rancheros with the Bridger Mountains in back. One night, a group of us came across Mr. Fonda in the airport lounge – the cocktail waitress told us that she was ecstatic having just served Jeff Bridges, and complimented this fellow (actually Peter Fonda) on his movies. Perhaps Gallatin Field was the perfect hangout for a Hollywood star wanting to remain anonymous, or at least mistaken for Jeff Bridges.
Then Hollywood moved to Bozeman, more so after the filming of “The River Runs Through It” by Robert Redford. Glenn Close’s sister bought the Leaf and Bean Coffee Shop on Main Street in Bozeman; they used to sell a Celestial Seasonings tea blend called “Evening in Missoula” that I never drank. Apparently, the airport terminal was expanded to have a third gate, I haven’t heard if the fireplace, or the cafeteria, or the lounge still exist; it finally has a control tower, however.
This morning’s edition of the Bozeman Daily Chronicle featured a slideshow presentation of Air Force One – on the tarmac at Gallatin Field! The television networks were abuzz with a Town Hall meeting held inside a hanger – a hanger probably meant for Piper Cubs, maybe the occasional Lear Jet, but not Air Force One.
It seemed like the end of the age of innocence. After this event, it’s quite doubtful that Peter Fonda – or anyone else from Hollywood living near the Gallatin Valley in Montana – could ever frequent the airport ever again and be mistaken for Jeff Bridges.