Photograph of Men with Bear Cub at the Clack Service Station, Helena, 1937

Photograph of Men with Bear Cub at the Clack Service Station, Helena, 1937


Hi. My name is Becca Kohl. As a photo archivist at the Montana Historical Society for many years, I’ve often been asked: What is your favorite photograph? Well, we have half a million photographs in our collection, so it’s not likely that that designation is going to come about very soon; but I did want to share this photograph with you. A few weeks ago a researcher was trying to locate images of service stations in Montana in the 1930’s, and I was looking through a collection of negatives where I thought there might be likely candidates and came across this negative. I don’t know if you know about negatives. To read a negative, you have to look at things backwards. You need backlighting. The tones will appear in a different range than they are in the positive print that you have. But I could see that, yes, there are gas pumps here. There’s a tanker truck pulled up. There’s an auto laundry in the background and a lube station. As I looked closer, I noticed that a Highway Patrol car is pulled up in the foreground. And then I noticed that a patrolman is assisting a citizen who is standing on the tanker truck. But the citizen is leading a baby bear on a leash. I said: “Oh, that can’t be.” But as I looked closer, I noticed that the bears head was moving a little. So it was a live bear with a citizen on a tanker and highway patrolman; all just kind of a delightful, “slice of life,” beautifully composed photograph of the H. Earl Clack Service Station on a June afternoon in 1937.

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