ESCANABA - For most hunters and outdoor enthusiasts, a visit to Montana would be the trip of a lifetime.
Steve Lieburn of Escanaba has been making Montana excursions for close to 30 years.
"My father started taking me out to Montana in 1981," said Lieburn. "We would go fishing, hunting and helping with ranch work. I've been going out there ever since."
But a recent trip is one Lieburn won't forget anytime soon. His boyhood friend, Paul Theis of Marinette, had been applying for a big-game hunting license in Montana for several years. This year, Theis's name was finally drawn to hunt deer in the state.
"Paul called me up and asked if I would like to go out there with him," said Lieburn, a past Lions Club president in Wells. "We talked about the trip and Paul decided to take his 1993 Chevy truck which had a rebuilt engine, rebuilt transmission and new tires. So we took the truck and my camper and headed out there."
The two men headed west Oct. 3. While traveling through Minnesota, the truck's entire exhaust system went out. "We spent a day in a garage getting that fixed," Lieburn said with a chuckle. As the men pulled into Wolfpoint, Mont., the transmission blew and the truck limped into town in second gear.
"By that point, Paul and I were really frustrated," Lieburn said. "We went to this Ford dealer in Wolfpoint and told the owner (Bill Rathert) our situation. He (Rathert) called his wife in Billings and had a transmission delivered to us the next day."
Rathert didn't stop there. He realized Lieburn and Theis were hunting out of the truck and camper. "Bill gave us a new super-duty 350 truck to use for three days and wouldn't take any money for it," said Lieburn.
After three days of hunting, Paul's truck had been fixed. The first day the men got the truck back, the roads were extremely muddy from heavy rain.
"It's almost impossible to get around in eastern Montana when it rains," said Lieburn.
The men tried to drive through the muddy conditions. Theis threw up so much mud he knocked out two brake lines so another day was spent repairing the brakes before the men could get back to hunting.
"The hunting was tremendous," said Lieburn. "We were seeing groups of bucks, along with grouse, prairie chickens, ducks and pheasants. It was like a dream."
Lieburn and Theis spent two weeks with friends at their 13,000 acre ranch on the Missouri River in the Wolfpoint area, located about 60 miles west of North Dakota.
On the way home, a piece from the replaced exhaust system on the truck fell off and blew out a tire on Lieburn's camper.
"We ended up spending $3,402 on repairs, but had a trip we'll never forget," he said.
When Lieburn arrived back in Escanaba Oct. 18, he wanted to show his appreciation for what Rathert had done.
"I knew Bill wouldn't accept any money, so I sent him a big box of Sayklly's chocolates and told him to share them with his crew," Lieburn said.
Theis recently retired from the Michigan Department of Human Services so the trip was a nice way to start his retirement. As for Lieburn, he almost had another trip planned for him.
"Paul called and wanted to know if I could go to Minneapolis with him, he found a new truck," Lieburn said with a laugh. "I had a doctor's appointment, so Paul had to make other arrangements."