By Robert Lucke
It's easy to tell that Joe Cech used to work for the railroad. Just drive by his beautiful pink house on Sixth Avenue. It is the one with the large Great Northern goats standing at attention at the backyard clothesline. That's also the yard with the beautiful rock grotto in the middle of a rose garden, complete with statue of the Blessed Virgin.
There is a sense of timelessness to everything that Joe Cech does. Consider his house. He bought it from Dr. Lacy in 1948, and instead of moving sometime through the years, he remodeled and made the home more beautiful with each passing age.
Cech was born on a farm in Minnesota, about 100 miles north of St. Cloud. His mother and father, born in the United States as well, at one point headed north into Canada. It was there that Cech's father remarried and Joe headed west. He spent a few months in Fargo with a cousin before coming to Havre in 1928 because an older sister was living here.
Cech was 18 years old when he arrived. And first found work helping to build the Beaver Creek Golf Course.
"Judge Elwell was the head of that project. I think it was a community project and we had it mostly all built in 1928, even though some people think it was built in 1929," recollected Cech. "I remember that another fellow and I dug the well. We went down 30 feet before hitting water. We didn't even have cribbing. Just dug down."
During that time, Cech hired on at the Great Northern Railroad as a helper and stayed until he retired as the car shop foreman in 1974. He said that he was not working for the Great Northern as much through the Depression. In fact he took a job as a taxi driver in those days just to make ends meet.
"I worked for the Great Northern and a few years for the Burlington Northern when they merged," said Cech. "At first we had no tools at all to even work with. Why, we didn't even have a wheelbarrow down there. When we took wheels off the trains, it took eight of us to drag them through the dirt. Those were the days when people said we had to have weak minds and strong backs to work there."
In 1930 Cech married Eva Leona Mapes. The couple had four children, Marsha Malsam, Barbara Nielsen, Karen Reich, and Kathy Belcourt. These days, if you can imagine, Cech has 15 grandchildren, 20 great-grandchildren, and one great-great-grandchild to be proud of.
As you might imagine, Cech has seen a lot of changes in Havre.
"When I got here there was nothing in the south end and nothing up on the hill at all," remembered Cech, laughing. "But the town did a hell of a lot more business than they do now. The Honky Tonk was going full blast. When I was driving taxi, weekends were really busy in this town. Shorty Young ran the Honky Tonk. He was a nice guy. And there was Daddy Marshal's Bar. That was a busy place too."
Cech remembered the lack of people moving around during the depression as well.
"One time I needed some work so I walked to North Fork (between Chinook and Harlem) and didn't meet a single car on the road going down or coming back. That was in 1931," related Cech. "I got a job in the beet fields. I still remember we worked from sunup to sundown for a dollar a day. The mosquitoes never bothered me, but they sure bothered some of the other workers."
These days Cech is sad because he has lost many of his Bear Paw pals like John Manual, Leonard Faber, and Billy Young.
"You know Billy Young's grandfather was the first Bear Paw rancher I met when I came to Havre," said Cech.
Joe Cech's wife died in 1990, just three months short of their 60th wedding anniversary.
Not all is sadness in Cech's life these days. There are 50 or 60 widows around him and he makes the most of it.
"During the summer I do a lot of walking," said Cech, with a broad smile. "I stop at all the widows' and have coffee with them."
Cech served as a city alderman in the 1950's and is proud that he was instrumental in getting James Davey to run for alderman too. Davey went on to become a Havre mayor.
About Havre, Cech is sure of one thing.
"I wouldn't leave here for anything. I'd do it all again just like I did it the first place," said Cech. "Havre is a real good place to raise kids. It is not too big and not too small. It's just a real good place to live."
Cech's neighbors think the same of him. Only thing is, come on Cech family! Let's get busy. Joe Cech wants at least one great-great-great-grandchild before too long!