By Ross Markman
The term "sore head" is not exactly an endearing one, but in the tiny town of Rudyard that doesn't seem to matter.
In fact, it's actually a compliment, an honor, a coveted title.
Just ask Bobby Toner, the 52-year-old farmer and owner of Toner's Tire-Rama in Rudyard. His grandfather, Tommy Wilson, was the original and only sore head.
Toner defeated 45 other candidates for the auspicious title. And he won by a landslide.
Before learning of his victory, the father of three was confident the designation of sore head would not be his.
"I'm too young to be one. But it'd be a conversation piece to say the least. You have to expect people to ask what it means," he said.
"I have no idea how I was nominated," Toner added. "It's a neat deal though, because there's a lot of interest about it all of the sudden."
Much of that interest has revolved around a more than 40-year-old wooden sign welcoming people to Rudyard.
"RUDYARD: 596 Nice People 1 Old Sore Head!" it reads.
The population these days is actually less than half that amount, according to the U.S. Census Bureau, which in 2000 counted 275 residents in the unincorporated town. Rudyard is nestled between Hingham and Inverness in Hill County, about 40 miles west of Havre.
Beth Roen, one of the election's coordinators and a two-year Rudyard resident, said the sore head serves as a representative of the town.
"They'll ride in the Shelby and Rudyard parades in July," she said. "It's just to poke a little fun at people if they're a little grumpy. But it's also an honor."
The election was held during the last month and a half, Roen said. Anyone with $5 and a Rudyard address was eligible to vote.
The money will be split evenly between the Rudyard Depot Museum and the town's Memorial Park.
townspeople assembled at the Catholic Youth Center Saturday afternoon, each waiting to hear who would be the next sore head.
The smell of barbecued pork chops permeated the air. Roger Aspevig, a retired Rudyard teacher, sang and played songs like "I Can't Stop Loving You" on the keyboard.
Many in attendance knew Wilson well. He died in 1995, 10 years after he gave the sign a name and face.
"He was the town character," Albert Budeau said. "He was always causing trouble."
Budeau was one of the nominees for sore head. He's 92, but looks 20 years younger.
"I'm too damn old to be the sore head," he said. "I don't think it should be me. They think it should be me."
"He's the orneriest, the meanest, the most criminal guy I know," Budeau's pal Roland Ritter said with a laugh. "He's my golfing partner, and if he can't win with the clubs, he wins with the pencil."
Other candidates said Wilson epitomized the meaning of sore head, but said they'd welcome the moniker for themselves.
"I never nominated myself, but I wouldn't mind," Cliff Ulmen, 83, said.
"Tommy was really outspoken and he got himself into a lot of trouble being that way. He was the guy who never shut up," he added.
Bud Een agreed.
"Tommy was a joker, a happy-go-lucky kind of guy," Een, 82, said. "It's a lot of fun, I guess. It'd be a nice recognition."
After he was crowned the new sore head, Toner was dumbfounded, but visibly happy.
"Revote next year. Start getting ready for next year," he told the crowd.
The townspeople laughed.
"It's not up to you to call a new election," Roen said.
Toner will retain the title indefinitely, or until the town decides to hold another election.
Toner's name and date of election will be engraved right below his grandfather's on a plaque that hangs in the Rudyard Depot Museum.
"Maybe I'm older than I thought I was," Toner said, taking a bite of pork chop.
"(The other candidates) are all people that have lived here all their lives. It's a nice recognition," he added.
To Toner's left was his 17-year-old son, Keenan.
A future sore head?
Keenan Toner hopes not, but said his dad is deserving of the honor.
"It's kind of neat. It kind of runs in the family," he said. "He's sometimes grumpy, but I think he was named the sore head probably just 'cause people like him."