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Lowman pens 'And the Freight Trains Roll'

Sentinel Butte rancher, storyteller, author and artist Bill Lowman  honored his dad, the late Harold Lowman, in the best way he could -- through a poem.

“And The Freight Trains Roll” is the title of his latest book of poetry, short stories and art, but also is a poem about his dad:

“He rode in on a freight train, From  Nevada back in 1931, To chase broom tails of the badlands, A Cowboy’s way of fun.

“The years all run together, As the freight trains rolled on by. Their ranch kept on expanding, Through sheer hard work and try.”

It concludes:

“As the Sentinel Butte Cemetery Added one more to its toll. A whistle blew from the nearby tracks, As a freight train continued to roll.”

Lowman was inspired to write the poem while standing at his dad’s graveside.

“The timing was such that after the service, the train saluted him… he was 86 years old,” said Lowman.

His keen sense of observation for details is carried throughout his writings and art about cowboys and their ranch culture.

In “There’s a Storm A-Comin’” he tells how his border collie was the best predictor of storms. The static electricity and low pressure would bother him on a hot day, and he’d run into basement… “sure enough we’d have a thunderstorm that night.”

He tells how, going down to Sentinel Butte, he’d hear the freight train whistles at Medora  some 18 miles away. The dropping barometric pressure was nature’s way of forecasting another storm.

“And The Freight Trains Roll” is organized  into sections of poetry, of Badlands winters and blizzards, stories collected at the National Cowboy Poetry Gathering at Elko, Nev.,  and stories as told by friends. Finally, he’s compiled a section of original cartoons having western humor.

“In all, it’s my sixth book… it’s a fun one, written as a good stocking stuffer -- you don’t have to be in the ag industry to get a kick out of it. There’s something for everybody,” he said. “It’s recording our history; otherwise it gets lost. It’s an oral tradition written down in story, poetry and song.”

Lowman has been compiling the book for a while and finished the art last winter.

“I don’t do any art work unless there’s a reason to record history, and I don’t do writing unless there’s a reason to record something,” he said. “It has to have a reason -- an exceptional event that needs recording.”

What are his favorite stories?

One is certainly  titled “The worst spring storm ever”  which started in March of 1975 and blew off and on for six full weeks in the Little Missouri River country. … trying to get 100-pound sacks of cake by sled  to the cattle, shoveling clearings through the show banks and convincing their horses to enter the “tunnels.”

The stories from the National Cowboy Poetry Gathering are a sharing of tradition, but one story stands front and center -- F.B.I’s 10 Most Wanted. The story describes a flight from Bismarck to the Salt Lake City airport. The stewardess kept making eye contact with Lowman; until to his surprise, he was held back, being suspected of looking like Claude Layfette Dallas Jr., a fugitive on the run.  “.. for over the next 30-plus years, the older poets and folklorists jokingly called me “Claude.”

Lowman writes and draws on winter afternoons or early morning before daylight.

“A lot of the poems come from notebooks on my saddle horn, when I’m haying or on the tractor. If something runs in my head, I want to get it down…. It writes itself. If you talk to singers, their best writing comes so fast they barely can write it down… You have to know when you function best -- early morning or late at night. I like early morning before daylight when the wood stove is burning and the coffee is on.”


Bill, the youngest of four children, grew up on the Wanagan Creek Ranch, some 20 miles northeast of Sentinel Butte. A wind generator supplied the ranch with its only electricity until 1970. The first telephone was years away. Lignite coal was mined from the creek bank. Their one room country school sat three miles away. Mail came three times a week.

After two winters at the Art Institute of Miami, Fla., Bill drove sled dogs at Aspen, Colo., and cowboyed on the Twiford Ranch at Glendo, Wyo. Returning home, he wintered Jim Tescher’s cattle while Jim chased the world saddle bronc title.

His wife, JoAnn Klein, grew up on a ranch and they were married in 1970. They have two sons, Lane and Lusk. Bill supplemented the ranch working for contractors and went on to purchase his own Lowman Construction fleet.

His art hangs in collections from coast to coast and Europe. He is a charter member of The National Cowboy Poetry Gathering and founder of the Dakota Cowboy Poetry Gathering. He’s been a banquet speaker for more than 700 events. He’s recognized as a Local Legacy in  the Washington DC’s Library of Congress for preserving America’s cowboy culture. He was inducted into the N.D. Cowboy Hall of Fame in 2013. Bill and his family have acquired the home ranch as well as constructing Lowman’s Lodge, a trophy mule deer archery hunting facility.

Book signings

Book signings are scheduled at:

* Western Edge Books  in Medora from 10 a.m. to noon Saturday, Dec. 8.

* Performing and selling books at the North Dakota Cowboy Hall of Fame in Medora at 1 p.m. Dec. 8.

* Book signing at Runnings Farm and Fleet in Dickinson from 1-3 p.m. Saturday, Dec. 15.

* Performing and book sale at Keene, sponsored by the church ladies.