After some 40 years in the corporate world, Tom Sallinger set his heart on purchasing a home out West to enjoy during his retirement years.
“For about four years, I’d take a week at a time and head to different parts of the country to look for homes and property,” recalls Tom, whose wife, Denise, would often accompany him. “We looked at ranches in New Mexico, Colorado, Wyoming, Oregon and Montana.”
The 600-acre property that finally captured the couple’s hearts is in Montana’s Paradise Valley, situated along two-and-a-half miles of the Yellowstone River in the shadows of the Crazy, the Absaroka and the Gallatin mountain ranges. “It was love at first sight,” Tom says. “We must have looked at 25 ranches before settling on this one.”
The ranch was, at various times during its existence, a cattle operation. When the Sallingers purchased it about five years ago, it was idle. Now, thanks to the couple and their various ranch hands, who oversee 200 black Angus cows, hay crops, horses and more, it’s back in working order. The couple live there half the year and spend the remainder mostly at their home in Indianapolis.
“There were several outbuildings on the property — a homestead building, a vet area, a shop and more,” says Tom. “It was all rundown before we purchased it.”
Now the ranch exudes Montana-style beauty at every turn, inside and out. Of all the buildings on the property, the cabin-style bunkhouse, referred to as “Legacy Bunkhouse,” is perhaps the most charming. At only about 400 square feet, the layout makes the most of every inch, while staying true to its historic design.
“It was originally a homestead,” notes Tom, “probably from the early 1900s.” Sleeping six, the remodeled cabin now features complementary antique accents, such as a potbelly wood stove hearth and reclaimed cabinetry and cabin flooring, alongside more modern accents.
Building a Bunkhouse
Before its makeover, builders first dismantled the entire building. “They turned it, so there was a better view from the front porch,” Tom explains. Then they rebuilt it using the original materials. “The chinking took a different skill level, one that required knowledge of that era’s design,” he notes.
It took builder Jon Evans of Montana-based North Fork Builders and his crew about three months to restore the cabin. His company focuses primarily on custom residential housing, but also specializes in restoration and adaptation of historic structures on Western ranch projects.
The team was focused on the aforementioned traditional chinking technique that provided texture and color replicating Old World styling, says the builder, “rather than the smooth, monochromatic texture of modern chinking.”
The building was originally used as a tack room and shed from what the builder could tell. The crew took a few liberties, he admits, to make it a comfortable bunkhouse. However, the styling, he says, is as authentic as possible, including the use of an antique wood stove as the primary heat source, which he discovered and had refurbished. His challenges included completely rebuilding the roof to add ceiling height in a way to make it look as old as the rest of the building.
Thanks to the builder’s expert log and timber craftsmen, who specialize in executing Old World detailing, the cabin brims with genuine appeal.
“We had an outstanding architect, builder, designer and tradesmen,” recalls Tom. “It was a comprehensive project, one thing after another.”
The lodgepole pine structure serves as an enchanting respite for visiting family and friends and is a cozy, relaxing spot for Tom and Denise. This Thanksgiving, the bunkhouse will welcome myriad family members. Come December, the couple will once again adorn the cabin with simple rustic holiday trim, including a pair of Christmas trees (one inside and one outside) and old-fashioned stockings hung near the stove.
So is Tom now at home on the range?
“I don’t consider myself a bona fide rancher yet — I’m more of a gentleman rancher,” he says. “But I do wear a winter rancher coat.”
And a cowboy hat? “Not yet,” he says. “That’s my next step.”
Square footage: 428
Architect: Jarvis Group Architects (208-726-4031; jarvis-group.com)
Bandana-printed drapery: Pindler & Pindler (805-531-9090; pindler.com)
Builder/general contractor; flooring; roofing: North Fork Builders (406-551-4060; northforkbuilders.com)
Cabinetry; countertops; doors: Great Northern Woodworks (406-579-4226; gnwoodworks.com)
Interior designer: Design Works (406-582-0222; designworksmt.com)
Landscape designer: Linda Iverson Landscape Design (406-962-5840)
Masonry: Beartooth Masonry (406-220-5358; beartoothmasonryinc.com)
Windows: Montana Sash & Door (406-586-1858; mtsashanddoor.com)