Ed Weidinger traces his roots back to the beginning of the Huntley Project. It’s no wonder he’s such a valuable member of the Huntley Project Museum’s board or directors.
If you were to say to Ed, “begin at the beginning,” he would begin his story before the beginning, when his grandfather, German-born Ludwig “Lue” Weidinger, arrived in the area in 1907. He had already lived in Montana once, around 1901 and 1902, before operating a dairy for a time in Wisconsin.
Lois Weidinger (Ed’s aunt) told the story of his return to Montana in “Sod and Seed and Tumbleweed”: “Lue heard about land near Billings, Montana, being opened for homesteads. He had always thought that this is where he would like to make his home someday, so he wasted no time in coming to Montana to make his claim.”
He filed his homestead claim in the summer of 1907 and by October, he was ready for his wife and family to join him.
His wife, Magdalene, boarded the westbound train. He waited for her at the Worden station, but when the train arrived, she stayed on board because she knew she was moving to Ballantine.
The conductor realized she was meant to leave the train at Worden, so he backed up on the tracks and she was able to join her husband, to his relief.
Their son, Aloysius, was born Jan. 2, 1908, the first baby boy born on the Project. The Weidingers raised a family of six boys and three girls. Aloysius, called Aloy, married Eleanor Amundson of Joliet and started a family that included Ed and four siblings.
Ed may still live in his parents’ house, but it was a circuitous route to get there. About the time high school wrapped up, he said he went into town to attend a final FFA meeting. He and some friends caroused around and that led to some discussion. His buddy Bob HALLA said he was going to Billings the next day to join the Air Force and Ed should come along.
Eventually, he persuaded Ed, who then went home for the evening. Next morning after chores, he was walking through the yard carrying a bucket of milk in each had – “we separated in the basement,” he said – when it struck him that he was joining the military that day.
He went into the house to clean up and inform his skeptical family that he was off to join the Air Force.
Bob picked him up and the pair headed into Billings, but they didn’t end up in the Air Force.
“The recruiter was not in,” Ed said, “but the Army recruiter was.” He told the boys the Army offered a buddy system where they could stay together if they enlisted together.
“We stayed together for the three years that we were in,” Ed said, including 28 months in Germany where he jokingly remarked that “nobody liked us because we were after their daughters.”
Weidinger taught heavy equipment operators in the service and planned to work construction when he got home.
“I wasn’t even 21 when I got out,” he said. “I was going to get rich” in construction. His dad had “kind of” retired and he looked for work, but it didn’t seem that potential employers liked his Army background.
Meanwhile, he worked for some local farmers. While still in high school, he had taken a girl to the prom and “I tried dating her a little bit, but she wasn’t that interested,” he recalled. But that girl’s younger sister, Phyllis Reiter, was friends with Ed’s sister, and one day a group that included Ed and Phyllis all went swimming.
“I guess something clicked,” Ed said, and soon after, he called Phyllis on the phone and asked her to go bowling. (Phyllis, the daughter of Phillip and Pauline Nagel Reiter, doesn’t remember their beginnings as clearly.)
“That was the beginning,” he says now. But Phyllis, who refers to as his “first wife,” wasn’t truly his high school sweetheart. “I was long out of high school” by the time of their first date.
He had known her for quite a while by then, though. She and his sister were both cheerleaders and it became Ed’s job to drive them to football and basketball games.
“All the good-looking girls in my car,” he said. Tough duty.
Ed and Phyllis raised three daughters who attended Huntley Project schools and now their grandchildren are at school, which Ed points out is about five generations of Weidingers who’ve attended school here.
Ed has been on the board of directors for a couple of decades.
“Fifteen or 20 years, I don’t know,” he said. “Just couldn’t say no.”
Ed and Phyllis also each have an oral history which can be heard at the Museum or found online at www.mtmemory.org
He serves on board committees and is always willing to lend a hand, whether it’s setting up a new exhibit, nudging people to attend events here or finding a great artifact that someone can donate to the museum.
And almost anything can spark another story as he searches his memory – but not all stories are meant for print.
“You don’t write this down,” he says as he begins another tale. “This is just wind blowing.”
Ed and Phyliss’ interviews can be heard in their entirety at the Museum and both have contributed to the Montana Memories Project site – Ed’s can be found here http://mtmemory.org/digital/collection/p16013coll79/id/256/rec/14 and Phyllis’ can be found here http://mtmemory.org/digital/collection/p16013coll79/id/266/rec/6
Feb 2019 bio