CLINTON – Somewhere out here someone has a street sign that reads “Clown Lane.”
About the only thing that properly and deliciously designated this half-mile stretch of chunky asphalt by its county-christened name didn’t last long when it was installed in the 1980s.
“Right where you turn off, up there by the church, they had one set in concrete,” Bud Wilcox remembers. “It was a well-planted metal type deal. The next day after they put Clown Lane up, those damn kids up in Clinton came and tore it off.”
Those kids are probably grown men now, Wilcox said.
And the black-and-white sign?
“It’s probably in somebody’s bedroom somewhere,” speculated Susan Montelius, who lives with husband Ray at the end of the street.
So Clown Lane lives on, all but anonymously.
Eight homes and hay sheds, garages and shops are flanked on the east by the Clinton Community Church and on the west by Clinton Mini-Storage units. An accident-prone stretch of Interstate 90 is just beyond backyard fences to the north. Freight trains on Montana Rail Link’s main line rumble by across the irrigation ditch to the south.
Clown Lane is blue-collar America at its bluest – and its onliest.
Google it, and scroll past the website that allows you to browse and compare 72 professional clowns who live in or will travel to Lane, Kan., to perform at your event. You find an almost unbroken string of real estate listings and sales histories from Clown Lane, Clinton, Montana – even though just one home is currently on the market.
Search “Clown Drive” or “Clown Street” or “Clown Avenue” and you get nothing resembling another road anywhere else in the nation.
As for Wilcox, who with wife Ann bought most of the property along Clown Lane in 1972, moved here and later subdivided it? “I’d just as soon it be called Horse’s Butt.”
Although it’s a stretch of U.S. Highway 10 rendered obsolete when Interstate 90 opened, Ray Montelius thought of it as a private road when he built there.
In 1976, Montelius helped start the Clinton Clowns, one of the early men’s fastpitch teams in the Blackfoot Valley League, a team and a league that are still around today.
“A bunch of guys out here got back from Vietnam and decided to play ball,” said Montelius, who played 20 years with the Clowns.
He doesn’t specifically remember how their nickname came about.
“It just fit. We were a bunch of clowns, I guess,” he said.
The Monteliuses and the Wilcoxes lived on a nameless road for years. There came a time, maybe 20 or 25 years ago, when the fire department needed it named.
“The county gave us a paper and had us list 10 names. We had Osprey Lane and Fawn Lane and all the real nice names,” Susan Montelius said. “Clown Lane was actually No. 10.”
But it was the only one that wasn’t already taken, and so Clown Lane it became.
“Bud wasn’t very happy at all with it, and now we’re not happy, because it’s hard to explain. It sounds like Cloud Lane,” Ray Montelius said. “But it wasn’t supposed to be.”
“We wanted to call it anything but that,” Wilcox said. “You tell people ‘Clown Lane’ and they look at you: Well, what kind of a clown are you?”
Chuck Smith down the street gets the same sort of reaction when he tells people where he lives.
“They kind of giggle and look at you like – OK,” said Smith, who moved with wife Corky from New Mexico to Clinton three years ago to be closer to their grandchildren in Frenchtown.
It’s the same case with the Lodines next door.
“They ask me to repeat myself. They kind of don’t get it,” laughed Beth Lodine, who home-schools son Joey and daughter Lydia. “They say ‘Clown? Like a circus clown?’ And then it’s ‘Ha ha. So funny.’ ”
Which, after all, is what a clown is supposed to be.
Smith, a native of eastern Montana, said he and Corky are used to it. For several years in New Mexico they lived on Horse Thief Gap Road.
“Now you try to explain that to the guy who’s trying to ship you (something),” Smith said. “It came back as some really funny address. But Clown Lane? It’s different.”
It’s also “a little piece of paradise,” said Lodine.
Lodine and husband Seth have lived on Clown Lane for nine years. Theirs is the manufactured home up for sale – they don’t want Joey driving I-90 when he gets to high school next year so have grudgingly made the decision to move closer to Missoula.
They love the “huge space all our own” and the neighbors, she said. The kids call the Wilcoxes “Grandpa Bud” and Grandma Anne,” and when Smith came outside last week to collect garden hoses after the season’s first snow, 9-year-old Lydia greeted him with a shout from the driveway.
“Hi, Uncle Chuck!” she called.
“Hi, Lydia!” he replied across the fence.
The Lodines are a loving, laughing family, so it’s no surprise what they’ve got cooking.
Like her mother before her, Lydia is a member of the Montana Super Skippers, a rope-jumping club in Missoula that makes an annual appearance in the University of Montana homecoming parade.
So is her friend Elisa, 10, from two doors down, who with her older brother Caleb and 5-year-old sister Becca is also home-schooled. Their mothers text each other to coordinate lunch breaks.
“We’re having a parade, aren’t we?” Beth asked her daughter.
“Yeah, because me and Elisa, we got to be in a real parade but Becca didn’t get to,” Lydia replied. “So we’re going to do a parade down Clown Lane.”
It’s coming up any day now and, come to think of it, Beth has a special feature to add – the Halloween costume husband Seth’s mother made for him when he was a small boy.
The clown outfit should be just about Becca’s size.
Reporter Kim Briggeman can be reached at 523-5266 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.