Long-time Terry diner may have used its last life

Norm Clarke
Sunday, December 8, 2019
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Opened in the early 1960’s, when diners were at their height of popularity, the L & M drive-In was a bright star in Terry.

The younger generation loved it. Burgers, fries and chicken turnovers flew out of the place.

But times changed and so did the definition of turnover.

The tenacious little diner is going dark again.

Citing “burn out,” current operators Dave and Vickie Hudson, who renamed the diner Hog N Jog, recently informed the owners, Rance and Pam Jonas, that they were leaving. They began leasing it 20 months ago.

“They’re giving it back to us at the end of the year,” said Rance Jonas. “It’s gotten to be pretty hard with Terry getting smaller.”

The Jonases have owned the diner since 2001, when they purchased it from Jim and Sandy Ross for $50,000. It was called the Overload at that time. Name changes over the years included: Prairie Rose, Java Maxx, Terry’s Landing and Dizzy Diner.

“We operated it until 2016 when I retired,” said Pam Jonas. A bout with cancer in 2012 made a challenging job more difficult. She all but lost her voice.

Pam and her sister, Ruby Bearley, had operated the diner, with help from family members “off and on,” she said. Rance’s oilfield job helped keep the diner going. His job took him to the Utah oilfields for four years.

“I worked until 2016, as a cook and waitress,: said Pam. “I actually retired. Old joints and bones got tired,” she said.

“Deb and Dave Schwartz leased it from us for 18 months in 2004,” said Pam. The Schwartzes renamed it Terry’s Landing after the town’s namesake, Major General Alfred Terry. In 1876 the former Civil War hero led a column of 2,700 men, including Lt. Col. George Armstrong Custer, past present-day Terry, on the way to engage a large encampment of Sioux and Cheyenne on the Big Horn River.

Sentimentality played a part in buying it, admitted Lance Jonas. “I sure didn’t want to see it closed. It’s always been a part of the community since I was a kid,” he said.

He recalled a weekly ritual at the L & M.

School bus driver Albert Siegle made a stop every Friday at the L & M before heading north to drop off students on the route toward Brockway.

“Before we left, he’d treat us to ice cream at the L & M. He’d give us a dime, or maybe it was a quarter.”

Those were the good old days.

Then came the 1990’s, and signs of concern. Terry’s population plunged from 929 in the 1980 census to 659 at the end of the 90’s, a decrease of nearly 30 percent. In 2010, it stood at 605, a level not seen since the early 1900’s. Prairie County’s population, once hovering near 4,000 (1930 census) was estimated to be 1,087 in 2018.

Dave Hudson said, “We are closing mostly because of ‘burnout.’ We have operated the cafe for seven days a week since opened and there is not enough revenue to hire any help. If it were not for outside income, we could not afford to run this, sad but true, there is not sufficient population or enough dining public here in Prairie County to support a cafe/diner. A bar-grill is a different story because there are several revenue streams.”

Three years ago, Hog N Jog ranked No. 6 among Montana’s top 12 diners, according onlyinyourstate.com.

“We were also included in the documentary on ‘Where the Yellowstone Goes.’” said Pam Jonas. “We had the WWE (pro wrestlers) road crew stop in. They gave us pictures of all the wrestlers at that time. We also had the Transformer truck stop here” on a trip to Miles City.”

The Hudsons enlivened the atmosphere with humorous signs: “Sorry yesterday was the deadline for complaints,” “Many have eaten here, few had died,” and “Parking for John Deere ONLY. All others will be plowed under” and “Danger, man cooking.”

The cinnamon rolls and super sized French Fries made big impressions.

With Hog N Jog closing, “people can still get food at the Legion Club in Terry,” said local realtor Tracey Fieckert. The BD Bar in Fallon, opened in 2018, has become a popular option. “Besides the Hog N Jog, there is a new coffee shop where the old drugstore used to be,: she added.

Gone are the days when crowds packed Bud & Bette’s, Yellowstone Bar and Roy Rodgers, the mainstays of yesteryear.

The good news: The new owners of Roy Rodgers are “doing a big remodel,” said Deanna Anderson. She and her husband, Travis, bought the building at auction a year ago. They are from Miles City.

Still up in the air, she said, is when they will re-open, whether they will keep the name and what fare will be featured. A steakhouse has been rumored, but Deanna Anderson said that hasn’t been finalized yet.