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The Search for Locksmith John

by Hannah Stiff | Feb 26, 2019 11:05:11 AM

One of the best things about being the BBB
Marketplace Manager for Montana is getting to visit accredited businesses
around the state. Hearing the stories from business owners about how they’ve
worked hard to become part of their respective communities and offer goods or
services that make a difference in people’s lives… let’s just say it doesn’t
get old. The businesses in the Treasure State truly make me proud to be a
Montanan (and a large part of the reason I landed at the Better Business

While I would love to visit businesses in each
tiny town in this massive state (fourth largest in the U.S.!), geography
prohibits (especially in the frigid winter, which often make those Game of
Thrones, end-of-times scenes look pathetic). That said, anytime I’m traveling
the state for leisure (read, ski trips to different fabulous mountains), I try
to sneak in a few visits to accredited businesses. On a recent pilgrimage
through the hamlet of Anaconda (population 9,139), I got the chance to pop into
a local motel, the Vagabond. It’s a mom and pop shop run by Sylvia and Roger
Anderson. After years of operating the motel and the million nuances that come
with keeping guests happy, the Andersons are selling the place and hitting the
road to visit their grandkids and great grandkids.

I planned to visit another accredited business,
the Sugarloaf Cabins, just outside Anaconda to see how the owners of this
tucked away winter retreat were faring. After inquiring about the roads, locals
asked if I’d be snowmobiling in to the cabins. I explained that I hoped to
drive, as I forgot my snowmobile at home. After I was wished “good luck,” I
bagged that trip for warmer months. Instead, I saved my most anticipated trip
for last.

Earlier in the week, I called John McPhail, a locksmith in the area who
recently became a BBB Accredited Business. When I got him on the phone, John
was frustrated, initially mistaking me for a telemarketer. I explained that I
actually live in Montana and wanted to pay him a visit to introduce myself, drop
off some sweet swag, and see how things are going for him. Instantly, John
relaxed. He told me that he actually lives and works out of his van. After
years in the corporate world, John quit it all, moved to Montana and embarked
on a simpler life. One where he could live life on his own terms.

John takes his retrofitted Dodge van all over
the area, helping folks when they’ve locked themselves out of house or car. On
the snowy morning we are supposed to meet up, John apologizes that he’s been
called out to a cabin on the Georgetown Lake. A group of ice fishermen have
locked themselves out. I tell John not to worry, I’ll meet him near the only
tiny convenience store flanking the lake. Upon arrival, I remember how spotty
cell coverage is in the area. John isn’t at the convenience store, but texts
that I should meet him at the volunteer fire department a stone’s throw away.
Turns out, you can throw a stone many ways, and the fire department is so
little, it’s very easy to miss. At last, I find the fire department and the
deep snow my SUV nearly gets stuck in. I wonder how the heck a fire truck can
quickly leave the firehouse with snow so deep?

Alas, I wait in the deep snow, gathering a BBB
water bottle and decals John has requested. I pull on my snow pants and gloves
and knock on the firehouse door. No reply. John texts that he got called out to
another location, but could I please leave his swag in the doorframe, someone
will be along soon to take it inside. I do as asked and head back to my car,
laughing at the morning’s adventures.

As I said earlier, Montana is a place with more
than 1,000 BBB Accredited Businesses, each with a unique story. My job is
chasing down those stories, even in the snow, in a forest without much cell
service. And maybe, when it warms up a bit, I’ll actually get to meet John.

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