Official Montana 500 Website

Russ Howard

by Tom Carnegie

Knott went to jail after he killed his mining partner Abel. He only served a couple months. He was sentenced to life all right, but he had lost his will to live. Within three months he had passed away. After he was gone, the people in charge went looking for his next of kin. He didn't have a will and precious few assets even though it was rumored that he and his deceased partner had mined a bunch of gold up in the hills of Baton Noir. After a lot of looking, it was decided that Knott's next of kin was a certain Russ Howard.

Russ Howard's connection to Knott was fairly convoluted and maybe apocryphal, but the powers that be had to give Knott's stuff to someone and Russ got the nod. Russ was a fairly nondescript fellow who had a knack of getting along with most everyone. He was originally from Manchester, England, but had lived in Baton Noir for many years and had pretty well lost his accent. Russ was presented with Knott's worldly possessions. They all fit nicely into a cigar box. Some of the things that Knott had kept seemed a little strange at a casual glance.

Amongst his prized possessions were two lists of numbers on letterhead from the H.O. Bell Ford Company of Missoula, MT. The first page had these numbers typed onto it:
2-2514B 3-2531B 2-2532 1-2519A 4-2548 5-2810 1-2903 2-2901 5-3014 5-3054 3-3088B 2-3162 2-3270 1-3320D 1-3323 3-3429 1-2574 2-2578 1-2696 2-2816B 1-2908 1-3458 3-3807 1-3052 3-3844 1-3966 1-3415

The second sheet was handwritten and had the following numbers on it:
4-2694 3-2696 4-2697 9-2691 2-2704 2-2704 2-3001 14-2510 1-3073 3-3021 5-3056 2-3048 3-3250D 3-3060B 4-3021 7-3058 1-3085 3-3254 4-3077 2-3162 1-3269C 2-3271 1-3427 3-3368 4-3423B

Russ didn't quite know what to make of the lists, but thought they might have some importance or Knott wouldn't have saved them. Maybe they were treasure maps? One could always hope. Since they were on Ford letterhead, Russ decided to get his friend Hayes Olson's opinion, since Hayes worked at the Model T Garage. Hayes contemplated the two lists for a bit, then said to Russ. "These numbers appear to be Ford part numbers, I have a parts list. Lets see what Knott ordered. Two 2512Bs are studs - Three 2531 - these are readend dowel pins. Let's look at the other list. Four 2694's - these are front spindles. Why would knott need four right-hand spindles? What is a 2510? Axle housing cap? Why would Knott need 14 axle housing caps?

"I'm telling you it's a code of some kind", interjected Russ. "Scanning over the numbers on the first list, they look legitimate. I agree that the second list looks strange. I mean nine 2691 front axles? Let's take this to Joseph to see if he can decode it, if it is indeed a code.

Joseph Vant is the manager of the Model T garage. He is known in the town of Baton Noir as a man with a good head on his shoulders. Joseph looked at the list for a few seconds then announced, "I've seen this type of code before. Often they are just a series of numbers, which correspond to words in some book. All you need to break the code is the codebook, which could be anything from the Bible to the Pickwick Papers. Without the codebook, the code is unbreakable. In this case the codebook is likely the Model T price list of parts and accessories as Hayes has already deduced. Let's look at the first number. 2694 - spindle body - four is the number in front - The fourth letter in spindle is N. Let's try that with all the numbers and see what it spells." After translating all the numbers this is the letters that were revealed: NINETYPCSEIGHTDEGNOFLSIN
As Hayes looks at the letters he says, "No doubt that it is a message. Ninety and eight are very clear, but what does the rest mean?" Russ pointed out that since the standard treasure map measurement in all pirate books is the "pace", the first part must mean ninety paces. After a lot of discussion the guys decide that the next part is "eight degrees north". The only mystery now was FLSIN. It was conjectured that Knott took the treasure to Florida, but that was rejected, as Knott hadn't been fifty miles from Baton Noir in his life. Finally it was decided that the message was "Ninety paces eight degrees north of LS Inn. LS it was decided stood for land scape.

The Landscape Inn is a lodge up in the hills outside of Baton Noir where it is widely known that you can get served alcohol. Tomorrow will be Saturday and Hayes and Russ have decided to get a shovel, drive up to the inn to see if they can figure out what "ninety paces eight degrees north" means.

Russ and Hayes head out fairly early, as they know that there will be a party at the inn later in the evening. They arrive at the inn at about 10:00 in the morning. The front door is unlocked and they go inside. "Have you ever been here when there was a party going on?" asked Hayes. "Yes, I have, how about you Hayes?" "No, they have asked my brother and me to come up here and play music for the dancers, but we've never done it." Russ points toward the piano. "The music is usually provided by a piano player" Hayes walks over to the piano and strikes a few chords. "Man this thing is out of tune!" Russ looks at the piano and says, "Hey, quit playing my piano!" "What do you mean 'your piano?'" Russ points to the manufacture's name on the piano and says, "Look, it says R S Howard, New York right there."

Russ then continues, "I was up here one night and there was an old man that could really play this thing. He claimed that he was a Civil War veteran, or as he was a Confederate, he called it the War between the States. He always hedged a little and hinted that he may have been one of the Southern pickets that shot Stonewall Jackson, in case he got into trouble with some die-hard Union man. You knew that Stonewall Jackson was shot by his own men? He was."

Russ was on a roll now and didn't wait for any response from Hayes as he rambled on. "Yep, he was shot by his own men on his own orders. This old man that played the piano always had his sword with him and he always took it out of its scabbard and set it on top of the piano when he was playing. He bragged that this sword was so sharp that if you put a blade of grass into a creek and let it float downstream it would be sliced in two when it hit the sword blade. Anyway this guy was good - he would play and play and never stop. The people would dance and drink and he would play and drink. One night he was in unusually rare form. He was playing up a storm and the folks were dancing up a storm. I don't know if it was the people dancing or if this old man was banging on the piano harder than normal, any road, as he was playing, the sword fell down and cut both of his hands off clean. They came off so slick that they didn't even bleed. The hands continued to play for two more tunes. This old man was good!"

Hayes scowled a bit then headed for the back door of the inn. As he stood on the back porch he was facing due west. He contemplated the landscape for a bit. As Russ joined him Hayes spoke. "Ninety paces must be something over 200 feet, but I wonder what Knott meant by eight degrees north?" "Get your compass out and see where eight degrees north point to." "I didn't bring a compass with me." replied Hayes. "I thought I was doing good to bring a shovel." "Well, let's do a little math or trigonometry or geology or what have you." As Russ said this he turned and faced due north with his arm extended and sighted down it with one eye closed. "If this is ninety degrees, this would be forty-five." As he says this he jumps up and comes down with his hand now pointing halfway between north and west. He does the same maneuver again announces twenty-two and a half, then again for eleven and a quarter then he shuffles just a bit more and says, "Eight degrees, right that-a-way!" "OK, two hundred feet more or less that way."

Hayes scans the area in the direction that Russ is pointing. "I see a clearing that may be in about the right area." Russ puts down his hand. "We could do a lot of digging just in that clearing alone, and we may not even be digging in the right place or close to it." "True, we don't even know for sure that there is a treasure or what shape it is if it exists, but I feel pretty good having just solved the code. Let's go check out that clearing." They grab the shovel and head out for the spot. "Hey! Look at this!" Hayes is on his knees looking at a tree trunk. "This is a K carved into this trunk."

Russ bends down and looks at a mark on the trunk that appears to have been made with three blows of a hatchet. Without a word he starts digging a hole near the base of the tree. He digs for several minutes but doesn't make much progress as there are rocks and roots impeding his effort. After perhaps ten minutes of this he stops and leans against the tree. "If this is where Knott dug his hole last year the dirt is awful hard." "We're in the wrong spot." says Hayes as he begins looking around again. He kicks the underbrush and pine needles looking for signs of digging or any disturbance of the ground. Russ also begins scouting around the area. "Lookee here, another K." Russ points to another tree about ten feet from the first. He digs for a while between the two trees before he again decides that he is digging in the wrong area. When they find the third tree with a mark, they triangulate and after just a little digging, hit paydirt. Inside a wooden box is a bag full of gold. "Wow," says Russ. "I have an inheritance that I didn't even know I had coming. I think that we did a great job solving this mystery!" Or had they?
(end of story)

The Montana 500 is Sanctioned by The Montana Cross Country T Association.