By Bennett Owen
Walter Bruening, Great Falls, Montana
Walter Bruening, the world’s oldest man, has died. He visited earth for 114 years and spent 97 of those in Montana. In the year that he was born in Minnesota, scattered Indian skirmishes were still being fought on the Montana plains.
On the War Path Atsina Edward S. Curtis, c. 1908. Courtesy of the Library of Congress
Flathead Camp on the Jocko River Edward S. Curtis, c. 1910. Courtesy of the Library of Congress
That same year a contingent of black soldiers gathered in Montana...they would soon embark on a cross-country bicycle trip from Missoula to Saint Louis…testing the efficacy of bicycles in mountain combat.
Image Courtesy of "Montana's Buffalo Soldier's Bike Ride to Missouri"
It would be decades yet before his life would be touched by the wonders of electricity, running water, radio and automobiles. At age 16 he went to work for the Great Northern Railroad, laboring 12 hours a day, seven days a week to earn $25 per month. If the song were about Bruening it would go, “I’ve been working on the railroad all the live-long century…” for he spent the next 51 years of his life doing so…a job that sustained him and his wife through the great depression and two world wars.
Image Courtesy of AllPosters.com
Courtesy of the PTA Transit Authority
It would be pretty hopeless for a man to live so long and not acquire some wisdom along the way. Here’s some from Bruening and it’s worth pondering:
- Embrace change, even when it slaps you in the face
- Eat two meals a day because that’s all you need
- Work as long as you can
- Help others
- Accept death
Now do yourself a favor, but be careful, it may take up your whole weekend. Follow the link to the Great Falls Tribune page documenting Bruening’s 114th birthday. You’ll find an amazing timeline, historic photos, videos…in all a fascinating 20th century history lesson worthy of a Pulitzer.
Exceedingly strange that but for his longevity we would never have had the honor of seeing a glimpse of the extraordinary life and times of a simple man.
Image Courtesy of joseflebovicgallery.com, (c) David Plowden
Great Northern Railway Freight Train, West Of Havre, Montana, 1968/later printing. Silver gelatin photograph, titled, dated and signed in pencil verso, 24.1 x 31cm.