Nightfall in the town of Loring, Montana. The headlights in the distance come from a border patrol car. (Michael S. Williamson/The Washington Post)

U.S.-CANADA BORDER CROSSING –- The two officers at the U.S. border crossing wanted to know why four American citizens were driving a car with Canadian license plates. We told them about the road trip. They asked why we weren’t walking the route. (Did I mention it’s a 2,000 mile trip?) There aren’t a lot of cars that pass this way.

Down the road, we paused for photos in the town of Loring and its tall, idle grain elevators. Kenny Clark and his wife Brenda stopped their car. He was wearing shorts and a “I [heart] Beaver” T-shirt and Brenda was wearing a black T-shirt.

Loring has a population of nine, Kenny said, including him, his wife, the two small kids in the back seat of the car, his parents, and one other couple and their grandchild. There’s also a dog, known as the mayor, which he came by honestly by winning an election, according to Clark.

The grain elevators have been mostly idle since the railroad moved south, longer ago than Clark can remember. Clark moved here with his parents, who came to work for a farmer-rancher because “they couldn’t make ends meet” in Minnesota. Today Clark’s father owns a repair shop mostly for farm equipment, though Clark said they’ve also fixed things like clothes irons. People had to make do, he said, because the nearest town of any modest note was Malta, about 40 miles away.

Kenny, however, also works in the oil and gas industry. He works for Noble Energy in the Bowdoin gas field. As a result, he said he supports the construction of the Keystone XL pipeline and resource development.  And he thought big companies would make sure spills or other problems were taken care of. “The big companies can’t afford to have black marks on their record,” he said.

He seemed to like growing up here. “I know everyone and trust everyone,” he said. He attended a school a short drive away, where his graduating class had 15 people, big by the area’s standards. But there weren’t many people to date. He met Brenda when she was in college in Billings, where she was living with a couple of Kenny’s friends. “You think it’s bad going 40 miles for groceries, try driving three hours for a date,”
he said.

Now Loring is having a population boom. “We have two children,” Clark said, “so I’m responsible for it.”