There are hundreds, if not thousands, of RVs, campers, motorhomes and fifth wheels in and around Billings. But it’s safe to say that nobody else has a ride quite like the one owned by Lyndsay Jackson and Patchwork.
Patchwork is the name of Lyndsay’s companion, and he doesn’t use a last name. For the past four months, they’ve been living in a sawed-off church bus with a crude steel shed attached to it.
They’re still working on the interior, and they soon hope to add a small glass-blowing workshop to the back end of the bus, where there is now a kind of open porch.
You may have seen the bus around; they’ve have been in Billings since they bought the bus, and you might see them in the future.
“I’ll be here at least another year,” Patchwork said. “I really love this town.”
Patchwork and Lyndsay met 2½ years ago in Reno, Nev., and they’ve been together ever since. He’s from Virginia and she’s from New York; they both arrived in Reno aboard freight trains.
They moved here 15 months ago because they were friends with a man known as Montana Bill, who did have a last name, Pittock. Lyndsay and Patchwork were living in Minneapolis for a while when Montana Bill drove out in a van and brought them to his place in Lockwood.
They said Montana Bill died an accidental death earlier this year in Oregon on his 27th birthday. It was time for them to move on, and on Craigslist they saw the bus for sale for $1,800. The photos apparently were taken before the shed was placed on the bus, but even in its raw state it looked like something they could work with.
The called the owner, who was back in Maine, where he was from. Patchwork said they started talking—Patchwork had spent several years working in blueberry factories during the harvest in Maine—and hit it off so well that the guy sold them the van for $1,500.
When they went to pick it up in Bozeman, it had the shed on it. It looked like home sweet home. And they knew right away that they wanted to go back and live in Billings.
“We really enjoy Billings,” Patchwork said. “Super-nice folks here.” Then he laughed and added, “Winters are a little much for my Southern ass.”
They’ve been parking and plugging in at different spots around town, mostly at friends’ houses, and at the moment they’re living in the bus and making glass in a little wooden shed behind a friend’s house on the North Side. Once they have their glass studio in the bus, it will be all they need.
Patchwork learned how to make glass in Kansas City, Mo., which is a major railroad hub. He rode freight trains pretty steadily for 12 years, between stints of work like the blueberry jobs, and on one of his many stops in Kansas City he became friends with some glassblowers.
He started out just doing cleanup and odd jobs, he said, and eventually he began to learn the rudiments of the art. He said he ended up spending three years in Kansas City.
He taught Lyndsay how to make glass objects, too, and now she specializes in using glass scraps to make flowers and other ornamental pieces that Patchwork attaches to his creations, most of which are glass smoking pipes. They sell their goods at Discontent, 2123 First Ave. N., and 406 Glass, 2816 First Ave. N.
They already have an oven, some furniture, a double bed and a big old-school TV in the bus, and they are gradually remodeling it, using scrap lumber for the most part. Patchwork said he plans to make the bed into a Murphy bed attached to the wall, and to add a sink and shower.
“We basically want people to know we’re not transients,” Lyndsay said. “We’re travelers, but we’re part of society.”
They are currently sharing the bus with a longtime friend of Patchwork’s, a native of Montana’s Bitterroot Valley known only as Pigpen. He said he just found work washing dishes at Walkers Grill, which Lyndsay is already doing, and he hopes to learn how to make glass, too.
Patchwork said their bus came with all its original paperwork, showing that it was made in 1993 and was originally the property of an Assembly of God church in Whitehall. One they get it fixed up, he said, they also plan to use it as a kind of portable, free movie theater.
The plan is to park it near places like South Park, put a sheet on the side of bus and show movies using a VHS projector. Patchwork said they have hundreds of movies on tape.
“And it’s all the good ones,” he said, “a lot of John Wayne. I’m a big John Wayne fan.”