Thursday night, many of the people and the dogs who considered Tom Weaver their friend will take to the sidewalks on either side of Broadway in downtown Red Lodge, to mark Weaver’s death and to remember his life.
“I was a pretty good friend of Tom’s,” Gordie Blevins said. “I’m not saying I was his best friend, but my dog was probably his best friend. My dog loved Tom.”
Blevins is the owner of C.C. Legends, a gift shop at 113 S. Broadway. It was one of many stops for Weaver, who would walk up and down most of Broadway twice a day for at least the last 10 years, his pockets and a fanny pack stuffed with dog treats.
Weaver, who became known as “Walking Tom,” died Saturday at 77 of heart failure, having earlier lived through two bouts of cancer and having struggled for years with chronic fatigue syndrome.
Tera Reynolds, another friend of Weaver’s, said all the dogs on his walking route knew exactly what time Weaver would pass by, twice a day.
“They’d be at the fence with their tails wagging,” she said.
In recent years, Blevins said, Weaver had back trouble and didn’t want to bend over to pet Blevins’ border collie. So when Weaver walked into the store, the collie would stand up with her front paws on top of the counter, allowing Weaver to pet her and then give her a treat.
“She preferred the rubdown more than the treats,” Blevins said.
Over at the Red Lodge Antique Mall, 101 Broadway, one of the employees was a good friend of Weaver’s, too. He said he preferred to be identified only as “Sarge,” the nickname everybody in Red Lodge knows him by anyway.
He said Weaver, besides being so widely known for his love of dogs, “basically was walking Red Lodge history.” Weaver grew up just south of town on Rock Creek, on land homesteaded by his mother’s people. He worked as a heavy equipment operator but retired relatively early because of medical problems.
“Red Lodge became Tom’s personal child, I guess you’d say,” Sarge said. “He did everything he could to help Red Lodge. He did everything he could to keep the peace between the rivalries.”
He was also “a real icon for Red Lodge,” Sarge continued. “I mean, tourists would say, ‘Hey, where’s the guy with the beret and the long, gray hair who feeds the dogs and fly fishes?’”
Tuesday morning, in fact, a British couple in the habit of visiting Red Lodge every two years stopped by the antique mall and asked about Weaver. They had been exchanging letters with him for years and had planned to go fishing with him on this latest visit.
When they found out he had died just three days earlier, Sarge said, “they were heartbroken.”
Weaver’s most famous fishing partner was Ernest Hemingway. The great writer spent a lot of time in Red Lodge, Cooke City and the Beartooth Mountains. Weaver’s father, Leland Stanford “Chub” Weaver, was Hemingway’s camp cook and guide, and a godfather to one of Hemingway’s sons.
Weaver talked often of fishing the Beartooths with his father and Hemingway. The Bozeman Chronicle reported last year that Weaver told of his father’s relationship with Hemingway in a 1999 documentary produced by KUSM, the public television station in Bozeman.
“The ‘Walking Tom’ Weaver Dog Walk” scheduled for Thursday was cooked up by Sarge and Red Lodge resident Diane Dimich. Sarge told Dimich he didn’t have time to promote it, so Dimich created a Facebook page for the event.
It will be simple enough: People and their dogs—leashes, please—are invited to stroll down Broadway on Thursday starting at 7 p.m., and to gather afterward in Pride Park at 12th Street and Broadway to share their recollections of Weaver.
Dave Johnson, of Bridger, described Weaver as “my best friend for 20 years.” He met him when Weaver was living in Fromberg for a decade or so and they stayed friends when Weaver moved back to Red Lodge about 10 years ago.
“He was a guy who thought outside the box,” Johnson said. “An old beatnik. That’s what he called himself.”
Johnson is a contract bundle hauler for the Billings Gazette. He picks up about 1,200 newspapers at the Gazette and then drops them off for paper carriers all over Carbon County. He also drops bundles off at stores that sell papers and stocks newspaper vending machines.
In 2004, when Johnson had problems with his back, Weaver took over the route for his friend until he recovered. Ever since then, Johnson would pick Weaver up late Saturday night, and they would drive to Billings to get papers and then make all his deliveries.
“He rode with me over 500 times on Sundays,” Johnson said, “just to help me out and then to bullshit. It made him feel useful.”
On those Sunday routes they’d be in the car together for three hours. Weaver had a great sense of humor and liked to talk about everything under the sun. He was always reading a book, Johnson said, mostly on history and current events.
In Red Lodge, Weaver lived alone in a small apartment over a house at Haggin Avenue and Sixth Street. “He just didn’t have any money,” Blevins said. “He was living pretty tight, but he was loving life.”
In nice weather he’d start at the north end of Broadway and walk to the Red Box Car restaurant, at 13th and Broadway, then walk home on the other side of the street, twice a day. In the winter he’d take a shorter walk, and since suffering a stroke a month ago he’d drive his old GMC pickup with no reverse on it part way, then walk the rest.
“That old truck,” Sarge said. “I mean, he took it all over the Beartooths. He fished every lake in the Beartooths.”
Johnson said he’d also drive the GMC up to Cooke City three or four times during the summer, staying for about a week each time. Up there he was Walking Tom, too, strolling through town with treats for every dog in sight.
“He stood out in a crowd, that’s for sure, in looks and personality,” Johnson said.
In addition to his twice-daily walks, he made regular visits to his favorite taverns, including Sam’s Taproom at Red Lodge Ales, Foster & Logan’s Pub and Grill, the Pub at the Pollard and the Front. Next week, Sarge said, some friends are hoping to throw a pub crawl in Weaver’s honor.
Tera Reynolds said she served as Weaver’s treasurer when he ran for mayor in 2013. In his only bid for office, he lost to Ed Williams, who recently resigned part way through his second term. Sarge said Weaver just wanted to “stir the pot and make people think.”
Reynolds said Weaver was an old-school liberal, but he was something like Donald Trump, in a good way. “He wasn’t brash and rude, but he was a complete outsider,” she said.
And outside is where he wanted to be after he died.
Many years ago, Johnson said, Weaver took him and another friend, Nick Carpenter, to a lake in the Beartooths where he’d scattered his mother’s ashes, and where he wanted his own to be scattered.
Carpenter died before Weaver did, Johnson said, “so I’m the only person who remembers where that is.”
He intends to honor his friend’s request.