Albert Hall, a former educator, lawman, and veteran lives in the mountains of Montana, just over the Continental Divide, in a cabin between BLM land and surrounded by the Helena National Forest. Hall isn’t what some would call a true “Mountain Man”. He doesn’t hunt for his food and enjoys some modern conveniences. But Albert does live off the grid, a few miles from the mining ghost town of Marysville, and his lifestyle and adventures are a testament to the true grit of American perseverance only freedom can afford.
Born and raised in Lynwood, California in March of 1945, Hall moved to South Lake Tahoe with his family in 1960 and then to Sacramento in 1961. He graduated from high school in 1963 and enlisted in the Air Force. The Air Force seemed to be the safest branch of the service as at the time they were drafting all men between 18 and 25 to support the Vietnam war. He served as a Crew Chief on an air refueling KC-135 in the 410th Strategic Bomb Wing, K.I. Sawyer AFB, Michigan. Going wherever his aircraft went, Hall traveled to many countries, including several tours in Vietnam.
After four years Albert was released from active duty and moved back to Sacramento, then to the bay area to accept a job in finance. He would only be there a year before quitting to travel the U.S., visiting all of his Air Force buddies. After returning again to Sacramento, Hall attended the local junior college and met his wife. Moving to San Jose to attend the university, he majored in fine arts and was given the opportunity to enter the education department and become a teacher, earning a Masters in Education.
With teaching positions being scarce, the couple decided to move to Placerville, California where he substitute taught at the local high schools. At that point, Albert became interested in working with the learning disabled and went to Sacramento State University for a Masters in Special Education. He helped start a workshop for handicapped adults until being offered a full-time special education teaching position in the Sacramento Unified School District, commuting the 35 miles from Placerville for several years. Three years after having a baby girl, Hall and his wife separated and he moved to Sacramento. He had an opportunity to switch to his original choice of teaching art and for twenty years taught Arts and Crafts at a middle school. His last two years were spent teaching fine arts at a high school.
Being single allowed him the time to pursue his interest in law enforcement, so he attended the Sacramento Sheriff’s Academy and became a deputy. After making detective, he worked a full caseload in the Elder and Sexual Abuse Bureau, juggling both jobs, teaching from 8 to 3 and then Detective from 3 to however late was needed along with weekends. After 12 years with the Sheriff’s Department and 31 years as a public school teacher, he retired from both lines of work. It would be his detective work that propelled him to a life off the grid.
The Long Transition
Hall cut his teeth on ‘off the grid’ living when he moved onto a houseboat in the Sacramento River. He says, “While I had electricity and water, it was a lot of work to plan for provisions and deal with that lifestyle.” During his 10 years living on the river, Hall bought a house and sold the houseboat. His then 16-year-old daughter moved in with him. Loving to travel, he bought a Class C motorhome and preferred Boondocking, further honing his skills of resource utilization.
After retiring from both jobs, his daughter now an adult, Albert sold everything, moved into his motor home and began a life on the road.
“My initial goal was to be free of the entrapments of homeownership and being pinned in one place, free to travel and see places I hadn’t had the opportunity to before. I traveled a lot growing up and then in the Air Force, seeing other countries and how other people lived, so it was a good time to do that right here in the good ole’ USA.”
“I upgraded to a Class A motorhome for more room and comfort and traveled the United States. When that started getting old, I began looking for an out-of-the-way place to buy and settle down. My mom had died and left me money to afford a nice house, but I knew I didn’t want to have neighbors or be part of a community. I had had my fill of people and wanted to pick and choose whom and when I interacted with them. Having worked my last teaching position in the worst high school in Sacramento, and working the Sheriff’s job dealing with the scum of the Earth, I was ready for an ‘off the grid, away from society’ existence.”
Hall did the legwork to find that special place, researching various state’s laws, tax structure, and lifestyle. The fifth-generation Californian knew it would certainly not be in the “Golden State”, but he managed to narrow it down to Oregon, Washington, Idaho, Wyoming, and Montana.
“I knew exactly what I wanted, so I constructed a letter of my demands to numerous Realtors online asking if they had listings that matched my requirements. I received several replies and would head to those locations in my motorhome, meet with the Realtor and see what they had. I quickly ruled out Oregon and Washington due to the cost of living and the general political environment. Next, I drove a zigzag pattern from the south to the north of Wyoming and soon discovered that just about all of the property on a lake, river, or stream was owned by the government and not for sale. The few listings I found were old Placer mining claims, but none were buildable. After more research on mining claims, I discovered that Idaho and Montana were the best states with possibilities, so I headed north.”
Ruling out Idaho due to a higher tax base and sales tax, Hall concentrated on Montana, traveling from the furthest northwest part of the state to the southern border, keeping to the western areas and away from the high desert and little waterfront properties in the east.
“As I rolled into Helena to follow up with a lead, I picked up the local throw-away real estate magazine, as I had done every place else I visited, and a new property (mine) was listed and met almost every requirement on my list. As you know, it is so “off the beaten path” that even my Realtor couldn’t find it, so we had to wait for the owner to return from vacation back east before we could view it. It was perfect and other than a few demands, I committed to buying it at the listed price, which was under my budget. I wanted all of the furnishings, as I had no moveable furniture, which they agreed to, and I wanted a professional septic system installed. Again, they agreed and when the system was completed and passed inspection, I signed the papers and moved in July 1, 2005.”
Hall researched every type of ‘off the grid system’ available and his first project was to upgrade the current power system, which consisted of a single battery, small inverter, and gas generator. He installed a Pelton water wheel to work with a creek running next to the cabin. Then increased the number of batteries in the bank and put in a professional true sine inverter, changing the system to 24 volts. Later, he installed a wind generator and some solar panels.
Meeting “Mountain Man”
Kathy and I have developed many great “internet” friendships since Legends Of America launched in 2003. None though have been like the one we have with Albert Hall. Kathy had been in communication with him for a while, but in 2008, I was still in the corporate world and removed from the daily routines and communications of the website. That summer we were planning an adventure in Montana and Kathy mentioned Albert as being someone we should meet.
Being the joker that I am, I started teasing Kathy even before we left Kansas City. “So, you never met this guy right? And he has a home in the mountains, away from all others, with no phone right? Does he have a dungeon as well..he he he?” I poured it on pretty good… in fact so well that by the time we drew closer to his home, I started questioning things myself. As we pulled into Marysville and found Albert sitting in his Jeep waiting, my paranoia was quickly alleviated. Let me describe my feelings about Albert in three words…Admiration, Envy, and Awe.
He led us to his cabin, taking us on the best roads and path possible, but ones you most definitely had to have an SUV to navigate. We crossed the continental divide and back down into a small valley, where his picturesque 1864 mining claim sits by a small stream, providing all the water he needs. The surrounding mountains and forest bring with it the wildlife including Mountain Lions, Elk, Bear, Deer, Wolves, Foxes, and Coyotes to mention a few. The area in front of the cabin was cleared just enough so you didn’t feel claustrophobic, but not enough to give view to his home until your right on top of it. It’s also enough to provide just the right amount of wind that allows him to generate electricity. That along with some hydropower and solar.
There to greet us where Albert’s companions; Zack his German Shorthaired pointer and Zoey, his Calico cat. A perfect life for his furry friends who kept him company during the long winters. Living in a place like this isn’t something everyone could do. You have to plan, plan and plan some more. You also have to be in shape, as there is a lot of work that goes into living off the grid. Lack of a cell phone signal at the cabin is just a small part of that, and he’s fortunate in the fact he has satellite internet to keep in touch with friends who check in on him regularly. But you can tell that Albert would be just fine with or without that communication.
After dinner that night he regaled stories of his adventures thus far, including the hard winters when he had to leave his Jeep closer to Maryville and drive in for supplies using his Argo utility vehicle. He even had to buy snow tracks for it to get up and down the mountain, oftentimes dealing with several feet of deep snowdrifts, finding himself stuck halfway home, having to walk back. As I said, this isn’t something everyone could do. But for Albert, it’s a payoff for the life he’s led as a veteran and public servant.
Back in 2008, Albert left his mountain paradise during the winter and traveled around the U.S., usually near a beach. In fact, we were elated when Albert agreed to come to Kathy’s 50th Birthday party here in Warsaw, Missouri. But as time has passed, traveling during the winter hasn’t always been an option.
Weather in this area of Montana is often unpredictable, so the summer is spent getting things prepared. This includes cutting, splitting, and stacking eight to ten cords of firewood, which is his main source of winter heat. Repairs are always an ongoing task as is adding buildings and additions. Some winters come early, while others are later. The first few years living there seldom saw snowfall until after Thanksgiving, but that has changed over the years. Now, Hall literally gets snowed in as early as the beginning of September and the snow doesn’t allow him to use his car to drive in and out until mid-June.
Albert loves his lifestyle, but being off the grid is dangerous here.
“The thing I fear the most are forest fires. I am completely surrounded by the forest, some of which is dead fallen or still standing. The Beatle kill left so much fuel in the forest that it doesn’t take much more than a lightning strike to start a fire. I’ve woken on several mornings to the smell of smoke from a fire, usually miles and miles away, but still unnerving.
“One of the conditions when searching for my property was that it wouldn’t be threatened by flooding or landslides, but you can’t live in a forest without the trees and a chance for fires. I did demand more than two ways in and out in case I had to evacuate. Luckily, back in 1864 when the miners established my spot, they cleared the land all around where my cabin now sits. I have at least three escape routes, depending on the season. Summers are the most worrisome and I can go one of three ways to escape.
“Injuries are the next worrisome thing I think about. I always plan ahead and have action plans for most emergencies. A Life Flight helicopter can land directly in front of my cabin if it was necessary. I keep Quick Clot handy in case I cut myself with the chainsaw so I can stem the bleeding. I have a GPS device called Spot, which is a small, belt-worn device that if the emergency button is pressed, sends my coordinates to a central monitoring location and they call medical emergency to be sent to my GPS location.”
Yet another serious danger is getting stuck outdoors during sub-zero temperatures.
“I carry emergency supplies in all of my vehicles with water, food, first aid, flashlights, blankets, sleeping bag, shovel, etc. so if I get stuck between my cabin and town, I can survive. Last winter, I had over 3 feet of fresh snowfall in September and the snow was so dry that even the snow tracks on my Argo couldn’t make way and I spent too much time trying to winch myself out and got frostbite on my toes, but still made it home okay.”
Albert has had numerous occasions where he’s been stuck or actually lost a snow track on the Argo and ended up having to be rescued. Luckily, each time, he was able to get enough of a cell phone signal to call for help from friends.
Back when Hall was traveling in his motorhome, he wrote articles for travel magazines for extra pocket money. When he moved to Montana, he was invited to a “Writers Preview” of an underground tour of the city below Butte. There he met Joe and Michele and the couple have become good friends.
“Joe has come to my aid numerous times, as well as his friend, now mine too, Tim. Between the two of them, they have saved my skin more times than I can count. The people in Montana are usually easy, laid back, hard-working people and will give you the shirt off their back if you need it. We all help each other whenever the need arises.”
Hall also made many friends in Marysville after he became a volunteer firefighter shortly after moving there.
Albert says things are becoming difficult to continue doing as he nears his 75th birthday (March of 2020).
“I paid a friend to get my firewood for me this winter, and if there is a task that needs doing and I don’t feel I’m up to it, I can call on my other friends and they drop what they are doing and come help me, but I’m not sure how much longer I’ll be able to sustain this lifestyle. I hope it will be several more years.”
Over the past year, Hall realized he wouldn’t be traveling anymore, so he sold his motorhome. It was a hard decision, as it had always been there for him if he needed a place to live in the advent he couldn’t stay at the cabin, which actually happened a couple of times. He also lost his best friend and furry companion Zack to liver failure. Zack had been with him since he was five weeks old and was just past his 13th birthday. Hall says, “He had a good life, but it was still hard to lose him.”
When Albert thinks about the possibility of having to move from his ‘off the grid paradise’ due to medical conditions as he ages, it’s hard to imagine.
“Like I tell my friends, if I died here, I die happy.”
©Dave Alexander, Legends of America. December 2019.