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Textbooks bound for Missouri occasionally land at Billings Senior High in Billings, Mont.

The confusion no longer surprises Jim Millsap, the principal of Billings Senior High in Missouri.

"As far as kissing cousins are concerned, we're about as close as it gets," Millsap said. The school system in the small farming community of Billings, Mo., has 480 students in kindergarten through 12th grade.

In recent years, Billings, which lies 15 miles southwest of Springfield, the third-largest city in Missouri, has started to become a rural, bedroom community for Springfield, the home of the original Bass Pro Shop.

Like Billings, Mont., the Missouri town was created by the railroad and named after Frederick Billings, said Wayne Glenn, the unofficial historian of Christian County and a radio personality on KTXR in Springfield.

Missouri residents picked the name because Frederick Billings donated land and money for a nondenominational church. A major railroad line still goes through the Missouri town.

"If you're in Billings, you're going to see the trains go through," Glenn said. "It's a one-stoplight town, and, if the light's in your favor, it takes a couple of minutes to pass through town."

Highway 60 runs through the business district. Several substantial, two-story buildings in downtown Billings are a hundred years old.

One of them, a 1908 bank building, is still the Billings Bank. The Bank Tavern, a gathering place for locals, occupies an old bank that failed during the Great Depression.

Other old commercial buildings house flea markets. The town has a fast-food place and a pair of convenience stores, but no grocery, said Roger Rufer, who is on the board of aldermen.

A gas station in town is a full-service station called Virgil's, though no one named Virgil has owned the station in quite a while.

"It's just a very quaint little town, very family-oriented," said Lynda Hammers, who works part-time as an oncology nurse in Springfield and runs a photography studio with her husband.

The Missouri town was laid out parallel to the tracks, which run northeast to southwest rather than aligned along north-south compass points.

"Billings is cockeyed with the world," Glenn said. "If you don't know your directions, you'll sure get mixed up when you leave there."

Christian County is shaped like Oklahoma, with a long panhandle. Billings sits at the western edge of the panhandle. Most of the county is in the foothills of the Ozarks, with lots of high hills and hollers, plenty of rocks, springs and lakes.

"Billings is flat as a fritter and totally different from the rest of the county," said Glenn, who is writing a book on the county's history.

The topography explains why the railroad chose to come through Billings. Railroad ads lured German and Swiss immigrants, who built nice homes and substantial barns, Glenn said. Many families in town descend from those settlers, but the era of family farms has faded.

In 1950, Glenn estimates a thousand people in the county sold some milk off their farms. This summer he found 30 families that sold milk daily.

The town is the birthplace of country swing artist Leon Rausch, who was known as "the voice" of Bob Wills & His Texas Playboys.

The Billings Community Fair over Labor Day weekend is the town's big gathering, with a parade, a fair queen chosen from the high-school students and a pie-eating contest.

This year, a kiddie pedal-tractor pull joined the adult tractor pull.

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