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WEST YELLOWSTONE — A year and a half after a natural-gas explosion decimated a portion of the Three Bear Lodge, a new facility was reopened that pays respect to the old building.

Wood from portions of the structure at 217 Yellowstone Ave. that were demolished has been crafted into furniture at the new facility, including beds, headboards, tables and nightstands.

“It’s really got some character,” said Clyde Seely, owner of Three Bear Lodge and the designer and builder of the furniture. “We call it Yellowstone’s newest attraction.”

The fire started about 7 p.m. Feb. 15, 2008.

“It was pretty bad, they fought the fire all night,” said Laura Newman, a clerk at the lodge.

No one was seriously injured. A lodge worker, after smelling gas, had moved people out of the area that burned, and many patrons were out to dinner at the time of the blast.

“A lot of people lost some stuff, a few had smoke inhalation, but nobody got hurt,” Newman said.

Rather than rebuild or tear down just the damaged section, Seely decided to remove the entire structure and start over.

“The whole thing I’ve done out of, you might say, putting my life back together,” Seely said.

The Three Bear Lodge has a long history in the small community at the West Entrance to Yellowstone National Park. The original structure was built in 1932. In 1944, Frances Wilson bought it for $25,800. He added cabins and in 1950 a more modern hotel section. Seely started working there in the laundry room at age 19; he and Linda Seely bought the lodge in 1970.

All told, the facility had three sections of motel rooms, a lodge and restaurant. Only one U-shaped, two-story section of the motel, with 29 rooms, was affected by the fire.

“When we rebuilt it, I wanted it to look like a lodge with interior hallways,” Seely said.

In demolishing the old, damaged structure, huge beams and 2-by-6 tongue-and-groove rough-cut pine were salvaged. Now, instead of providing structural support for roofs, floors and walls, the boards are styled into rustic-looking headboards, mirror frames and towel racks. There’s even a “Goldilocks and the Three Bears” themed suite with a separate area for the baby bears.

“We really maximized every bit of wood,” Seely said, even building the 30-foot-by-60-foot shop in which the furniture was constructed.

All told, the motel complex has 70 rooms, with 26 in the main lodge. The lodge was designed by CTA Architects Engineers in Bozeman and built by RMR Group, formerly Rocky Mountain Rustics, of Big Sky. Construction was completed in July.

Even the two-story fireplace at the lodge’s entrance reflects Seely’s history. The volcanic rocks came from his boyhood farm in St. Anthony, Idaho.

“It’s been kind of fun,” Seely said. “It’s unique in every way.”

Contact Brett French at french@billingsgazette.com or at 657-1387.

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Clyde Seely can trace his recycling ethic to his childhood. Here’s his story:

Long before recycling was the “in” thing, I thought it was something you just did in order to survive. Take, for instance, my dad’s white shirt. Farm life was hard and there was not much money for “store-bought” things. Dad wore his white shirt to church every Sunday. When the collar began to get frayed my mother would unstitch it from the shirt, turn it over and sew it back on. Now it looked pretty good again except Mother washed it so often with her home-made laundry soap it was no longer quite as white.

After the collar was worn out again, Dad used it as a work shirt. No one cared if the collar looked worn. When the white shirt got stained or there were too many holes to be patched, Mother would cut off the buttons to reuse and cut the shirt into cleaning rags and smaller pieces for “nose rags.” When we needed to blow our nose, we would go to the top left-hand drawer of her old treadle Singer sewing machine and get a white rag. After a good blow, it was taken to the cook stove where it contributed to the fuel supply.

The final use of the white shirt became part of the ashes from which my mom would make her laundry soap on an open fire in a big copper kettle so she could —you guessed it — wash Dad’s white shirt!

When it came time to demolish Three Bear Lodge after the fire, the Principle of the White Shirt that I grew up with protected usable, historical and sentimental materials from being crushed and hauled to the landfill. Even though it was not known at the time what some of the items would be used for, because of the legacy of the white shirt, they were saved.