Robert “Bob” Allen Wilke, 85, a life-long resident of Wisdom, MT, passed away August 6, 2023. Born May 21,1938 on the family ranch on Steele Creek, Bob spent his entire life in the Big Hole Valley. Growing up on the ranch instilled in him a determined work ethic and an extraordinary ability to fix or build anything. Starting off building his own toy bulldozers and trucks out of wood, Bob later built many ranch shops, a roping barn, hay derricks, and his own home. He became a master at welding and iron work and built everything from a forklift (named Bullwinkle), to trailers, and roller tables for the sawmill. He particularly enjoyed restoring cars and tractors and his collection included two Models Ts, a Model A, 1957 Ford Fairlane, 1965 Mustang, and several tractors. Bob’s collection made up a considerable part of the Wisdom 4th of July Parade each year, and it took much of his extended family to drive them all. And his Farmall International W-9 tractor won the 2017 tractor pull in Deer Lodge. He was the guy to call for mechanic and restoration work and he brought many old trucks, cars and tractors back to life for people around the valley. And if he couldn’t find the needed part, he would just build it!
Bob graduated from Beaverhead County High School in 1956 and immediately went to work for Helming Brothers gas station. Upon the return of his older brother, John, from the Army, they briefly tried the mink farming business. The Big Hole winters were too cold for the baby mink, and they quickly sold this business. Their next venture proved to be quite successful, and starting in 1963 they operated Wilke Brothers Sawmill for over 30 years. While John operated the sawmill, Bob cut and hauled logs. He logged all over the valley, including hauling over 100 loads for the Steel Fox road right-of-way. After they closed the sawmill in 1993, Bob and John continued to log together.
Bob was known to enjoy anything in the outdoors. He was an avid hunter and fisherman. He made many trips to Alaska fishing and proudly displayed his wall-mounted, fifty pound King Salmon. He loved snowmobiling all the mountains around the valley and even did some cross-country snowmobile racing in his younger years. He was an excellent marksman and competed for about eight years in silhouette shooting. Known as the “Boys from the Big Hole”, Bob and brother, John, were tough to beat and brought home many trophies together from local, state and regional shooting competitions. They also exhibited their engineering skills with various versions of the SS Big Hole, their homemade rafts that won the Big Hole Raft Races all five years they competed. Bob rarely sat still, was always ‘out in the shop’ fixing things, building things or on a ride on his motorbike, snowmobile or side-by-side. He was a beloved husband, father, grandpa, uncle and a friend to many who will miss his smile and laugh.
Bob is survived by his daughter, Lori, and two grandchildren, Kooper and Oliver, and brother, John (Barbara), and many nieces and nephews. He was preceded in death by his wife of 30 years, Joan, his parents, Frank and Anita, and brother, Frank Jr.
A graveside service will be held on August 12, 2023, at 2:00 PM at the Wisdom Cemetery, with a pot luck to follow at the Wisdom Community Building. In lieu of flowers, the family suggests donations be made to the Wisdom Volunteer Fire and Ambulance, where Bob volunteered as a fireman for over 50 years.