Visitors from all over the world travel to Powder River County, Mont. So when CBS News Correspondent Steve Hartman pulled into town, he wasn't the first city slicker the residents had seen around. Yet by some strange coincidence, he ended up visiting the same guy a lot of the visitors go to see: Ted Elgin.
Behind a big wooden gate with a cryptic little sign, O-spear, is Elgin's home.
"O Spear. That's our brand," Elgin says.
O Spear is a working ranch with 400 head of cattle, 150 sheep and a llama to chase away the coyotes.
"He does a pretty good job; he's watching," Elgin notes.
And he has a sheepdog to chases down the flies. "That's Bailey's job," he adds.
All of this may be mildly interesting. But it's nothing Letterman couldn't top, and it's certainly not worth crossing the globe just to see. No, what brings people here is Elgin's discovery.
It happened five years ago. Elgin and his only full-time ranch hand, his wife Cathy, had been trying to develop some way to supplement their income. Cattle prices had bottomed out, and the ranch was in the red for the second year in a row.
"Yeah, we were desperate," he recalls.
And that's when they wondered if maybe there was value in a natural resource that had always been there.
"Yeah, we definitely didn't know what we had here," he says.
Most people are aware that Montana is fairly rich in oil. Well, Elgin did not hit oil. But what not many know is that Montana is also rich in methane gas. But that isn't it either.
But Elgin did discover something on his ranch that helped him turn a profit the very next year.
And that something is the empty, wide-open space to see and the clean air to breathe. So far hundreds of people from half a dozen different countries have come to the ranch, just to stay in the O Spear Guest House and become a part of the place.
"People come out and do what we call work and enjoy it and pay us for it. That is surprising," he says.
And more and more ranches in Montana are now making the same surprising discovery: Agri-tourism is booming.
"They like to feed these lambs," he says pointing at them.
By one estimate, 10 percent of the ranches in this state next year will be welcoming visitors.
Cowboying will never be the same. And yet Elgin says it is the best thing that could have happened to him. And this time, he's not talking about the money.
"The quietness. They all comment on, 'Boy, it's quiet around here.' Well, I hadn't noticed that. They'll say, 'Boy did you hear the birds?' Well, I hadn't heard them. I think people coming in has made me appreciate what I have," he notes.
This is a discovery certainly worth more than oil.
For more information, contact Ted Elgin at email@example.com.
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