BEAVER (AP) — The man everyone calls “Frog” set his tin cup of Mountain Dew on the wooden porch rail and mounted his favorite horse, an old Tennessee Walker named Charlie.
“The pig. Anybody seen Pig-Pig?” he asked. The cowboys standing all around him shook their heads. So Frog — he is 53-year-old Mike Montgomery, but few know him by that — chomped on his cigar, gave his horse a tap and said to no one in particular, “I’m going to go and find me a pig.”
As he rode off toward the pasture to find his farm’s only resident swine, a 26-year-old cockatoo named Baby that was perched atop a nearby pole began screeching for attention, and some visitors standing across the way waited patiently for a fight to break out after someone cheated at poker.
No big deal. Just another afternoon at Dogwood Pass.
“This started out as my man cave. I built it so I’d have some place to get myself a cold drink after a long day of hunting or a place to have a party,” Montgomery had said earlier by way of introduction as he swept his hand around the 1800s-era Old West town that he and his family have designed and built in the middle of the woods on their nearly 90-acre slice of eastern Pike County.
“Next thing I know it was a hobby, a hobby that kind of got out of control.”
Montgomery was born and raised on this land, and farm living, horse training and factory working were all he’d ever known. Then, in 2009, he built the old-time saloon behind the home he shares with his wife, Sharlene. Rustic and full of beautiful woodwork, it looks just as one might expect: sarsaparilla in the cooler, deer heads mounted on the wall, turkey feathers hanging on hooks and the occasional squirrel-skin cap nailed to a post.
Friends who visited loved it all, and pretty soon it wasn’t enough for this family.
They held their first public event in 2011 — the inaugural Brad Schneider Memorial Cystic Fibrosis Benefit in honor of the Montgomerys’ late son-in-law. Held every August, it now raises between $5,000 and $6,000 for a different local family affected by the disease each year.
Over the years the Montgomerys have added all the staples: a jail, mercantile, livery, bank, church/school, tobacco and blacksmith’s shops and more. There’s a mining camp and a gun shop (real, by the way. They are licensed gun dealers and have a firing range and hold concealed-carry classes) and a bathhouse with upstairs quarters that are supposed to be home for the, well, let’s just call them “the girls.”
“People ask me all the time, ‘Where did you get the plans?’” Montgomery said. He laughs and points to his head. “The plans are in here. It’s a dream we bring to life.”
Close to 30 relatives now play a role in what has become a bona fide hidden roadside attraction in the heart of Ohio’s Appalachian region.
But Dogwood Pass isn’t a place people stumble upon; it’s well-hidden off the beaten path of these winding roads. Tours are offered Wednesday through Sunday, but it is the monthly festivals that keep the place going. They host as many as 20 weddings a year, and dozens of private parties and corporate events.
Tonight, is “Dogwood After Dark,” a shindig full of skits and gunfights and cannon battles and entertainment in the saloon, starting at 7 p.m.
In the summer months, the Montgomerys live full time in the town in a room above its gift shop.
Kenny Alley is among at least 75 volunteers who keep the place running.
He plays Johnny Ringo, the leader of the town’s outlaw gang. He had never heard of Dogwood Pass, but took a concealed-carry class there three years ago. It sucked him in. Next thing you know, Alley was buying himself a black hat and chaps and strapping on a .22-caliber Heritage sidearm loaded with blanks.
A dialysis technician by day, he said he had no trouble buying into it.
“I leave me at the door, and when I pass through that gate I am Johnny Ringo,” said Alley, 47.
His friend, Matthew Grant (aka Ringo’s sidekick, Reaper), chimed in. “Who wouldn’t want to do this?” asked Grant, a 42-year-old concrete layer whose father and son also play roles at Dogwood Pass. “We’re doing what we did as kids, playing cowboys and Indians.”
As two young sisters who had stopped by with their babysitter for a tour on Wednesday to watch the play gunfight and the action left through the gates with smiles on their faces, Montgomery leaned against a post and watched them go. “It’s all for the kids. It gets them away from a television for a while, lets them imagine and laugh,” he said. “That’s all I really care about, ma’am.”