Farewell to the Man Who Gave Montana a Speed Limit
In the many stories of Montana history, he doesn't rank up there with Henry Plummer and "Kid" Curry. But Randy Stanko's "law breaking" had more of an impact on your daily life.
That's because every time you have to check your speed while driving a Montana highway, it's Stanko in the shotgun seat, the catalyst behind a legal battle that forced the Montana Legislature to abandon the very loose rules of the past.
And now, Stanko is likely "hammering down" in Heaven, passing away this month at the age of 76.
Stanko's friends and family members gathered over the weekend at the American Legion Hall in Gordon, Nebraska to remember the "freedom fighter", as his obituary called him, who passed away on August 2nd.
Stanko was already a colorful figure long before his run-in with Montana officers. A heavyweight wrestler in college, he never lost in the competition for "The Toughest Man in Wyoming" contest. He carried on his family's business as "Buffalo Butch", with a huge meat packing operation spread across Wyoming, Montana, and Nebraska.
But when he ran afoul of the law for violating the Federal Meat Inspection Act in 1984, it began a long-running battle against the government, and the mid-90s case involving Montana's speed limits.
Montana had the "reasonable and prudent" speed law from 1955 until 1974 when the national "55 mph" speed limit took effect. When that was lifted in the mid-90s, Montana reverted to the old standard in 1995.
Then along came Rudy
Stanko was stopped for going 85 on a lonely section of MT-200, and by some accounts, was clocked at 117 miles per hour, and again at 121 mph within the span of a few months.
That led to a major fight with the state over the "reasonable and prudent" definition. The case would make it to the Montana Supreme Court, where in a 4-3 ruling in 1998, the justices would determine that was too "vague". The following year, the Montana Legislature would adopt the numerical speed limits.
He would keep fighting
Stanko would continue on with a constant legal battle against authority, filing dozens of suits in the ensuing years. He'd also become a professional gambler and a lightning rod for his views on race. Stanko wouldn't let up. He even set a weightlifting record when he pressed 391 pounds at 68 years old.
The number a lot of us driving enthusiasts wished he'd paid attention to was fine he could have just paid (probably $70) and left well enough alone.
Could we get by with "reasonable and prudent" today? Probably not. But if you drove back in the "good old days" when a trooper might pull up alongside your car and just wave a warning, it's hard not to grimace when you think of Rudy Stanko.