New mayor, councilman envision city’s future

The new year brought new faces to the Big Timber city council, with Mayor Rolland Karlin and councilor Bill Fossum getting their first taste of the bi-monthly routine. 

Asked why they had aspired to a council seat in the first place, newcomers Karlin and Fossum shared a sense of indebtedness toward the community. 

Fossum traced his journey to public office back to the mid-1990s, when he and his wife, Tamara, moved to Big Timber. The couple worked in a machine shop for a few years until new ownership took charge. The new company brought its own employees and within a week, the Fossums were out of work.

“We were desperate,” Fossum said, “I mean really desperate.” 

With three kids, car payments and a mortgage, Fossum took a job as an attendant at the full-service Conoco for $7.50/hour. Some of the money he put toward a one-week advertisement in the Big Timber Pioneer: Lawn-mowing for hire. 

Looking back, Fossum described himself as “a machinist who knew the machines inside and out.” Indeed, he still talks of computer diagnostics and hydraulic repairs as if its his native language. Going from machine work to pushing a lawn-mower was — technically speaking — a step down.

“You gotta do what you gotta do,”  Fossum said.  So he pushed.

Gradually, other services were added — from tree-removal to steel building construction — and his company grew to its present form. Fossum, now the father of 10 children, said losing his job was indispensable.

“Losing my job was the best thing that ever happened to me,” Fossum said. “It made me a servant.” 

If humble employment whetted his appetite for servitude, then fatherhood offered the main course. He hadn’t given much thought to public life when friends and neighbors started prodding him to run for city council, but now he sees it as part of a natural progression of giving back. 

Mayor Karlin’s life has revolved around kids since moving to Big Timber in 1978 with his wife, Lianna, and two daughters.

Karlin, who later added two sons, taught fifth grade for 38 years before retiring from the classroom. During that tenure, he coached nearly every sport in the school handbook: Baseball, basketball, football, track and field and Science Olympiad.

For more of this story, pick up a copy of this week’s Big Timber Pioneer on newsstands now, or subscribe online at

PHOTO CAPTION: Bill Fossum signs the proper paperwork, making him an official councilman of the city of Big Timber on Dec. 27 at city hall.  (STEPHEN KALB-KOENIGSFELD / Big Timber Pioneer)

By CHRIS AIKEN/ Pioneer reporter



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