December 1, 2013

Robert Scott McKinnon—the Story of Swimming and Greyhounds in Montana

One day, fifty-five years ago, as I waited to swim in the Pan American Games 400 meter trials, at Treasure Island, the University of Montana swim coach sat down, introduced himself, said he wanted me to swim in Montana. And so I rode my motorcycle north, and from the University Education Building I gazed out at Rattlesnake Creek … this was no Bay Area scene. Coach, you got a deal.

My first experience with writing came via a conversation at the Grizzly pool. Part of my scholarship, I life-guarded adult lap swimming. A regular participant was a drama teacher, and from time to time we visited about this and that, and one day, he mentioned that the drama department was having a play-writing contest.

I said something, like, “That’s nice.”

My best guess, it wasn’t what I said, it was way I said it.

He said, “I suppose you think you could write a play.”

In my entire life I had seen one play, in San Francisco: Archibald McLeish’s Job. Other than that I had no idea what a play was.

I went home and that night and a lot of nights afterward, I wrote a one act play, The Sport of Kings, about two bums who came to own a steeplechase horse …

I submitted the play on Deadline Day, informed there were a number of entries this year. I rather thought that maybe at the next lap swim I should hold my lap swim friend under … just for fun.

A few weeks later, the announcement came: The Sport of Kings was a finalist?

The drama department of the University of Montana was going to produce three one act plays. One of them was my play!!!!!????

That‘s nice. Now what?

The three plays were announced in the school paper. After a workout, a couple of weeks later, the Grizzly swim team was showering after practice with the usual BS, one guy says, “I hear you wrote a play that’s going to be performed in the Masquer Theatre.”

“We hear you’re having a problem casting it,” our diver said. I had a head full of soap foam.

I nodded.

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“We’ve been talking,” the butterflyer said. “We’d like to put it on, I mean, we don’t know anything about acting, but then you don’t know anything about writing, and we understand the girls are cute.”

I rinsed the soap out of my eyes, turned to look this bunch over. “You gotta be kiddin…” I said.

And it came to be. My one act play, The Sport of Kings, the all-male cast was the University of Montana Grizzly Swim Team, and we took that Masquer Theatre by storm.

It should be mentioned, The Masterpiece, a steeplechase horse, had a nasty habit …

He couldn’t jump.

And the last jump was a brick wall!

The play brought the house down. It went on to win the University writing award. And that, and I did not know it then, was the beginning of Maddog McDermutt, my nom de plume. Maddog McDermutt, as I look back on it, there is no question, Maddog was the lead in my one act play, The Sport of Kings.

Today, Maddog is a household word in the Greyhound industry, internationally. Maddog has published over 250 short stories and articles; he is working on magazine #3 The Sport of Queens for the Iowa Greyhound Association; he shows up as a character in two of my books, Down Under Jones and Jesse’s Hound. The list goes on.

As a college kid on a scholarship I did not have to work. My first summer I went from North Fork, Idaho to Jack London Square in Oakland, via the Salmon, Snake, Columbia, Willamette, a portage, and down the Sacramento into the Bay Area. My second summer I put a small boat in at Fort Benton, Montana, and ended up in Savannah, Georgia, via the Missouri, Mississippi, Ohio, Tennessee, a portage, and down the Savannah into Savannah, Georgia. The third summer I was the first to go up the Salmon River, “The River of No Return,” in a power boat.

That drama professor turned out to be one of the best teachers on the planet. I ended up with a broad field English major.

My river trips led to three books published by Whiskey Creek Press, about the dog of the Lewis and Clark expedition, The Captain’s Dog, Parts 1, 2, and 3. Aardwolfe Books has published sixteen short stories: Vintage Maddog.

My wife Suzy and I live in Great Falls, Montana. We run a learn to swim program in the summer, having completed 42 years in our backyard pool. We raised Greyhounds for fifteen years. I taught high school English for 32 years. A tune I wrote is the closing number in my musical comedy and the theme tune in the film which went to all fifty chapters of Greyhound Pets of America: Montana I Luv Ya!

That says it all.

Link to Robert Scott McKinnon diverse and amazing work here:


  1. Thanks for your posting today. Sounds like you have led a very interesting life of...what happens next if I do this today. Your books sound interesting...will have to take a closer look at them.

  2. Terrific post! We have friends who just moved to Arizona from Montana. They miss it every day. Great state!
    Marja McGraw

  3. I love the premise of your books--they sound great! You've had a varied and illustrious career! Montana is my home state (grew up near Jordan & lived in Missoula until 1996), so I join you in saying "Montana, I luv Ya!

  4. Your life is very interesting and unique. I enjoyed reading the blog. Your writing also sounds quite original.

  5. Thanks for introducing us to Montana. It sounds like a beautiful place. And your books about the Lewis and Clark Expedition sound like great reads! I'll definitely check them out!

  6. What a great run of luck you've had. Do you think being in Montana had anything to do with it? I mean, right place, right time? They do say this is true and it certainly was for you. Not to mention your writing was probably better and more interesting than people were letting on.

  7. Great interview. Love to hear what makes other authors tick! Happy writing.

  8. Vintage Maddog is a great collection of McKinnon's best tales from greyhound racing's heyday. Definitely a recommended read.
    Ray L


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