Helena puzzles offer popular pastime during pandemic

By SCOTT MIMS / Staff Writer

HELENA — When times are tough, sometimes all you need to do is pick up the pieces and put them back together.

The Helena Puzzle Exchange, which is housed in the city’s welcome center inside the Helena Caboose, has grown over the past five years to include hundreds of jigsaw puzzles, and many are taking to the hobby as a way of keeping busy during the pandemic, said Helena Caboose volunteer Ron Holly.

“We’ve got somewhere between 300 and 400 puzzles now. Anyone can come get one if they want,” Holly said. “We just do it to try to give people a place to hang out, something to do, something to see.”

Holly has seen people from all over, young and old, come in to participate. The location is especially popular among railroad buffs, and coincidentally, Holly himself is a former railroad worker of 33-plus years.

“We’ve got some young ones coming in. With all of this going on, people have more time. They want something to do; you can’t beat it,” he said. “I’ve had puzzles go out to Boston and Florida, because if people come in if they want one we let them take them. We meet a lot of people from different places doing that and it’s super.”

Holly said he keeps a jigsaw puzzle on the dining room table all the time. His kids are known to give him puzzles as gifts on holidays. It was one of these gifts that first got him interested in the hobby, he recalls.

It was Holly and some fellow puzzle enthusiasts who started the exchange in 2015, and it has grown ever since. Holly volunteers at the Caboose every day greeting visitors and providing information about the city, free coffee, hot chocolate and a seat at the gazebo.

And the puzzles are free, too. Anyone offering a puzzle to exchange is asked to note on the box if any pieces are missing.

“It’s the right price,” Holly said.

The Helena Caboose and welcome center is located in Old Town across from The Depot Deli & Grill. It is open Monday through Friday from 7 a.m. to 1 p.m. and Saturday and Sunday from 8:30 a.m. to 1 p.m.