By Dave Simpson, Columnist, Cowboy State Daily
From an old bench at the edge of our place east of Cheyenne, you can watch freight trains fight their way over Archer Hill, making their way east and west on the Union Pacific Railroad.
Either way, the locomotives work hard to put that hill behind them. You can hear them throttle back once the hill is crested.
I take the dog out there every morning, and again every afternoon. He loves chasing rabbits, while I marvel at the sound and the feel of 4,500-horsepower locomotives – sometimes five, six, seven of them in a row – hauling the mile and a half-long trains that keep America supplied with new cars, lumber, frozen food, coal, grain, oil, fruit – everything you can imagine. A woman in North Platte once said the sound of locomotive whistles is the sound of America thriving.
Just beyond the tracks is Interstate-80, and from our old bench you can see the cars and trucks heading east and west on that vital American artery as well.
For years, long before we owned our place here, in the first week of August I would be in one of those cars heading west on I-80, along with one of my kids, unaware that we were passing by land that would someday become our home. On the way west, it was always with intense anticipation of two weeks in the mountains.
When my son was finally old enough to “go to the cabin with dad,” he was so excited that he slept the night before we left Illinois in his t-shirt, cargo shorts, and little hiking boots, so there wouldn’t be any chance of being left behind. It was that kind of family ritual.
The trips were always timed to coincide with the end of mosquito season, after one cold night wiped out the swarm, and the perfect warm days of August in the mountains arrived. They don’t last long. It can snow after Labor Day.
After our two weeks in the mountains, we would get up at 4 a.m., board up the cabin, and around breakfast time we would be one of the cars headed east on I-80, visible from land that would years later become our home, hurrying back to Illinois. There wasn’t much eager anticipation expressed on the trips back home.
(One year, heading back east, we stopped at a convenience store in Cheyenne, and my son bought Mountain Dew, Slim Jims, and “Pop Rocks” candy. The clerk looked at me like the world’s worst dad, letting his kid have such a breakfast. But we’d been up since 4, and on the road for hours. It was lunch for us.)
Our home in Illinois turned out to be a great place to raise a family. We still have good friends there, friends who would never consider living anywhere else. A friend who served as mayor of our town said once the “taproot” was set, folks tended to stay, and grow to love the place.
But, while our kids consider that town their hometown, we were nomads, going wherever my boss told me to go. It was the job that was most important, the career, and whether it was Wyoming, Colorado or Illinois, when the boss said go, we lined up the moving van. At one point we owned houses in all three of those states, and it was tough, but we never missed a house payment on any of them.
Over those years, I met folks who were the opposite side of the coin. They loved where they lived, and wouldn’t let any job or opportunity take them away. I envied them. They had a peace of mind about their surroundings that fly-by-nighters like us seldom experienced. I’m still not sure which side of that coin – to favor place or opportunity – is right or wrong.
It took many years before we were able to pack up our stuff and get back to the place we always liked best, where the dog and I now take our walks every morning and afternoon.
From my worn bench, as I watch the cars and trains go by, I’m thankful that this old nomad finally found his home.
Dave Simpson can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org