By Dave Simpson, Cowboy State Daily columnist
It’s colder than a well-digger’s boots outside, and the wind is howling. Time for some of my favorite Wyoming memories to warm up by the fire.
– When folks from Wyoming complain about their property taxes, I laugh. Because I’ve paid property taxes in Colorado (not too bad), Illinois (bad) and Nebraska (surprisingly bad). Only now, after 15 years in Wyoming, on property worth three times more than the house we had in North Platte, are we paying more than we paid in Nebraska property taxes.
I like to tell folks that when I bought my acre and a quarter high in the Snowy Range of Wyoming in 1981, the annual property tax bill was $7.48.
You read that right.
And they let me pay it in two installments.
– The nicest guy I ever interviewed was from a famous Wyoming family, but not the member of that family who might come to mind.
I was working at the Casper Star-Tribune at the time, in the old building on Second Street, and our primitive computer system would crash pretty frequently, obliterating whatever story or interview notes we were working on at the time.
You could tell when it happened because the lights would flicker, then a loud, profane howl went up in the newsroom, as everyone lost whatever they were working on. Folks buying a classified ad up front would wonder what on earth sparked such profanity.
It was about 1982, and I was interviewing Pete (no relation) Simpson over the phone, probably about something the legislature was up to, because he was a member of the Wyoming House at the time.
I was taking notes on my computer, and we had just about finished the interview when a spike crashed into the system, obliterating my notes. Gone in a flash. I was horrified. If I didn’t swear, it was only because Pete Simpson was such a nice guy, and I didn’t want to offend him.
Now, most public figures you interview are busy people, with things to do, places to be, and little patience for reporters whose half hour of interview notes just went up in smoke. It’s probably worse today, when everybody seems to hate reporters.
But, not Pete Simpson.
When I explained what happened, he said something like, “Well, that’s terrible! Let’s see if we can reconstruct the interview. You started out asking me this…” “And then I replied this…” “And then you asked me this…” “So then I replied this, and don’t forget that I added this…” And on it went. He had a good memory. And by the time we were through, I had all my notes back, and I was able to write my story.
In a news career that lasted many years, in four states, I ran into plenty of noteworthy people, and interviewed many of them – governors, congressmen, senators, (even The Amazing Kreskin, who was, as advertised, amazing), the whole journalism kettle of fish.
But nobody I ever interviewed was as nice a guy, and as understanding and helpful as Pete Simpson of Wyoming.
Funny what you remember.
– In 1998, my Uncle Chuck died in Crystal Lake, Illinois. He led a tough life, growing up in Depression-era Indiana, captured in the Battle of the Bulge, spent time as a prisoner of war (suspecting his blue eyes and blond hair may have saved his life), and later suffering the tragic death of his only son.
Uncle Chuck was a gifted fisherman. He could catch fish in a rain barrel. And he especially loved his family fishing trips to Pinedale, Wyoming. (I’ve got an old ashtray of his from the Cowboy Bar.)
When he died, my brothers and I had to decide where to inter his cremated remains. So we bought a plot in that beautiful cemetery in the center of Pinedale and buried him there.
We thought we should buy flowers the day we buried him, and stopped at a floral shop in Pinedale. They explained that folks don’t tend to put flowers on graves there, because, “At sunset, the deer come down out of the hills and eat the flowers.”
And I thought, “Uncle Chuck is exactly where he would want to be.”