There Is At Least One Working Pay Phone Left In Wyoming, But There’s Gotta Be More

Cowboy State Daily has tracked down at least one working pay phone left in the state of Wyoming. But there's gotta be more...

Jen Kocher

May 25, 20224 min read

Chugwater phone booth 5 24 22 scaled
(Cowboy State Daily Staff)

By Jen Kocher and Jimmy Orr

How many public pay phones are left in Wyoming? No one seems to know for sure. But we want to know.

New York City just got rid of its last group of pay phones on Monday. The city had a farewell ceremony for the oddities which are now more likely to be seen in a museum than anywhere else.

That’s exactly where the last working pay phone in Sundance is housed. About a decade ago, it was donated to the Crook County Museum.

Museum Director Rocky Courchaine told Cowboy State Daily that he didn’t have many details about how it got there but it’s a great conversation piece for children, he said, who point at it in confusion.

Beth Ellsbury, 4-H extension agent who grew up in Sundance and graduated in 1979, has many memories of piling up in the phone booth to see how many kids could fit. The phone booth sat on the west side of the courthouse and provided lunch-time entertainment for the school kids.

She said you could squeeze about 12 kids in there but a layered-approach was needed. A few of the boys would hunch down in the bottom and she was always piled at the top.

Crook County Museum

Where else do you look? Cowboy State Daily staff is ever-resourceful.

Leo Wolfson knew of a pay phone at Pahaska Tepee, a mountain resort on the way to Yellowstone near Wapiti. Is it operable? Nope. The sad voice at the front desk told Cowboy State Daily it hasn’t worked for at least two years.

Bill Sniffin said he saw two pay phones near Old Faithful on a recent trip to Yellowstone — whether they were working on or not, he didn’t know.  

Clair McFarland, never short for information, was stumped. None at all, she said. But promised to double check with the sheriff.

Jim Angell was silent. If anyone knew where one was, it was probably Jim. But he refused to participate. He was a dial tone when everyone else chattered.

There were those who theorized that he probably had one in his home. Next to his fax machine. And TRS-80.

Known for her sleuthing abilities, Ellen Fike came up with a list of alleged working pay phones still in existence in Wyoming.

It was a list, alright. But it was a loser list. Sorry, Ellen. But only three of those 108 phones rang. Two were now businesses (not operating in phone booths). The other phone just rang and rang. But with every ring, it gave us hope.

Of the other 105, an immediate pre-recorded announcement called out explaining that the number no longer works and all hope is lost.

Cowboy State Daily’s Wendy Corr knew of phone booth in Cody. She provided photographic proof too. It looks great, but it’s in retirement.

Cody, Wyoming phone booth

But leave it to the folks at Wyoming Department of Transportation. They uncovered one. And it still works.

The specimen is located in the town of Chugwater, also known for the longest operating soda fountain in the state.

The phone — not in a booth — in a wall-mounted kiosk is located in the Chugwater rest area.

Photo by Myron Witt, WYDOT

The relic is glorious. Instructions on how to use the phone are slightly askew and faded but still informational. Do not deposit coins until the desired party answers, it cautions. Then deposit quickly.

In case you had no idea where you were, the informative and colorful dented metal badge above the fashionable blonde vestibule reminded that 911 is the number to call in an emergency along with geographic information (milepost 54).

Need more volume? There’s a button you can push for that.

All of a sudden, the need for an iPhone evaporated.

WYDOT’s Doug McGee and Jordan Achs told Cowboy State Daily that local road maintainer Myron Witt took a photo on Tuesday to document its existence.

“Myron said kids come into the rest area and ask their parents, ‘What is that on the wall?’ And they have their picture taken while standing next to the old pay phone,” they said.

As for pay phones in other areas of the state, WYDOT is checking.

In the meantime, we’re turning this into a statewide community project.  If you know of a working pay phone in the state, let us know.  Take a photo.  Give us the number. And let’s document just how many are left in the Cowboy State.

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Jen Kocher

Features, Investigative Reporter