Life Is Simpler In Lusk, Wyoming, Where New Owners Of The Local Tire Shop is ‘Braking’ News

Lusk, Wyoming, is about as small-town, slice of Americana as it gets. But when news happens in Lusk, it's news. Take the grand opening of a new tire store, you've never seen a community so collectively excited.

Jake Nichols

March 26, 20238 min read

Lusk 4

Lusk, Wyoming, is about as small-town America as it gets in the Cowboy State. 

Emphasis on small. 

It’s the seat of Niobrara County, the least-populated county in the least-populated state and one some folks forget when asked to rattle off the names of all Wyoming’s 23 counties. 

Only about 2,484 people live here, most in Lusk (population 1,567). All the residents of Lusk could be seated comfortably in, say, neighboring Bearcats Stadium in Douglas to watch a high school football game. 

Lusk is the kind of town where months can pass with nary a word posted on local news media sites, punctuated by the occasional obituary of a prominent resident or a flurry of activity concerning severe weather in the area. 

Latest big happenings out of Lusk compiled after a thorough and painstaking search: 

• “UPS will not be delivering Thursday due to road closures around Lusk, Lance Creek, Glendo and Bill.”

• “If it is snowing tomorrow, 4/23/22, the bar [at Elks Lodge 1797] will not be open!”

Other assorted clicks on “Breaking News,” “Latest News” and “Local News” tabs result in broken or dead links. 

Lusk is sleepy like that – contentedly loveable. 

John and Sara Sampers recently opened 14 County Tire in Lusk, which began as a stage stop and boomed in the early part of the 20th century. (Courtesy Photos)

New Tire Shop

But when news happens in Lusk, it’s news. 

When a new tire dealer popped onto the scene earlier this year, people in Niobrara County quickly took note. The buzz finally reached Cowboy State Daily’s radar, and we just had to catch up with the owners to kick the tires on the new shop, 14 County Tire.

And seriously, you’ve never seen a community so collectively excited about the grand opening of a tire store. Ask around, most everyone knows the owners, John and Sara Sampers. 

While 990 S. Main St. has been home to tires in years past —most recently C&H Tire and Trailer Repair operated by Brian Clark — the business is now under new ownership with a new name. 14 County Tire sells and services all kinds of tires from passenger vehicles to trailers to ATVs. 

“We can get almost anything,” John Sampers said. “Cooper, Kenda, Toyo. … I did ranch work before this, so I have been pushing what I think people need in this part of the world; tires that hold up on our dirt and gravel roads.”

Sampers also is a college-educated and trained mechanic. His face is a familiar one to most locals. He’s lived in the area since he was 3 and has worked at more than one tire shop in town. 

14 County Tire also carries Interstate batteries, and it wouldn’t be hard to convince John to handle your next oil change, either.

In-store inventory is not yet where the Sampers would like it, but there is almost nothing they can’t get next day. 

“I am still doing quite a few mount and balance jobs for people who have purchase tires online,” John said. “And that’s fine, but I am learning from customers that what they are paying at Tire Rack or wherever, and then when you add what it costs to get those tires on your vehicle, I am within about $10 out the door on final price. 

“At that point, most people around here would rather keep their business local.”

Sampers said he doesn’t buy anything online unless he has to and feels that’s pretty much how everyone he knows operates. 

Lure Of Lusk

A big reason why a tire store/repair shop is important to the region comes down to location. 

Lusk is an hour drive, minimum, to anything – and those “anythings” aren’t exactly metropolises. Douglas and Torrington are 60 minutes away. Newcastle and Chadron, Nebraska, are more like 90 minutes. 

Situated at the intersection of popular trucking routes (the north-south oriented Highway 85 and the east-west Highway 20), Lusk sees a fair amount of long- and short-haul truckers blowing through. 

It’s not uncommon to have a big rig come limping into town with tire problems. 

“We try to carry trailer tires for the truckers. At least I have some used stuff to get someone back out on the road,” Sampers said. “Just last Sunday, I had a guy passing through who had lost some tires, and I was able to help him out in a bind. 

“I don’t make it a habit of being open on the weekends, but my number’s out there and I happened to be in town.”

The Sampers live about 30 minutes south of Lusk in Platte County. They may get a service truck in the future, but for now John said he’s plenty busy with the business that walks through the door.

Business Is Booming

14 County Tire is not the only new business in town or the only thing happening in Lusk, said Sam Erlewine. 

The longtime local owns the domain Erlewine has been helping to promote the area for decades and has his finger on the pulse of the region.

“A restaurant we had here a long time ago was Ducks. That has now reopened as Young Ducks,” Erlewine said.

Young Ducks Sports Bar & Grill is owned and operated by the aforementioned Brian Clark and his business partner, John Cisneros. 

“They serve barbecue and smoked meat dishes that are really good,” Erlewine assured.

Local grocer Deckers is revamping its front entrance and the Best Western Pioneer in Lusk was recently recognized with the brand’s highest honor, the M.K. Guertin Award for outstanding guest satisfaction reviews. 

Mayor Doug Lytle has the town smack in the middle of a multimillion-dollar infrastructure improvement project to roads, and water and sewer lines. The ongoing project headed by Oftedal Construction is scheduled to get underway again soon for the summer season despite one of the worst winters in Wyoming’s eastern prairie in recent memory. 

Lusk Of Lore

Lusk has a ton of history. Ask around town at the museum, for instance, about Outlaw Bill McCoy, Mother Featherlegs, the Yellow Hotel, the Oil Boom of 1919 or the Blizzard of ’49. 

Lusk has always been a bit of a stage stop kind of town. It’s existence today is mainly due to the historic Cheyenne to Black Hills stage route that ran through here in the days before rail. 

Like the Pony Express, the stage line didn’t last long, about 11 years after it began in 1876. It was a way to get prospectors, prostitutes and everyone else from Cheyenne and Laramie to the gold fields of Deadwood, South Dakota. 

The 300-mile trip took 50 hours in a 6-up stage (that’s six horses pulling, for you city folk). Today, you can drive it in less than five. 

Lusk wasn’t an official place then, but it would soon form as a result of layovers just south of there at Hat Creek Station and Rawhide Buttes Station, where teamsters swapped out horses and passengers brushed off the dust. 

Frank S. Lusk arrived in 1886, bought and donated land to get the town rolling. 

The Legend Of Rawhide

Since 1946, Lusk celebrates Rawhide Days the second weekend in July. 

The annual event culminates in a historical performance highlighting the friction between early pioneer settlers and the Sioux, Northern Arapaho and Cheyenne Indians who were bitter about reneged treaties in 1876. 

The brief reenactment play is based on a script written in 1946 by EvaLou “Bonnie” Paris from stories passed down to her through the years. 

The legend of Rawhide is so integral to Lusk that the townspeople considered a name change to Rawhide, Wyoming, back in the 1960s. The idea was eventually voted down out of respect for Frank and his vision. 

Following the discovery of oil in the area in 1917, the population in Niobrara County boomed to an estimated 3,488, 1,000 more souls than make their home here today. It eventually topped out around 10,000 in 1940 before the boom began declining. Lance Creek once boasted 2,000 residents. Today, about two dozen people live there year-round. 

Maybe the most interesting stat or fact about Lusk and the rest of Niobrara County, Wyoming, comes from the Health and Human Resources Department of the U.S. Census. According to the latest data, about 8% of the county’s children are living in single-parent homes. In the U.S., that number is 25%. 

People in Lusk stick and stay.

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Jake Nichols

Features Reporter