Bill Sniffin: I Am A Old Dinosaur Dodging Asteroids Along The Oregon Trail

Columnist Bill Sniffin writes, "When I wrote my column about the Oregon Trail and how important it was to Wyoming, our political reporter Leo Wolfson asked, with a straight face: 'Bill, tell us, what was it like out there on the trail?'”

Bill Sniffin

July 02, 20237 min read

Sniffin mug shot 10 3 22 v2
(Cowboy State Daily Staff)

Life is tough when your colleagues compare you to a dinosaur.

As the “senior” member of the Cowboy State Daily staff, it has been both fun and interesting to assist my youthful fellow staff members when it comes to news stories.

For example, when I suggested we do a story about the state dinosaur, which is the Triceratops, our managing editor Greg Johnson chimed: “When the state decided on which dinosaur to pick, Bill Sniffin finished second!”

Last week, when I wrote my column about the Oregon Trail and how important it was to Wyoming (400,000 people came through here between 1843 and 1869), our political reporter Leo Wolfson asked, with a straight face: “Bill, tell us, what was it like out there on the trail?”

After 60 years in the news business, I guess such comments come with the territory. I love working with this staff – they are the best writers I have ever worked with.

My grandchildren are older than several of these folks, of which, Clair McFarland is the youngest and perhaps the most-scary-smart.

There are very few journalists in the world who have experienced my journey when it comes to technology. My first column was written 60 years ago for a newspaper that set its type with wooden block letters. This is exactly like Gutenberg did when he invented printing in the Middle Ages.

Today, I am working with the hottest and most influential digital news site in the region. Now that is quite the career arc. From slow-slow movable type to instantaneous digital news. 

Back then in 1963, it took a week to get the news out. Today it takes editor Jimmy Orr literally seconds to get a story out to our 50,000-plus subscribers. That big tornado video Wednesday night is an example. He had a video of it up almost before the tornado left the ground. Amazing. 

Some 27 Years Ago

It was 27 years ago this spring that my old friend Loraine Ocenas emceed my 50th birthday party and claimed its theme was: “How does it feel to have your future behind you?”

Loraine was a tall older gal who had an incredible sense of humor. One of her often-repeated self-deprecating jokes was: “I used to be a 38D. Now I am a 44 Long.”

My answer to her question about my future that night was “my best years are ahead of me,” and indeed, that turned out to be true.

Now at 77, if someone asked me the same question, I might attempt to answer the same way, but perhaps not quite so vigorously.

Where did all those years go? An awful lot has happened both to me and to the world we live in.

That 50th birthday party was in 1996. There barely was an internet back then and cell phones were, well, they were just phones. The first smartphone did not come out until 11 years later in 2007.

We had 2 grandchildren back in those days. Today we have 13 plus three more great-grandchildren. We have seen our own children grow up and build lives of their own.

What Is Going To Happen To Me?

I like to give talks to graduates. One of the things that I always tell them is that my over-riding feeling during my graduation was simply: “What is going to happen to me?”

Well, I know what happened to me. It is satisfying to look back with warm feelings at all those events and occurrences which make up the milestones in a person’s long life. 

Celebrating our 55th wedding anniversary two years ago certainly is near the top of the list.

But those grandchildren – wow, are they ever special. Grandchildren have a purpose in life. That purpose is to show you that you have a hidden place in your heart. And that place is full of love for someone you are just finally getting to know. 

We joke that our job as grandparents is to “spoil’em and sugar’em up” and then send them home!

Our children might be thinking that we consider them chopped liver because we will travel thousands of miles to see those wonderful grandkids.

Six Decades Of Journalism

During a 60-year journalism career, I always wanted to own businesses and we were fortunate in having that opportunity. We owned newspapers, print shops, magazines, book companies, and a half interest in an Internet company with our daughter Shelli Johnson and even an advertising agency.

We worked with wonderful people who became like members of our family. It was easy to deeply care about people who worked side-by-side with you on all those various endeavors. 

Charity work was always important to Nancy and me and we believed in the pay it forward philosophy. We often got more out of these projects then we expended.

Some years ago, I wrote a piece called “the 20 things I learned in 50 years of business.” One of those was to “love your customers.” We really did love ours, and that is something that I miss a lot now that we are not going to work every day.

Over the years, we managed to indulge ourselves in big-boy toys like a nice boat, a motorhome, and even an airplane.

After flying for 30 years, we quit when a detached retina 12 years ago made that a risky business. But what a joy it was to fly over a wonderful state like Wyoming! If you love this state from the ground, you need to see it from above. I just could not get enough of it.

Recently Nancy and I visited Flaming Gorge where we kept a boat for 10 years. Sure made us nostalgic. But our boating days are over, too.

Our old motorhome, nicknamed Follow My Nose, is not a toy but a real second home for us. We like to travel south in the winter in it to get away from cold and snow. We have made great friends with that lifestyle. 

About the only big-boy toys we managed to avoid were horses. We have rented out our pasture to horse-lovers, so we get to see horses everyday.

The Fox News All-Stars

A coffee klatch called the Fox News All-Stars puts up with me as we sit around telling lies most every morning at the Inn at Lander. Been attending that group for over 50 years.

Our lives have not all been rosy. Watching family and friends get ill or die has been difficult. Dealing with stubborn illnesses has not been fun. But you soldier on and finally reach your seventh decade and are peering into the future at an eighth? Impossible! 

At my age, I am finally a grown up. It takes men a long, long time to develop. Luckily, I married a very mature woman, who at the age of 19 was more mature than I was at 50.

Guys are just guys. Face it, we go stumbling along, scratching ourselves in embarrassing places, and making horrible noises at the wrong time. We often are selfish and we don’t talk enough. 

I used to refer to my life as four quarters, like a football game. If so, we are definitely in the fourth quarter.

 Today, I prefer to think of life as a nine-inning baseball game. I am now in the middle of the seventh inning. And it’s time for a nice stretch.

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Bill Sniffin

Wyoming Life Columnist

Columnist, author, and journalist Bill Sniffin writes about Wyoming life on Cowboy State Daily -- the state's most-read news publication.