LANDER — Trey Kothe used to think he was big into fireworks until, that is, he met his fiancée Sheena Krehbiel.
Krehbiel, who operates recent Lander arrival Krazy Bull Fireworks, buys her fireworks by the box load.
She estimates the newest fireworks store in Lander sold at least 100,000 fireworks last year for its first Fourth of July.
This year, Krehbiel brought in 500 cases of fireworks, and she said her little shop was very close to selling out as of Tuesday afternoon.
Lander’s Fourth of July this year was a chilly 52 degrees at prime time, and the whims of Mother Nature meant sprinkles and outright rain off and on all day, into the night. Despite that, plenty of people were crawling all over the Krazy Bull store in search of fireworks both large and small.
They waited with arms stuffed full of pyrotechnics — and wide smiles on their faces — in a line that stretched halfway across the store.
They were all clearly planning a fun show, and they weren’t going to let anything, even rain, get in their way.
Lander Loves Its Fireworks
Kothe estimated Landerites buy five times the number of fireworks of the Missouri communities he grew up with as a child.
“I bet Lander buys at least a million (individual) fireworks,” Kothe said, as Krehbiel nodded in agreement.
The couple have often seen neighborhood groups spend more than $2,000 for the fireworks shows in their neighborhoods, and then sometimes come back for more.
“Like, if they found out their neighbor bought artillery shells,” he said. “They’ll come back and get some of the big 500-gram cakes.”
Lander has at least three fireworks stores, while nearby Riverton also has two or three stores that attract Lander customers, and the bustling scene at Krazy Bull was playing out at all of them the night of the Fourth.
A hotel employee told Cowboy State Daily the night of the Fourth is an ideal time to shop for fireworks, because sometimes the shop owners are willing to make a deal.
“That’s how I get more fireworks,” he said, adding that he shops at all of the stores he knows about, listing off four or five of them on his fingers.
All these privately purchased fireworks supplement the huge explosion of pyrotechnics put on by the Lander Fire Department, which finishes out the town’s Fourth of July rodeo.
That went forward Tuesday, despite a last-minute scramble to find someone licensed to fire them off and a chilly evening soaker, which started right before prime time, around 10 p.m.
Lander’s firework display is so legendary, it’s mentioned in a Reader’s Digest’s roundup of the 50 best fireworks displays in each state, over and above all others in Wyoming.
The lights in Lander start popping off all over town as soon as it starts to get dark, but things really begin to move around 10 p.m., when the last cowboy has been thrown from the last bull.
That’s when, without further ado, the lights suddenly go out in the arena. There’s darkness as far as the eyes, not yet accustomed, can see.
Not for long though.
Seconds later, huge blasts of light fill up the night sky. Red, green, yellow, orange — every color of firework, in every imaginable pattern, dances across the blackness of a sky that’s ringed with even darker mountains in the far-off distance. It draws exclamations from the crowd, young and old alike.
A woman in the stands from New England told Cowboy State Daily she’s been coming to Lander’s rodeo and fireworks show for the last 30 years, it’s that spectacular. She wouldn’t miss it.
The moment the rodeo fireworks start going off is when most neighborhoods really start to let loose with their own fireworks displays, supplementing the rodeo’s big show with more lights exploding over Lander.
As Cowboy State Daily’s Bill Sniffin, who lives in Lander, puts it, it looks like the “bombing of Baghdad” out there, with explosions and lights spreading out all over town.
Most people told Cowboy State Daily they aren’t sure why Lander has such a huge fireworks display year after year. It’s just a tradition that they love. It’s grown each year until it’s now unimaginable that there would be anything else.
“In some cities, you can’t even shoot off fireworks,” Briana Linabary told Cowboy State Daily. “We used to shoot bottle rockets at each other out of bottles here, and like, it was crazy.”
Linabary has lived in a variety of other states and larger cities since growing up in Lander. Bozeman, Montana, Washington, Idaho and others.
No other cities she’s lived in do the Fourth quite like Lander, and that keeps her coming back home for the holiday year after year, as often as possible.
Her mom, Kellie Nelson, appreciates that more than the fireworks themselves.
“I’ve tried explaining it to my family,” Linabary added. “It’s just kind of surreal, you know. You don’t understand it until you’ve experienced it, and you’ve walked through firework litter up to your ankle because there were so many.”
For Linabary, the display is a fitting celebration of all things America.
“And it’s all about celebrating our Independence from Great Britain,” she said.
“People out West are just very naturally independent,” her son Isaiah Linabary added. “Like, we value our sense of just like individuality. And I think that’s partially why it’s such a big deal around here. It’s like Independence Day for the nation. But it’s also like everybody’s sense of independence from I guess the rest of the country.”
More Than Fireworks
Lander’s Pioneer Days isn’t all just fireworks and pyrotechnics. The day starts out with a community pancake breakfast before what is an epic parade in and of itself.
The city sets the parade scene with flags all over Main Street. Not only do flags line the streets, there’s a gigantic flag waving over the parade scene thanks to a crane, and a huge POW MIA Flag and an American Flag are strung across the street to welcome the parade to Main Street.
That creates an iconic tableau, one where a photographer should find it all but impossible not to have multiple flags in every shot.
Floats in the parade also are often decorated with red, white and blue, completing the perfect postcard picture.
There’s plenty of music throughout the parade energizing things and revving up the crowd of thousands who have come to watch. There was even a little flash dance mob performing in the middle of the scene periodically, while people were waiting for the parade to start.
Tractors, horses, skateboarders and more also come through the parade alongside floats, sometimes doing tricks to cheers from the crowd, while the children all chant, “Candy! Candy!” to encourage fistfuls of sweet treats to come their way.
Sometimes, though, the children get the squirt gun for their trouble instead — to much giggling and laughter.
That doesn’t stop the chanting for candy for long, though.
After the parade, the fun is not done.
That big flag on the crane coming down is a signal that something cool is about to happen.
Once all the floats have drifted away from Main Street, the crane goes back up, sans flag. It, and all the firetrucks, then start shooting water out like big cannons, up in the air.
The trails of water arch across a two- to three-block area that no one gets through without getting soaked. People not wanting to get wet hang out under awnings watching the show, waiting for the water display to end.
Others, though, are eager for this moment and dash into the melee, dancing around in the water, getting as soaked as possible, before coming out, laughing.
Red, white, and blue flags still wave in the breeze along the street, in a scene that couldn’t possibly get more Americana than if Norman Rockwell himself had painted it for posterity.
Renée Jean can be reached at Renee@CowboyStateDaily.com.