The loneliest stretches of Wyoming’s highways are becoming more interesting thanks to a growing number of large steel silhouettes popping up alongside Cowboy State highways.
Oxen pull a covered wagon near Glenrock. Pistol Pete lurks outside Medicine Bow. The classic Steamboat bucking horse and rider welcomes travelers to Worland.
All the silhouettes have the same prominent message for passersby: 307 First.
These installations aren’t part of a new ad campaign or tourism promotion project from the Wyoming Office of Tourism. Instead, they’re pieces in a widespread effort to encourage more people and businesses to consider what services and resources are available in Wyoming before looking elsewhere.
And if they also can highlight Wyoming’s unique Western heritage, all the better.
“A lot of drives around Wyoming have pretty scenery, but they can be long and monotonous. (The silhouettes) was a way to remind the state, legislators and business owners to keep our money in Wyoming,” said Kyle Ridgeway, the COO of the Wyoming Financial Group (WERCS.)
WERCS owns several Wyoming businesses, like 307 Horse Racing and Mountain West Technologies, which are part of the 307 First mission to increase the visibility and opportunity of Wyoming owned and operated businesses.
The monotony of the route between Douglas and Shoshoni through central Wyoming becomes momentarily more exciting when drivers can spot Pony Express riders and Native Americans pursuing bison along the highway.
And every aspect, from creation to installation, is all Wyoming.
Silhouettes Stand Out
Tom Ford is a “cowboy artist” who owns Untamed Design LLC in Gillette. He’s one of the artists who creates silhouettes for 307 First. Others have been created by Pepper Tank in Casper.
Ford’s first piece for the project was a mule deer placed along I-90 east of Gillette. The silhouette is an entirely original creation, designed and built by Ford.
“It’s my drawing. There’s not another one like it anywhere,” he told Cowboy State Daily. “You see a lot of artists working off an art desk and cutting out a lot of the same images. I design all mine myself.”
Ford has created several other silhouettes for 307 First, most of them placed along I-90 throughout northeast Wyoming. Among his other creations are a pronghorn antelope on the west side of Gillette, a few hikers, and a sign for the town of Hulett depicting Devil's Tower. He’s currently working on a silhouette of a cowboy on a horse being followed by some dogs.
The silhouette campaign was conceptualized to increase awareness of 307 First’s mission while bringing a new element of interest and beauty to Wyoming’s roadways.
“I think it’s great,” Ford said. “It brings a lot more awareness to our state, and the whole idea of 307 First is to take care of your own, take care of your people, and keep your money at home. I think that’s a great philosophy.”
Larger For Life
There are currently over 30 silhouettes in place in several Wyoming communities. The goal is to eventually have 307 silhouettes installed throughout the state.
None of the 307 First silhouettes are randomly placed. Each installation is the result of a collaboration between a landowner and a sponsor. Several factors determine the design of each silhouette, including its geographic location and any designs or themes the landowners and sponsors might want.
The most recent silhouette is along U.S. Highway 20 heading into Thermopolis. Ranch owner Harvey Seidel wanted to host a silhouette on his land, and the Wyoming-owned company Groathouse Construction wanted to sponsor one.
Now, a large long-necked dinosaur watches over travelers heading into town.
Each silhouette is large. A typical 307 First sculpture measures between 15 and 19 feet long and at least that many feet tall.
And they’re affordable. Each silhouette costs between $2,500 and $4,000, depending on the amount of steel used.
A massive locomotive installed near Gillette is one of the most enormous silhouettes created to date. A flatbed trailer was needed to move the multi-ton steel creation to its location.
Ridgeway believes the silhouettes make a bigger impression than most 21st-century marketing techniques. A massive metal sculpture along a highway stands out more than hashtags or slogans on billboards.
“When you see a big steel sign that’s jarring and beautiful to see on these drives, it’s going to get someone to ask the question, ‘What is this about?’ It’s a unique way to promote our mission,” he said.
No single source funds the creation and installation of the silhouettes, and 307 First isn’t making any money from the project. The reward is more business in and for Wyoming.
Advocacy And Awareness
307 First was established more than 15 years ago as a lobbying group for Wyoming-owned contractors. Since then, the organization has transitioned to an overall awareness and advocacy organization for Wyoming businesses and the state’s economic future.
“Nobody cares about the community more than a business owned by somebody who lives in that town,” Ridgeway said. “That’s who lives here. That’s who reinvests in the community and provides the best customer service. Our mission is to give visibility to that and live that as best we can.”
The silhouettes are the most visible sign of the work 307 First and its partners do to bring more economic opportunities to Wyoming-owned and operated businesses. Even when all 307 silhouettes are in place, the work will continue.
“307 First is constant advocacy,” Ridgeway said.” When we’re making big policy decisions, we should think about (people and companies) in our community that can do those things first. There’s a lot of infrastructure and federal money that comes into Wyoming. We constantly prioritize that the people who live, work, and play in Wyoming are the beneficiaries of that.”
Ford is benefiting from that philosophy. His work with 307 First is gaining not only attention and compliments, but more business.
“We don’t advertise, so the work hanging in other parts of the state gets more clients to us,” he said.
Now, there are striking reminders of that mission throughout the state. Each silhouette represents not only what Wyoming is, but is a reminder of what’s possible.
“You look at all these big construction projects happening throughout the state. I think it ought to be in-state companies building everything,” Ford said.
A silhouette of a cowboy on a horse or an 8-point mule deer standing majestically on the horizon can certainly attract attention. The silhouettes are gaining the desired attention, which means everyone is starting to see 307 First.
“The people who are closest to the problem have the best solution, and we should prioritize people who live in these communities,” Ridgeway said.