When it comes to interesting facts about the 50 states, one of Wyoming’s default trivia tidbits is that, throughout the Cowboy State, there are only two sets of escalators.
The Cowboy State has as many U.S. senators and national parks as it has escalators. There is one more Democrat in the Wyoming House and 255 times as many registered electric vehicles in Wyoming as there as escalators.
There used to be a third set of escalators, in the Cheyenne JCPenney building, but it was lost when JCPenney moved to the Frontier Mall and the escalator was removed when the old building was renovated.
Why doesn’t Wyoming have more escalators, and why does that matter — if it does at all?
Where Are They?
Wyoming’s extant escalators are in Casper at the main branch of Hilltop National Bank and the downtown branch of First Interstate Bank. They work in both directions, offering the traditional ascent and descent, carrying people to whatever level they’re trying to reach.
A full tour of all Wyoming’s escalators, including rides up and down and the travel time between them, takes 10 minutes. There’s no reason to have an elevated opinion of these escalators, besides the fact they exist at all.
What’s more interesting is the ages of Wyoming’s escalators.
As a concept, escalators are nothing new. The first working escalator was installed alongside the Old Iron Pier at Coney Island, New York City, in 1896, with the first commercial model unveiled at the 1900 Paris Exhibition in France.
Since then, escalators have become fixtures in airports and shopping malls worldwide. The 220,000-square-foot Scheels retail store in Billings, Montana, has the same number of escalators as all 97,814 square miles of Wyoming.
In Casper, the First Interstate Bank building was built in 1958, while the Hilltop Bank opened in December 1979. The escalators were part of the original design of both buildings.
It’s not just that there are only two escalators in Wyoming, there hasn’t been a new one in 44 years.
Ronald Yount, project manager for Plan One Architects in Cody, pointed to a simple reason why escalators are so rare in Wyoming. It boils down to one of the state’s proudest points: its low population and, conversely, not a need to cram a lot of stuff into public spaces.
“Wyoming doesn’t have a lot of high-occupancy buildings,” he said. “And it doesn’t have a lot of multi-story buildings.”
According to the 2020 U.S. Census, Wyoming’s population was 583,279 people, or 5.85 people per square mile. That makes Wyoming the least populated state with the second-least dense population behind Alaska.
Yount said those statistics are reflected in architectural design and the amenities for new construction.
“Typically, escalators are placed in buildings that have a high occupancy rate,” he said. “They want to get people up and down faster than stairs or an elevator.”
In architecture, “high occupancy” means a high number of people working and traversing through a building. Escalators are the “middle of the road” in architecture. Installing and maintaining escalators is less expensive than an elevator but more expensive than a flight of stairs.
More Malls Than Escalators
Both the First Interstate Bank and Hilltop Bank in Casper have stairs and elevators.
Greg Dixson, president and CEO of Hilltop Bank, told Cowboy State Daily the bank has a maintenance contract with Otis Worldwide, a company that manufactures and maintains escalators, elevators and moving walkways, to do annual inspections and maintenance of the building’s escalator.
Escalators could be seen as overkill in many places, and Yount said that’s the case for most Wyoming buildings and communities.
“Typically, escalators are used in mall settings where you have a lot of stores and a lot of people traversing levels. And we don’t have a lot of those in Wyoming,” he said.
According to the website mallsandoutlets.com, there are only three shopping malls in Wyoming: Frontier Mall in Cheyenne, Eastridge Mall in Casper and White Mountain Mall in Rock Springs.
A single shopping mall in any U.S. city could have multiple sets of escalators inside. Wyoming has more shopping malls than escalators, and none of the state’s three malls has either of its escalators inside.
Will Wyoming go a full 50 years without a new escalator, or are more of the moving staircases an inevitability? The decision to add an escalator to a building can be made by either the architect or the client, so there’s always the chance a new multistory bank could add a shiny new escalator.
Yount seemed skeptical any new construction in Wyoming would want to add the unnecessary expense of an elevator. He’d be reticent to add one to future Plan One projects in most Wyoming communities.
“Maybe in the Cheyenne or Laramie areas, but not outside of those areas,” he said. “Because of cost, I’d discourage it elsewhere.”
Dixson said the year-to-year maintenance costs of the Hilltop Bank escalator vary, but replacing it could cost around $1 million. If every Wyoming resident gave up a dollar, they might still not have enough to build a single escalator.
That is probably another of many reasons why it’s been nearly 50 years since a new escalator has taken Wyomingites to the next level. If Wyoming ever has as many U.S. House members as it has escalators, there may be an elevated future in more buildings in the Cowboy State.
However, if that’s the metric, maybe two escalators in Casper are more than enough.
Andrew Rossi can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.