Bill Sniffin: Bob Beck, Phil Roberts, Jack Nokes Discuss Winter Driving In Wyoming

Columnist Bill Sniffin writes, "Oh, how bad could Interstate 80 get between Cheyenne and Laramie in the winter? Really bad. Some friends of Cowboy State Daily chimed in about winter driving in the wake of my column last week about winter roads in Wyoming."

Bill Sniffin

December 09, 20236 min read

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Oh, how bad could Interstate 80 get between Cheyenne and Laramie in the winter? Really bad. Some notable Wyomingites chimed in about winter driving in the wake of my column last week about winter roads in the Cowboy State.

Longtime Wyoming Public Radio Director Bob Beck says: “Because of blowing snow I often couldn’t see the road at night driving home to Laramie from the legislature. So, I always followed a truck’s tail lights. And I prayed I wouldn’t follow it off the road. 

“I did it for 30 plus years . . . so it must have worked. lol!”

Why Did They Not Close The Highway?

The absolute best story about that Interstate 80 route comes from long-time UW professor and Historian Phil Roberts of Laramie:

“I taught a night class in Cheyenne one year. A political science professor and I drove over and back. One evening, just as class was at the halfway point, someone came in and said the snow was falling so hard that we should leave now! Away we went.

“The snow was falling fast and the wind blowing hard, long before we even got to Harriman Road. As we crawled along to the summit, my rider (from the South and new to UW), asked why I must be getting better visibility than he was--he could see nothing.

“I told him just to listen for the sound of crunching metal! He didn't laugh. There were near misses on every curve, it seemed.

“Well, somehow, we made it back to Laramie. I dropped him off and went home where Peggy was getting annoyed because one of my graduate student Teaching Assistants, warned at the start of the term that he'd have to lecture if I didn't get home, had been calling every five minutes!

“Just then, he called again and I answered. He was relieved, he said - he'd not have to lecture the next morning. And, he added, ‘I've been working at the highway department and had the duty to close the road if it got too bad.’ He said, now that I was back, he could go ahead and close the road!”

Tucker Fagan of Cheyenne recalls: “Leaving Jackson for Cheyenne, I’d always ask Clarene Law which way to take. She was the best.

“The drive on Highway 287 between Medicine Bow and Highway 220 south of Casper was particularly a concern for me. You can’t see any ranch houses from the road and the wind is brutal. If there was any hint of snow in the prediction, I would avoid that route.”

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Jack Nokes Driving Advice

Retired broadcaster Jack Nokes says: “Does opening the driver’s window and hanging your head out looking for delineator posts on Highway 487 (from Medicine Bow to Natrona County) coming home from Cowboy basketball in the 1980’s count? Back when the snow behind the snow fence was still there in June. 

“To Bob Beck:  we tried not to follow any pickup trucks seen leaving the Virginian or Bill’s Bar in the Bow.

My younger brother Ron Sniffin of Cheyenne has his stories: "I commuted between Laramie and Cheyenne for 18 years starting in the early 1990s. For my commuter cars, I used to buy used Highway Patrol Cars, they were huge, fast, and rear wheel drive.

“One late-fall day after work I headed over the hill to Laramie. This was before the fantastic WyDOT reports, I think I had just bought my first bag-cell-phone. I hit snow flurries shortly out of Cheyenne, and by Buford the roads were a sheet of ice and slush. It was the first winter storm of the season, so I had yet to put my studded winter snow tires on, or 200 pounds of sand in my trunk.

“As I was approaching the turn before lone-tree, I could see in my rear-view mirror a semi pulling half of a modular house, and he was going FAST. I was going SLOW.

“I punched it, only to have my rear wheels spin. I gripped my steering wheel tight. As the big semi came closer, I watched the driver change lanes and start his jack-knife. It seemed like slow motion, but for the longest time my rear-view mirror was completely filled with the sight of a house, front door facing me and coming closer and closer. Just before it was about to hit me, it went in the ditch, splattering snow on my trunk.

“I felt bad on my commute the next few days seeing that half-a-house in the ditch on my way by.”

From Dallas To Cheyenne

Peter Steiger of Cheyenne wrote on Facebook: “I moved with my wife and kids from Dallas to Cheyenne in April 1997. The day we left it was 80 degrees in Dallas so all our winter gear (such as it is in Texas) was in a huge box buried deep in the back of the van where we knew we wouldn't need it in December.

“Somewhere around Fort Collins it started to snow. ‘Ha ha!’ we laughed. ‘Can you believe it, snow in April!’ Since it was our daughter's birthday, we jokingly promised her that this was her birthday present and we would get her snow on her birthday every year. By the time we passed the bison near the state line (look everybody, it's a real buffalo on the top of that hill!) it was snowing pretty heavily and we were having trouble keeping the car on the road or even seeing the road.

“My wife (who, thankfully, was the one driving) had experience driving in Noo Yawk, so she wasn't as terrified at the slippery conditions as I was.

“That was almost 30 years ago, and we've only missed 2 or 3 birthdays when we couldn't give her snow. I've seen it snow enough to make driving difficult every month except July and August, and the old-timers tell me they have even seen snow in those months - I'm talking about in Cheyenne, not up in the mountains.

“Still wouldn't trade these roads slippery with snow 10 months out of the year for another day at 110-degrees in Texas.”

Please email me your favorite or more horrifying Wyoming winter driving stories. There will be lots more opportunities to publish good stories this winter, I am sure. Send to

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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.