Bill Sniffin: Last Minute Christmas Gifts – How Do You Gift-Wrap An Elephant?

Columnist Bill Sniffin writes: “She dreamt that she and our grandson Wolf were trying to tame our new elephant. It even had a name: Spectrum. “It was SO real,” she said, before rolling over and going back to sleep.”

Bill Sniffin

December 24, 20235 min read

Sniffin family 12 24 23
(Cowboy State Daily Staff)

And then, there was the year I gave Nancy an elephant for Christmas.

And it was a big one, weighing in at about a ton.

This story starts about a month before Christmas, 2007. Nancy woke me up in the middle of the night and said she had had the most vivid of crazy dreams. She dreamt that she and our grandson Wolf, who was about 6 at the time, were trying to tame our new elephant. She said it even had a name: Spectrum. “It was SO real,” she said, before rolling over and going back to sleep.

She did not know that I had been working on an advertising program with one of the most unique businesses in Wyoming. It was a cement sculpture foundry in Rock Springs operated by Curtis Keelin.

In exchange for a statewide ad program, he was going to provide me with a wolf, a bear, a buddha, and a big dragon. And he was going to deliver them to us on Christmas eve. Coincidentally he owned a second home outside of Lander where he was spending the holidays so the delivery was going to be easy.

I called him and asked him to change the dragon to an elephant. No problem, he said.

He rumbled into Lander on Christmas eve day. I had lined up Valley Lumber to provide a forklift to move the heavy sculptures into place.

We made Nancy stay in the house during all the commotion but ultimately, she could not stand the suspense. 

Her surprise was complete as she bounded out the door and looked at the impressive gray cement elephant parked in our front yard.

“Spectrum!” she shouted.

Yes, it was her elephant from that vivid dream. In the flesh, or, um, concrete.

This past summer, we finally had all our four adult children home at the same time. We took some formal photos but the image we liked the best was an informal photo of the six of us with Nancy astride Spectrum.

Big Gorilla In Rock Springs

Curtis W. Keelin had an interesting shop called Concrete Palace in Rock Springs where he produced all sorts of concrete sculptures.

His logo was a giant black concrete gorilla out front, which might still be there on Elk Street in downtown Rock Springs. He installed it in front of his place in 2004.

I have had a long love affair with Sweetwater County and had seen this gorilla many times, always wondering what the heck is that place?

It had all sorts of concrete statues in the yard. I would stop by and wander through, thinking how cool it would be to have some of them in my yard.

Curtis and I became friends. Ultimately we came up with a statewide ad plan in our tourist magazines for his products and I would take some sculptures in exchange, plus pay him some money, as I recall.

He had purchased all these giant molds from which he then poured a special brew of concrete and out popped the finished product. As I recall, his wife would even paint them. I originally wanted this colorful dragon but, alas, ended up with our trademark elephant.

Back to the gorilla.

Curtis built a huge steel cowboy hat, which weighed about 45 pounds and put it on the head of the gorilla. One day in 2009, it was discovered the hat was gone. Someone had stolen it.

He told the Rock Springs Rocket Miner that he did not expect to get the hat back so planned to make a new one. Rock Springs Chamber CEO Rick Lee said it is still sitting on top of that 4,500-pound gorilla which is still waving at passers-by. It has been repainted a colorful hue, he said.

Keelin sold the business some years ago, complaining that it involved too much heavy lifting. Curtis, 71, died in September, 2019 in Rock Springs.

This is my annual column about unique last-minute Wyoming Christmas gifts that can be purchased in the Cowboy State. It seems appropriate that our personal story might be one of the more unique ones.

Some Other Last-Minute Gifts

I would strongly suggest that folks visit our wonderful book stores. A few that come to mind are Wandering Hermit in Wheatland, Second Story Books and the Territorial Prison in Laramie, Sheridan Stationery, Wind City Books in Casper, the Fast Lane in Shoshoni, Pat’s Hallmark Shop and Crazy Woman Mercantile in Gillette, The Lure in Buffalo, Mr. Ds in Lander, the Farson Merc, Meadowlark Books in Riverton, Legends and the Thistle of Cody, the Wagon Wheel in Dubois, the Whistlestop in Douglas, the Storyteller in Thermopolis, and several more around the state.

I will shamelessly plug my coffee table books as an ideal last-minute gift!

There are also some great honey stores in Dubois and Lovell plus lots of great items at the Chugwater Soda Fountain. My friend at in Alta, WY deserve a mention, too. Best garlic in the world.

Merry Christmas everyone from Nancy and me. Can I end this column with a favorite poem, which is all about winter but little about the holidays:

Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening

By Robert Frost

Whose woods these are I think I know.

His house is in the village though;

He will not see me stopping here

To watch his woods fill up with snow.

My little horse must think it queer

To stop without a farmhouse near

Between the woods and frozen lake

The darkest evening of the year.

He gives his harness bells a shake

To ask if there is some mistake.

The only other sound’s the sweep

Of easy wind and downy flake.

The woods are lovely, dark and deep,

But I have promises to keep,

And miles to go before I sleep,

And miles to go before I sleep.

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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.