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Bill Sniffin

Wyoming U. S. Senate Race Takes Interesting Twists Among Lummis, Cheney, Friess

in Bill Sniffin/Column
2752

By Bill Sniffin

This past week has been an interesting one for Wyoming politicians Liz Cheney, Cynthia Lummis, and Foster Friess.

 For months, former U. S. Rep. Lummis was the only well-known Republican candidate announced as running for U. S. Senate in 2020.  Her successor, the current U. S. Rep. Cheney, was expected by many to move up for a Senate run, too.

Political pundits were salivating at the thought of a Lummis-Cheney race for current U. S. Sen. Mike Enzi’s senate seat. It would have been a doozy.  Literally, thousands of Republicans in Wyoming were debating which one of these two popular Republican women they would vote for in such a primary?

Then Wednesday, Cheney announced she was staying in the House.

And then Thursday, former gubernatorial candidate Foster Friess reiterated that he is interested in the Senate seat and plans a “listening tour” of Wyoming. He has some things to say and wants to hear what are the key issues of Wyoming voters.

Could this mean in a 24-hour period, Lummis went from being a clear front-runner to possibly facing a hotly contested race against Friess? And who knows who else might be thinking of jumping into the race?

Friess is not to be taken lightly.  He is one of the best-connected Republican non-political office holders in the state. He is a friend of President Donald Trump and was the only gubernatorial candidate endorsed by Trump in the 2018 Wyoming Republican primary.  

Meanwhile Lummis, who once was expected to run for governor in 2018, sat out that race and decided to wait Enzi’s decision on retirement.  Since Enzi’s announced retirement, she has been working hard.  Her appearance at the Wyoming Business Alliance in Cheyenne in November was impressive. She hit a home run with her participation in a program on civility.

Lummis and Friess know each other well.  In a big state with a small population, everybody knows everyone.  Their conservative Wyoming politics mesh well. Both preach civility, which is a welcome trend.

Friess has a personal set of issues that he and his wife Lynn have supported financially and promoted publicly.  These include transparency in government, posted prices for medical procedures, supporting the Rachel’s Challenge program to prevent school bullying, and teaching Civics in schools.  He also is a big proponent of school choice.

The Senate Conservative Fund has recently endorsed Lummis, which is a national group of heavy hitter Republicans.  On Facebook, her page is filled every day with endorsements by statewide Republican leaders.

“I am a dyed-in-the-wool Wyoming conservative and I share the policy goals and unapologetic, liberty-minded orientation of many Senate Conservative Fund candidates like Ted Cruz, Mike Lee, Marsha Blackburn, and Tom Cotton,” she writes on her Facebook page.

Meanwhile, these twists and turns have caught this writer by surprise.  I was positive that Liz Cheney would run for the Senate. Totally surprised when she said she was not going to run for the Senate. Not sure why, but all signs up to now seemed to indicate that she would.

Then when she chose to stay in the House, Foster Friess reaffirmed his interest in the senate seat and now plans a statewide listening tour.

Meanwhile Cynthia Lummis will keep on doing what she has been doing, which is traveling from one end of the state to the other, listening to folks and rounding up endorsements. 

Former Gov. Matt Mead sure sounded like he was not interested in that Senate seat, but will Cheney’s departure from the race change anything?  Another Jackson Republican heavyweight Bob Grady was very serious about a House run if Liz moved up. Will he consider the Senate? Filing deadline is months away.

There are only 100 U. S. Senate seats in the country and they do not come up very often.  Wyoming’s two seats are the most powerful in the country complains the New York Times because they are equally as powerful as two seats from California. However, ours each represent 290,000 people while a senate seat in California represents 20 million people! By this math, it takes 68 people in California to have the clout in the Senate as one person in Wyoming.  Feels about right to me. But I digress.

 Liz Cheney now has the chance to settle in at the U. S. House and some day move up to Speaker.  She already has set records at the speed of which she has gain influence, becoming the third-ranking member in just her second term. This is unprecedented. I think it is wonderful that she is staying put. 

 So, Wyoming voters sit back and enjoy the ride in 2020. Political races are fun for just about everybody, but it can be hard on the participants. So let’s give a shout-out to all those folks stirring the pot including Lummis, Cheney, Friess, and anyone else who wants to jump into the fray. 

My Wyoming: An Old Story About a Dog, a Lake, Ducks, Beer, Thin Ice, and Dynamite

in Bill Sniffin/Column
2730

By Bill Sniffin

In 2015, a 61-year old Green River man, John M. Henderson, fell through the ice on a frozen Flaming Gorge and drowned.

In 2016, a couple driving a Ford F-350 pickup at night across Boysen Reservoir east of Riverton broke through the ice. They narrowly escaped by kicking out the back window and scrambling out of the water-filled truck. Their pickup went to the bottom of the lake.

We’ve heard other unusual stories about going out on frozen Wyoming lakes.  Most will curl your hair.

There was a report from a Wyoming agency recently that told about how to save yourself or someone else who had fallen through the ice.  Their main lesson was – be super cautious about going out onto the ice to save someone else.  If you fall in, too, then you have two dead people instead of one.

Here is a supposedly true story about an event some years ago here in Wyoming where the ice reportedly gets really, really thick – about as thick as the skulls on these two unfortunate duck hunters. 

The title of this story is: “Too bad about the dog.”  I apologize to whomever originally told me the story and these details borrow liberally from some unknown source (probably on the internet). They swore this occurred in the Cowboy State and I did not check with Snopes to verify it.

This supposedly occurred on Flaming Gorge or Boysen Reservoir or Glendo Reservoir or Seminoe or near Saratoga or some other Wyoming body of water.  Here goes: 

 Back around 2013, a guy buys a brand new Ford Pickup King Ranch Edition for $49,000 and has $790 monthly payments. He and a friend go duck hunting and of course all the lakes are frozen.

They drive to this particular lake armed with beer, with guns, with beer, their dog, with beer, and of course the new vehicle. They drive out onto the frozen lake and get ready.

Now, after a few beers, they decide they will be needing a landing area for the ducks. A place where decoys can float in such a manner to entice over-flying ducks to come land on the water.  And get shot. In order to make a hole large enough to look like something a wandering duck would fly down and land on, it is going to take a little more effort than an ice drill can make.

So, one of these bright fellers disappears into the back of the new King Ranch and emerges with a stick of dynamite armed with a 90-second fuse.

Now these two Rocket Scientists do take into consideration that they need to place the stick of dynamite on the ice at a location far from where they are standing (and the new pickup). They don’t want to risk slipping on the ice when they are running from the burning fuse and possibly go up in smoke with the resulting blast. They decide to light this 90-second fuse and throw the dynamite as far away as possible.

(Remember a couple of paragraphs back when we mentioned the beer, the vehicle, the beer, the guns, the beer, and the dog?)

Yes, the dog: A highly trained Black Lab used for retrieving.  Especially things thrown by its owner. You guessed it, the pooch takes off at a high rate of doggy speed on the ice and snatches up the stick of dynamite in its mouth with the burning 90-second fuse aflame.

The two men yell, scream, wave arms and wonder what to do now?

The dog, cheered on, keeps on returning.  One of the guys grabs the shotgun and shoots at the dog. The shotgun is loaded with #8 duck shot, hardly big enough to stop a Black Lab. The dog stops for a moment, slightly confused, but soldiers on.

Another shot and this time the dog becomes really confused and of course is terrified, thinking these two Nobel Prize winners have gone insane.

The dog takes off to find cover, (with the now really short fuse burning on the stick of dynamite) and ends up underneath the brand new pickup.

BOOM!

The dog and pickup are blown to bits and sink to the bottom of the lake in a very large hole, leaving the two idiots standing there with this “I can’t believe this happened” look on their faces.

 The pickup owner calls his insurance company. He is told that sinking a vehicle in a lake by illegal use of explosives is not covered.

He still had yet to make the first of those $790 a month payments.

Check out additional columns at www.billsniffin.com. He has published six books.  His coffee table book series has sold 34,000 copies. You can find them at www.wyomingwonders.com.

Nanobots, Fossil Fuel Issues, and the End of Work as We Know It

in Bill Sniffin/Column/Technology
Crowd of robots. 3D illustration
2681

By Bill Sniffin

With your arms around the future; And your back against the past  — the Moody Blues

One of the high points of our annual New Year’s trip to see Dallas relatives is my yearly visit with the smartest person I know.

Of the 301,000 employees at Hewlett Packard a few years ago, one special employee stood out, their lone futurist, Jeff Wacker.

He is retired now and working on a book.

He also used to live in the same neighborhood as our daughter in Allen, TX.

A Nebraska native, Jeff would fit comfortably in Wyoming. His values and those of the Cowboy State pretty much line up. If his wife Nancy did not have some health issues, he might be living right now on the family homestead in western Nebraska, which he calls “eastern Wyoming.”

He has the same typical bad news for fossil fuels we Wyomingites all are hearing.  But he blames it on an amazing future of batteries and even exotic fuel sources like anti-matter.

He feels strongly that the hysteria about global warming is over-stated. He is an expert on just about everything. He challenges folks who believe Al Gore to dig into where that “90 percent of scientists believe  . . .” story came from. He says we are in a 1,000-year cycle and the heating of the earth occurs 600 years after CO2 increases.   

As a futurist, he thinks on a global scale and in big pictures.  He worries about eternal life.  “We are very close to providing a path where people don’t have to die, that one of the biggest future problems will be should we die and how should we die. Suicide?”

He also says the future of work could be the biggest issue of the 21st century. Automation, unique robots including microscopic nanobots, and Artificial Intelligence will continue to erode the job market.  “I have a friend who says we will always need people to keep the robots running – really? We already have robots that repair other robots.”

He divides all the various technologies into five areas:

• Nanotech is the creation of super tiny robots that can float around inside your bloodstream and keep you healthy. He sees billions of nanobots taking care of the trillions of cells in the body.

• Biotech will see cures and inventions occurring at fantastic rates in the near future and far future. Again, he really believes a huge problem for the youngest people living on the planet today is how do they want to die? He believes young people in the near future have the potential to live as long as they want to.  

• Robotech is already changing the world. “What will people do when there are no jobs?”  Typical work week might be 26 hours or less. He says three-fourths of all manufacturing jobs are already  “gone and not coming back.”

• Infotech leaves him discouraged especially when it comes to social media. He quotes a favorite author who said, “When everybody is an author, there are no editors.”

He thinks amazing sensors will be developed on a the micro level while, on a macro level, the world will be covered with satellites similar to the doomsday prediction of the Terminator movies, which saw all those troubles caused by a structure called SkyNet.

• Energytech may see more change than any other sector. “Look back 200 years to 1820.  We have advanced 2,000 years in the past 200 years. This will just accelerate,” he concludes. He also credits it to the gradual warming of the climate over those two centuries. “We went from horse and buggy to planning a Mars launch today.”

In 1820, the most valuable material on earth was aluminum; because it was only created when lightning would strike bauxite.  A nine-inch pyramid-shaped piece of aluminum is used as the cap of the top of the Washington Monument, for example.

Having this chat with Jeff Wacker left my head spinning. We are heading into a strange new world that sounded both hopeful and daunting to me.

He really is worried about the robots with artificial intelligence taking over.  “When it happens, it will happen exponentially, so we probably will not know what hit us until it has already happened!” 

On that dreary note, Happy New Year and Happy New Decade.

Check out additional columns at www.billsniffin.com. He has published six books.  His coffee table book series has sold 34,000 copies. You can find more stories by Bill Sniffin by going to CowboyStateDaily.com.

Hurricane Winds Can’t Stop Commercial Air Service From Cheyenne to Dallas

in Bill Sniffin/Column
2661

By Bill Sniffin

Three cheers for that direct daily flight from Cheyenne to Dallas.

We took it for the second time over New Year’s and it is just so doggone handy. It is almost a miracle to me.

We live in Lander, some 250 miles from Cheyenne, so why am I am so psyched about this service?  Because, to me, it is personal.

Driving to Cheyenne works fine because we go through the capital city and head to Denver to see my 95-year old mother in a nursing home there.  We also have two brothers, a granddaughter, and a nephew living in the Denver area. It is fun to reconnect with them during the holiday season. 

Our youngest daughter lives in north Dallas, just 45 miles from the DFW airport, so they can come pick us up after we land. We enjoyed the New Year’s holiday and spent five days basking in 60-degree weather, while Wyoming was blowing and shivering.

Cabin of jet was full for the flight from Dallas to Cheyenne. 

Another reason for liking the flight is because it is a direct flight. However, we talked with two other Wyomingites who used the flight as part of more complicated trips.

Deb Hughes lives at Esterbrook near Douglas. Most recently her husband took a one-year assignment in Guernsey where they live right now.  She liked the service being so local. It was a springboard for her to visit relatives in Florida and Virginia.

Amber Rucker, a social worker at the Cheyenne Veterans Hospital, used the flight as a way to ultimately get to Mississippi. She flew out on New Year’s Day and came back Jan. 6. “Whew those winds were high in Cheyenne,” she said. She was impressed that the pilots handled the planes so well during the takeoffs and landings.

She said Interstate 25 was closed on the day she left, so had she booked her flight through Denver, she would have been unable to go. 

A little over a year ago, when I first heard about Cheyenne offering daily airline service to and from Dallas, I was skeptical.

With local, state, and federal help, a brand new terminal had been built in Cheyenne for what appeared to be non-existent airlines. It was seemingly a Wyoming version of the famous Alaska bridge to nowhere.

It was the airline terminal with no airline service.

Deb Hughes of Guernsey gets set to board plane in Dallas for the trip to Cheyenne.

Then some hard-working folks came up with the idea of non-stop daily service to Dallas, subsidized by local, state, and federal funds.

When I told my Lander friends that we were going to fly that route over New Year’s, they thought we were crazy. 

In recent years we have started a holiday tradition of celebrating an early holiday with our Lander-based daughter Shelli Johnson and her family. Then we plan our flight to Dallas over New Year’s, trying to be in two places at once over the holidays.

We chose to fly on New Year’s Eve day this year with two round trip tickets costing about $580.  It might have been cheaper flying from Denver but if you add in highway tolls, parking fees, and the hassle associated with DIA, well, it made going out of Cheyenne seem like a good choice. No regrets.

American Airlines uses 50-passenger jets. On our trip out of Cheyenne, they upgraded to a 70-seat plane for some reason. Lots of extra seats available, which made the trip super comfortable.

The trip home from Dallas to Cheyenne was on the smaller 50-passenger jet with 47 passengers.  Just two hours. Super convenient. The folks working the Cheyenne airport are great, too. Never seen TSA folks smile as much as that crew.

Overall, I would say this is a great experience.

It seems to me that Colorado’s Front Range folks might drive to Cheyenne to save money and avoid the big airport hassle.  Folks from all over Wyoming, Nebraska, and Colorado are potential travelers out of this airport. 

I’ve been told the next effort should be daily flights from Cheyenne to Salt Lake City and even Denver.  I wonder if they have made a pitch to Allegiant? Now that would be quite a coup. The airline future will be bright for Cheyenne with proper regional promotion.

Cheyenne’s airline past is storied.  United Airlines originally had its main maintenance facility here in Wyoming.  The very first flight attendant school started in Cheyenne in 1930 by Boeing Air Transport.

For over a decade, Cheyenne was headquarters for the large regional airline, Great Lakes Airlines.

Yes, there is a fantastic history of commercial aviation in Cheyenne. With flights like the one we took and future flights on the drawing board, it will be fun to see Cheyenne’s airline experience soar into the future.

Check out additional columns at www.billsniffin.com. He has published six books.  His coffee table book series has sold 34,000 copies. You can find more stories by Bill Sniffin by going to CowboyStateDaily.com.

Looking ahead: What 2020 will mean for Cowboy State

in Bill Sniffin/Column
2020
2628

By Bill Sniffin, Cowboy State Daily

I can see clearly now – the year 2020 will emerge as one of the most important years in Wyoming’s history as various trends emerge.

Like the perfect score on an eye test, 2020 has the makings of perfect vision when it comes to trying to identify issues important to the state. But wait; there is both excitement and dread. Is this the year for some exciting innovations to catch hold in the state?  Is this the year when our spending excesses catch up with us?

State leaders are looking for some home runs in job development.  Maybe more firearm companies will move here. Can we slow down the devastating blows to the fossil fuel industry, especially for coal?

The Legislature meets for its biennial budget session on Feb. 10 and you can bet some hellfire rhetoric will be heard about how “robbing our rainy day fund” is driving the state to the poor house.

Yet the facts will show we have over $1 billion in that fund and some $20 billion in other funds stashed in various coffee cans from the permanent mineral trust fund.  Going broke?  Compared to other states, Wyoming is a beacon of good financial governance.

Gov. Mark Gordon is not one of the shrill voices as he suggests austerity will be with us for a while. Rather than across the board cuts, he likes each agency head to adjust his or her budget in ways that make sense to it and to the state.  Tough decisions are expected to be made and some folks will lose their jobs. 

I am looking forward to covering the Legislature in its brand new remodeled digs.  State Sen. Eli Bebout reminded me that I was wrong in my last column about how much was spent on the remodeling. The correct number is $301 million, or $500 for each man, woman, and child in the state. By the looks of the place, the future will show that it was a good investment.

Looking ahead to 2020, I hope the statues of Esther Hobart Morris and Chief Washakie are placed back outside by the entrance of the building, where they belong.

Some 300 miles northwest of Cheyenne, the huge National Museum of Military Vehicles in Dubois will open in May.  Dan Starks has created Wyoming’s newest great museum.  Folks, this is going to be a treat. You have no idea just how big and how impressive this museum is going to be. It is a game changer for tourism in the western part of the state.

Commercial air service made some big changes when Sheridan, Riverton, Gillette, and Rock Springs all became aligned with United-SkyWest.  We have seen some amazing experiments in state and federally subsidized air service in these communities over the past ten years.  This new plan should be helpful for everyone.

The national election in 2020 will have ramifications in Wyoming. A Donald Trump reelection could provide an economic boost through his support of fossil fuels and his reducing anti-fossil fuel policies from taking effect. Trump’s efforts to improve Ag trade with China would be welcome, too.

In Wyoming, we will elect a new U. S. Senator. The assumption is that current U. S. Rep. Liz Cheney will run.  Former U. S. Rep. Cynthia Lummis is already running hard.  Former Gov. Matt Mead says he is not and Jackson GOP Megadonor Foster Friess says he is weighing his options.

If Liz Cheney moves up to the Senate race, the race for her House seat could be one of the all-time donnybrooks in Wyoming election history.  For political observers, this will be an exciting year in Wyoming.

Two big important jobs will be filled in 2020. The University of Wyoming will hire a new president after trustees did not renew Laurie Nichols contract in 2019.  Also, the Wyoming Business Council will be seeking a replacement for Shawn Reese.

The move toward more transparency (like 2020 vision?) will soon be getting one of its first big tests.  State Sen. Tom James (R-Rock Springs), has requested a list of every Wyoming school employee and his or her salary as he goes into the Legislative budget session.  Lots of folks are complaining and do not want that information out.

Some years ago, the Casper Star Tribune annually published a list of the highest paid state employees showing his or her wages. This request by Sen. James opens the door for some media outlet to also disseminate the list. 

Gov. Gordon and State Auditor Kristi Racines have both showed initiative when it comes to transparency. Will 2020 be the most open year yet?  Let’s hope so.

I am a big fan of the Rachel’s Challenge program, which works with schools to prevent bullying, teen suicides, and school shootings. It looks like 2020 will be a banner year in Wyoming as more schools sign up for the program.

There will be a push to have Wyoming join the federal Medicaid program, which will save the Cowboy State millions of dollars and provide needed medical service to many needy people.  Also on the medical front, there will be efforts to have medical facilities be required to publish their “cash/self-pay” prices for procedures and medical drugs.

Gov. Gordon is also leading an effort in 2020 to have the Public Service Commission investigate Rocky Mountain Power’s new plan, which will close most of its coal-fired power plants sooner than expected. 

Gordon is also working hard to open some ports somewhere where Wyoming coal can be shipped overseas.  Again with a Trump administration, there is promise for this development in 2020.

Also on the energy front will be the development of thousands of new giant windmills, as we see the state slowly transitioning from fossil fuels to renewable energy sources in 2020.  The state’s biggest solar project is also due to be expanded, north of Interstate 80 in SW Wyoming.

Figuring out a way to pay for all the maintenance on Interstate 80 will see the beginnings of exploring a tolling system.  Meanwhile, it is hoped that Wyoming drivers pay better attention and fasten their seat belts more in 2020. The 2019 year was deadly on the state’s highways.

We can’t write a column like this without mentioning musical superstar Kanye West and what he is doing in Park County. Now that will be an interesting story in 2020 as he continues to expand his businesses there.

Let’s hope that with a year named 2020, we can maintain a clear vision for Wyoming’s future that improves the lives of its 580,000 citizens.

Happy New Year!

Check out additional columns at www.billsniffin.com. He has published six books.  His coffee table book series has sold 34,000 copies. You can find more stories by Bill Sniffin by going to CowboyStateDaily.com.

Just how wintry is it? Some of Wyoming’s coldest stories

in Bill Sniffin/Column
Wyoming cold winter
2609

By Bill Sniffin, Cowboy State Daily

An old joke about the weather:

         “My feet are cold.”

         “Well, all you have to do is go to bed and have a brick at you feet.”

         “I tried that.”

         “Did you get the brick hot?”

         “Get it hot? It took all night just to get it warm.”

As I write this, it is 1 degree out and fog has enshrouded our town. It is pretty darned nippy out there. But it has not been nearly as bad as it could be or has been here in Wyoming.

Since getting dumped on over the Thanksgiving holiday, much of Wyoming has shivered and we all took a little consolation over having a white Christmas.

This got me thinking about what were the coldest temperatures in Wyoming’s recorded history?  Many folks sent me anecdotal stories, which I will mix here with a few facts.

Personally, I recall the winter of 1978-79. Again, here in Lander, the entire month of January was below zero, according to local radio legend Joe Kenney. Amazingly dangerous and bitter conditions.

What is the official coldest temperature ever? Historian Phil Roberts of Laramie says: “I think the record is still -66 recorded Feb. 9, 1933, at Moran. I heard the temperature was actually colder, but the thermometers didn’t have the capacity to register a lower reading!”

The late Clay James, who operated Jackson Lake Lodge at Moran for decades, recalls -54 one cold winter day in the mid-1970s. “Thankfully we woke up as the power went off.  We called all of our employees to turn on the faucets and start the fireplaces.  The power was off for several days.  Never have I been so cold,” he recalled.   

Former Cheyenne, Torrington and Sundance publisher Mike Lindsey recalled the blizzard of 1949, which history generally considers the worst ever in the state.   

“Up in Sundance, cattle froze standing up. Wind blew drifts into buildings through keyholes in doors. Machinery would not start. Kids who stuck their tongues to the door handle did not get thawed until their junior year!” Not sure about that last fact, which was reminiscent of the famous scene from the movie A Christmas Story.

Jim Smail of Lander recalled snowmobiling with a group that included Charlton Heston at Togwotee Lodge in 1964 where the mercury dipped to -64.  No, they did not go snowmachining that day.

Former Wyoming Speaker of the House Tom Lubnau of Gillette recalls playing Laramie in football when the wind chill was -65. 

Dewey Vanderhoff of Cody recalls: “It was New Year’s weekend of 1979 when Jackson Hole went -60. Friends from Meeteetse had gone to ski there but came back with horror stories of busted pipes, bone-cold motels, blackouts, everything closed, no skiing opportunity at all. Nothing fun except sharing beds for warmth and drinking a lot. Consolation prize I suppose. Was there a spike in babies born in September-October?”

Jody Coleman of Riverton says about that same ski trip: “I was in Jackson that New Years of 1979. The power was off and we woke up at the Antler motel with the walls inside covered with frost. We went outside and started our pickup every hour. The next day we spent the day jump-starting other people’s cars. My mom bought me a ski suit. But urged me to move home to California.”

The late Ken Martinsen of Lander was also in Jackson on that cold holiday. He recalled people going to convenience stores and buying charcoal grill packs, which they would put under the engines of their pickups and SUVs and set them afire to thaw out the engines.

 Worland can get pretty cold. Former resident Debbie Hammons recalled: “That super-duper cold winter of 1978-79 was when the weather was sub-zero.  I moved home to Wyoming in September 1978.  Best New Year’s Eve ever was Jan. 1, 1979.  All the young singles in town packed into the Three Bears Bar downtown and kept their cars running into the New Year. We knew if we shut off our vehicles, we might not be able to start them again until March!”

When Pat Schmidt was publisher of The Lovell Chronicle, folks there arranged a hay bale mission to rescue the poor wild horses in the Pryor Mountains. “The BLM and others organized a hay drop from a helicopter to bands of horses stuck on mountain ridges. I recall taking a picture with one hand as I was dropping a bale with the other. The effort only compounded the problems, we learned later, as the horses’ digestive systems were not used to the protein in the hay. Their systems compacted, causing death. Only 75 survived.”

These are some of my favorite “how cold is it” stories. What about yours?

Check out additional columns at www.billsniffin.com. He has published six books.  His coffee table book series has sold 34,000 copies. You can find more stories by Bill Sniffin by going to CowboyStateDaily.com.

Deadly highways, new capitol, coal collapse, new governor & UW president forced out

in Bill Sniffin/Column
Cowboy State 2019
2596

By Bill Sniffin, My Wyoming columnist

The year 2019 will go into the Cowboy State’s history books for a great many reasons – many of them not very pretty.

One big example was Wyoming’s normally benign highways turned deadly in 2019, as a nearly all-time record was set for people killed in traffic accidents.

As of this Dec. 15, some 142 people had died compared to 111 for the entire year of 2018. And getting close to previous all-time record of 150 set in 2014.

Worst economic news came with the bankruptcies of coal companies and the human toll that resulted from them.

In Gillette, companies are still sorting out the aftermath of the Blackjewel companies’ financial demise.  Two huge mines, the Belle Ayr and the Eagle Butte, were shut down by that financial fiasco by the national coal company giant, idling 600 workers.

On the bright side, it looks like many of the Gillette area jobs will be preserved for the near future.

A worse situation is in the small towns of Kemmerer and Diamondville, both a coal mine and a power plant are in the process of being shut down, leaving 300 workers idled. And even long time retirement benefits are threatened because of the bankruptcy actions.

On a bigger statewide picture, the Rocky Mountain Power Co. says it will be closing down giant power plants in Rock Springs, Glenrock, and Gillette sooner than previously expected. 

The demise of the fossil fuel industry both nationally and locally could be welcome news to folks who believe that industry causes climate change, but the harsh reality to Wyoming citizens is that this will be a cold, hard reality check to thousands of people relying on paychecks from that industry.

The Donald Trump presidency has seen the elimination of some onerous regulations such as one rule that resulted in a fine to a Wyoming rancher of millions of dollars for building a small pond. That rule was eliminated and the rancher was saved.  

Bad news hit the ag community when a major canal collapsed near Torrington during prime irrigation season.  High summer temperatures almost ruined crops before repairs were made and the water flowed again to 488 producers in two states.

As of the country’s most windy state, the good news is that thousands of huge turbines continued to be developed in 2019.  Plus there are more on the drawing boards. 

Squabbles over how, or whether, to tax these whirling behemoths will be a continual bone of contention going forward.

The year saw the installation of a new governor, Mark Gordon, who is arguably the most prepared person for the job we have seen in the last 50 years.  He had been the State Treasurer.

Our biggest state institution, the University of Wyoming, sustained a big shock when the trustees failed to renew the contract of President Laurie Nichols. It was all done in secret; no reasons were ever given. She has moved on to Black Hills State in Spearfish and UW is on the hunt for a new president. Lots of controversy swirled around that situation, including efforts by state media to learn the rationale behind the dismissal, but at this time, still no answers have been forthcoming.

In 2019, Wyoming citizens saw their state capitol building turned into a treasure. After fours years and $337 million ($581 for every man, woman, and child in the state), this amazing edifice opened in mid-summer to rave reviews. The facility rivals any museum or attraction in the state, according to former Thermopolis publisher Pat Schmidt, who now lives in Cheyenne.

Longtime geologist Ron Baugh of Casper has a dim view of our energy future: “The first thing that comes to mind about the high (low) points of the last year is the continued demise of the coal industry and the continued shrinking of Wyoming’s tax base,” he says. “This will have a continued negative impact on every person, town and county in the State. If not felt individually, it has and will continue to be felt collectively.” 

“I believe that Wyoming is on the brink of major changes the likes of which we old timers have not seen in our lifetimes. I hope that Wyoming can make the changes and still be Wyoming,” he concludes. 

Also in 2019, moves were made whereby the state’s seven community colleges can start offering four-year degrees in some fields. This was heralded by Brad Tyndall, the president of Central Wyoming College in Riverton.

Wyoming was founded because of the railroads. In 2019 we celebrated the 150th anniversary of the construction of the rails across the country. Wyoming and the nation celebrated the driving of the golden spike in Promontory Summit in Utah Territory on May 10, 1869.

 In commemoration of that, the biggest steam locomotive ever, the newly-restored #1404 Big Boy, left Cheyenne and traveled west and back again to celebrate the event, delighting crowds wherever it went.

And perhaps the biggest surprise of the year was Kanye West adopting Wyoming as his new home. The musical superstar bought ranches near Cody and Greybull and is planning on moving some of his business interests to the Cowboy State.

And finally, we all celebrated the 150th anniversary of Wyoming giving women the right to vote.  What a wonderful milestone that only Wyomingites can celebrate! It can be argued about the why and how it came into being way back when in 1869, but the fact remains it happened here first and it was real.

Next: Looking ahead to 2020.

Check out additional columns at www.billsniffin.com. He has published six books.  His coffee table book series has sold 34,000 copies. You can find more stories by Bill Sniffin by going to CowboyStateDaily.com.

Cowboy State-oriented gifts perfect for this year’s Christmas

in Bill Sniffin/Column
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By Bill Sniffin

So many gifts – so little time.

I reached out to my network of friends about their ideas for the best Wyoming-oriented Christmas gifts and it was an inundation!

Wow, what a great selection.  Let’s hope I can do them justice by listing a bunch of them here.

Books were mentioned a lot with Cheyenne’s Steve Horn having a new Sam Dawson mystery out that is getting rave reviews. Two former colleagues of mine published books.  Charlotte Dehnert published Lester Callaway Hunt, which started as a series she wrote for the Wyoming State Journal back in the 1970s.  Gail Schilling wrote a wonderful book called Do Not Go Gentle – Go to Paris, which has the great tagline “Travels of an uncertain woman of a certain age!”  Jean Haugen is pushing Sara Wiles’ new books about the Arapaho Tribe called The Arapaho Way. These are great gals and great books, too.

Jim Hicks of Buffalo touts products from Mountain Meadow Wool Mills in his hometown.

Also hailing from Buffalo is a State Poet Gene Gagliano, whose great book C is for Cowboy is promoted by Paul McCown, who says it was great for his kids and for him, too, since he is a newcomer to the Cowboy State. Susan Guy’s artwork is splendid. 

Thanks Paul for also suggesting people buy some coffee table books by some local named Sniffin.  Eric Molvar also touts his coffee table book called Red Desert, which is splendid. Lauren Throop suggests Wyoming Migrations, a terrific book that tells the stories of the work involved in discovering migration routes of Wyoming native animals 

A truly great book with international historical significance is From Fidel Castro of Mother Teresa by long-time AP reporter Joe McGowan, who served Wyoming for a long time.  Incredible adventures of our own.

Ray Hunkins’ new coffee table book is a great read, too. It is called The View from Thunderhead.  The Louisa B. Swain Society published it. She was the first woman to ever vote in an organized election, in Laramie 150 years ago.

Of course, any books by Ron Franscell, Craig Johnson, and CJ Box make wonderful Christmas presents.  Pete Illoway of Cheyenne also touts Doug Chamberlain’s new book Bury Him: A Memoir of the Viet Nam War. Chamberlain is a former Wyoming legislator.  Another terrific book about Vietnam is from former Wyomingite Bill Jones, called The Body Burning Detail. Riveting.  Former Wyomingite Scott Farris wrote an amazing book called Inga: Kennedy’s Great Love, Hitler’s Perfect Beauty, and J. Edgar Hoover’s Prime Suspect. He also wrote a great book about early Wyoming filmmaker Tim McCoy. 

Candy Moulton’s latest book is The Mormon Handcart Migration. Well received. A timely new book here during the state’s 150thanniversary of women suffrage is Esther Hobart Morris by Kathryn Swim Cummings. It is published by Nancy Curtis’ High Plains Press of Glendo. 

The recent blizzard reminds us of the Snow Chi Minh book by John Waggener, a true history of why Interstate 80 is built in such an awful place.  Jerry Kendall of Hudson is promoting his book Wyoming Treasures. A timely book is A History of the Wyoming Capital by Stanley Talbott Thompson and Linda Graves Fabian. 

Tammy Green of Lander promotes all good people, all good projects, and all good things.  Among her favorites are works by Joy Woods, Chris Hulme, Verna Burger Davis, Tina Brown Jones, Shawna Cargile-Pickinpaugh, Lennie Poitras, Bill Yankee, Lane Nelson, Scott Robison, and all the folks at Alchemy in Lander. 

Robb Hicks is promoting Margo’s Pottery and Fine Crafts in Buffalo. Bonnie Cannon loves mywyodesigns.com, based in Riverton. 

Nancy Ebbert raves about Sweetwater Studio with Jenny Reeves, Noelle Weimann Van Dijk, and JC Dye.  Christine Marie endorses Brown Sugar Coffee of Riverton.  

One of the state’s finest photographers Daryl Hunter of Jackson promotes lots of wonderful gift retailers from his web site fineartamerica/packstring-wyoming. 

Marsha Redding of the famous Spanky’s in Evanston touts Samantha Hartman on all her hand made items. 

Ron Gullberg of the Wyoming Business Council suggested you could always refer people to Made in Wyoming too: madeinwyoming.org. He also reached out to their regional folks who came up with this list: 

– Surf Wyoming-Big Horn Designs in Sheridan fulfills several Wyoming companies with logo apparel (and Big Horn Designs recently opened a shop in Cheyenne too).

– Bison Union in Sheridan roasts their own coffee beans and sells locally made gifts. Also Merlin’s Hideout in Thermopolis. 

Creativity-cards in Wright makes fun, snarky greeting cards and coasters on an antique paper press.

– Sheridan Soap Company sells locally made products, EK Jewelers in Gillette sells beautiful handmade jewelry, PDB Bear Pottery Art in Buffalo, Fish fossils from Kemmerer, and Casull firearms from Freedom Arms in Freedom.

Many craft brewers now around the state. Also craft distillers such as vodka from Cowboy Country Distilling, Jackson Hole Stillworks, and Backwards Distilling.

And finally, we need to support all our local merchants in our Wyoming cities and towns this season. I love the attitude taken by Central Wyoming College President Brad Tyndall: “I feel my broader family includes all the great folks in our county with small shops. It’s fun to try to make it to as many as I can to buy a thing or two for presents and stocking stuffers. In going up and down main streets in Riverton and Lander you can find so many good things that are either from Wyoming or our Fremont County neighbors.”

Check out additional columns at www.billsniffin.com. He has published six books.  His coffee table book series has sold 34,000 copies. You can find more stories by Bill Sniffin by going to CowboyStateDaily.com.

Antarctica? Cowboy State was a sea of blowing snow during Great Thanksgiving Blizzard

in Bill Sniffin/Column
Snow
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By Bill Sniffin

Travel in Wyoming was horrific on the days leading up to the 2019 Thanksgiving holiday. Heavy snow and high winds struck at least three-fourths of the state. It was a mess.

For a while, the state was land-locked. There were few people able to get in to or out of Wyoming.  Interstate 80 was closed. Interstate 25 was closed. And most other major roads were closed.

Of course, this was occurring on Thanksgiving week and people were on the move.  AAA estimated 55 million would be traveling more than 50 miles and a good number of them planned to head through Wyoming. The snow not only affected people with connections to Wyoming but also folks east and west of the state that were hoping to travel across the state. Not on this week, at least for a while.

Besides highways, there were businesses, schools, colleges, and the University of Wyoming closing early for the holidays because of the storm. 

Last I checked we had 21 inches of snow on the ground at my house in Lander. And yet, we had it pretty good compared to some folks around the state.

Cheyenne was a disaster zone. Pete and Chloe Illoway recently moved north of the capital city and found themselves battered by wind and snow.

“We live in an area they call the ranchettes just south of the Torrington Highway so there is nothing to stop the wind or snow except for shelter belts. Our drifts are hard and high. They may not melt until early spring,” Pete says.

“It was quite a storm for early in the season. I do not have a gauge to measure the wind but it was strong enough we never went outside. It was a Doozie,” Illoway concluded, as he spoke for most Cheyenne residents.

Saddest story I heard was about Dean and Kathi McKee of Lander. They were headed to Casper to catch a flight to Fort Lauderdale. They had intended to join their daughter and her husband on a Caribbean Cruise to Jamaica.  They were celebrating their 50th wedding anniversary.

They made it to Casper but their flight was cancelled.  They could not make it to Denver on time so headed back home.  They ended up spending the night in a rustic nine-room motel in Jeffrey City.

When they went to get breakfast next door the next morning, the restaurant service was slow because the exhausted bartender had been serving drinks to stranded travelers until 4 a.m.  He was asleep in a lounge chair.

Kathi reported: “The people who own the hotel are the freaking best!”

She said: “A snowplow did come to escort us and eight other vehicles safely out of Jeffrey City on a closed road. Thank you WYDOT!”

Apparently there were a dozen carloads of folks stranded down the road at Muddy Gap, too.  Three Forks convenience center there takes good care of people.

Wyoming’s biggest heroes during the holidays were Highway Patrolman Sam Szott and an unidentified passing motorist who saved a person’s life in a terrible crash near Wheatland.

Just after midnight on Tuesday, Szott saw a pickup on fire down the embankment.  The driver was unresponsive and the two men got him out before the entire truck was engulfed in flames.  The driver recovered later. 

Press reports stated: “Without this trooper’s actions and the Good Samaritan’s actions, this guy wouldn’t be able to have the opportunity to be around for the holidays,” Lt. Kyle McKay said. “By their quick thinking, they saved this guy’s life.”

Kudos go out to Gary Michaud who runs the Wind River Transportation Authority in Fremont County. His crew sent a bus to Laramie to pick up Lander and Riverton UW students so these young people would not be out driving on dangerous roads.

One of those students was my grandson, so this is a pretty great service it seems to me.  Wonder if any other counties in Wyoming are providing this service?  If not, maybe they should.

Fremont County students headed back to Laramie Sunday in the safety of the bus, being helmed this time by Del Nelson.

Dave “Pop” Lukens was visiting Minneapolis prior to the storm. He says: “Donna and I were in MSP for Thanksgiving with our other two grandkids.  There is this web site called morecast.com where you can find out the weather for your route and we plugged in our trip back to Lander on Friday. 

“At 3 a.m. mountain time, we got an alert from this web site that said, “LEAVE NOW! And we did.  We drove those 970 miles in fog, snow, black ice, and heavy snow from Shoshoni to Lander. And with stops, somehow we averaged 66.8 mph including potty and gas stops.   

“Now keep in mind that all the signs said to turn off cruise control, so I did, but that resulted in much higher speeds. Happy we didn’t get stuck behind a big RV.” 

Check out additional columns at www.billsniffin.com. He has published six books.  His coffee table book series has sold 34,000 copies. You can find more stories by Bill Sniffin by going to CowboyStateDaily.com.

Thanksgiving thoughts: Sanctity of life: Stacy M and Baby M

in Bill Sniffin/Column
Baby M
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By Bill Sniffin

We live in unusual times when what defines life is under constant attack.  This got me thinking about two instances in my past that involved the dignity of life concerning two seemingly useless human lives.

There have been many people over the years who typified what this phrase means but two who stand out are a teenage boy named Stacy M and a tiny girl named Baby M.

They came into my life at two different times, almost 20 years apart, but both helped show that the real test of a civilization is how it treats the least of its citizens.

In the 1980s, we met a young man named Stacy Martell.  He was a neighbor to my parents in the Capital Hill section of Lander.

Our son Michael, who was about seven at the time, became great friends with Stacy.  

Stacy was a shrunken little shell of a boy stuffed somewhat crookedly into a wheelchair. He suffered from Muscular Dystrophy and was probably someone that a lesser civilization would have shuttered away. But in Lander, his high school classmates made him a hero. They had him give a speech at their commencement in 1989. The band played The Wind Beneath My Wings following his talk.

His talk that day was inspirational; so were his writings:

“There are times when I want desperately to be like everyone else. I’ve thought about marriage. There’s a void when I think this won’t happen, that I’ll never be able to have a family of my own.

“But I know a person can’t dwell on improbables. You have to take what you’ve got and go with it. I used to worry about what people thought of my body. But now I know it is a person’s inner self that is important, not your outer self. I’ve looked at my inner self: It’s healthy, strong, vibrant, and active. When I think of myself this way, I’m satisfied. I’m at peace with myself.”

Stacy wrote the following about life and death:

“I’ve lived, I’ve done my best, what happens, happens. I’ve seen an unspoken question in some people’s eyes. It’s ‘Do you wish sometimes you had never been born?’

“Absolutely not! It hasn’t always been easy but I’ve met the challenges and I’m here to say that life is worth living.”

A few years later, Stacy died. His life was a struggle and ended way too soon.

Almost 20 years later, we encountered Baby M, also known as Baby Miracle.  She was probably an example of what became known in Wyoming as “meth babies.” These were children born with profound disabilities as a result of their mother’s drug use while not realizing she was pregnant.

Our advertising agency had just earned the contract to do the anti-drug campaigns for the state’s Substance Abuse Division and we were introduced to the story of Baby M.

My wife Nancy, my brother Ron (a videographer), and I visited Baby M and her foster mother at a modest home in Douglas one fall day almost exactly 16 years ago.

We worked all day to create a video documentary, which we planned to use to promote the negative impacts of drug use.

State employees viewed that video but they never quite figured out how to disseminate it publicly, so it pretty much ended up on a shelf at the Department of Health in Cheyenne.

Baby M was a beautiful baby girl, who looked about six months old although she was a year old when we met her. She was blind, could barely hear, and had a terrible time breathing.  It was assumed she was profoundly developmentally disabled.

Did I say she was beautiful?

It was heartbreaking to think of the lost potential you were holding in your arms.  Because of the assumed high-risk behavior on the part of the biological parents, this child appeared to not have a chance.

But this was a human being.  And she was loved by her foster mother (the real hero of this story), loved by her foster siblings, and loved by everyone who came into contact with her.

At the time, a friend of the family wrote the following about the baby girl:

“Some people would define a miracle as something amazing, unexplainable, with bright lights or fluttering angels’ wings. Or simply, a glimpse of God.

“A special needs baby, Miracle, was born Sept. 29, 2002. Doctors gave her little chance of survival, but because of her will to live they considered her a miracle, hence the name. At five weeks old, Miracle was placed in the arms and the heart of her foster mom, who loved her so much that she later adopted her.

“Miracle’s family knew that she was not like other little girls and never would be, but she touched so many lives. Her innocence taught lessons in humility and her gentle little spirit gave people a reason to believe.

I wrote a note to myself, at the time, that: “You could not look at this beautiful child without catching a glimpse of God.”


And on a spring day in Douglas in 2008, Baby M passed away. She was six years old.

Check out additional columns at www.billsniffin.com. He has published six books.  His coffee table book series has sold 34,000 copies. You can find more stories by Bill Sniffin by going to CowboyStateDaily.com.

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