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Bill Sniffin

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.

In hunting, who is at the top of the food chain?

in Bill Sniffin/Column/Recreation/wildlife
hunting
2376

By Bill Sniffin

One of the largest armed forces in the history of the world is taking to the field right now.  We are talking about the 36 million hunters who stalking the mighty deer and elk in the USA.

Here in the Cowboy State, hunting is a fall tradition.  It is viewed as an entitlement. But the biggest difference between now and 50 years ago is that often the human hunter is not at the top of the food chain out there in the wild. More on this later.

The first time I heard the phrase about the “fun ending when you pulled the trigger,” was from my old friend, former game warden Bill Crump, when he recalled all his Wyoming hunting trips. He, of course, was talking about enjoying the fall scenery. Once you pull the trigger and kill your prey, it is time for some serious work.

Not sure what all those thousands of wives and girlfriends get in return, but they seem eager to send their hubbies and boyfriends off armed to the teeth and loaded down with food in rustic old campers. Or super-fancy brand new RVs with flush toilets, plus quad runners, huge pickup trucks, and even portable satellite television receivers.

Oh yeah, and cards.  Lots of playing cards. And quantities of liquid refreshment.

Cigars used to be a big part of the equation but surprisingly a lot of the groups I talked to recently just do not smoke. Not even a celebratory cigar?

There are a lot of very serious hunters in Wyoming.  But even some of them have decided that that hunting trip is still going to happen, the rifle may not even be removed from the scabbard. 

Sometimes these old veterans are just tired.  Maybe their wives finally confided to them that they are tired of cooking elk, deer, antelope and even moose.

Other times these hunters are more interested in taking their sons (or daughters), or grandchildren on the big hunt and really just want to concentrate on those younger folks getting their first kill.

A big reason for that annual hunting trip is that weather in the mountains or foothills of Wyoming can be so darned nice in the fall. They are just wanting to get away from the humdrum of daily life and enjoy the paradise that God has put at our disposal called Wyoming.

Plus another reason the “fun ends” is that when you pull the trigger it often signals the end of the hunting trip. Darn it, we have to leave the mountains and go back to our regular lives.

Now let’s talk about the “real” hunters.  Those men and women who are truly serious about killing their prey and filling their licenses. Most of these folks have a strong ethic where they plan to eat what they kill. They deserve our respect.

In the northwest part of Wyoming, these hunters are discovering that they are no longer at the top of the food chain.

Many folks suspect that grizzly bears are reportedly stalking both human hunters and the game those same hunters recently killed. Several hunters told me that the most uneasy feeling they can recall is when they are gutting their animal and suddenly things get real still.  Sort of like maybe some big critter has smelled your animal and is sizing up the fresh carcass.  And yours, too?

A famous photo circulated around the internet a while back showing a hunter taking a selfie photo of himself with his kill. In the background was a huge mountain lion.  Yikes.

A Cody hunter considered himself the luckiest man alive in Wyoming after his close encounter with a grizzly in the fall of 2011.    

Steve Bates, ended up on the losing end of his scrape in the Shoshone National Forest. He was happy to be alive, despite fractured ribs and cuts on his face and scalp.

A grizzly rushed him on a dead run before Bates could react.  After he was knocked over, the bear worked him over, clawed him, and chewed on him, before ambling off.

Once he recovered his senses, Bates grabbed his rifle and aimed it at the bear, then paused.  He wisely let it lope off.  Game and Fish officials said they would not track down the bear because it was reacting normally to its perceived threat.

“Considering what happened, “ Bates, recalled at the time, “I think I came out pretty good.”

That same year, a grizzly bit an Oregon hunter on the hand, also in our Shoshone National Forest.  Now that hunter must have one helluva story to tell. Names were not released.

One of my favorite bear stories concerns an old grizzly bear known as “Old Number One” – a sow in Yellowstone National Park. She was the first grizzly to ever wear a radio collar in the park.

A long-time agent for the U. S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Roy Brown of Lander, told me this story.

When the bear died some years ago, Brown headed up a necropsy procedure on the bear and the team found a surprise. The bear had six .38 caliber bullets in her head.  It must have happened many years before because skin had even grown over the injuries.

Roy says people wondered: “Hmmm, what happened to the guy who emptied his revolver into this bear?”

That poor guy may have found out first-hand where human beings are finding themselves in the food chain these days.

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.

Giant bronze horses created in Cowboy State, headed for Sicily

in arts and culture/Bill Sniffin/Column
Bronze horses
Eagle Bronze Foundry workers are dwarfed by the size of these bronze horses created in Lander by the Italian-American artist Arturo Di Modica. They were recently shipped to Sicily. (Photo credit: Bill Sniffin)
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By Bill Sniffin, Cowboy State Daily

In a state where the cowboy culture of horses is almost a religion, it was fitting that two of the largest horses in the world were created here.

Artist Arturo Di Modica, one of the world’s greatest living sculptors, has been using the Eagle Bronze Foundry in Lander for many of his gigantic works.

The first efforts on this project started 13 years ago. In terms of all the projects undertaken by Eagle Bronze, this one might have set the record for its long time in their shop.

But first a person is impressed by the gigantic size of these horses. They are 26 feet tall. They dwarf the workmen who have been putting the finishing touches to the huge bronze work of art.

It is not certain how the horses will be placed in Di Modica’s native Sicily, but they will sure create a stir when installed.

Monte and Bev Paddleford founded Eagle Bronze in 1985 when Bev wanted to return to her hometown to sculpt and to create a small foundry to cast bronzes made by her late father, artist Bud Boller.

Bev Paddleford, one of the owners and founders of Eagle Bronze, shows the relative size of the horses by standing next to a hoof.
Bev Paddleford, one of the owners and founders of Eagle Bronze, shows the relative size of the horses by standing next to a hoof. (Photo credit: Bill Sniffin)

They formed the business with the vision of being a Christian company. In the next decades it exploded into the largest bronze foundry in the country specializing in huge bronze monuments.

Work from the foundry can be found all over the world. Some of the more famous include the huge black panthers at the Carolina Panthers football stadium in Charlotte, N. C.

The largest bronze monument in Texas was created in Lander – it shows a bronze cattle drive through Pioneer Park in downtown Dallas. It features 40 cows and three cowboys.

The Paddlefords worked with a local committee in Lander to use three of those steers plus a cowboy to create what is called The Bronze Roundup – which might be the largest bronze monument in all of Wyoming. It was the millennium project for the Lander community.

For years, Lander has been known as the City of Bronze because of all the bronze monuments that line the town’s Main Street. Most of this effort was spearheaded by the Paddlefords. The first bronze sculpture on Main Street was by Bev’s father, Bud Boller, sponsored by the local Ambassador’s Club in the 1980s.

In recent years, both Casper and Sheridan have placed tremendous numbers of beautiful bronze statues in their cities. But no small Wyoming town has put as many statues on public display as Lander, although Buffalo and Thermopolis have lots of bronzes, too.

Monte tells their story on their web page: “We decided to move back to our hometown so that we could start a small foundry and for me to pastor a Vineyard Church. I guess the Lord had slightly other plans. Having redesigned the way we build and engineer monuments, we have been told that we are the largest producer of monuments in the world, and can do them quicker than most, keeping the integrity that the artist had originally produced.

“Beverly also started sculpting along the way and is a very gifted and talented artist. Her ability to create softness and life in everything she sculpts is truly a gift from the Lord. Her work has kept our vision of ministry going. I may not be the pastor I thought I was called to be, but I have been able to see the impact Bev’s art has had and been able to use this as a tool to minister to people along the way. God was calling me to ministry, just not how I had seen it!

“Along the way, we added some additional help to our facility. In 1999, our oldest daughter Heather and her husband Matt decided to help run our business. Heather studied accounting in college and is now our Controller. Matt, having studied Structural and Mechanical Engineering in college, is now our Vice President. With the addition of these two, we now have the ability to expand our operations and move in directions we never would have if they were not present.

“We have rebranded Eagle Bronze to move in a direction that has made us more than just a fine art foundry. We have become an art marketing group that can take conception to completion, help our artists find and place projects, and much more. We have become a facility that can do more than just recreate and manufacture art.

“Above all, it has always been about the relationships we have made over the years. It is about our everlasting friendships we have built and hope to continue to build.”

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.

‘Rising from the Plains’ is classic Wyoming book

in Bill Sniffin/Column
John McPhee
(Photo courtesy: Office of Communications, Princeton University)
2247

By Bill Sniffin

It’s been said there are no boring stories, just boring writers.  And with that thought it mind, it would seem that a book about geology would be interesting only to geologists. 

The early 1990s book Rising From The Plains by author John McPhee ranks as one of the most interesting and most important books ever written about Wyoming.

McPhee uses the life of famed geologist, the late David Love, as the centerpiece of this book.  Love, of Laramie,  grew up in Fremont County and was long considered the dean of geologists in the Rocky  Mountain region.

McPhee captures the western spirit of Love’s life and that of his parents as they carved out a unique existence on a ranch in an area of Fremont County near Castle Gardens.

The book is full of references to the unique geology of Wyoming.  McPhee writes in a style that vividly lets you imagine the extreme risings of mountain ranges, the descent of valleys, and the rolling together of various land masses. 

Intertwined with the geological stories (told mostly through Love’s words) is the life story of the famous geologist and his mother, who came west in 1905 after graduating Phi Beta Kappa from Wellesley College back east.

The book was serialized in three parts in the New Yorker Magazine 30 years ago.

In one part, McPhee writes about Love attending school in Lander (he and his brother were educated at home by their mother until they were ready for high school):

“Their mother rented a house in Lander and stayed there with them while they attended Fremont County Vocational High School.  One of their classmates was William Shakespeare, whose other name was War Bonnet.  Lander at that time was the remotest town in Wyoming.  It advertised itself as ‘the end of the rails and the start of the trails.’“

The Love Ranch was located in almost the exact center of the state. It was one of those outposts that was so far from everything else that anyone passing through would stop.  Often, people would sleep in the bunkhouse and join the Loves for dinner.

 McPhee writes about one memorable meal:

“People (with sordid reputations) came along with such frequency that David’s mother eventually assembled a chronicle called ‘Murderers I Have Known.’  She did not publish the manuscript or even give it much private circulation, in her regard for the sensitivities of some of the first families of Wyoming.  As David would one day comment, ‘they were nice men, family friends, who had put away people who needed killing, and she did not wish to offend them — so many of them were such decent people.’

“One of these was Bill Grace. Homesteader and cowboy, he was one of the most celebrated murderers in central Wyoming, and he had served time, but people generally disagreed with the judiciary and felt that Bill, in the acts for which he was convicted, had only been ‘doing his civic duty.’           

“At the height of his fame, he stopped at the ranch one afternoon and stayed for dinner.  Although David and (his brother) Allen were young boys, they knew exactly who he was, and in his presence were struck dumb with awe. 

“As it happened, they had come upon and dispatched a rattlesnake that day — a big one, over five feet long.  Their mother decided to serve it creamed on toast for dinner.  She and their father sternly instructed David and Allen not to use the word ‘rattlesnake’ at the table.  They were to refer to it as chicken, since a possibility existed that Bill Grace might not be an eater of adequate sophistication to enjoy the truth. 

“The excitement was too much for the boys.  Despite the parental injunction, gradually their conversation at the table fished its way toward the snake.  Casually — while the meal was going down — the boys raised the subject of poisonous vipers, gave their estimates of the contents of local dens, told stories of snake encounters, and so forth.  Finally, one of them remarked on how very good rattlers were to eat.

“Bill Grace said,  ‘By God, if anybody ever gave me rattlesnake meat I’d kill them.’

“The boys went into a state of catatonic paralysis.  In the pure silence, their mother said, ‘More chicken, Bill?’

“’Don’t mind if I do,’ said Bill Grace.”

And those stories are just a few that are included in this wonderful book.  It is must reading for people who are interested in a well-written story about Wyoming’s recent past and long-distant past.

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.

Breast cancer awareness month: An old twisted tree taught me an important lesson

in Bill Sniffin/Column
Nancy Sniffin (right) raised over $250,000 for cancer research during her time as chairman of the Lander Relay for Life. Here she is honored with a proclamation during the 2005 Relay by then-Mayor Mick Wolfe. Nancy fought breast cancer from 1999 to 2001. She has been cancer free ever since.
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By Bill Sniffin

There was a twisted, ugly bushy tree in our back yard.  It was next to Big Dickinson Creek and had all kinds of limbs that had shot out in all directions.  

In a word, it was a tangle.

I found some real lessons of life as exemplified in that ratty old tree. Especially during October, which is breast cancer awareness month.

We hired some guys to help clear out that brushy area one fall and one of them attacked that messy tree with a relish.  He came to me with a big smile on his face to tell me that he had trimmed it up but had not eliminated it entirely.

Instead, he demonstrated how he had found two strong limbs pushing upwards. He had trimmed away all the rest and there standing proudly were two vertical limbs of this tree.

As I touched the limbs it became obvious they had twisted together and seemed to almost be holding each other up.  I thanked the guy for his good work and watched that tree bloom over the next year as it really grew over the following summer. 

By fall, the two trees were standing tall.  Then we got one of Lander’s rare windstorms. This one wasn’t a real cyclone but maybe 40 miles per hour.  When I next looked at that tree, it looked remarkably different.

Now, just one limb stood tall. 

The other was drooping. It was leaning over so much, perhaps it was broken?  I got out my small chain saw and decided that this would be best for the lone standing tree if we got rid of this other weak tree and left it alone.

Then another thought struck me.  Perhaps the wind had just untangled the trees?  All along the two limbs needed each other to stand tall like that.

I pushed the weak tree back up beside its mate and took the belt out of my jeans and wrapped it around the two trees so they were, once again, bound together. 

After stepping back and looking at my handiwork, it again looked splendid.  The two parts together made a much more handsome tree than the one lonely limb could have looked.

We watched that tree over the next few months and it just grew stronger and stronger. The limbs became fully entangled with each other again.

As I looked at that tree, was there some symbolism that people can use in their own lives?

In this case, out of all the different branches, two emerged on that one day.  They were already relying on each other to stand up strong. 

Perhaps this is how a man and a woman can come together and become one from their varied roots.  But sometimes things can go wrong with one partner or the other.   It can be a physical or mental ailment or any of many different things.

Maybe this is how married couples can live a long life together.  When one is weak and falling down, the other holds up its partner as long as he or she can.  And when they finally can’t hold on any longer, maybe an outside force  — in our case,  the Good Lord and his blessings — comes along to help them stay together. And in the end, they are standing tall together for a long, long time.

These tangled limbs are standing just outside my home office window.  I look out there a lot and see a strong tree.

And when I think of how strong my wife Nancy always was in our marriage – there is no doubt she held me up all these years.  And in the fall of 1999, when she was struck hard with breast cancer, I was at her side, holding her up during her difficult time.

We spent two years with chemo and radiation getting through this amazingly difficult time. Finally she was cancer free.

For 20 years she has been fine. We are standing together stronger than ever.

There was a lesson in that old twisted tree.  I think I understand.

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.

Lies, damned lies, statistics; Here are Cowboy State facts

in Bill Sniffin/Column
Sniffin coach design
Bill Sniffin points to the back of his motorhome which shows the Cowboy logo and words from a song by Chris LeDoux.
2216

By Bill Sniffin

There are three kinds of lies: lies, damned lies, and statistics.

– Mark Twain

You could always find lots of cars and trucks around my home.  I am an admitted car nut and just love vehicles of all kinds.

Perhaps out here in Wyoming it is a throwback to a time when your wealth was tied to the number of horses you had. And if wealth were connected to the number of cars you own, my friend Joe Kenney would be a multi-millionaire.  I think he has ten vehicles, two motorcycles, a motorcycle, and an airplane at last count.

I am down to a Ford Excursion, an all-wheel drive Lincoln sedan, and a 17-year old hail-damaged Lexus convertible.  Oh yeah, we also have a 14-year old motorhome that we used to call Follow My Nose. Now it is emblazoned with the Wyoming Cowboy logo and the name of the song “Life is a Highway” by Chris LeDoux. The late Wyoming cowboy-singer was one of many folks who recorded that song. I like his version the best.

So here is my question for all of you: Wyoming has 579,315 people.  How many cars and trucks are there?  Do you think there are more vehicles than people here in Wyoming?

Our local Fremont County Commissioner Mike Jones sent me the current most updated 2018 statistics from the United States Census Bureau, which measures all these things. It has some surprising info about my own county and even more surprising data about the state of Wyoming.

If you guessed that, yes, Wyoming has more vehicles than it has people, you were right.  The 579,315 people in the state own 603,717 licensed cars and trucks.

 People (especially wives) repeat the old saw: “The only difference between men and boys is the cost and size of all their toys.”

Toys? Yeah, here in Wyoming, we have toys. And most of them are registered with the state government.  Besides cars and trucks, we have 294,164 “other” vehicles.

More importantly, this total includes trailers, lots of trailers. Including RVs, this amounts to an astonishing total of 207,413 trailers. It also includes 26,144 motorcycles.

Snowmobiles, boats, airplanes, and ATVs are not listed in this total but obviously would add big numbers if they were.

Wyoming people drive more miles per year than folks in any other state. That average is 16,800 miles for every man, woman, and child. Amazing.  No wonder my tires keep wearing out.

These miles are traveled on our 30,430 miles of highways and roads in our state. Of this total, 6,075 are federal.  Did you know that the longest highway in America is US 26?  Closely followed by Interstate 80, which I believe is the longest interstate highway in the country, stretching from New York City to San Francisco, closely following the route of famous US 30 Lincoln Highway.  It was Honest Abe who first proposed this national road along about 1863, when he was pretty much preoccupied with the Civil War and getting the transcontinental railroad built.

In Wyoming, we like to brag about our low taxes but the state collected $686,766,223 in sales and use taxes.  That is a pile of money.

Property taxes collected across the state amounted to over a billion dollars with a total of $1,344,432,107.  

My columns are usually limited to 750 words so I have to cherry-pick items here.  It would fill a whole bunch of pages to write about all of this detail.

In my business career, after starting out as a reporter and ad salesmen, I developed a love for data and numbers when I became an owner and publisher.  This surprised everyone. To me, numbers are not just numbers – they tell big stories.  I used to love the early IBM advertisements for computer systems where they pictured businesspersons pondering spreadsheets. The caption read: “Not just data – but reality.” Just love that concept.

School statistics could take up an entire column.  There are 48 school districts in Wyoming with one-sixth of them in my Fremont County.

There are 355 schools located from one end of the state to the other. There are 7,248 teachers and 736 administrators. According to these reports, there are 6,884 other staff to help keep things going.

Total enrollment is 93,647 students.  We have a graduation rate of 81.7 percent. The composite ACT score for juniors in high school was 19.5 in 2018.

Total general fund expenses for education were $1,493,600,712 for a per-student average of $17,694. This is one of the highest rates in the country.  In my county of Fremont (with its eight districts), the average per student cost was an amazing $22,299.

I will wrap this up by sharing that the U. S. Government owns 46,313 square miles out the state’s total of 97,093 square miles. The Bureau of Land Management controls 27,162 square miles of this total.

It is a big place with big numbers.

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.

My chaotic college years of dodging Vietnam & chasing dreams; Half century later, two stories about young college students

in Bill Sniffin/Column
2191

By Bill Sniffin

Just about the most exciting time in a young person’s life is when he or her heads off to that freshman year of college.

In our family, we are excited about seeing two grandsons heading off on this big adventure.   Nancy and I are enjoying seeing these two boys are going to thrive prosper. We relish how well they are adapting to their new lives.

But it surely brings back memories of a different time.

Wolf Johnson, 19, son of Shelli and Jerry Johnson of Lander, is  now a student at the University of Wyoming in Laramie.

Braley Hollins, 19, son of Amber and Craig Hollins of Allen, TX, is now a student at Oklahoma State in Stillwater.

Observing them also brings to mind some of the precarious experiences I had during my early college experiences exactly 53 years earlier.

Both Wolf and Braley are doing fine. Wolf is a standout poet, singer, and musician, and is benefitting from the Hathaway Scholarship. Braley is on a full-ride baseball scholarship at OSU after excelling in that sport at Plano Senior high in the Dallas Area.

If these boys behave and keep their grades up, they will have few problems.  Not so much like what I went through a half century earlier.

Let’s climb aboard my time machine and take a trip back to the stormy times known as the 1960s — 1965 to be specific.

In 1964, I obtained my first newspaper job after taking a six-week journalism short course at Iowa State in Ames.  Life was good. I was doing what I wanted and had even developed a relationship with a young chick, who was both the prettiest and nicest girl in the town of Harlan, Iowa.

Two of my friends had already been killed in Vietnam. After my draft physical, I was considered 1A, which meant I could be drafted any time.  A new college was starting from scratch in neighboring Denison. So it was off to the newspaper there with plans to enroll in newly minted Midwestern College. According to rules in place, I would then have a “college deferment” and be 2A, which would keep me out of the war. I would work at the newspaper and go to college.

My dad had lined up a very nice Ford Ranch Wagon for me to drive. It was a two-door station wagon. These are worth a fortune today.

My kid brother John came to visit me and promptly blew up the engine leaving me without wheels and literally walking when the newspaper’s company car was not available.  But I struggled on.

Two classmates, Preston VerMeer and Larry Carlson, were in just about as bad financial straits. Among us, we scraped up enough cash to buy a dilapidated 1949 Chevy torpedo-back sedan we nicknamed Myrtle. We kept her parked on the street near the house where we rented rooms.

One morning in the cold of winter, the car disappeared. Where could Myrtle have gone? Did someone steal her?

She had been impounded by the Denison Police Dept. as a “junked car.” Denison laws said you could not leave a junked car on a city street.  It would cost $50 to get it out of impound. We never got her out. We could not raise the $50.

Somehow I managed my full-time job at the newspaper driving its company car as much as I could, attending college full-time, and hitch-hiking the 25 miles down to Harlan to see my future bride, Nancy Musich, as often as I could.

Nancy and I were in love and we learned that I could get most of my tuition waived if we got married and my wife worked for the college. So on May 14, 1966, we tied the knot. I was 20 and she was 19.  Nancy had a 1959 Volkswagen and I finally had ownership of some wheels again. She always joked that I married her for her car.

Meanwhile, the Vietnam War was raging. Lots of young men were dying over there. Before it was done, some 58,000 men of my generation were killed. It was just awful.

When my new wife went to work for the college, my draft deferment went from 2A student to 3A married and we started our 53-year married journey together. The wind was at our backs or so  it seemed — finally.

We endured many struggles and we both worked very, very hard. Somehow, our destiny always seemed ahead of us. It just seems impossible to recall all that has happened to us over the years.

But watching Wolf and Braley head off to college with their heads high, their eyes clear, and with high hopes in their hearts – well, it just brought back some memories of a truly different but similar time when I was their age attempting to do the same thing.

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.

Yikes, a cancer scare and a smart phone ‘tech neck’

in Bill Sniffin/Column
2153

By Bill Sniffin, Cowboy State Daily

Like a great many Wyomingites, I suffer from persistent pains in my neck and back. More particularly, my neck has bothered me for 12 years, when I herniated a disk.

On June 15 I offered to help my wife Nancy move some heavy plants and, yowsir, something popped and I was in awful pain.

Sniffin in neck brace

Now my neck does odd things when I mess it up – this time, it resulted in horrible spasms in my lower back. Until I put my trusty neck brace on, I was gimping around. A pathetic sight.

Anyway, zoom ahead to Sept. 9 in Casper, where a pain wizard named Dr. Todd Hammond gave my neck a shot of steroids and things are on the mend. His crew of TJae, Lydia, Oneta, and a couple of other pleasant nurses, wheeled me into what looked like the flight deck of the Starship Enterprise. Within 20 minutes, I was done.

But the journey was an interesting one with many twists and turns.

First my Physician Assistant Jim Hutchison at the Lander Medical Clinic recommended physical therapy with Tom Davis at Fremont Therapy here in Lander. 

Some stretching, some heat, and some “dry needling” (now that is a unique pain) got me back on my feet, literally. It took awhile to get the appointment for my shot as first as there was the need for an MRI procedure.  Jim lined it up at SageWest Hospital in Lander. It showed problems with my neck vertebrae but it also showed a suspicious lump on my thyroid – oops.  If it was over 2 centimeters, it needed a biopsy. What? Not the BIG C?

Later it was another trip to the hospital for that procedure. Radiologist Perry Cook is an old friend and she is always enthusiastic. As I was lying there waiting for the biopsy, she came roaring in the room and said these nodules were usually benign.

“But if it is cancer, you have the best kind of cancer!”

Perry finished No. 1 in her class at Duke Medical School. I trust her and I expected her to be forthright with me. Somehow this conversation was getting disconcerting, though.

When it comes to cancer, I come from a blessed family. My parents never had cancer.  My 10 siblings (aged 56 to 76) have only had one cancer exposure, which my younger sister Mary seems to have managed very well about 10 years ago. For us Sniffins, there is supposed to be no cancer. No BIG C.  What the heck! Why me??

Then they did the biopsy and Perry was right, it was benign. Whew! I kept thinking how fortunate it would have been to catch this possible cancer while doing a routine MRI of my neck vertebrae. Thanks to her colleague Dr. Edwin Butler for spotting it.

So now it was on to Casper.

Nancy is not a football fan so she stayed in her room at the Ramkota while I sat in the bar during Monday Night Football with a bunch of oilfield folks watching the Broncos get beat.  That Texans-Saints game, which was on first, had one of the most fantastic finishes in NFL history. But I digress.

When I first hurt my neck 12 years ago, Dr. Hammond had given me two separate steroid shots after I had been scheduled for surgery. Luckily, I healed fast, came to my senses, and avoided the knife.

This time around, perhaps there may have been another reason for my neck pain. Our brilliant daughter Shelli Johnson routinely goes on 30-mile hikes in the Wind River Mountains. As a life coach, she also leads high-powered business gals from all across the USA on trips to Zion and Grand Canyon. She twice won first in the world for best tourism web site with www.yellowstonepark.com. These awards are called the Webbys.

But this column is about her smartphone. And mine, too.

When I told her about my neck, she said there is a national epidemic of “tech neck,” caused by people arching their 10-pound heads at a 40-degree angle checking their smart phones for 3-4 hours a day. She said she suffers from it and is trying to wean herself from looking at her phone that way.

My wife said that I must be suffering from it, too, since I have my face in my smart phone all day long, too. Boy, do I hate to have to admit she’s right. Originally, it was called “text neck.”

So, I couldn’t wait to ask Dr. Hammond if I had “tech neck” and if he treated others with the same malady? He will give injections to 30 people a day some times and travels the state seeing patients.

Sarah from his staff reported they treat lots of people for “tech neck,” and usually recommend stretching and people should hold their phones out in front of them. 

“We see it a lot. It is a lot more common because of the hand-held devices out there. We suggest stretches. Some can go to chiropractors and get good results. There are a lot of less invasive stuff you can do to correct it before it becomes a more severe problem.”

Either way, my neck is better (thank you, Doc) and I now hold my phone straight out in front of me when I look at it.  I think my head might weigh more than 10 pounds and I know I have a tender neck, thus “tech neck” might hurt me even worse than the average person. In the meantime, I hope this column helps cure a whole bunch of stiff and sore necks among my readers.

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.

Sinks Canyon and Loop Road are magical places this time of year

in Bill Sniffin/Column/Travel
Lander Wyoming Loop Road
Folks who live on the east side of the Wind River Mountains have a tradition of getting “looped,” as often as possible. This is my term for driving the spectacular Loop Road.
2094

By Bill Sniffin, Cowboy State Daily

Folks who live on the east side of the Wind River Mountains have a tradition of getting “looped,” as often as possible. This is my term for driving the spectacular Loop Road.

Fall colors were already showing up on the Loop Road when this photo was snapped Sept. 15. (Photo credit: Bill Sniffin)

On a recent Sunday, there was just a hint of color as we headed for the mountains. It sure felt like fall, but the colors were still green and summer-like. Soon it will turn totally golden.

We were re-visiting a magical place that cast a spell on us exactly 49 years ago.  Sinks Canyon and the Loop Road outside of Lander are what caused my wife Nancy and me to move to Wyoming from Iowa almost a half century ago.

It is every bit as beautiful now as it was then. I recall telling Nancy about being blown away by how the Popo Agie River was so picturesque. It looked liked color photos I had seen on calendars but never dreamed that these places really did look like this in reality. It was a transcendent experience.

A tourist from Washington state was swimming in the Little Popo Agie River on the Loop Road on this sunny afternoon before finding this nice rock for sun bathing. (Photo credit: Bill Sniffin)

Sinks Canyon is the primary gateway to the Wind River Mountain Range from the east. Located just south of Lander, the canyon’s sheer cliffs and magical river make it a haven for sightseers.

The remarkable reason for the name of Sinks Canyon is that the river disappears into the side of the canyon wall and reappears a quarter mile downstream on the other side of the canyon.  If you have not visited this eighth wonder of Wyoming, you should. There are wonderful visitor centers there to explain things.

This huge rock formation called Windy Point towers over Sinks Canyon south of Lander. (Photo credit: Bill Sniffin)

Then you climb out of Sinks Canyon and head up the Loop Road. The highway up the paved switchbacks and pretty soon you are climbing up to the saddle below Fossil Mountain and Windy Point.  I always thought Windy Point should be called Chief’s Head, as it looks like old Chief Washakie looking up to the heavens.

Beautiful lakes in the form of Frye Lake, Worthen Reservoir, and Fiddler Lake greet you along this first section of the Loop Road, which is graveled but passable for sedans.

Wind River Peak is the tallest mountain in the southern end of the Wind River Range.  This view is also showing Frye Lake along the Loop Road. (Photo credit: Bill Sniffin)

The gigantic form of Wind River Peak at 13,192 feet looms over this entire scene.  It is the tallest mountain in the southern Wind Rivers.  It has plenty of snow on it now and glistens in the distance.

Another monolith that shows up in your rear view mirror is the massive hunk of rock known as Lizard Head Peak, which is 12,842 feet high.  It is one of the signature mountains in the famous Cirque of the Towers.  It is amazing that you can see it so well from the Loop Road, but you need to know where and when to look.

A huge mountain named Lizard Head Peak strikes a pose in the distance for tourists driving the Loop Road south of Lander. (Photo credit: Bill Sniffin) 

Highest point of the road is Blue Ridge, which sits at 9,578 feet above sea level. A short hike farther up and you can climb stone steps to an old Forest Service fire lookout station. Again, well worth the trip and the view is breathtaking for 360-degrees.

There is a spectacular spot where the road crosses the Little Popo Agie River.  I stopped and snapped some photos and then saw a gal swimming in the frigid river. She climbed out of the water onto a big rock and started to sun bathe.  It must have been very invigorating. She was from Washington state, according to the license plate on her small car parked nearby.

Louis Lake on the Loop Road has nice beaches for families to enjoy at an altitude above 8,000 feet. (Photo credit: Bill Sniffin)

Louis Lake (pronounced Louie) is the showpiece of the Loop Road. It is a very deep lake. It has nice beaches on its east end and is a favorite place for boating, canoeing, fishing, and just enjoying life.

From Louis Lake to WYO Highway 28 on South Pass, the Loop Road goes by Grannier Meadows and up and around Dead Horse Curve.  The reason it is called the Loop Road is that you never need to backtrack.  You just keep going and complete the loop drive back to Lander.

As you get to South Pass, you look off at the vast Red Desert, which is one of Wyoming’s seven legitimate wonders.  Continental Peak and the Oregon Buttes stand out in the distance.

A moose casually munches on lily pads in a small pond next to Fiddler Lake on the Loop Road. (Photo credit: Bill Sniffin) 

On the way back down the mountain back to Lander the most stunning sight is the vast Red Canyon. This is a huge box canyon, which is striking by all the red rock of the Chugwater Formation. It is one of the most photographed places in this part of Wyoming.

And then we were back home, having enjoyed a wonderful three-hour drive that reinforced all the wonderful reasons of why we live here.

Another of our reasons for this particular trip was that we had not driven the entire Loop this year.  We ALWAYS drive the Loop at least once each year.  Time was running out. What a great pleasure it has always been; it was this time, too.

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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