By Jerry Kendall for the Cowboy State Daily
Whenever I mention that I grew up in Jeffrey City, I almost always get the same response: “Really? Jeffrey City? I’m sorry.”
Then I spend the next 15 minutes trying to convince the person that it wasn’t a bad place to grow up. My explanation generally starts with, “the wind blows a lot but after a while, you hardly notice.”
Well, anyone who has ever lived there knows that you never get used to it. Ever! You just sort of live with it and adapt.
Ain’t no one better at adapting than kids.
Now you’ve got to realize these were the days before video games, computers, cell phones, and if you even had a TV, you only got one channel.
We spent all our free time outside and it seemed there was always plenty to do. After all, we did have the whole Red Desert for our backyard.
Our family actually lived on the back trailer row of the town and as the wind ripped through the gap between Green Mountain and Crooks Mountain, we were pretty much the first thing in its path other than the sagebrush.
I can remember watching the walls of our trailer moving in and out, like some great aluminum salamander breathing. Sometimes the windows would bow in until I thought they would shatter, sending shards of glass into anything in their path. Folks would put old tires on their roofs to keep them from rumbling as the wind swept over them. As I mentioned, the wind blew some in Jeffrey.
During the winter there were huge snowdrifts, which set up to the point where you could carve out caves or build forts made from blocks carved with shovels. We used these fortresses for huge snowball fights amongst warring enemies. We played king of the mountain on a mound of snow that would have been considered a real mountain in some states.
When it got cold enough, the miners would go out into a nearby field and push up snow walls with plows or backhoes into a large square and then fill the center with water for a skating rink. Almost every kid in town would show up with their battered old hockey skates. If you tried to skate against the wind you would end up going backwards until you ran into the snowbank on the downwind side of the rink.
What most of us would like to do was walk in the snow up the side until we got to the upper end. Then holding you coat open so the wind filled it like a sail, we would fairly fly across the rink, smashing into the bank at the other end and rolling through the snow out into the field. Hey, when you get lemons, make lemonade!
I remember one hot summer day, my buddy Dean Axtell and I were wandering around town, slingshots hanging from our back pockets, wondering what to shoot next when we spied a large refrigerator box behind the mercantile. We decided to make a fort out of it.
The wind was howling as usual. This box was a place to get away from being sandblasted for a while. Fighting the wind, we dragged it out to one of the few grassy areas in town, which ran along the highway and we crawled inside.
Much to our delight, we started rolling alongside the highway, tumbling all over each other and laughing uncontrollably. As we gained momentum, I ended up rolling out the end of the box, landing in a heap on the grass.
“Hang on Dean!” I shouted as I ran to catch up. But I couldn’t catch up. Dean was a little feller back then and he and that box were headed east at a high rate of speed. Just when I thought I would never see my little buddy again, the box spit him out as well. He was so dizzy he couldn’t stand up, so as any good friend would do, I ran up and dog-piled him.
We sat in a heap, laughing until our sides hurt and watched in amazement as the box began taking huge leaps into the air. The last time we saw it we figured it was headed for Casper. “Well, now what do you wanna do?”
Everything considered, Jeffrey City was a great place to grow up in. We had movies in the old Quonset hut on Friday nights. We had a small outdoor swimming pool. We even had a bowling alley, which had been moved from Lander. Add that to the Sweetwater River within walking distance to swim and fish in and of course the Red Desert in our backyard to explore.
One thing though . . . the wind does blow there a bit.