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Crowds gather for Cheyenne’s second Chey-Fy Comic Expo

in arts and culture/Community
2050

By Tim Mandese, Cowboy State Daily

Several hundred people gathered at Cheyenne’s historic Plains Hotel last weekend to take part in the city’s second “Chey-Fy Comic Expo.”

The event celebrating all things related to pop culture was sponsored by Cheyenne’s Small Business Hub, a group of business owners who meet to share their experience and expertise with others.

Jon Puls, the SBH vice president of events, said the Comic Expo is the group’s main event of the year and is used as a fundraiser.

“We’ve got comics, cosplay, stars, video games, sculptures, artists,” he said. “We’re doing all this with the hopes to create small business grants for the community.

Many people attending last weekend’s event wore their “Cosplay” costumes. People who take part in cosplay dress up as their favorite superhero, video game character, cartoon character or character from literature.

Vendors, meanwhile, filled many of the meeting rooms of the Plains with goods ranging from original artwork and graphic novels to craft items.This year’s Chey-Fy Comic Expo welcomed guests including Jon St. John, the voice behind many popular video game characters, most notably, “Duke Nukem.”

Fans stopping by his table were treated to St. John reciting lines from the game such as “Hail to the king baby!” 

Also making an appearance was veteran voice actor Dameon Clark, of the animated series “Dragon Ball Z.” Clark has also acted in the television shows Castle, Supernatural and Prison Break.

Several authors were also on hand, including Ron Fortier, writer for “Green Hornet,” and the series “Terminator: Burning Earth.” Along with the cosplay and guests, admission to the expo included discussion panels, a lunch with the guests, as well as anime movie screening and a midnight ghost hunt at the nearby Masonic Lodge. 

‘Shootout’ challenge reflects Shoshoni’s can-do spirit

in Community/Economic development/News/Recreation
Now entering Shoshoni
2032

By Cody Beers, Cowboy State Daily

Like a challenge delivered out of the Old West, a shootout at high noon was held Saturday in Shoshoni.

Mayors of Fremont County’s towns, or their designees, met at the Shoshoni Rifle Range on the south edge of town to compete in three shooting categories – rifle, handgun and Annie Oakley shotgun-style shooting – as part of a fundraiser for the Fremont County Republican Women.

“When the Republican Women’s president, Ginger Bennett, called me, she wanted the shootout at high noon on Shoshoni’s Main Street,” said Shoshoni Mayor Joel Highsmith. “I said, ‘Anything is a possibility in Shoshoni, let’s talk about it.’”

Shoshoni Mayor Joel Highsmith exhibits a can-do attitude that characterizes his efforts to make things happen in Shoshoni.
Shoshoni Mayor Joel Highsmith exhibits a can-do attitude that characterizes his efforts to make things happen in Shoshoni. Highsmith — whose father also served as Shoshoni’s mayor — said residents care about the community and have good ideas for its future. (Photo by Cody Beers, Cowboy State Daily)

Highsmith was elected Shoshoni’s mayor in 2018. Like Saturday’s mayoral shootout, his can-do spirit is reflected throughout the 650-resident town.

It’s all about building and maintaining a community, its people and a great place to live, according to Highsmith.

“Shoshoni has always been my hometown, the place I consider my home, and the place where I always planned to retire,” Highsmith said.

Highsmith’s parents moved to Shoshoni in 1962. His wife Kathy’s parents moved to Shoshoni about 1950.

“I married my wife in 1972. That’s when we purchased our first real estate in Shoshoni. We have three beautiful daughters we raised in Shoshoni until 1989. We returned to Shoshoni in 2009,” he said. “We are Shoshoni people with Shoshoni roots.”

In fact, Highsmith’s father Joel Thomas Highsmith Sr. was mayor of Shoshoni in the late 1960s and early 1970s.

Shoshoni in 2019 is a microcosm of life these days in central Wyoming. Local economies are struggling, even in Shoshoni where ConocoPhillips operates a gas plant in Lost Cabin, east of town.

Some people have left town. People make long commutes, usually through Shoshoni and the town’s famous intersection, to work in the oil and gas industry. Young people graduate out of the Shoshoni school system, and most leave. And few young people and their families live year-around in the community that boasts small-town amenities and is bordered by one of Wyoming’s best fishing reservoirs.

Boysen Reservoir, which borders Shoshoni, is a major focus for the community, with a committee considering ways to bring more people to the reservoir to take part in various activities and help revitalize the town. (Photo by Cody Beers, Cowboy State Daily)

“Besides our school system, I believe Shoshoni’s crown jewel is Boysen Reservoir,” Highsmith said.

Shoshoni also benefits from residents willing to look at ways to breathe new life into the community, the mayor said.

“People care about the future of this town and they have ideas,” he said.

The Shoshoni Town Council, or as Highsmith calls it, “the governing body,” has established a pair of committees focused on Boysen Reservoir and the rifle range.

“We are looking at different options to enhance our town. The Lake Committee has met with Boysen State Park officials and the new owners of the Boysen Marina, who are both doing a great job,” Highsmith said. “We are looking at developing more activities and fishing opportunities so that Boysen becomes more of a destination for people on their way to Jackson and other places.”

Highsmith said the goal is to bring more events to Boysen Reservoir, which in turn, will help the town. At one time, winter carnivals, high-altitude drag races, fishing derbies and other events flourished at Boysen throughout the year and brought visitors and their money to Shoshoni.

Highsmith said the same committee approach is being used to draw people to Shoshoni’s rifle range, arguably the best in the county and central Wyoming. Grants and donations have helped the local rifle club improve safety at the range through steps such as having local range enthusiasts act as monitors when the range is open.

Shoshoni continues to host a number of community events, including its Labor Day Ranch Rodeos and its annual Don Layton Memorial Antique Tractor and Engine Show.

The landscape of Shoshoni is changing for the better, too, Highsmith said.

He recalled the days when downtown Shoshoni boasted a Gambles store, grocery store and movie theater.

This photo shows some of the old buildings that line Shoshoni’s streets. The town recently demolished six old buildings on Main Street, along with a hotel and the community’s old school. Residents are now looking into ways to fill the empty space with businesses to help the town. (Photo by Cody Beers, Cowboy State Daily)

Today, some of the older, unusable buildings, including six separate buildings of the old Main Street, have been demolished, as has an old motel and the Shoshoni school in the center of town.

A new $39 million K-12 school has been built on the north end of town and is in its fourth year of operation.

The mayor said town officials are keeping an open mind to the opportunities for Shoshoni.

“We’ve been talking to the developer who bought our old school land,” Highsmith said. “We’ve been thinking and discussing, what can survive here.”

Town officials and many citizens agree Shoshoni needs an active motel/hotel and a local gathering spot, such as a café.

“That would be a big bonus for school activities and activities at the lake and rifle range,” Highsmith said. “Boysen State Park and the marina need more camper spots. Maybe we need a campground, because the lake is an important part of what we may do. Maybe our future is senior housing. We need more housing so our teachers can live here.”

The future for one of Wyoming’s busiest intersections – where U.S. Highways 20 and 26 meet – is involved, too, because it’s in the middle of town. Contrary to billboards on the edges of Shoshoni proclaiming the superiority of each highway, both provide convenient and scenic pathways to Yellowstone National Park.

The main intersection in Shoshoni takes travelers north on U.S. Highway 20 to Thermopolis or west on U.S. Highway 26 to Riverton. The intersection plays a role in attempts to revive the community, with residents looking at possible ways to build up businesses in the area. (Photo by Cody Beers, Cowboy State Daily)
The main intersection in Shoshoni takes travelers north on U.S. Highway 20 to Thermopolis or west on U.S. Highway 26 to Riverton. The intersection plays a role in attempts to revive the community, with residents looking at possible ways to build up businesses in the area. (Photo by Cody Beers, Cowboy State Daily)



“There will be changes in our intersection, even possible business expansion,” Highsmith said. “Our history involves a time when there were seven gas stations, and one on each corner of our intersection.”

Highsmith said Shoshoni people want businesses that benefit the community, including its school.

“We are open to ideas, and we are looking at things,” he said.

New Shoshoni school is a bright light in town

Bruce Thoren is in his sixth year as superintendent of Fremont County School District No. 24.

Shoshoni’s school district is very rural in nature, covering nearly 2,000 square miles.

“We’ve got kids attending from Natrona County, from Missouri Valley, Hidden Valley, Burma, Riverton, Shoshoni … the valley is where the vast majority of our students live,” said Thoren.

The school provides kindergarten through 12th grade education for more than 390 students and about 25 of those live with their families in Shoshoni. A school bus also makes daily stops at Riverton’s old Kmart to serve the more than 100 Shoshoni students who live in Riverton. Other students drive themselves to town, or ride school buses.

The school district is easily the largest employer in Shoshoni, with nearly 100 part- and full-time employees.

“These employees are a big deal for the Town of Shoshoni, and I believe the new building is definitely helping the viability of the town. Without the school, quite honestly, I’d hate to see what would happen to the town,” Thoren said.

There’s history attached to Shoshoni schools, too, as the first Shoshoni School opened in 1906 with 58 children and two teachers. After its first year of operation, a new school was built to educate 134 students at a cost of $7,000. The new building allowed the first- through fourth-graders to escape the old Shoshoni jailhouse, where they were attending school.

Thoren is proud of the school district’s ongoing partnership with the town.

“Things are headed in the right direction in Shoshoni, and the town council and mayor are looking to increase the viability of the town. Everyone wants to put the nicer things in place, including more paved streets,” Thoren said. “While most of the school employees and the Conoco gas plant employees commute from other places to work, a lot of those people would live in Shoshoni if we are able to get some of these community upgrades completed.”

Thoren points to future oil and gas development, including the Moneta Divide project, as possible boosts to the Shoshoni-area economy.

The Shoshoni Recreation District is part of the school district’s partnership with the town.

“This is a small Wyoming town, but it’s thriving with recreation,” said Recreation Director Michelle Rambo, who herself attended Shoshoni schools for 13 years.

The recreation district is currently preparing for its annual Halloween haunted house involving the efforts of more than 30 volunteers. It’s said to be one of the creepiest and best of its kind in Wyoming.

“People come to Shoshoni from all over the region to participate. It’s a huge event,” Rambo said.

Rambo, like the mayor and school superintendent, is positive about the future of Shoshoni, a community grounded in volunteerism “that works together to do what’s best for all of Wyoming.”

“My childhood friends live here, raising their families. We are all part of this community. We support our town,” Rambo said, adding a statement of her pride for Shoshoni schools and the mascot. “We ‘Ride for the Brand, be a Wrangler.’”

And The Wiener Winner Is…

in Community/Food and Beverage
1963

Labor Day Hot dog Eating Contest in Mills

By Tim Mandese, Cowboy State Daily

MILLS — On a hot Labor Day afternoon, crowds gathered at Riverfront Park, on a bend of the Platte River. Some were there for food trucks, cold beer and a car show. But most were there to witness a ritual of Labor Day, a hot dog eating contest.

Last year saw the first annual “Wyoming Hot Dog Eating Championship,” organized by food truck owner Ticker Lock. The event’s first champions were Billy Floyd of Casper and Stephanie Wu of Carson City, Nevada. Floyd ate an amazing 13 wieners and buns while Wu ate 11 to win the men’s and women’s competition and set the mark to beat for the second installment of the holiday classic.

Winners were competing for custom made belts, but mostly for bragging rights. 

Before the competition would begin, there was a car show put on by “Pop In The Shop.” a Christian mentoring group that teaches fatherless boys age 7 to 17 about classic car restoration in the group’s shop on Yellowstone Highway in Casper. The show attracted nearly 20, hotrods, rat-rods and fully restored vehicles.

The contest itself began at 6 p.m., as contestants gathered around tables, bins loaded with hotdogs and buns. The rules were simple — eat as many wieners and buns in 11 minutes as possible. As the countdown to b begin reached zero, the food fight for the belts raged. 

The seven men and two women competing gobbled their way to hot dog immortality. There were different strategies at play. There was the “grab and squish,” trying to make the bun and wiener as compact and easy to consume as possible. Others went for the multi-bite attack, taking a series of rapid bites before briefly chewing and swallowing. 

The most popular method was the “dunk and down,” Bottles of water on the tables were used to soak the buns and make them less bulky both in the mouth and more importantly, in the stomach.

While the frankfurter fighters did their best, two men emerged as the ones to beat — reigning champion Billy Floyd and contender Johnny Haase. When the countdown ran out, Floyd had consumed 11 wieners but it was unclear how many Haase ate, which resulted in a protest being lodged. 

There was only one way to settle the matter — a sudden death eat-off. One minute was put back on the clock as the two went head-to-head to see who could eat the most. Floyd, a slim man, did his best and ate one complete bun and wiener, but Haase had room for two to take the title.

On the women’s side, the battle was less dramatic but nonetheless impressive, with Kiera Grogan of Orange County, New York, taking home the belt with a total of six hot dogs, edging out her competition.

Grow With Google reaches Wyoming

in Community/News/Technology
1918

A national program aimed at teaching people how to improve their digital skills reached Wyoming last week.

“Grow With Google” teams appeared at the Natrona and Laramie county libraries to lead classes in how people can use online tools to improve their computer skills, making them increasingly attractive to employers.

Officials with Grow With Google said a private study shows that eight out of 10 middle-skill jobs paying an average of $20 per hour now require some digital skills.

Google public affairs manager Katherine Williams said the classes help teach people how to find information that will help them find jobs or boost their own businesses.

“We’re looking to help educate folks on how they can get to that next level on their education so they can continue to grow with the economy as it does shift and change,” said Katherine Williams, a public affairs manager with Google.

Computers have become an increasingly important tool in business and Grow With Google helps people learn how to use that tool, she added.

“It’s increasingly important to understand, in today’s economy, how to use computers and the Internet to find information to further your career, to grow your small business,” she said.

Google has invested $1 billion in the program, which was launched in 2017, and usually partners with libraries to offer its courses.

Carey Hartmann, executive director of the Laramie County Library, said it made sense for Google to work with local libraries because that is where people go on their own to further their educations.

“And now we need to grow our digital skills and they’re changing so quickly that it’s natural for Google to want to parter with libraries and for libraries to want to partner with Google,” she said.

Fun in a bun: Wyoming’s Hot Dog Eating Championship to be held in Mills on Monday

in Community/Food and Beverage
Hot dogs
1892

For those with a soft spot in their hearts for the epicurean delight that is the hot dog, Mills is the place to be this long holiday weekend.

The second annual Wyoming Hot Dog Eating Championship on Monday will feature feats of gastronomical bravery as competitors face off in an attempt to eat the most hot dogs — including buns — in 11 minutes.

Organizer Ticker Lock, owner of Casper’s Rockin’ Burgers ’n Dogs Food Truck, said he created the championship and accompanying activities to give residents of his hometown of Mills something to look forward to at the end of the summer.

“It’s my way of giving back to the community,” he said. “There’s nothing to do on Labor Day. So I created it. I wanted to give the community something to look forward to.”

Competitors simply have to register at no cost on the day of the event. However, only seven men and seven women will be allowed to enter — although one extra spot is automatically awarded to the winners of the 2018 competition if they choose to enter this year.

Separate competitions will be held for men and women. Last year’s champion in men’s competition ate 13 hot dogs, while the women’s winner, who came to Casper from Nevada, ate 12, Lock said.

Competitors must eat not only the all-beef hot dogs, but the accompanying buns as well, he added.

“A lot of them bring their own Kool-Aid or water to dunk the bun,” he said. “It saves on a bit of chewing.”

The winners will each receive a custom-made championship belt.

The hot dog contest is the highlight of the full-day celebration at Mills River Front Park. Activities begin with a car show at 4 p.m. sponsored by group “Pop in the Shop.” The fee for putting to put a car on display is $10 and the proceeds will be used to help Pop in the Shop in its work to mentor young men.

Also on hand will be several food trucks, including Rockin’ Burgers n’ Dogs, Deb’s Fudge Kitchen, I Scream for Ice Cream and Miss Sara’s Gourmet Grilled Cheese, along with vendors, all beginning at 3 p.m.

Live music by Chad Lore, “Wyoming’s One-Man Band,” will begin at 4 p.m.

For more information, visit Rock’ Burgers n’ Dogs Food Truck’s website or see its Facebook page.

Catching Up: Michael DeGreve from Cheyenne’s Hitching Post

in arts and culture/Community
1863

By Jimmy Orr, Cowboy State Daily

For 30 years, singer-songwriter Michael DeGreve was a fixture at Cheyenne’s old Hitching Post Inn.

Although the self-described “Hippie from Hollywood Hills” may not have seemed like a logical fit for Cheyenne, Wyoming, the entertainer played to packed houses twice a day, six nights a week, from 1977 through 2007.

DeGreve moved on from the Hitching Post a year after the well-regarded owner of the hotel — Paul Smith — died in 2006. After a two-year stint at a resort in the northern woods of Wisconsin, the singer has made Las Vegas, Nevada, his home for the past seven years. His pace has slowed down a bit (now performing only four to five nights a week), but his love of entertaining has never waned.

“I’ve been blessed to play music every day of my life for the past 50 years,” DeGreve said. “It’s what I love to do.”

Now singing at the Mt. Charleston Lodge in Las Vegas and Jack’s Place in Boulder City, Nevada, DeGreve spoke highly of his time in Cheyenne during a recent performance and reflected on his relationship with Wyoming audiences.

“It was very warm right from the beginning,” DeGreve said. “I didn’t know I was going to perform at The Hitch for 30 years but as time went on and I realized the depth of what this place was and how wonderful the people were, I didn’t want to leave. It was my life.”

He discusses that life often during his show at Mt. Charleston. One weekend night, the singer regaled the crowd with many Cheyenne stories — many elicited much laughter. One story, however, silenced the crowd: the flood of 1985.

“August 1, 1985,” he began. “I had been there for eight years. We had a terrible flood. Once in a 100 year flood.

“I was doing my show. A friend of mine sitting right over there,” he continued, motioning to the right. “It had been a dry summer. It started a little bit after 6 p.m. He said ‘We could sure use this water.’

“By 9 p.m., 12 people were dead. The city was trashed. We had 6 1/2 inches of rain and hail in two hours. Trashed the city.”

The singer paused to wipe a tear from his eye. And paused again. The audience didn’t say a word.

A few moments later, DeGreve transitioned, as all of Cheyenne had to do back then, and told of how then-Gov. Ed Herschler called him two days after the flood and asked him for his help.

DeGreve has some powerful friends in the music industry. His first album had members of The Eagles and Crosby, Stills, and Nash singing background vocals. His ex-wife had married Graham Nash. One friend made time for DeGreve despite a booked touring season.

“I called my friend Neil Young,” he said. “We re-routed Neil’s tour and he and I did a show four weeks later on a blue moon night at the (Cheyenne Frontier Days) fairgrounds for 10,000 people. It was called the Silver Lining Benefit Concert. Everybody showed up. We raised a lot of money and we raised a lot of spirits.

“Everybody takes care of each other there,” he said of Cheyenne. “It is a very magical place.”

For DeGreve, that magic started and ended at The Hitching Post — a place he thought would be resurrected after the fire that ultimately doomed the establishment in 2010.

“The Hitching Post was such a huge part of my life. For the first two years I was here (in Las Vegas) I thought somebody was going to resurrect it on those grounds.”

DeGreve has been back to Cheyenne one time since the fire to attend a book signing event commemorating the Hitching Post.

“It was pretty emotional. Pretty nostalgic. Got to see a lot of friends. Signed books for hours and did a show,” he said.

What affected him the most, however, was seeing the remains of the hotel he called home for 30 years.

“But to see it physically burned down. Sheesh,” he said. “My mind raced and I just thought of the 10,000 nights playing music and telling stories to my friends in Cheyenne. It broke my heart.”

DeGreve said he would like to come back to Cheyenne and if the right circumstances unfolded, he would consider returning.
Although nothing has presented itself yet, DeGreve did say he expected to be back in Cheyenne soon.

“I don’t want to let the cat out of the bag,” he said grinning. “But I think we’re going to do something back in town soon and I can’t wait.”

Cheyenne’s Edge Fest Scores Hot Acts, Cool Vibes for Fifth Annual Event

in arts and culture/Community/Food and Beverage
1844

Cheyenne residents and visitors from all over the region are in for stellar performances, great food and a happening party this Saturday, August 24 as Edge Fest takes over the new Civic Commons Park and Amphitheater on Cheyenne’s West Edge.

Genre-bending/blending singer K.Flay and rock and roller Billy Raffoul take the stage in Cheyenne for what promises to be the biggest show in Edge Fest’s five year history.

Edge Fest essential details:

Who: K. Flay and Billy Raffoul + epic cross-section of food trucks and vendors

When: Saturday, August 24 | Doors open: 5:00pm | Party Ends: 10:00pm

Where: Civic Commons Park located in Cheyenne’s West Edge

What: Edge Fest is a free, all-ages event. No tickets are required.

Hometown boy makes good: Wyoming native wins world’s longest horse race

in Community/News
Mongol Derby Robert Long on Day 7
Cheyenne native Robert Long gives a thumbs up on Day 7 of the Mongol Derby. (photo courtesy of Mongol Derby)
1835

Nicole Blanchard, special to Cowboy State Daily

It’s only fitting that a man dubbed “the most badass cowboy you will ever meet” hails from the Cowboy State.

Robert Long, a native of Cheyenne, Wyoming, earned the title after winning the Mongol Derby, a 620-mile race across the Mongolian Steppe, earlier this week. At 70 years old, Long is not only the oldest person to win the race but the oldest person to even finish the grueling trek, designed to replicate the route of Genghis Khan’s 13th century postal system.

“I’ve never in my life seen anybody as intense, as skilled, as intelligent, as driven as Bob,”said Gary Schaeffer, former Cheyenne mayor and one of Long’s closest friends. Both men now live in Boise, Idaho.

Long crossed the finish line on Wednesday, Aug. 14, the eighth day of the race. He and 41 other competitors had ridden upwards of 12 hours a day on “semi-wild” Mongolian horses, switching out mounts at checkpoints to ensure the horses didn’t become fatigued. 

“Those horses aren’t ridden every day like ours,” said Cheyenne rancher Doug Samuelson, who has spent time hunting in Mongolia. “They’re not our highly trained quarter horses.”

By the end of the race, Long had ridden 28 different horses.

Schaeffer, who first met Long in 1968, said his friend’s upbringing in Cheyenne no doubt came in handy in the race.

“He was born and raised on horses, used to break them, train them for people,” Schaeffer said. “Besides being a confident horseman and cowboy, he always takes care of his animals, and that shows in the race.”

Samuelson, who doesn’t know Long, joked that Long must be something of a horse whisperer.

“I’d love to shake his hand,” Samuelson said. “Maybe it’ll rub off on me.”

At each checkpoint, veterinarians inspected the small, hardy Mongolian horses to see that they hadn’t been overworked. 

“They’re small horses, but they’re tough,” Samuelson said. “They’re incredibly agile and surefooted.”

Riders received penalties if their horses weren’t in top condition, but by the end of the derby, Long earned a perfect record from the race vets.

“At one point they said he veered off-course to go get his horse water,” Schaeffer added. “I’m sure it cost him some time, but he was more worried about taking care of his horse. And he’s always been that way.”

Schaeffer said Long was matter-of-fact when he first shared his plans to ride in the Mongol Derby, which holds the Guinness World Record for longest horse race.

“He came over to the house and told us ‘I’ve entered the Mongol Derby,’” Schaeffer said. “We said, ‘What? Why?'”

“He said, ‘Because people told me I couldn’t. It’s there, it’s a challenge. I don’t like people to say because of my age I won’t be able to make it. It’s the toughest, most grueling thing a horseman can do, and I want to prove I can do it,’” Schaeffer recalled.

From day one, Schaeffer said, Long’s loved ones had no doubt he could complete the race, in part thanks to his impeccable research, planning and preparation.

Because Mongolian horses tend to be under 14 hands, there’s a weight limit for riders and gear to keep the horses safe. Long lost 30 pounds and practiced packing and repacking his bag to be sure he could make weight. He consulted with previous Mongol Derby riders and spent months building his riding endurance.

“He had this planned down to the inch,” Schaeffer said.

And while Long already had impeccable navigation skills (Schaeffer recalled how Long could always find his way back to the horse trailer during hunting trips in the Snowy Mountains), he honed those skills even more to prepare for the unmarked Mongol Derby route.

“He would try to get himself lost and work with the GPS to get himself back on course,” Schaeffer said. “Though I doubt if he ever got lost. He just doesn’t do that.”

According to a Mongol Derby news release, the riders faced arctic winds and downpours at the start of the race. They also had to watch out for rodent holes and marshy areas as they trekked across the steppe. 

“(The terrain there) is a lot like Wyoming,” Samuelson said. “You’ll see really flat plains areas and kind of high mountains on the side. The grasses are also similar.”

As the weather cleared up later in the race, Long took a lead that he maintained until the end.

Schaeffer wasn’t surprised when Long galloped across the finish line in a live video broadcast on Facebook by the Mongol Derby –but he was emotional.

“I was crying, tears were streaming down my face. We knew he could do it,” Schaeffer said.

“I’ve never seen anything he can’t do,” he added. “If he says he’s going to do it, he’s going to do it.”

Long, on the other hand, was cracking jokes the moment he dismounted.

“My horse just won the Mongol Derby,” he said. “It’s nothing, you just ride 650 miles on a death march. There’s nothing to it.”

Find out more about the Mongol Derby here. And for a great read on the Mongols and Genghis Khan’s 13th century postal system check out Genghis Khan and the Making of the Modern World by Jack Weatherford.

Massive military museum under construction near Dubois

in Bill Sniffin/Community/News
Alynne and Dan Starks in front of tank collection
Dan Starks and his daughter, Alynne Starks, pose in front of some of the military tanks and vehicles on of the site of their new museum. The Starks have some 400 military vehicles in their collection making it one of the finest and largest private collections in the world.
1750
Dan Starks, National Museum of Military Vehicles founder, explains how the oil and gas industry helped the American military build a better tank.

By Bill Sniffin, Cowboy State Daily

Wyoming’s next great museum is under construction and will open next May.

The National Museum of Military Vehicles is a massive facility located just south of Dubois in Fremont County.

The $100 million self-funded museum has been a dream of Dan Starks, who bought his first Wyoming property in 2011. Construction on the new museum started in May of 2017. It is a 140,000 square-foot facility designed to hold 150 military vehicles.

But it is much more than a display of vehicles.

Starks, 65, is not a veteran but has such a high degree of respect for those who served that he sees this project as his life’s work. And what a life it has been.

He worked 32 years at a medical equipment company in Minneapolis, serving as CEO before retiring in 2017. The company made $6 billion per year and had 28,000 employees working on life-saving devices, specializing on heart catheters and other devices. 

“At one time, we figured our devices were saving a life every three seconds around the world,” he says.

His company was acquired by Abbott Laboratories in 2017. Their web site shows Starks owns over $600 million in stock in the big international company and serves on its board.

Dan and his wife Cynthia’s life’s dream was to settle in Dubois and launch some project to recognize the service of America’s veterans. And boy, is this ever some project.

Despite the gigantic size of the facility, (you can almost put three football fields inside its walls), Starks now worries that it might be too small.  The couple owns more than 400 of pristine historic vehicles from World War II and other conflicts, presumed to be the largest and best private collection in the world.Starks thinks he might only get 150 of them inside the walls.

The Starks’ daughter Alynne is the executive director of the facility.Their plan for the museum has gone far beyond just a place to display vehicles. “We want to create displays that show the landing at Normandy, the surrenders in Germany and Japan, the Battle of the Bulge, and other great moments in our country’s military history,” Starks says.

Starks sees the facility having three components:

  • First, to honor the service and sacrifice of millions of Americans;
  • Second, preserve the history of what happened during these wars, and
  • Third, provide an educational experience.

The vast array of vehicles goes beyond the killing machines of tanks, artillery, and flamethrowers. It also includes dozens of the machines that made the wars winnable.

Starks likes to discuss how the “Red Ball Express” helped secure the victories. This was the truck-based supply chain that seemed to provide endless amounts of food, ammo, and war machines as Allied troops marched toward victory.

He wants to show how America was able to convert its massive manufacturing expertise to enable the Allies to fight two different wars in different parts of the world and win both in just three and one-half years. The new museum will show how the American ability to mass-produce cars and trucks was converted to produce tanks, jeeps, airplanes, and other war machines in record amounts that just wore down the enemy. 

“Germany built beautiful machines, but they did not understand mass production like Americans did,” Starks said. “It was impossible for them to keep up when it came to replacing and resupplying their troops at key moments in World War II. We want to honor everyone who participated in this great victory. This museum will showcase that effort but showing the machines that were built and how they were utilized.”

Dan and Alynne Starks led a handful of people on a tour of the facility Aug. 1, including Lander radio station owner Joe Kenney, Fremont County Commissioner Mike Jones and retired Lander business leader Tony McRae.

Kenney said he was impressed that Starks wants no grants or government money to help with the project.  

“He knows what he wants and he is going to get it,” he said. “Amazing.”

Jones said he was overwhelmed by Starks’ passion. 

“His enthusiasm is contagious,” he said. “This is going to be game-changer for tourism in Fremont County and Wyoming.”

McRae said he did not know what to expect. 

“I was just blown away by the scale of this project,” he said. “I can’t wait to see it after it opens.”

Alynne, as executive director, said the project will probably employ about 15 people.  They have not decided on what admission will cost but one thing is sure: “Veterans will get in free!  My dad insists on that,” she said.

Near the middle of the building’s interior is an amazing vault that will hold Starks’ $10 million collection of historic weapons, including a rifle fired at Custer’s Last Stand and a pistol used by General Pershing in World War I. The collection also includes 270 Winchester rifles.  The facility will have meeting rooms and members of the Wyoming Legislature are convening there in October.It also has the Chance Phelps Theatre, named for the brave Dubois Marine who died April 9, 2004, in Iraq.  The movie “Taking Chance”was about that soldier.

There will also be a large library with one of the world’s largest collections of manuals and other information about military vehicles.

There are over 100 tanks and other impressive war machines parked in row after row in a big field next to the new building. There is even a Russian-built MiG 21 parked in the field that was used in the Viet Nam War against American soldiers. It is flyable. Starks’ other machines are in downtown Dubois, on his ranches and stored in Salt Lake City. Besides the main museum facility, the Starks built a large building just off Main Street in Dubois to hold many of their vehicles and a shop to keep them running.

Eight years ago, their first home in Dubois was an old homestead. Then, they purchased a 250-head cattle ranch and recently they bought a third ranch, which now has 36 bison grazing on it.

“We love Dubois and we love Wyoming. This is our great adventure,” Starks said.

Construction crews race the clock to fix canal

in Agriculture/Community/Economic development/News
1746

Farmers and ranchers in eastern Wyoming and western Nebraska are facing nature’s deadline as construction crews work to repair an irrigation breach that left 800 irrigators without water.

Construction crews are working full-time to repair the breach in the Fort Laramie-Gering irrigation canal that provides water for 100,000 acres of land on both sides of the Wyoming-Nebraska border.

Water to the canal has been turned off since the collapse occurred on July 17 and the late summer heat makes it crucial for water to be delivered to fields served the 130-mile canal as quickly as possible to avoid crop losses.

Rob Posten, district manager of the Goshen Irrigation District, said the district hopes to have the canal repaired by late August.

If the repairs take much longer, farmers and ranchers could be looking at significant crop losses, which Shawn Madden of Torrington Livestock said would affect the economy throughout the area.

“It’s not just if you’re farming south of Torrington or down by Gering, Nebraska,” he said. “Those people are all customers on Main Street in Scottsbluff (Nebraska), Torrington. I mean, these people are in financial peril.”

Cactus Covello of Points West Bank said most agricultural operations run on a slim profit margin to begin with.

“There’s not much profit in the corn, there’s not a lot of profit in cattle,” he said. “Most of that goes back to pay for their input costs, to make land payments, to put a little food on the table and hopefully have some to put in savings for a rainy day. The agricultural life is a lifestyle you’ve got to love, because it’s not ultra-profitable.”

Questions remain over whether the crop losses will be covered by insurance. If the tunnel failure was the result of natural causes such as rain, officials believe the losses will be covered. If the collapse was the result of structural failure, the coverage will not apply. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is working to determine what caused the collapse of the 102-year-old tunnel.

Covello said he expects members of the community to work together to overcome the problems.

“These banks around here, we serve the agricultural community,” he said. “We will change and do things that we need to do so we can all survive together.”

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