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Book Review: “Never Leaving Laramie, Travels in a Restless World” by John W. Haines

in Column/Tom Lubnau
6486

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By Tom Lubnau II

John Haines does a great job of taking you with him to the oxygen deprived bicycle trip through Tibet, dodging hippos while being one of a handful of people to kayak the entire length of the Niger River, and serving as an election supervisor in Bosnia after the former Yugoslavia fractured from war.

Descriptive, insightful and sometime bittersweet,  Haines does more than paint a word picture of his adventures, he shares the emotional and philosophical musings of a traveler from Laramie who had lived his life to the fullest, and continues to do so.

“Never Leaving Laramie” is an inspirational tale of a Laramie boy’s Wyoming roots leading him to a life of adventure.

John, a fourth generation Wyomingite, grew up in Laramie, Wyoming, graduated from the University of Wyoming and began a life of adventures.   He attributes his spirit of adventure to being raised on the high plains of the Cowboy State.  

In Never Leaving Laramie, he details a few of his lifelong adventures.   His prose flows easily, describing his many trips.  One feels him shiver from the cold and his lungs ache from the altitude when he, and a friend from Laramie, bicycle to North Mt. Everest base camp. 

One feels the terror and helplessness when their kayak expedition encounters an enraged hippopotamus.  One feels the guilt and regret of a war-torn Serbian people, but their hope of a new future when Haines serves as an election supervisor for their first democratic elections.

But the book is more than a travel log.   Haines introduces us to his traveling companions – folks he met in Laramie — who share his yearning for adventure.  

John introduces us the Japanese film crew he met at the Everest Base Camp.    We feel the relief of the Japanese when they find out Haines and his traveling partner, Rick Smith, made it to base camp on bicycles.  

The Japanese were there to set a high-altitude record for motorcycles, and were concerned the American duo had beat them to the punch.   Haines introduces us to tribal leaders in Mali, who were willing to share their food with kayakers traveling downriver. 

We understand their confusion at why someone would want to leave their rivers at home, and come travel a river in West Africa.   His descriptions are more than caricatures.   We meet the folks, see through their eyes and feel their lust for life.   

We feel Haines’ pain and confusion, when he steps off a train in the Czech Republic , and wakes up a quadriplegic in a hospital.   Haines talks about his struggles adapting to his new reality.  

And then, Haines describes his post-accident work giving the poor a hand-up through his work through Mercy Corps.    All the while, we come to understand that Haines’ life well-lived was a natural consequence of his youth and ties to Laramie, Wyoming.  

Haines’ work is an inspiring, sometimes bittersweet tale of a life of adventure, and the consequences, good and bad, of his choices.  

I found myself wondering what-if I had Haines’ courage, what if I could cut off my golden handcuffs and truly experience life, what if I had the spirit of adventure to take those risks myself.  Haines details a lust for living every minute – a lust that ties back to a life in Laramie.

Never Leaving Laramie can be found at OSU Press http://osupress.oregonstate.edu/book/never-leaving-laramie , Amazon.com and at other major booksellers, or ordered from your local bookstore.

Tom Lubnau II is a recovering politician and former Speaker of the House who practices law in Gillette, Wyoming.

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Tom Lubnau: Wyoming’s Savings Are Nearly Gone; Get Prepared For Serious Changes

in Column/Tom Lubnau
6002

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By Tom Lubnau, guest columnist

I fought fire for the Campbell County Fire Department for 21 years.   While there, we developed a saying: “When perception meets reality, reality always wins.”  

Wyoming finds itself at those crossroads. 

For a generation, we have been the most conservative socialist state in the nation.  We have lived off of the tax dollars paid by other people.  We have developed Cadillac tastes while paying for a bicycle. 

According to the Wyoming Division of Economic analysis, on average, a family of 3 pays $3,180 in taxes while receiving $27,050 in government services. 

The rest of the government expenditures were paid by utility consumers from other states using Wyoming minerals. 

The market has shifted away from Wyoming minerals to other energy sources.  Whether those choices are wise or not does not matter.   Fewer folks are buying our minerals.  

As a result, we in Wyoming have a choice:  pay for the services we receive, or cut those services.   The potential amount of those cuts is staggering:  $1.5 billion dollars per biennium – or about $3,000 for every man, woman and child in the state. 

The governor has started to make cuts required by our Wyoming Constitution, because our income is far below our budget. 

Given our voters’ distaste for new taxes, be prepared for new cuts.  At this stage, dollars cut equal people cut.  

We should be prepared for unemployed contractors due to no new construction, cuts to education meaning educator layoffs, cuts to city and county budgets meaning cuts to law enforcement and emergency services, and cuts to maintenance budgets meaning less snow removal and more potholes.   

It also means less help for our elderly and our children. For six years, we have been balancing our budget with savings.   Our savings is nearly gone.  

We need to be prepared to change our Cadillac tastes to bicycle tastes, to tax ourselves some more or look to a combination of both.  

The reality is we are spending way beyond what we are now collecting in taxes.  No amount of magical thinking changes that reality.  

We need to be prepared to face the consequences of our choices.   Wherever our Legislature chooses to guide us, our lives will be vastly different.  

The Governor’s recent cuts are a minor scratch on the surface.  Be prepared for some serious changes.  The corollary to “when perception meets reality, reality always wins” is that when perception meets reality, it usually hurts.

Tom Lubnau II is a recovering politician and former Speaker of the House who practices law in Gillette, Wyoming.

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Von Flatern Gets Enzi Endorsement in Hotly-Contested Primary Race

in News/politics
5789

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Incumbent State Sen. Michael Von Flatern, R-Gillette, brought out the big guns on Monday with an endorsement from U.S. Sen. Mike Enzi.

The senior senator from Wyoming endorsed Van Flatern in a video posted on the state senator’s Facebook page.

This is notable because higher-level elected officials in Wyoming (past and present) rarely get involved in primaries at the state level. Exceptions this year would be former U.S. Senator Alan Simpson endorsing Ember Oakley in her bid for House District 55 and Gov. Mark Gordon’s condemnation of State Sen. Anthony Bouchard’s mailers which he said smears opponent Erin Johnson.

Sitting down on a porch, Enzi thanked Von Flatern for championing roadwork construction across the state.

“Diane and I travel Wyoming roads every weekend. And we’re always thankful for the passing lanes that Michael Von Flatern got in place to make travel across Wyoming better and to encourage more tourists,” Enzi said.

Former House Speaker Tom Lubnau has also been vocal about Von Flatern’s legislative work for road construction across Wyoming.

“There used to be bumper stickers that said, ‘Live dangerously, drive Highway 59.’ Now we have a four-lane highway from Gillette to the Bishop Road largely because of Michael’s efforts in the Wyoming Senate,” Lubnau said in a Facebook video.

The former speaker went on to list a number of Wyoming road projects that he attributed to Von Flatern’s efforts.

Von Flatern is in a heated primary against neighbor Troy McKeown. McKeown has claimed that Von Flatern is not conservative enough.

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

in Column/Bill Sniffin
2609

By Bill Sniffin, Cowboy State Daily

An old joke about the weather:

         “My feet are cold.”

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

         “I tried that.”

         “Did you get the brick hot?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sound off: Converse County leads state’s boom

in Economic development/Column/Business/Bill Sniffin
Sound off Wyoming's local economies
1816

Other counties report good news, too

By Bill Sniffin, Cowboy State Daily

Of Wyoming’s 23 counties, why is Converse County leading the way economically?

The county boasts an unemployment rate of 3.2 percent, the fourth-lowest rate in the state behind Teton, Crook and Weston counties. It is in the midst of an energy boom bringing new workers to the area. Who better than the local newspaper publisher to explain what it happening in Douglas, Glenrock and Converse County?  

Douglas Budget Publisher Matt Adelman says:

“Converse County is at the apex of a massive oil and gas exploration boom that appears to be just the tip of the proverbial iceberg.

“While we have huge amounts of exploration and development activity underway already, indications are the next few years will see an even bigger explosion of development as more wells are drilled – as many as 17,000 by some estimates based on those permitted. Those wells in the permit pipeline and the 5,000 wells being proposed are the subject of an environmental impact statement that is nearing its conclusion – and many more come into their own.”

Adelman says that all this oil and gas activity eclipses other energy-related activity.

“The Cedar Springs (phase 1) wind farm is beginning work this year, and phases II and III are already well into becoming realities concurrently and consecutively with phase I.

“Rocky Mountain Power’s multi-billion dollar Gateway West transmission line project is underway, with its starting point outside of Glenrock, and those and other wind farms will tie into that and other lines.”

Adelman notes that even though the coal industry has been hit with declines in demand and production, the industry — along with the railroads — is still responsible for most of the long-term energy employment in the area.

He sees development of other energy sources causing the Converse County economy to soar in a short time span.

“Of course, such a surge in growth – with employment spikes, drastically falling unemployment and the accompanying shortage of housing – is not without its struggles, but it is certainly a welcomed relief from the 2016-2018 crash in oil and gas prices and near-standstill in new exploration here,” Adelman concludes.

Converse County Bank President Tom Saunders echoes:

“Those of us that have lived through energy economic cycles remember how quickly the spigot can turn off when commodity prices fall out of bed and the workers spools their rags overnight and head back to Houston.

“When dealing with fossil fuel economies, 12-month budgets are considered long-range planning. Oil and gas economies are good until they’re not. The best cross on an Angus cow is a Lufkin pump.

“Our growth seems manageable at the present time, but the seams on our jeans are starting to get stretched tight. Any help in adding lanes to State Highway 59 would be welcomed. Those of us in energy counties understand the importance of mineral taxes paid in to the State’s coffers, as well as the strains our cities and towns undergo to meet the needs and costs of their development and production… we hope all our citizens of our wonderful State understand as well.”

The situation is different in Fremont County, where the unemployment rate in June was 4.7 percent, the highest in the state.

But in Fremont County’s seat of Lander, business owner Joe Quiroz said he sees opportunities ahead:

“I think we’re holding and have potential for growth. Last week in Jackson, three people asked me quietly and seriously about life in Lander. In fact, they’re all prosperous people who earn and spend, and are tired of the glitz and glam of a ski town.

“And the traffic. But they also need fast connectivity and transportation by a reliable air carrier. 

“I’m encouraged by the arrival in Lander of an interventional cardiologist and a vascular surgeon. These are people who will draw patients from around the state. Our future is not going to be based on employment of a large skilled workforce, but of small operators working in a knowledge based economy. 

“Lander has physical advantages that many places in Wyoming do not have. The sense of community is paramount. My wife Andrea runs a global enterprise from Lander, a place that will be our base camp as long as we are able to live here. We may have an apartment in London or Paris, but Lander is home.” 

Albany County is keeping steady with the University of Wyoming as a stabilizing anchor:

“The Laramie area economy is holding on, which is about all it ever does,” says John Waggener, an archivist for the American Heritage Center. “The tax base here is low due to the fact the largest employer, UW, is a public entity.”

UW historian Phil Roberts says:

“Hard to read the Laramie economy without reference to UW and, so far, I detect a ‘wait-and-see’ feeling about the interim and forthcoming new leadership. The mystery on departure of Laurie Nichols still spawns rumors. We’ll see in the next few weeks what the new semester holds.” 

Up on the eastern slope of the Big Horns, things are green and growing, according to retired community leader and former state Rep. Doug Osborn:

“I feel like the Sheridan-Buffalo area is doing well. The towns are clean and well kept, people seem generally happy and there seems to be building going on throughout.”

Retired Buffalo Bulletin Publisher Jim Hicks largely agrees, although he acknowledges the difficulty posed by the deterioration of coal-bed methane in the region:

“I believe Buffalo is holding its own economic issues.  The area has seen a sharp decline in Coalbed Methane activities and a lot of those jobs and supporting industries have gone away. Buffalo expects to see some negative spin-off from the decline of coal production, but that should be minor.  Tourism is up this year and cattle prices remain at a level to keep at least a small smile on the faces of ranchers.”

Pat Henderson, executive director for Whitney Benefits in Sheridan, describes his town:

“Our Sheridan area is doing very, very well.  Tax receipts are up.  Housing prices continue to increase. Lots of people moving here.  California, Texas and Colorado. We have diversified a lot with our economy. 

“One big dark cloud is Cloud Peak mine operating up north of here in Montana. Most of the employees live in Sheridan County. Very good wages but great uncertainty with them staying open. Going through bankruptcy currently and looking for a bidder.  If this mine closes, it will be a considerable loss.  Need to pray for them and their families.”

Gillette attorney Tom Lubnau II, a former Speaker of the Wyoming House, remarked on oil’s temporary ability to mask the struggles of the Powder River Basin’s coal economy:

“I live in Gillette.   The economy is average to below average.   Oil is covering for the slump in coal, for awhile.”

Up in Park County, things are plugging along:

Powell real estate agent Dave Reetz says, “Our area is holding its own in my opinion.”

Powell Tribune Publisher Toby Bonner added:

“I would say our economy here in Powell has been holding its own… but unfortunately we’re beginning to see a downturn due to closings of key retail stores like Shopko and others. Amazon and other e-commerce have really hit our Main Street hard. Closings of these retail stores locally have really put a damper on retail advertising in the Powell Tribune as well. We have more doctors, dentists, legal and insurance offices now than retail.”

Snuggled up against the Idaho border, Lincoln County’s Star Valley is benefitting from spill over of the robust tourism economy in Teton County plus agriculture and agribusiness operations.

“The Star Valley area is doing well economically, says Sarah Hale, editor of the Star Valley Independent in Afton.

Up in Newcastle, Newcastle News Letter Journal Editor Alexis Barker says:

“Economically I think we are holding fairly steady, we have had low unemployment rates, a recent increase in our valuation and increases in our taxable sales. I wouldn’t say that these increases necessarily make us above average but are definitely making Newcastle not have to struggle as much as we have in the past. We are also looking at an increase in new businesses in the area with a new grocery store being built, a new travel center (truck stop) and a new private practice (doctor’s office) opening locally.” 

John Davis, a retired Worland attorney and author, says:

“We are below average. Worland has not recovered from the oil slowdown of a few years back, when all activity in the oil field slowed.  Especially ruinous was the closing of the Worland Schlumberger office.”

Cheyenne attorney Jack Speight says:

“Economy is very good here in Cheyenne thanks the government, Walmart distribution plant, and the other warehouse giants on the east and west side of town. You can’t forget F.E. Warren Air Force Base, which is huge boost to the economy and to the volunteer base for Frontier Days.”

Tom Satterfield, a retired member of the Wyoming Board of Equalization in Cheyenne, says:

“Cheyenne is doing above average thanks to the college, the air force base, good medical hospital and being the center of Wyoming government all contribute. The new renovation of the Herschler/Capitol complex was a big factor for the last four of five years.  Good little theater and a great symphony orchestra as well as a very active arts group and a fine Civic Center add to the enjoyment of every one. Also a very active economic organization LEADS are all factors making Cheyenne an enjoyable place to live.

But the former director of one of the state’s most visible business advocates is glum:

“I think the state is in serious trouble given future spending obligations and current revenue streams. Tourism is fine; coal–a transitional mainstay– is getting hammered,” says Bill Schilling. 

Former Sweetwater County Commissioner Paula Wonnacott says:

“I think our economy is OK. But, there are uncertainties and I think everyone is worried. There are numerous homes for sale.”

Miners face uncertainty of changing coal markets

in Energy/News
1662

Miners left without jobs with the closure of two of Campbell County’s biggest coal mines are facing a changing reality in the nature of the coal industry, Gillette residents agree.

Residents said although the coal industry has traditionally been a stable source of income and employment, the dropping demand for coal has changed that.

“The coal jobs have historically been the stable jobs,” said Alison Gee, a Gillette attorney. “Now we’re shifting to an environment where we have to look to oil and gas to try and provide some of the stability for our families. And as you know, the oil and gas markets just aren’t that way. They’re very volatile because of the world economy.”

About 600 miners lost their jobs several weeks ago when Blackjewel closed the Belle Ayre and Eagle Butte mines. Efforts are being made to secure funding to return the mines to operation.

If those efforts fail, many of those who lost their jobs will probably leave the community, predicted Ken Anthony, a retired miner.

“You’ve got two to three kids at home and you’ve got a big old house payment and car payment and all of a sudden that stops,” he said. “It’s pretty scary. When they lose their jobs, it really makes a big effect on the whole county. If they can get the money and re-open (the mines), it will be fine. If they can’t, more than likely, most of (the miners) will leave.”

Gee noted that while some companies are offering jobs to Blackjewel’s former miners, most do not have the resources to offer the same level of salaries or benefits.

Tom Lubnau, a former speaker for Wyoming’s House of Representatives, said the mine closures show the state needs to work to offset the diminishing demand for coal.

“We have to, in some way, take control of our own destiny,” he said. “If we can boost the market in a certain way, develop the technologies that we need to use to market our resources, then we should do that.”

In the meantime, Gillette’s residents are doing what they can to ease the burden on the unemployed miners, said Trey McConnell, manager at the Railyard Restaurant.

“The people here, in bad times they bond together, they help one another out,” he said. “It’s one of these areas where you can kind of rely on your brothers and sisters. It’s just a very tight-knit community.”

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