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1925 - No boring ideas on job development

Jobs, jobs, jobs.

       How do we provide enough jobs for the working people of Wyoming?

       A month ago in this space, I wrote about the state’s economy and how to create economic development. It spurred a variety of interesting comments from all over the state. Here are just a few:

       Retired Publisher Jim Hicks of Buffalo says: “Buffalo has spent thousands on Economic Development, but with almost no results.  

“Health care costs in Wyoming are a third higher than South Dakota.  This is probably due to the fact that those states developed regional health care systems.  It`s Sioux Falls, Pierre, and Rapid City.  The rest of the state is served with satellite facilities.   We have a lot of smaller hospitals that struggle to maintain surgical centers and specialty services that cause them to bleed red ink.”  

Attorney and former legislator Tom Lubnau of Gillette says:

“My theory on government workers is counter intuitive.   Wyoming taxes people from out of state in the form of mineral taxes, and then spreads the wealth around the state based on paying government workers.   Those government workers spend money in their local communities, and Wyoming realizes economic development via the multiplier effect.  

“Radically cutting government workers will have a dramatic ripple effect through the states economy of 3 to 8 times the government salaries, depending on which economic analysis of the multiplier effect one believes.   The Life Resource Center in Lander is a perfect example.   If one were deciding which government programs to keep and which ones to cut, the LRC would be the first on the chopping block.   But it cannot be closed for fear of the consequences to the Lander community.

       “So far, the Legislature has been able to kick the can down the road, but I’ve said in the past, in the battle between perception and reality, reality ultimately wins, and when it does, it usually hurts.”

       Cheyenne Attorney Larry Wolfe: “You hesitate to put your finger on the real problems: a unitary political view that stifles ideas and innovation; poor leadership of all our major institutions - Governor, Legislature, University; a belief that many people like Wyoming without more people and on the slightly decrepit side; the fact that we are price takers, not price makers, that our fate is determined by vast forces beyond our control; an agriculture economy that exists on federal largess; an economic and tax structure that expects others to pay our taxes and that resists all changes to a more updated model.”

       Central Wyoming College educator Louisa Hunkerstorm offers: “There is now a statewide attainment council determining strategy for meeting goals. Our people need to be more educated for Wyoming to grow or attract new businesses and for our economy to thrive in a bust-proof way. Those educated people will want to live in places that have amenities, which is why it`s also important to create livable communities that are beautiful and have lots of things to do. And we will need a new tax structure to support all of this; we can`t continue to rely on taxes from a single, dying industry to support our state.”

Parker Jackson of Mountain View offers his opinions:

       “The most important point is the size of Wyoming’s government. I have been told that we have the 2nd largest government footprint in the entire Western hemisphere-next to Cuba. One key difference is that Wyoming also has one of the largest sovereign wealth funds. We have $30 Billion in the bank. How much of that would it take to spark the economy if a portion of it were returned to the taxpayer?

       “What if we had robust trade schools and other specialized institutions of higher ed that could both compete with and complement UW, which has a stranglehold on higher education and therefore the labor market in Wyoming?”

       Former publisher Dave Simpson says: “Here in Cheyenne, from what I`ve seen over the last 13 years, we`re pretty much recession-proof. The only thing better than being a college town is being a state capital, with a military base thrown in, the railroad, warehouses attracted by the intersection of two interstates, and pretty effective economic development efforts. We’re also benefiting from the crazy Colorado Front Range growth.

“Folks move up here for the lower taxes and to get away from the horrible traffic on I-25. I have a neighbor with a cabin here, who lives in Denver. He says fighting the traffic almost makes it not worth coming up.”

1924 - Wyoming is full of odd sites and oddities

Wyoming is such an interesting place.  Even when you omit Yellowstone, Grand Teton Park, and Devils Tower Monument, the state is jammed with interesting sites to visit and sights to see.

      These places are both natural and man-made.

      Here is a partial list of some to be among the most interesting:

      The oldest house in the world is located five miles from  Medicine Bow.  It is the famous ‘dinosaur house,” made out of 100 million year old fossil bones from nearby Como Bluff. Many of the great dinosaur fossils on display around the world came from that area in the 1890s.

      Near my hometown of Lander is the famous Sinks of the Popo Agie River. The river goes into the side of the canyon and reappears a quarter mile downstream.  More water comes out than goes in, which indicates there are many other sinks in the surrounding area. A state park surrounds this amazing site.

      Periodic Spring near Afton is another of these remarkable water sites. Hot springs in Thermopolis, Saratoga, Jackson, Dubois, and Fort Washakie are oddities, in their own rights.

      West of Cody is the surprisingly stunning  Smith Mansion, an odd log building that is six stories high and, built like an Chinese pagoda. Its builder died creating it many years ago.

      Between Cheyenne and Laramie is the Ames Monument, celebrating two brothers who were instrumental is building the transcontinental railroad.  The huge pyramid is built near the highest point of the railroad line. It is 60 feet high and 60 feet square. It is easily accessible.

      In the same area along Interstate 80 is the towering statue of President Lincoln, It signifies the highest point of the Lincoln Highway, which was the first transcontinental road in the USA.

      Several amazing sites in Wyoming are not very accessible.

      Three of the most amazing are an arch, a mysterious rock ladder, and the odd boulders balanced on three tiny rocks.

      To see these, you better be rich or fit. I doubt if I will be able to see them in my lifetime, but I hope that you may.

      We have written before about the famous Blackwater Arch high in the wilderness west of Cody. At one time it was believed to be the largest arch in the world.

      Cody Photographer Dewey Vanderhoff showed me photos he took of the arch.  He calls it “Eagle’s Lair,” because the hole in the arch looks like a face of an eagle with a snake in its mouth.

      It was created by volcanic action, which makes it all the more amazing.

      This Blackwater area is also the site of the worst forest fire disaster in Wyoming history where 15 fire fighters were killed back in the 1930s.

Space aliens? There are huge rocks balanced on three little rocks in at least eight places deep in the Wind River Mountains.  I have seen photos of them and they are called “Dolmens.” Again, you need a guide to find them. It would take a very big forklift to create these oddities. And the fact there are last eight similar ones rule out an accidental creation by glaciers.

In the mountains around Thermopolis there is an odd round formation, which does not look naturally created by Mother Nature. Leading up to it is an old rock ladder, which has the appearance of being man-made, although it is eroded and very old. I have seen photos of it and it looks plausible to me. 

The Big Horn Medicine Wheel is a national site and well worth visiting high in the mountains above Lovell and Sheridan.

There are also various rock arrows around the state that seem to point to the Medicine Wheel including near Jeffrey City, Greybull, and Meeteetse.

Two places that seem to defy gravity are Gravity Hill on the Casper Mountain Road and the highway through Wind River Canyon between Shoshoni and Thermopolis.

Gravity Hill makes you think you are on the level but if you stop, your car will roll forward.

In Wind River Canyon you swear the river is flowing uphill as it flows north because the massive canyon walls are tilted at odd angles.

Just north of Rock Springs is the amazing Boar’s Tusk, which juts out of the desert floor. You can see it from 40 miles away.

Around it are the equally amazing Killpecker Sand Dunes. If you have not seen these places, you need to. There is also a spectacular petroglyph site there. You can also find hand holds carved into the soft rock where Native American women gripped while birthing their babies over the centuries.

The eclipse in August 2017 was a huge event for Wyoming. In little Shoshoni, there is an amazing park built by international eclipse enthusiasts, which commemorates that event.

The writing and symbols are literally out of this world. Worth a visit next time you pass through this crossroads town.

This is just a small smattering of sights and sites. People can send other oddities to bsniffin@wyoming.com. I intend to compile more in the near future. We have only scratched the surface here.

1923 - A trip to the midwest construction everywhere!

I grew up in the Midwest. It was in a tiny town. It was a town so small that both “resume speed” signs were on the same post, just on opposite sides.

         My wife called little Wadena, Iowa, a “peek and plumb town.” She says, “If you peeked around the corner, you were plumb out of town.”

         Readers of this column are used to reading about my road trips. This recent one covered 2,400 miles and six states at the end of May and early June.

         We left Wyoming in weather so bad on May 28 that we could not go through snowbound Laramie and had to take a longer detour through Casper, Douglas, and Wheatland. Cheyenne and Pine Bluffs had torrential downpours plus the threat of hail. Why does it hail so much in the Cheyenne area?

         While driving an 80mph speed limit highway on Interstate 80 near Ogallala in more rain, a diesel pickup blasted by us going 20 mph faster that we were going.  Yup. It was pulling a long horse trailer and was a member of that group of the fastest driving people in America. The trailer had a Wyoming license plate. It was a Wyoming cowboy or cowgirl driving a big pickup towing a huge horse trailer in a helluva hurry.  Nobody drives faster than these folks. And nobody puts on as many miles.

         There was lots of construction everywhere. The Wyoming Department of Transportation does a good job with warning signs and are busy all over our state.

The Iowa Dept. of Transportation is the worst though.  They had a section of Interstate 80 blocked down to one lane for 22 miles because of “construction.”  Traffic was so bad we were stopped several times. Semi-trailer truck drivers were going crazy trying to move up.

         When we finally got to the end of all that, there was just an Iowa DOT pickup with two guys slowly picking up all the barriers they had placed over those 22 miles.  Sure made a lot of bad impressions on a lot of out of state visitors.

         We were in Nancy’s hometown of Harlan, Iowa for their annual Relay for Life event for the fight against cancer.  We marched for Nancy’s kid sister, Tami Rueschenberg, who has lung cancer and brother-in-law, Lee Rasmussen, fighting lymphoma.

         Later, we buzzed up to northeast Iowa to “Driftless” country where the territory is full of big hills, deep valleys, canyons, and amazing landscapes.

         I had not heard of the term “Driftless,” but this apparently means a place skipped by the glaciers, thus leaving all these hills and valleys.  It is called Little Switzerland, which would seem to be a very odd nickname for any part of super flat Iowa.

         We met eight of my siblings for a nice get-together including Ron Sniffin from Cheyenne and Susan Kinneman of Riverton. We picnicked near Iowa’s first state park, Backbone.  This is a magical place originally called the Devil’s Backbone because of an odd rocky ridge that runs for about 12 miles above the prairie around it.

         The cemetery at our hometown of Wadena included another gathering as we visited my dad’s grave along with a passel of ancestors.

         It always amazed me to see so many single older Irish women and men, living back in the hills as spinsters and old bachelors. In the cemetery, we counted the multiple headstones of five such families, which just seemed crazy to me.        

         As young knuckleheads, we always called these old gals the “blessed virgins,” as they attended every church service and always claimed their assigned pews. Very little socializing among the different clans.

         Is this an Irish thing?  As I get older, this looks more like a mystery than ever to me.  Didn’t these folks have hormones firing in their bodies when they were in their late teens and early twenties? I plan to check this out during my next trip back there.

         On our way home, we took Interstate 90, which is a much quieter road than Interstate 80. 

I love to watch B-1 bombers take off and land near Ellsworth Air Force Base outside of Rapid City.  Wow, are they ever pretty machines. And yet so deadly.

Interstate 90 seems like it gets about 10 percent as much traffic as Interstate 80. You can go miles on end without even seeing a semi-trailer truck.

Always glad to be back in Wyoming. It is about as green as I have ever seen it. The farm country around Worland was especially pretty.

1922 - A bucket list for Wyoming in 2019

My wife Nancy hates one of my favorite phrases, where I talk about my “bucket list,” which lists things I want to do before I die.

         She prefers the term “fun list,” and quit referring to death. Ok, ok, so it is time again to do a fun list of things in Wyoming this year.  How does that sound?

         I have been writing these lists for awhile and am frankly amazed at both how many we have done but also however are still out there waiting to be experienced.

         This year I hope to visit Brush Creek Ranch near Saratoga, attend the annual Fr. DeSmet Catholic Mass outside of Daniel (it commemorates the first Catholic service ever done here in the Cowboy State), and really tour the far western and southwestern parts of Wyoming.

         This year I reached out some friends for their ideas. Here what I got:

         Former State Rep. Pete Illoway reminded folks of the grand opening July 10 of the newly refurbished State Capitol in Cheyenne. It will be a wonderful experience, he assures.

         Jim Stewart likes all Wyoming’s wonderful museums and gave a plug for his favorite, the Pioneer Museum in Lander, which hosts free Indian dances every Wednesday during the summer.

         Debbie Hammons, formerly of Worland, had a dream job of hosting Main Street Wyoming on the PBS station. Here is what she said:

“You never mentioned any of the fantastic re-enactment events that occur around the state. I love them because people from all over the state who are reenactors participate. It’s their hobby to be incredibly authentic. It’s so fun to watch them and hear their stories and answers to questions. 

“To mention a few: Fort Phil Kearney Days between Buffalo and Sheridan with frontier era encampment; Fort Caspar — not sure what they call their special days when the reenactors are there; Casper also has local history buffs who have developed characters and they take you on tours like the Sand Bar District; Fort Laramie may do it much of the summer; Pinedale has the Mountain Man Rendezvous; Labor Day has a huge Mountain Man gathering at Fort Bridger; and, of course, the Powwows on the Wind River Reservation. Oh, do not forget the Mormon handcarts at Muddy Gap and Sweetwater Station.”

         Retired teacher Barb Hunt of Lander does lots of traveling with her husband Gene. She says: “Last summer we tried to get to all the state parks that had a lake, and will be continuing on that, as it isn’t possible to spend time at so many places, in just one summer.

“But there are two things that were on my bucket list that are Lander-based, and we could suggest you think of those.  I always wanted to fly over the Wind River Mountains (highest in the state) in a small plane, and we found that Andy Gramlich does that at a reasonable cost.  

“We camped and backpacked in many of the areas but the look so different from the air.  I contacted Andy about the first of September and explained what we wanted, so he knew we needed good weather.  A couple weeks later he called and we got to see everything, ending with a pass over our house on the North Fork of the Popo Agie. Andy knows the area and we felt safe.

“The other thing on my list was a horse pack trip up in the mountains starting in the Dickinson park area, so that was with Jim Allen.  More expensive than the plane ride, but we had a wonderful week - they just dropped us off at our campsite and returned a week later to bring us back.

“Of course we had our backpacking gear so we were on our own.  They also will take you in and supply everything - Jesse Allen (former Miss Wyoming) took a group of yoga enthusiasts the day that we went out (with our wranglers and three packhorses) but they supplied everything for them and she was with them for their week.  I wanted to do that as a last good bye to the high country as I cannot backpack anymore.  We actually went to an area that was completely new to us, and saw very few other people there.”

John Davis of Worland wants to hang around the Oregon Trail this summer.  Just not sure where but “just hang around” and take it in, “ he concluded.

I hope to be his tour guide.

1921 - After living in the future, now is time for present

One of my memories that I like to share is the distinct thought dominating my brain during my high school graduation ceremony.  That thought was: “What is going to happen to me?”

         The speaker was telling us to look around at our classmates. He said we would never be together as a group again. He said several would die at a young age.  “You will be blessed if you live to a ripe old age.”

         That speaker was our Principal Paul Zurbriggen, one of my lifetime mentors. Tough, smart, and kind, he was a moral compass during my high school years.

         Lately I have been thinking a lot about his words.

         The answer to that big question is that now I know what happened to me over the ensuing 55 years.

I was one of the fortunate ones.  Our classmate Harlan Bilden was killed in Vietnam less than a year later. He was a short guy who loved life and would not hurt a flea. How he got into the service and over to Vietnam still baffles me.

         So, here I am, five and a half decades later, looking back on my life. And what a life it has been.

         So to wrap up my thoughts when I was sitting in that graduation ceremony in Elgin, Iowa, in 1964, I was always looking ahead. I have spent my adult life living in the future.

         Now that may have been a big fault. If you are constantly dreaming and scheming about the future, you often forget all the great things going on all around you.

         My kids say I was a good dad but my memories are dominated by all those days and nights away from home trying to make things happen and make money for our growing family.

         Our move to Wyoming in 1970 was the best move we ever made and we have stayed right here in Lander. We have had fantastic opportunities to move to magical places named Jackson Hole, Spearfish, Whitefish, Lake Tahoe, and even Maui.

         Wyoming has been our home and our home base. We have only wonderful memories and no regrets about our commitment to our town and our state. 

         During my business career, we bought businesses and started businesses from Europe to Hawaii. Things went our way most of the time as we planned and dreamed of new opportunities.

         Nancy and I started out with a personal financial statement that showed a negative $1,200 the first time I ever did one. My banker Bill Nightingale actually laughed at me when I asked for a $5,000 loan to buy into a newspaper opportunity in Cody in 1971.  We were blessed when my great friend Dave Moore from Iowa, talked his dad’s bank into loaning me the money. From there we never looked back.

         We rode the booms and busts of the Wyoming economy and around the region and around the world.  Always looking into the future, we also exercised good timing. 

         One of my favorite columns is called “the 20 things I learned in 50 years of business.”  Item number one is “timing.” By living in the future, most of our business decisions worked out. We had a few business clinkers, which were conveniently forgotten. Most decisions were successful.

         We sold most of our newspapers in 1999, which was too early but the price was right.  We sold our last newspaper (Winner, SD) on Jan. 1, 2008, which was about the last time prices were high for local newspapers.

         So enough about the future.  When you are in the fourth quarter of your life, or as I prefer the middle of the seventh inning, it is probably time to quit looking ahead so much. 

         Our 53-year marriage has produced four children with three sons-in-law and one daughter-in-law; 13 grandchildren; and two great-grandchildren.  We are truly blessed and it seems to me that our life’s work going forward might best be served by making sure we have a place in the lives of all these wonderful people.

         We also recently lost a dear RV friend, Gus Miller of Spokane, which probably was the true genesis of this column.  When someone your own age who looks healthier than you do, collapses and dies, well, then you take a long look into the mirror.

         And you quit worrying so much about the future. Today is what counts.

         Yesterday is a memory. Tomorrow is a dream. Today is a gift.