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1939 - That old twisted tree and breast cancer

  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 upward. 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 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 - 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 it 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.

  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 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 one 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 strong. 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.

 

* * *

 

How many old-timers are there in Wyoming these days?

When I wrote a column some 18 months ago about the oldest people in Wyoming, we had folks ranging from 104 to 107 all over the state.

Most of those really, really old pioneers have since passed away. Not sure there any really old ones around any more.

Today, we are not sure if there is anyone over 105. If you know of someone over 100, please let me know at bsniffin@wyoming.com.  I would like to include them in a future column.

 

 

 

1938.5 - 50 years aprt college freshmen

 

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 thrive.

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 ago.

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 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. 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 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 wedded 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.

1938 - Sinks and Loop Road are magnificent

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.

On a recent Sunday, there was plenty of fall colors as we headed for the mountains.

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 totally impressed 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.

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.

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.

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.

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. A two mile stretch of this road will be closed on weekdays in October for some road work. It is open on weekends.

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 (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.

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.

 

 

 

1937 - Wyoming`s next great museum in Dubois

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 project 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, which is designed to hold 150 military vehicles.

         But it is much more than a display of vehicles.

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

         He worked 32 years at a medical equipment company in Minneapolis and was CEO before retiring in 2017. The company was doing $6 billion in revenue per year. He had 28,000 employees working on life-saving devices for the human body, with a specialty 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 dream was to settle in Dubois and do some project to recognize the service of America’s veterans. 

         And boy, is this ever some project.

         Using Richardson Construction of Cheyenne as a general contractor, the project has hummed along on schedule.  And although 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.  They own more than 400 of the most pristine historical vehicles from World War II and other conflicts. He thinks he might only get 150 of them inside the walls. It is assumed to be the largest and best private collection in the world. 

         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,” he says.

         Dan 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.

         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 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 a 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. 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,” he said.

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, unlike anything west of the Smithsonian.  It will hold his $10 million collection of historical weapons, including a rifle fired at Custer’s Last Stand and a pistol used by General Pershing in World War I. The collection includes 270 Winchester rifles.  The vault has a safe door that would look just right at the national mint.

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 be 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. His other machines are in downtown Dubois, on his ranches, and stored in Salt Lake City. 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. 

Besides the main museum facility, the Starks built a large building just off Main Street in Dubois to hold many of their vehicles and to be a shop to keep them running.

Eight years ago, their first home in Dubois was an old homestead. More recently they have purchased a 250-head cattle ranch. 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 concluded.

 

 

1936 - Pain the neck and cancer scare - yikes!

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, ever since I herniated a disk.

Earlier this summer, I offered to help my wife Nancy move some heavy plants and, yowsir, something popped and I was in awful pain.

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 mid-September 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 the 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 cm, it needed a biopsy. What? Cancer? 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’ve got the best kind of cancer!”

Perry finished #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 manage 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.

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 surgery.

This time around, perhaps there may have been another reason for my neck pain. Our brilliant daughter Shelli Johnson (and she is brilliant – check out www.yourepiclife.com). She 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 4 0-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 have been suffering from it, too. I hate to admit that she is right on this.

Ether way, my neck is better (thank-you Doc) and I now hold my phone straight out in front of me.  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.