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1718 - Can`t get away from Wyoming

So there we were, enjoying Easter week in Dallas with our daughter and family.  Although we were a long way from Wyoming, headlines in the Dallas newspaper were asking questions about why Gov. Greg Abbott had hidden a horrible accident from constituents for almost a year.  This incident occurred in Wyoming last July.

         Gov. Abbott, who is wheelchair-bound, somehow scalded himself in the shower of a handicap room at an un-named hotel. The second and third degree burns were so serious, he needed to go to St. John’s Medical Center, where he was treated and released.

         This occurred at the exact same time when five Dallas police officers were murdered.  Gov. Abbott quickly boarded a plane and went back to Dallas and participated in all the necessary events, press conferences and services, never letting on that he was in excruciating pain. And no one knew about the incident until now.

         Guess I just cannot get away from news about Wyoming.

         While driving around Dallas, I followed a big fifth-wheel RV with the biggest name “Wyoming,” written on the side of it.

         I had not seen a Wyoming-named RV, which is made by a company called Coachman in Indiana.

         While walking through a check out stand at a grocery store in Dallas, the cover of OK Magazine screamed out the big news that Oscar-winning actress Sandra Bullock is moving to Wyoming!


         Apparently the movie star has had a $1.5 million home in Jackson for some years. It was pictured on the cover of the magazine. The house is somewhat modest for Teton County, which is the most expensive place to live in the country.

         The story continued that she was sick of Hollywood and wants to move to Jackson so her two kids could enjoy “a normal childhood.”

         They also mentioned rumors she intends to buy the Million-Dollar Cowboy Bar for $10 million.  Is it time for that famous watering hole to update its name?

         Some years ago, Ms. Bullock made headlines when her private jet slid off the runway at the Jackson Hole airport during a landing on New Year’s weekend.

         While watching CNN, there was former New York City Major Michael Bloomberg touting his book, which proclaimed all the environmental successes the country has enjoyed over the past ten years.

         He especially liked to boast that the use of coal for energy in the USA is down to 32 percent compared to 50 percent just four years ago.  “We’ve managed to close a lot of coal-fired plants,” he boasted.

         Again, some economic news that sure sounded like it had Wyoming written all over it.

         Nancy and I ended up in Myrtle Beach, S.C., with two other brothers and wives, watching my youngest brother Don show his movie short called Photo Bomb.  It was very funny.

         Don graduated from high school in Lander and is also a University of Wyoming graduate.

         Our trips involved flying out of Salt Lake City to Dallas and then on to Atlanta and then back to SLC. 

         On the way to Salt Lake, we stopped in Kemmerer to visit an old friend, Vince Tomassi.  Vince is a car dealer and former chairman of the Wyoming Aeronautics Commission. He was svelte, having lost 30 pounds.  He is one of the best chefs in Wyoming and how he could lose weight while preparing those amazing Italian dishes is amazing to me.

         We crossed the Green River between Farson and LaBarge and it sure was running high.  We heard that Flaming Gorge Dam, downstream on the Green, is emptying out water as fast as it can getting ready for the huge spring runoff from the Wind River Mountains.

         Snowpack is at record levels in our Wind River Mountains. Lander Mayor Del McOmie told me that we are going to have flood level waters and need to be prepared. Jack States, a local weather observer, said this year was an oddity in that the snow contains so much more moisture than normal.  This is bad news for flooding prospects. Often, snowpacks will be above average in the mountains but the snow, itself, will be fluffy and dry.

         Tip of the week: I have always used Apple iPhones and here is a plug for a Salt Lake based store called Bad Apple. They replaced the battery in my iPhone 6 for $40. I had been told it was going to cost $170 plus would involve breaking the screen.

1717 - A wacky tale about Miss Wyoming-World, 1977

There have been many weird stories and odd people during the 127 years of Wyoming’s history.  

         For example, there was the guy who parachuted onto the top of Devil’s Tower in 1941.

         Or the wild outdoorsman dubbed the Tarzan of the Tetons, Earl Durand, in 1939, who killed four pursuers until he was gunned down while robbing a Powell bank.

         But in 1977, Wyoming became notorious because of a former Miss Wyoming-World, Joyce McKinney, for her antics in kidnapping an LDS missionary in England.

         And a few years ago, she was back in the news again. This time as a film subject. 

         Her life has been so crazy that the country’s most famous documentary film maker Errol Morris featured her in a movie called Tabloid, which details how the British press covered these events. The documentary debuted at the prestigious Toronto Film Festival a few years ago.  McKinney subsequently sued Morris over the film.

Her story goes something like this.

         The vivacious and statuesque McKinney grows up in a small town in North Carolina and moves to Utah. She is awarded the title Miss Wyoming-World, the rights to which are controlled by a gal she meets in Salt Lake City. This is not to be confused with the legitimate Miss Wyoming contest, which features outstanding young women each year.

         After losing in the Miss World pageant in New York, McKinney stays in Utah and falls in love with a strapping young man named Kirk Anderson. She claimed he asked her to marry him.  

         Anderson is a member of the LDS faith and, probably because his family already discerned Joyce to be incident-prone, he starts a two-year religious mission to Great Britain.

         Joyce is stunned when she finds out that Kirk is gone. She moves to Los Angeles and does some acting to raise money to hire investigators to find Kirk.

         They discover he is in England, so she goes there to “rescue” him. He does not want to be rescued. She and accomplices kidnap him.

         This is where it gets off the wall.  

         The 6-5, 245-pound victim later escapes and tells British authorities he was kidnapped and raped.  Raped by a 112-pound woman.

         She is arrested, and the case goes to trial.

         And the British tabloids go berserk. 

         If you have ever seen British tabloid newspaper in action, well, it is awesome.  The National Enquirer is a piker compared to these publications for their raw excesses and flagrant sensationalist style.

         Thus, the basis of the Morris documentary. 

         It comes out during the trial that British law has no provision for “a woman committing rape on a man.” 

Joyce is a sensation during a bail hearing when she tells her colorful story to a rapt audience. Tabloids from one end of the country to the other headline her story but when the trial date arrives Joyce is gone. 

         Throughout all this news coverage, she is referred to as “Miss Wyoming,” despite the fact that she may have never stepped foot in the state in her life.

         The Associated Press published the following: “McKinney made headlines throughout the world in 1977 when she was accused of knocking Anderson out with chloroform, handcuffing him with fur-lined manacles to a bed in a remote cottage for three days and forcing him to be intimate with her.”

         Of course, Morris’ documentary received worldwide attention and “Miss Wyoming” was again used to describe McKinney.

         The website The Playlist offered its review of the documentary: “The film employs interviews with animated montages and archival footage, but the real star is the story itself. Intoxicatingly entertaining and outrageously wild, Hollywood`s top writers could never have dreamed up something like this. It`s certainly unlike any other documentary. The film ranks among Morris` best.”

The story does not end here.

Joyce McKinney was again notorious a few years ago when she surfaced in South Korea reportedly having her favorite dog, Booger, cloned, into five puppies.  Again, she was referred to in the tabloids as  “the former Miss Wyoming.”

And then finally, Internet news reports say she turned up 13 years ago in Tennessee accused of allegedly hiring a young man to burglarize a house to raise money to pay for an artificial leg for a three-legged horse. Incredible.

Certainly in our state’s history, a lot of people have done worse things but, based on these antics, she has to rank as one of our state’s most enduring nut cases during the last forty years.


1716 - Favorite Wyoming political stories

For a long time, the Riverton radio station KVOW was located in a small house along the Big Wind River.

         Unbeknownst to statewide politicians back in 1984, the radio station moved and the building was turned into a private residence.

         U. S. Rep. Dick Cheney was running for reelection and late for his radio interview.  He pulled up to the house and barged through the front door.  He totally surprised a woman who was vacuuming the floor. A baby was in a high chair. 

         Neither Cheney nor the woman knew quite what to say. Finally Dick asked, “Isn’t this the radio station? I am late for an interview.”

         The gal said,” No, they moved the station a few months ago.”

         “Oh,” replied Cheney, “sorry for the interruption.” And he started for the door.”

         “Wait,” the woman shouted. “Who are you?”

         Cheney replied: “I am Al Simpson and I am running for Senate. Sure would appreciate your vote.”

         I have heard versions of this by both Cheney and Simpson and it is my favorite Wyoming political story.

         Several friends from around the state recently sent me some of their favorite Wyoming political stories and I am going to print them at a later date. I would also appreciate readers of this column sending me their favorite stories, too.  Here are some more:

         Two years ago during the celebration of the state’s 125th anniversary at an event in Laramie, several such stories were told from the same podium.

         Milward Simpson was the director of the state’s Arts, Parks and Cultural Resources Department. He is the namesake of his grandfather, Milward Simpson, who served as governor and U. S. Senator back in the 1950s and 1960s.

         Young Milward wanted to share his grandpa’s favorite story.

         It might be appropriate to mention that the elder Simpson served in the Senate with another Wyoming senator named Gale McGee, who was a Democrat and a former professor at the University of Wyoming.

         As an extra note of interest, McGee is the subject for another in a series of excellent Wyoming political biographies by Laramie author Rodger McDaniel.  Rodger told me that doing his research has been a fun blast to the past as he explored all the crazy politics of the 1960s and 1970s. Back then, McGee was a powerful national Democratic U. S. Senator and an early supporter of the Vietnam War. McGee later had big regrets for that decision.   

         Back to Milward’s story.

         Milward comes from the ubiquitous Simpson political family. His dad is legendary UW professor and historian Pete Simpson and his uncle is retired U. S. Sen. Al Simpson.

         He said the elder Milward’s favorite story was about one time when a group of grade schoolers were asked why Wyoming was called the Equality State?

         The late Jacques “Jack” Sidi in Casper was a teacher and asked his students why Wyoming was called the Equality State? One little girl replied it was because “Wyoming has two female U. S. Senators, Mildred Simpson and Gail McGee!”

         Later in the conference Gov. Matt Mead told a story about his grandfather, former Governor and U. S. Senator Cliff Hansen.

         It seems that when Hansen was growing up in Jackson he had a horrible stutter.  As a young tyke, he was sent home from school with a note pinned to his chest saying he was “uneducable.”

         His frustrated parents shipped him by train to Indiana to a woman who had performed miracles with other stuttering children. She taught young Cliff to slow down his speech and wave his arms a certain way with every word he spoke.

         Mead then shared with the crowd some additional punch lines to that tale. He told about how Cliff, as a young cowboy, would be near the back of the herd of cows waving his arms and talking up a storm. He drove his fellow cowboys crazy.  Seems he never quit talking.

         The governor told the story that Cliff’s fellow cowboys often said: “Now we can’t shut him up.  Maybe he’s practicing to be governor?” That reportedly brought a big laugh there in the dusty herd.

         But Cliff did have lofty ambitions. He went on to become a county commissioner, a governor and a U. S. Senator.

         A sad ending to Mead’s story is that when Hansen was first elected governor he wanted that long-ago speech teacher to come to his inauguration.  She was killed in a car wreck on her way from Indiana to Cheyenne.


1715 - Being married for a long time part 2

My recent column about couples celebrating long marriages sure generated a lot of comments.  I thought these were wonderful.  Here goes:

My folks, who were married 45 years when my mom passed away, always said that ‘date nights’ were important.  Date nights didn’t include kids, just time away from home doing something they enjoyed together.  My mom always said ‘surprise’ date nights were the best,” recalled Leslie Blythe of Casper.    

Diana Schutte Dowling, formerly of Greybull, recalled that it helps to be raised by parents who also had a long marriage.  “My parents Art and Idell Schutte were married for 69 years. Before my mother died in 2005, I danced with my dad at our 50th. And he continued to dance until his death at age 96.”

Steve Mossbrook of Riverton says he and wife Sandy recently celebrated 44 years. He believes their secret is “a common world view and a focus on remaining friends as everything else is transitory.”

Judy Legerski of Lander says after reflecting with her husband Don on their 50 years of wedded bliss, the following seemed most important: “Patience, a sense of humor, shared laughter, a faith in God, mutual respect, sharing much but allowing each the ability to bloom in his/her own way, trust, open honest communication, and a willingness to do things for each other.”  

Dave Hanks of Rock Springs chimed in with his four main thoughts on how they have enjoyed 33 years of marriage:

         “Remember, no matter what the question the correct response is: yes dear  - that will be fine dear- whatever you say dear. This is a tactic some of us males learn quicker than others because in the end we know our loving wives will always do what is in our best interest.

         “Always remember there is only one person you ultimately answer to on this planet.

         “Your wife is the person you need to be the most concerned about and what she thinks is the most important, not my boss or family or friends (it’s all about her in a good way).

         “Think back to the time you were pursuing the girl of your dreams, remember all those romantic things you did? Well, make sure you still do them: hold hands, always say I love you and remember she is still the girl of your dreams. My motto is: I love you more today than yesterday but not as much as tomorrow.”

         Attorney and author John Davis and his wife will be celebrating their 50th this September in Worland.

Long-time Associated Press writer Joe McGowan says: “My parents married in Sheridan, moved a lot including my dad as editor of Northern Wyoming Daily News in Worland, editor of the Rock Springs Rocket, editor of the Wyoming-Utah Labor Journal in Cheyenne and owner/publisher, editor of the Green River Star.  They stayed married through the depression, good times and bad, until unfortunately my dad died of throat cancer, a result of a lifetime of smoking.”

Jean Mathisen Haugen of Lander recalled how “my folks were married 56 years at the time my father passed away and his parents and his mother`s parents were also married 50 years, at a time when that was unusual.  Since I didn`t marry until I was 51 and Ron was in ill health, we only had 8 years togetherbut it was worth every minute.  It`s nice to hear about couples that stay together.”

         Long-time journalist Dave Simpson, Cheyenne, said: We celebrated 32 years together yesterday. That`s 32 years in the second time we`ve been married to each other. Got divorced in 1976 after two years, but decided in 1985 we weren`t so bad after all and got back together. When we disagree, we say, ‘Well, we tried divorce and that didn`t work, so I guess we have to work this out.’ (In granting that divorce, Judge Vernon Bentley in Laramie said, ‘It wouldn`t surprise me if you two got back together.’ The judge was prescient.) Our rule: Don`t sweat the small stuff. And it`s just about all small stuff. Another rule: No separate checking accounts. Just one.”

         U.S. Sen. Mike Enzi and wife Diana have been married 47 years. Mike has a ritual he goes through every year on June 7, their anniversary. In Washington, D. C., the place is full of young people who are living together and postponing marriage.  Mike says he always picks out some young man and goes and has a fatherly talk with him about the benefits and wonders of being married. And “by golly, it’s time you married this young gal you have been going with for so long!”  He says it usually works.

         He also made the sobering observation: “It seems the more expensive the wedding; the less likely the marriage will work out.  Not sure why that is the case but it sure seems to happen that way a lot,” he concludes.



1714 - The Wyoming, biggest all-time wooden ship

In this world, there are big ships. And there are really, really big ships.

         To put the name Wyoming in the same sentence as “the biggest wooden ship ever built” just would not make sense to most residents of this state.

         But it is true.

         The largest wooden ship ever built was called the Wyoming and the centennial of that event occurred about five years ago.

         And as might be typical of anything Wyoming, that ship’s entire existence had a lot to do with coal. But not Powder River Basin coal, but eastern seaboard coal. But I digress.

         This giant ship was launched from Bath, Maine in 1909 and this monster was more than 450 feet long.  It was so gigantic, it would have a difficult time fitting into War Memorial Stadium at Laramie.

         This was one of two gigantic ships launched around that time from Bath with Wyoming names.  The first was the biggest at the time, called the Governor Brooks, named for Wyoming Gov. Bryant Butler Brooks.

         His family made a lot of money financing giant wooden ships that ferried huge cargoes of coal along the East Coast, among other business ventures. 

The Governor Brooks had five masts, which was unprecedented at the time in 1907.  But the Wyoming was much bigger with six masts and a size that was bigger than even the legendary Noah’s Ark.

         Hal Herron and Joe Stanbury of Riverton discovered these facts about the Wyoming during a motorcycle trip a few yeas ago, which took them to the Maine Maritime Museum near Bath

         While touring the museum there, they walked into a vast open field, which featured huge steel statues at each end.  These represented the prow and the stern of the biggest wooden boat, ever. The space was 150 yards long, which is one and a half times the length of a 100-yard long football field.

         Upon closer inspection,  Herron was astonished to read that the name of it was “The Wyoming.” The giant ship stretched out along that field between the representations of the prow and the stern of the giant vessel

         So who were these Brooks folks with the deep pockets and the love of shipbuilding and why the Wyoming connection?

         It was an extended family that dominated business in the Northeast.  One of the family’s sons headed west to follow his love of cowboying.  He ended up with a 100,000-acre ranch in the Casper area at Big Muddy, WY.  And he became Wyoming’s seventh governor.

         Thus, it was apparently a logical occurrence that ships reflecting this Cowboy State connection came into being.

         Every statistic concerning the Wyoming was huge.

         It was 50 feet wide and had a volume of 303,621 cubic feet. Unloaded, the ship weighed 6,000 tons.   She could carry 6,000 long tons of coal.

         It was built of six-inch yellow pine planking and there were 90 diagonal iron cross-bracings on each side. It stood four stories high before you even reached the masts, which stretched out another six stories.

         The ship was built in 1909 by the Percy and Small Co. and cost $175,000.

         The members of the Brooks family were smart businesspeople and later sold the ship in 1917 for $420,000. 

         Ultimately, it foundered in high seas near Nantucket in 1924 with all 13 hands drowning.

         Herron thought it would be nice to locate a huge Wyoming flag at the Bath site, which could be featured near the sculpture. The folks there did not receive this with great enthusiasm, so he worked with the Governor’s office to get a normal sized flag lined up for it.

         The 100th anniversary of the launch of the ship occured in on Dec. 15, 2009.

         I looked up some of this information on the Internet through Wikipedia under the heading: “Largest wooden ship in the world.”

         It shows the Wyoming as number-one followed by a 377-foot long French ship, which was destroyed in 1874, and a huge Roman barge built by Caligula. Another contender for largest ship was the Solano, a huge tug that hauled steam engines across San Francisco bay. 

         Wyoming is famous for many things – for our first national park, national monument and national forest and for its location of the Oregon Trail and even for our consistently high winds. Plus we are the energy breadbasket of the Western Hemisphere.

         But who would have thought that Wyoming would be famous as the namesake for the largest wooden ship in the world built way off in distant Maine?