Skip Ewing Gets to the Heart of Dubois

The famous song writer could live anywhere. He moved here.

What’s the force behind the magnet that draws people to Dubois and holds them here?

It’s no challenge to capture part of it:  the spectacular wilderness landscape. Photographers capture that all the time, and scenes from this valley are  all over Instagram. Another pull is the history, from the tectonic collisions to Indians and cowboys and Butch Cassidy, from mountain men to homesteaders and lumberjacks.

But there’s one special pull which is nearly impossible to describe. You have to feel it for yourself. Tourists responding to a survey last year said they liked the people, and called Dubois “friendly.” A hiking buddy told me that she retired to Dubois because the people here had grabbed her and held her close.

Skip Ewing, the country singer and songwriter, calls it the “heart.” He should know, because the heart is his business, and his passion.

Skip says he felt that tug most strongly in 2004, during his benefit concert for the new medical clinic. He decided to auction off a shirt that cowboy Ty Murray was wearing when he won a rodeo championship. Skip suggested that people in the audience might pool their bids and donate the shirt to the clinic, rather than one lucky bidder taking it home for bragging rights.

rodeo shirt
Ty Murray’s shirt
hanging in the clinic.

Together, for no personal reward, people gave away $5,000 for the shirt to benefit the community. It now hangs in a frame in the clinic.

“That gave me a sense for the kind of heart, the generosity of people here,” he said. “That’s the same kind of heart Dubois had when I first came here.”

“If we can be part of that heart,” he added, “I’m about that.”

So Skip and his partner, photographer Linda Gordon, have settled down in Dubois.   They’re in a position to live anywhere in the world they want to, Skip told me. And they’re here.

Skip doesn’t throw his credentials around (which wouldn’t gain him many fans here, anyway). But they’re impressive: Five of Skip Ewing’s country love songs have placed in the top 20s on the country-music charts. In 2000, he was named Songwriter of the year by Broadcast Music Incorporated (BMI), and he’s won the Country Music Association Triple Play Award for three number 1 songs within a year.

They’re the kind of love songs that somehow grab you where it hurts a bit, like “Love, Me” and “Little Houses.” (The announcers wouldn’t credit Skip, the songwriter, of course. They’d mention the singers, names like Kenny Rogers, Willie Nelson, Conway Twitty, Merle Haggard, Kenny Chesney, and Reba McIntyre. )

I ran into Skip and Linda at the Perch coffee shop sometime around Thanksgiving. He looked vaguely familiar, and I was puzzled to see him chatting with the locals as if he knew them (which he did). I felt I ought to recognize him, but I didn’t (it’s my failing to have a poor memory for faces as well as names). Someone introduced him as Skip Ewing and, city girl though I used to be, at least I recalled his name.

Probably about a decade ago, I had heard Skip at a concert in the back room at the Rustic Pine after one of his retreats for song-writers. But I had no idea that his was the creative mind behind some of the songs I liked best, after I began listening to country music on the radio.

The workshops (he called them “Horse and Writer” retreats) brought would-be songwriters to the Lazy L&B Ranch up East Fork, which he first visited when he wanted to give his five-year-old daughter a good place to ride horses. They went on for about a decade. I never saw Skip after that one concert, but he had been coming back to Dubois, whether there were retreats or not.

Skip Ewing and Linda Gordon

As the child in a military family and then a country singer, Skip Ewing has traveled widely. Quite a while ago, he sold his home in Nashville. He and Linda had multiple homes and were traveling a lot when Linda got a job offer that made them consider settling down somewhere.

They asked themselves whether that was what they really wanted. Skip had this dream that involved horses, which he isn’t ready to talk about yet. Eventually, they decided to settle here.

Grandson of a thoroughbred rancher, Skip learned to love horses as much as he loved country music. “The more time I spend on horses, he says, “the happier I am.” He hints that horses will have an important part in the next phase of his life’s work, but for the moment he intends to use his music to help the town.

Just after I ran into Skip and Linda at the Perch, they began shooting the first of five videos about Dubois that he has posted on Facebook. They are long, leisurely conversations with people in the town.

“This is Dubois, Wyoming, my home town now. I love it here,” he opens in the first one. “I love it here!”

From Skip’s first Dubois video

He was already booked for his early December Christmas concert at the Dennison Lodge, which attracted fans from as far away as Texas, Utah, Louisiana, and California. His goal seems to be not so much self-promotion as planting firm roots in this new ground.

Skip told me that, when he first visited Dubois, he knew he’d come to the right place almost as soon as the plane landed. This brought echoes of one my Skip Ewing favorites: “You Had Me From Hello.”

“… Your smile just captured me.
You were in my future far as I could see
And I don’t know how it happened but it happens still.
You ask me if I love you, if I always will.

Well, you had me from hello…”

© Lois Wingerson, 2019

You can see new entries of Living Dubois every week if you sign up at the top of the right column at www.livingdubois.com

Saturday Stalkers in the Snow

A happy morning exploring and pondering puzzles.

I chuckle inside whenever someone says: “Wyoming! How can you put up with those brutal winters?”

Sure, once in a while there are days when we really prefer to stay indoors. But often, like today, it’s clear, bright, windless, and we yearn to be outside. Wear the right layers, and you’re perfectly comfortable when you go out exploring. Soon you’ll shed the hat and gloves.

One of our favorite pastimes is pondering the puzzles that hint at stories in the snow. The image above is my trophy. Some friends gasp a little when I show it.

“You got a bird print!” You can clearly see the marks of the wings. Is that a head and a beak at the center? And if so, why did it come down sideways?

This isn’t as prized, however, as an imprint of a bird nose-diving into the snow to catch its prey.

What happened here? The tracks at the right went nonchalantly past, either before or after the bird alit. But a few yards away, on the other side of those willows at the upper left, I found clear signs of a scuffle. Alas, the dog tramped all over them before I got there, so I was never able to decipher what kind of creature this bird might have stalked and then caught.

That was a while ago.

On a day like today, how could I resist when a friend texted with an invitation to join her and two other women on a snowshoe trek? We arrived to find the surface clean and newly groomed by the volunteers with DART.

I was glad for sunglasses. The sunshine was almost painfully brilliant. Not a cloud in the sky.

Squirrels chattered overhead, and we could see their tiny tracks everywhere, crossing and recrossing the trail. I recognize the rabbit tracks in my driveway, but in the woods, in general, I don’t know what I’m looking at.

Unlike my friends, I’ve not yet joined an excursion with naturalist Bruce S. Thompson, who can read the animal tracks like a book. He’s the founder of an invitation-only Facebook page, Togwotee Trackers Exchange, where members pursue what he calls “foot-writing analysis” based on images of what they have seen on the ground.

We’re just discussing the shapes of tracks when K turns and points her pole at these strange hourglass-shaped traces of a passerby. “Snowshoe hare,” says K_, who has been practicing this for a while.

“Right,” says A_. “Not a weasel. They’re shaped more like a dumbbell.”

“I wonder why they call them snowshoe hares,” I say, looking down at my own boots clamped into cumbersome contraptions.

“Perhaps because they can walk across the top of the snow,” says A_, who is an amateur naturalist in her own right. “Or maybe because their feet stay white all summer.”

The conversation drifts to tales of other creatures we have seen while trekking in the winter. Meanwhile we peruse the field of white for other signs of life gone by. Someone mentions a sage grouse. “In the winter?” I ask.

“Come back this way!” K_ calls out, and we trudge back up a slope. “What’s this?”

There you see it, at the far left next to the shadow of a branch. Something has landed in a splotch, and then headed off to the right. The tracks are three-toed, and slender.

“Good for you!” says A_. “I think that must be a grouse.”

She turns around, and we can follow the traces on the other side of our own trail, up the slope and off toward the cliff and the fabulous long vista over the valley, which is carpeted in pines and blanketed with snow.

K_ leans over and grabs a shot with her IPhone. No doubt she will post it on Bruce’s invitation-only Facebook group, where we share puzzling and amusing tracks and debate what they might be portraying–or just document what we ran across.

“Why did the chicken cross the road?” drawls A_. “To take a look at the view.”

Many yards later, after navigating over several downed trees, we stop for a long chat with our Forest Service rep L_ (who’s out on Nordic skis on Saturday checking the trails, government shutdown or not). A_ recalls the time that she was out with another group on a day just like this, also standing around, yakking.

Suddenly, in the middle of their circle, a weasel pops up out of the snow. It looks around amazed, left, then right, and pops right back down again.

As we near the highway and the parking lot, K_ calls out again, “Come back!” She points with her pole to something beside the trail.

“Oh my gosh,” says A_. “I think that’s a weasel. What else could it be?”

K_ whips a small measuring tape from her pocket, spins it out beside the track, drops her glove next to it for perspective, and takes another shot with the IPhone.

Another post for Bruce, no doubt.

But then A_ calls us to turn around. “There’s the hole back to his burrow,” she says. “And this is on a cattle guard. Perfect.”

It’s the dark image in the center of the picture below. The slots in the cattle guard, now buried in snow, offer easy access downward for a small, slender critter.

Beneath our feet, A_ says, lies a world we cannot see. It’s called the subnivean zone, an open layer between the surface of the ground and the underside of the snowpack. In that vast chamber, beneath that roof, small animals like voles and mice live out the winter protected from the cold, from predators, and from noisy interlopers like us who crunch deafeningly overhead on snowshoes. (Who knew?)

We trudge back to the car. Two and a half hours. Maybe a mile and a half. Who bothered to click that app on their Apple watch? Who cares? (We stopped a lot.) We’re pleasantly tired and happily edified. Lots of vitamin D through our faces. Clean, fresh air in and out our lungs.

Back in the day, back in the city, I might be sitting in a bistro on a beautiful Saturday like this, lazily downing eggs florentine and a mimosa, talking nonsense.

That never gave me this kind of buzz.

© Lois Wingerson, 2019

You can see new entries of Living Dubois every week if you sign up at the top of the right column at www.livingdubois.com



Dubois Enters a New Year, and a New Era

As our national government writes, Dubois passes the mantle.

The first business day of 2019 dawned bright and clear, with one of those impossibly blue skies above the blinding white of the snow. The cold snap has eased. We headed into town for the investiture of Dubois’ new mayor, John Meyer.

As our national government writhes in conflict and dysfunction, how does little Dubois handle such a solemn occasion? I was curious what would transpire, as the mantle passed from the mayor of eight years’ tenure, Twila Blakeman, to a man who served a brief stint as a substitute in the Town Council a while ago, but who has kept a modest profile in town until he stood for the recent election.

After two terms in office, the former Mayor didn’t take an active role in last fall’s mayoral campaign, intending (she told me) to leave the outcome in God’s hands.

God and the town citizens had chosen. When we arrived at Town Council chambers, Twila stood cheerily at the side, waiting to call the proceedings to order.

Only about two dozen people were in attendance, including two newly re-elected Council members (Pat Neveaux and Bruce John Thompson) who also needed swearing in, and a handful John’s friends from out of town. The incumbent opened the meeting promptly at 10 AM, ready to swear in the new Mayor and give him the keys to the town.

John Meyer, looking entirely the role of a Western small-town mayor in a black vest and white shirt, stood up to read the pledge of office, which mostly attests that he didn’t engage in any dirty shenanigans during his campaign.

There was a smattering of applause as he signed it, and John reached over to embrace Twila. Then he reminded her that she still needed to hand him the keys to the town. Everyone chuckled, and she did.

Next the new Mayor swore in the two re-elected Council members. One was wearing jeans, the other a Volunteer Fire Department sweatshirt. Councilman Thompson raised his hand and began to read the statement. He stumbled over a few of the words.

“I forgot my glasses,” he said quietly. Mayor Meyer handed him his own, and we chuckled again.

Thompson handed the glasses back, signed the document, and that was it. “I just want to say thanks, that I appreciate your support and that I look forward to serving the town,” said the new Mayor. “There you have it.”

What changes will this bring? I have heard many people speculate. John, always amiable, has been silent on the question, except to repeat his campaign pledge to work for economic diversity.

Mostly, as far as I can see, he has been listening: Attending Town Council meetings, cosponsoring a Town Hall meeting at the Library with our representative to the State legislature, holding private meetings with Mayor Blakeman to learn the many details that are involved in running even a town with a population of a mere 1,000.

During the past eight years, among many other routine activities, Mayor Blakeman has arranged the EPA cleanup of a brownfield site on the location of the former sawmill, which has been converted to a new town park; the erection of a Veterans Memorial, achieved using only local funding; the repaving and restoration of water lines beneath several streets; and the repair of a bridge with a $240,000 grant from the state government.

What new ideas will the new Mayor present to Dubois? And how will he fare in trying to accomplish them? Eagerly, calmly, and in solid civic order, we await the coming year.

©Lois Wingerson, 2019

You can see new entries of Living Dubois every week if you sign up at the top of the right column at www.livingdubois.com.

Escape from the Jingle Bells

The strolling tourists depart. Town is quiet, the summer houses are dark and empty, and the Thanksgiving turkey is all gone. Nighttime sets in during late afternoon.

I resign myself to the thought that the slow, sleepy period has begun. Then, with surprising speed, another busy season is upon us.

Back East in the city, it arrived like an invasive weed. At some point,  and far too soon, I’d be aware of background music with the sound of jingle bells. Before long, it was everywhere on the shopping streets. The sound made me literally agoraphobic: afraid of the market. Shoppers seemed stressed out. Carols intended to make me reverent made me want to flee.

The holidays are also busy in Dubois, but with a notably different feel. This is, after all, a town of 1,000 permanent residents with a reputation for friendliness, and about 50 nonprofit organizations, many of them devoted to charity.

My first sound of the season this year was the barely perceptible strain of classical background music in the Opportunity Shop (which raises many thousands of dollars each year, all of it given back to the community).

“Oh, yes,” I thought. “Christmas is coming.” And then quickly forgot about it.

Songwriter Skip Ewing, who used to hold workshops here and moved to town last spring, took it upon himself to open the season formally with a concert in the Dennison Lodge on December 1.

I wasn’t in the spirit at all when I bought tickets–not to celebrate the season, but to listen to Skip.

The Dennison was decked out for the event, and was packed for both performances. Here, we are waiting for him to start the first one.

Skip began by saying that he had brought us there to get us into the Christmas spirit, and warned that eventually, like it or not, we would all be singing too. After a long series of his county favorites (some of them top of the charts in their day), he segued into his new holiday songs — some silly, some sentimental, others solemn.

“In the meadow we can build a snowman,” he croons,
“and pretend he’s Santa bringing toys.
When he asks us ‘Are you naughty?’ we’ll say No, man,
’cause everybody’s nice here in Dubois.”

His last was “Silent Night.” Skip began simply and quietly, and sure enough some of us began to sing along. Gradually his voice grew softer and ours louder, until all that came through the microphone was the sound of his guitar. Then that fell away too, leaving nothing but our voices–and the spirit.

It’s the season of open houses now, at the bank, the phone company, the museums and the community centers. There’s no need to go far to find Christmas cookies.

People don’t speak of being stressed out by the shopping. We can gift shop online, of course, and the FedEx and UPS guys are visibly busy. We can find Western-themed gifts at Olsen’s, or a handmade item at the Christmas extravaganza in the Headwaters or at Anita’s shop, Wyoming Wool Works. Or we can treasure-hunt at the Opportunity Shop, which is actually fun.

The other day I sat on a stool in Superfoods wearing a silly elf’s hat and now and again ringing a little bell. At that very moment, some unlucky folks were certainly standing in front of Bed, Bath, and Beyond next door to my former office building in Manhattan, ringing their bells without a pause. In that context, it was another irritating noise of the season.

Just one particle in a floodstream of pedestrians, I used to pass by without paying them any attention at all. They rang like automatons, and looked cold and miserable. I didn’t know them or the people they helped. I supported other causes.

Superfoods graciously allows us to sit indoors next to the shopping carts. Most of the Salvation Army bell-ringers here are volunteers affiliated with other nonprofits.

This year I’m ringing on behalf of the Dubois Museum. Shoppers pass me one by one as they enter the store. I greet them all, and many are personal friends.

About half of the people drop something into the bucket on their way out, and now and again a rather large bill. I love their generosity. Almost everyone greets me again upon leaving the store. A few apologize for not contributing, or say they donated last time.  The sum of donations seems to increase every year.

As the sign beside me says, all the funds remain in Dubois. I know the person who runs Salvation Army here, and I have met some of the people that it quietly helps: Cross-country backpackers who have had a turn of bad luck in this remote location. Travelers stranded after a breakdown without enough funds for a motel. Impoverished old folks without the skills to navigate the social networks.

My favorite part of this gig, other than the obvious charitable benefit, is watching the banter and chatter that goes on in Superfoods.

“The way you mumble and with my hearing problem, we could probably start World War III,” jokes one guy.

“Let’s leave that to the oligarchs,” says the other.

Fortunately, the oligarchs are very far away. What we have is peace on this small part of the earth, and plenty of good will to go around.

© Lois Wingerson, 2018

You can see new entries of Living Dubois every week if you sign up at the top of the right column at www.livingdubois.com.


The Appalling Case of the Diligent Scout Master

Joe has no idea who reported him. It’s difficult to imagine anyone in town doing that. More than likely, some well-meaning visitor to the campground saw the empty kayaks floating downstream, and called 911.

As everyone in town knows (who has not been comatose, away all summer, or boycotting Facebook) that incident led the Boy Scouts of America to suspend our long-time Scoutmaster, Joe Brandl. The BSA has now denied his appeal.

It was a routine outing last May, a typical outdoors training exercise for the troop that Joe headed for many years. The Wind River was predictably high with the late-spring runoff of snowmelt, and some of the boys were tipped from their kayaks.

None of the scouts was hurt or even (in the other sense of the word) upset. This had happened before, and was hardly unexpected. Thanks to Joe’s guidance, they already knew what to do. In fact, they probably saw it as an ordinary part of the training.

But the Sheriff and the volunteer fire department showed up, and somehow the BSA got wind of it. Although the local Sheriff closed the case without further action, the Wyoming State Council decided that Joe’s outdoor activities were “reckless and endangering.” He was suspended with a threat of dismissal, which has now been carried out.

Nearly everyone here likes Joe Brandl, who exemplifies the characteristics most of us admire and hope to emulate: Courage, good sense, good humor, open-mindedness, honesty, selflessness, an industrious temperament and an independent spirit.

He delights us with his imaginative Facebook page, updated at least daily. Sometimes he dresses up and poses as a Mountain Man, a homesteader, or an English gentleman. Next he shows us the buffalo moccasins or rawhide neckties he is making (he’s a tanner by trade), or he posts a quote by a philosopher with an image of the mountains. It’s worth joining Facebook if your only friend there is Joe Brandl.

Joe has been sharing his outdoor survival skills for many years, with everyone, in every medium: Public workshops and treks for all ages, article series in the local newspaper, posts on Facebook, and of course his tireless efforts with his Boy Scouts.

His appearance a few years ago on the reality show Naked and Afraid was just a lark. His “life devotion,” Joe wrote recently on Facebook, has been his work with the scouts.

“I love the old scout ways and believe more now than ever that the Scout Oath and Law is 2nd only to the Ten Commandments,” he said. “I hold in high regard the Scout Motto of ‘Be Prepared’ and the Scout Slogan, ‘Do a Good Turn Daily’.”

“We live in an environment that is shared with grizzlies, wolves, mountain lions and ornery moose.,” Joe wrote in his letter of appeal to BSA. “Our rivers are wild and our mountains are steep and rugged. This is our backyard to explore. In the past 30+ years our scouts have challenged themselves in severe weather, high water and rocky cliffs, I have always maintained a commitment to safety while pushing my scouts to take on these activities. While I have not always stressed the use [of] safety videos, I have instead put them in the water and on the mountains in all types of weather conditions. Each scout has grown to respect the outdoors and to deal with their fears. In all the years of scouting, I have never had any scout seriously injured.”

Joe’s Facebook post announcing the failure of the appeal has generated 166 responses and 94 comments to date, including:

“So you were teaching boys to become good men. Teaching them to be brave and prepared in tough spots ? Dang you!”

“You can be our son’s Boy Scout leader anytime! Where do we need to move to?”

“Let’s see: trustworthy loyal helpful friendly courteous kind obedient cheerful thrifty brave clean and reverent. They’ve mangled and broken several of those scout laws in the way they’ve treated you, Joe…
clearly a kangaroo operation.”

Many comments mentioned the fact that neither party named as signators to the letter (Brad Bodoh, CEO of the Greater Wyoming Council, and Shane Calendine, regional director of BSA’s Western Region) actually signed it. This was seen as demonstrating a lack of courage or conviction.

Joe says that the Boy Scouts in Dubois continue strong, and that parents have stepped forward to help. Forbidden himself to volunteer as a Boy Scout leader, to wear their uniform, or even to take part in troop meetings, Joe continues to hold well-attended meetings in which he trains boys and young men in survival and independence, according to the tenets of Robert Baden-Powell. Three days ago he was teaching them to make snowshoes from willow branches.

“I am not shocked by their decision, but just baffled by it,” Joe wrote on Facebook after sending his futile letter of appeal to the BSA.

Baffling, indeed. In an era when priests and public officials are vilified for the most distressing of indiscretions, our Scout leader has been stripped of his rank for the offense of teaching independence and survival skills to young men who enjoy, and many of whom hope to find a way to continue living in, this wilderness.

For whatever it’s worth, Brad Bodoh lives in Casper and Shane Calendine lives in Las Vegas, Nevada. Neither accepted the opportunity to comment on this blog before posting.

The action they chose is another testimony, and this a very sad one, to the fact that Dubois is unique, challenging, close-knit, wonderful, and extremely difficult to describe or to understand from a distance.

In order to get it, you have to be here for a while. Not very many have that privilege.

 ©   Lois Wingerson, 2018   

You can see new entries of LivingDubois every week if you sign up at the top of the right column at www.livingdubois.com.


A New Image for Dubois: Antiquarian Armory

As the new museum rises, we ask ourselves …

Tanks070417The sight of tanks rolling down the main street of Dubois would be jarring if we did not know the context: the Independence Day parade. Every July, we have been seeing just a few of the tanks, trucks, and ambulances brought out for the day by a local landowner, Dan Starks, an engineer who is fascinated by the machinery and its history.

Starks has about 250 US military vehicles dating back to World War II, the largest private collection in the country and perhaps the world. When he decided to open most of it to public view in a new museum just down the river, this has understandably provoked some conversation.

What effect will this have on our town? How will this fit with our shared image of Dubois: Remote, quiet, rustic, peaceful?

Will this be the “making” of Dubois, as the Buffalo Bill Center of the West made a boom town of Cody? (And are we comfortable with that?)

TankMuseum_1018Will it be the long-sought “draw” that lures people to stop overnight n Dubois on their way to Yellowstone? Will this all overwhelm us, as the Total Eclipse did last year (but only for a few days)?

Whatever our questions, the National Museum of Military Vehicles is rising rapidly from its foundations–all 144,000 square feet of it (so far), to exhibit 107 vehicles from World War II, with a second building coming later to house about another 80 post-WWII vehicles, as well as two additional exhibits, a library, a theater, and two classrooms.  The first building should be completed next May, and some of the exhibits should be more or less in place for a “soft launch” next September. After a winter of finalizing the exhibits and training staff, a grand opening is scheduled for May 2020.

Dan Starks and his wife moved to Dubois from Minneapolis several years ago, finding this to be “a private remote area where we could build a home and have a lot of privacy,” Starks said. “When we first came here, it was for the view, and the privacy, and the freedom.”

Starks said he started his work life harvesting beans and working in warehouses, and eventually turned a bankrupt medical device company into a Fortune 500 firm with $6 billion in annual sales in 130 countries. Starks6He has bought up a great deal of property in the area, and reportedly contributed large amounts anonymously for various charitable causes here.

Gradually, Starks began bringing his collection of tanks, trucks, ambulances, and other military vehicles to his property near town. Some visiting friends who saw them urged Starks to share the huge collection with others, and eventually he decided to do so.

This is not a commercial venture; he portrays it more as a tribute to the troops. “Of course, the place we should be doing this to get the most visitors would be a large metropolitan area,” he said last spring. “The main reason it’s here is because we live here … I sure as heck don’t want to have to travel to see it.”

Starks was speaking at a public forum on May 31, co-chaired by Dubois resident and Wyoming state Congressman Tim Salazar, a member of the legislative task force created to study whether the state could or should be involved in the private enterprise.

Starks very pleasantly made it clear that he was grateful but didn’t really need any help. He said that the project had already cost $20 million and would probably cost $50 million in the long run. He added that he had created a large endowment so that “this asset [will] be here when we’re in our graves.”

Starks2Earlier that day, Starks had welcomed the public to his property, to view at least part of the collection. Speaking in a rapid-fire monologue, and naming the vehicles by model number, he spoke about them with some passion.

He told how the rivets in the earliest tanks could pop inward under fire, turning them into deadly weapons that doomed their operators. He described the progress in tank technology throughout World War II—the lower profile, the increases in the armor, improvements in welding and casting, engines and transmissions and weaponry, and what this all meant to protecting the troops and to victory.

Starks pointed out a tank that was involved in the Battle of the Bulge, and went on to talk about the history of that battle. Because the US military gave most vehicles to the Allies after the war or abandoned them in Europe, he said, it’s rare to acquire one that can be definitively traced to a particular battle in this way. (He is committed to documentation. He has manuals for all vehicles in the collection, and they will be kept in a library in the museum, along with oral history information.)

Starks7I asked about the truck standing next to it, and Starks described why a new delivery/artillery hybrid was needed in the  Vietnam, where it was easy to lob a grenade at a supply vehicle. An onlooker spoke up to say that he had actually used a truck like that in ‘Nam.

“You see, that’s what I’m hoping for,” Starks remarked. He wants to tell the stories around the vehicles, and to prompt memories from veterans who see the displays.

“There’s recognition,” he had said. “There’s honor. There’s remembrance. There’s a level of healing we hope to get at in the modest way that we can.”

Later, I approached a woman standing toward the back to ask what she thought. She paused. “I’m offended,” she replied after a moment. “This is so contrary to the character of the country, to freedom. To the wildlife.”

During the public forum that afternoon, she raised her concern that the museum would glorify war in a landscape of quiet and refuge. Starks (who is not himself a veteran) replied quietly and respectfully, saying that he would like to speak more with her about that in private. A politician at the dais remarked that, done well, the stories behind the machinery could bring to life the true costs of war–and might therefore help to deter it.

Starks13_reworkedThe new curator of the museum, Doug Cubbison, who comes here directly from 5 years at the Veterans Museum in Casper, has been working quietly in town since last August to begin the massive effort of creating and staffing a huge and unique institution in one of the most remote towns in the country.

Already, they have made some firm decisions about what they will not do, Cubbison told me.

  • They will not open a restaurant or lodging as part of the museum complex, to avoid to avoid competing with the businesses in town, and they plan to coordinate with the Chamber of Commerce to direct visitors to services in Dubois. The most refreshment offered in the museum will be beverages such as water and soft drinks.
  • They will institute an entry fee for general admission (veterans excepted), to avoid unfair competition with the Dubois Museum and the National Bighorn Sheep Interpretive Center. (Starks committed to this during the May forum.)
  • The gift shop will sell only books and other objects related to military vehicles and their history, to avoid competing with other shops in town.

“He’s willing to talk to anyone,” Representative Salazar said at the forum last May. “And he’s willing to listen. Someone opening a private [museum] could easily do otherwise.”

© Lois Wingerson, 2018
You can see new entries of Living Dubois every week if you sign up at the top of the right column at www.livingdubois.com.

In Praise of Moms and Pops

Not, well, cool. But what she doesn’t get …

VillageCafe1“You know, Mom and Pops.”

I thought of this, as I looked at my sausage and scrambled eggs. Out of curiosity, last week I called the Wyoming Office of Tourism, posing as a tourist, to ask whether there are any restaurants in Dubois.

You know, it’s a pretty small town.

Sure, she said. There are places to eat there. You know, Moms and Pops.

I recognized her tone of voice: the big-city cognoscenti. I’ve been there myself, for many years, in a much bigger town than Cheyenne, where she was speaking from. “Moms and Pops” are not, well, cool.

I was waiting for my car repair across the street at 3D Oil, this week, and I stopped by for breakfast at the Village Cafe. Not the place the Office of Tourism would recommend, clearly. Their promotional material tends to focus on the Cowboy Cafe, which has the right branding. A fine establishment itself, but always crowded in the high summer season (therefore).

I guess nobody had told her about the Bistro, which is pretty darned cool itself.

You can usually get a table at the Village Cafe.

VillageCafe2_editedIt’s quiet season now, only a few hunters and retired ranchers stopping by for breakfast. The old guys at the next table were talking about cattle, tractors, and hay. The other folks were quiet.

There was a nice, hometown feel about it. I sat back and read my book while I enjoyed my eggs.

In Dubois, we thrive on Moms and Pops who started their businesses years ago and stay around because we love it here, and (like the couple who just opened Noon Rock Pizza) the kids of Mom and Pop, who start something new because they want to live here. Or the couple who opened Moose Outpost, the hamburger stand across the highway, which rivals Wendy’s for quality but not for brand recognition.

VillageCafe3I’ve always admired the big screen TV at the front of Village Cafe, which features real facts about our history and geography, like this one. So folks passing through can learn a little about the area with their hotcakes and hash browns.

The menu is sparse: Eggs, sausage, bacon, pancakes, French toast, in various combinations at corresponding prices. Nothing fancy. You know what you’re going to get, and it’s pretty good.

“A chain restaurant would never survive here,” said Dustin, coming out from the kitchen to talk with me. “They wouldn’t be able to make it through the slow season.” For that, you need the Moms and Pops who are committed to the community and determined to stay in this place they love.

Of course because I live here, I have never actually stayed in the Wind River Motel, which is attached physically and financially to the Village Cafe. From the outside, it looks modest, to say the least. I’m not sure I would stop here myself if I were a stranger passing through.

WindRiver1In recent months, I’ve taken the opportunity to speak to several people who have stayed there — a man from Colorado who brings up his truck full of peaches and tomatoes in late summer, and a pair of cyclists passing through from coast to coast.

They told me it’s a great deal: good beds, very clean and comfortable, and the price is definitely right: Well south of $100 a night, about a third what you’d pay over the pass in Jackson.

There are those who won’t stop in Dubois because we don’t have a Hyatt or even a Holiday Inn Express. We’ll manage just fine without them, thank you. We’re OK with who we are: Moms and Pops and folks who just like it here and want to keep it this way, which is pretty wonderful.

© Lois Wingerson, 2018

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