Gary Gardner (grgardner) wrote,
Gary Gardner

The Wind Always Blows in Rock Springs

Or so my cousin posted on my Face Book this morning.  It sorta sounds like a title to a bad novel doesn't it?  But it's true.  The wind howled all night, and it's blowing still.  The weather system that has put up an impregnable wall a few miles to the West of me that keeps me from getting home to Salt Lake intensified a bit overnight, and it's actually snow/sleeting up the road in Evanston, WY, on the Utah state line.   However, all predictions are for sunny and dry and warm starting tomorrow, so I've holed up in my hotel room in Rock Springs and been listening to the wind howl and watching the trains go by.

Rock Springs is in the middle of the high desert plain of Wyoming, and sits at about 6500 feet elevation, so it's high.  The wind blows constantly and it can be desolate outside of town.  My grandmother lived for a few years when she was a little girl near here in a coal mining town called Superior, WY.  As I was battling that headwind coming into town yesterday afternoon I noticed an exit for Superior, and remembered that Grandma had lived there as a child.  After deciding (or being forced) to stay put, I figured I'd venture back out there to see what was there.
The town sits about 10 miles North of the I-80 exit for it, up at the top of Horse Thief Canyon.  It's an old mining town, built around the coal mines that the Union Pacific had to mine coal for their locomotives.  My Grandmother lived there from 1924 to 1927 when her Father, Ira Quince Rice, was the superintendent of the mines.  She was between 9 and 11 then, and apparently at the time this town had almost 5,000 people living there. She said they were the "upper class" of the town with their father being the boss and all. Now it has 300.  It's quite a living "ghost" town.
I rode around town and took a few pictures.  Read the placards they had placed around saying what used to be here and there.  The town apparently shut down when the UP stopped using coal for locomotives and the last mine shut down in 1963.  I saw an older gentleman playing with his granddaughter on the sidewalk, throwing caps and watching them explode.  I rode over and asked him if he was from there, and it turns out he was just visiting.  I mentioned my Grandmother, and he said he'd just finished reading a book about the town, and offered to go across the street to his daughter's house and let me see it.  
He brought it back and we thumbed through it.  I asked where I could get one, but he didn't know, and suggested the only thing open in town, the Horse Thief Saloon.  I thanked him and drove down and went in.  About the only thing missing from the scene was an old set of swinging half doors.  This looked like an authentic turn of the century saloon.  The bartendress was an older lady with too red of hair for someone that age, and she asked what I wanted.  As I was driving I settled for a soda, and I asked her about the book.  She said she had one at home, but didn't know where I could get one.   I told her about Grandma and about living there and her father being the mine super.  She'd lived there all her life, but didn't recognize the name "Rice" at all.   The bar, she said, was according to her husband, the "second oldest bar" in the state.  It looked it too.  I only wish she'd had food as I was hungry.
About this time two other people walked in and sat down and asked how I was, and I told them why I was here.  One of them jumped up and called the town clerk and told her what I needed and she drove to the city hall and got two books and brought them over to the saloon.  All of us poured over the books, but couldn't find a reference to my Grandmother and Great Grandfather, but it didn't matter -- there was a "connection".  Almost as if a prodigal son returning.  We all had a nice visit about the town, what happened to it, where people work now and why they stay.  Out here in the West, in the middle of the dusty high plains, there isn't a lot to do other than drink and talk and socialize, even with a stranger who's Grandma lived in town for a few years almost 90 years ago.
I thanked them all for their hospitality and friendliness and headed out to the bike.  The last building heading out of town (or the first heading in) is the old union hall -- now literally a shell of itself.  They have put in a few placards and displays in the shell about the town and it's history.  It's yet another piece of my past, and I'm glad I spent a few hours here looking around -- in a way the weather was to blame, but maybe in this case it should be thanked.  

Other than my Great-Grandfather Quince, it seems no one really liked being in Superior.  Having visited and looked through the book of old pictures I can see why.  While I'm sure it had it's sense of "community", being outsiders and the bosses kids must have been hard on them.  And the remote high desert Wyoming plains are not the most hospitable places to live.  My Grandmother's brother Ted, who I've written about before, so hated Superior he kept threatening to run away back to Farmington, Utah.  Grandma left in 1927.  Her Father had decided he didn't want to be transferred to Nebraska with the UP Coal Company, and his boss wanted to be mine superintendent in Superior, so rather than be demoted he quit.  Apparently her mother said "you aren't leaving me and all these kids in this dusty town", and so he bought them a dairy farm in Clifton, Idaho, and they all moved West.   That is where my Grandparents were married and where Mother was born.  Had my Great-Grandfather stayed in Superior, I might have been raised in Wyoming rather than Utah.

I thought about that, looking at my bike, parked in front of the saloon like a horse tied to a hitching post.  And maybe I do have some Wyoming cowboy spirit in me after all.  A motorcycle is if nothing else, a modern "horse", and cowboys of those days never really settled down and were always exploring.  A dust storm was rolling in and the sun going down, so I high-tailed it back to Rock Springs, riding into a head wind again.   Yes, the wind never ceases to blow out here in the high plains of Wyoming.

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