Randy Tucker: Hitting 1500

There are standards in our lives. If you live to be a hundred, that’s a standard. If you’re a running back, rushing for 1000 yards is a standard. If you’re a baseball player, batting .300 for an entire season is a standard. If you’re a writer, the standards aren’t so well established, but as a writer, I’ve reached a standard, if only one set for myself.

This is my 1,500th consecutive column. That’s right, one-thousand, five-hundred columns written in weekly succession since the fall of 1995 without missing a single week, the last 15 for County 10. In terms of total words, that’s about 1,700,000. It’s a lot by any standard.

It doesn’t include the roughly 15,000 other stories I’ve written since beginning a full-time/part-time gig as a sportswriter and columnist for the Riverton Ranger 27 years ago. An additional 310 sports columns aren’t included in the total either.

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The Ranger had a proud tradition of column writers that ended earlier this year. For the 73 years that the publication was owned by the Peck family, the competition among the dozens of other Wyoming newspapers didn’t have a chance when it came to the annual Wyoming Press Association Pacemaker Awards for excellence each November.

I’m proud to be one of many award-winning columnists for the Ranger including Steve, Bob, Roy and Robert Peck. Carolyn Tyler, Craig Blumenshine, Betty Starks Case, Clair McFarland and James Coco to name a few. Between us, the Ranger and later the Journal won WPA awards in column writing hundreds of times. We swept the top three awards in the category many times over the years. Doing a bit of bragging, I won awards for column writing 14 times, and another 13 in other categories.  

It was Ranger sports editor James Coco who prompted me to begin writing a weekly column in October of 1995.

I remember that first column as an analysis of football defensive terminology. Terms like mole, trap, “stinkbug” and loop were crafted into a narrative that tied local high school defensive schemes to the larger elements of the game. It was a clumsy first attempt at tying the national and the local trends into one. I continue that trend each Monday in my County10.com column.

I’m often asked if I have problems coming up with a weekly column idea. The answer is no, there is so much news, so many events and I see so many worthy opinion opportunities that I think I could write one each day. But, I’m glad I don’t have to, once a week has been more than enough.

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In all those years with the old Ranger, I was never censored, told what I could or could not write about, or had my opinion limited to only one political viewpoint. It was a refreshing exercise in free speech and freedom of the press as outlined in the First Amendment. I appreciate the chance to continue that unimpeded exchange of ideas on County 10. It is the essence of being an American.

“I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death, you’re right to say it,” is often attributed to the French philosopher Voltaire, but its actual origin remains up for debate. It’s a phrase that once described the American process of debating a subject, and ultimately reaching consensus, a process that still exists in our personal lives, but is no longer practiced by those we elect to national office.

Politics were often my bread and butter for column topics. The insanity of standardized testing and the almost criminal neglect of quality education in favor of school funding based on test scores led to the lucrative “test prep” industry. A crime that still infests our public schools, that crippled an entire generation academically, and that continues to put American students further and further behind their foreign rivals.

On occasion, my columns took on a more historical tone, elaborating on an event or trend that once took place in the Wind River Country. I enjoyed writing about little known events, and people who deserved notoriety for their accomplishments, but who were largely lost to our collective common knowledge.

Tributes to departed friends and people I admired dotted those 1,500 weekly opinion page stories, as did the demise of things we once enjoyed in Fremont County.

The end of the West, Knight and Diane Drive-Ins in Riverton and Lander, the demise of bowling alleys in Shoshoni and Riverton, and my favorite, the disappearance of the chain of A&W Restaurants that once stretched from Lander to Powell. In their day they were fun places for kids to hang out in Riverton, Shoshoni, Thermopolis, and all points north or west of Hot Springs County, but only the one in Greybull remains.

Tying non-existent drive-in movie theaters to fast food chains that no longer operate is a trip back in time to nostalgic days that weren’t better than today, but just seemed better through the rose colored lens of memory.

Which leads to my favorite, and most often written about theme among those 1,700,000 words I wrote mostly on Wednesday evenings for publication in the Sunday Ranger and Sunday Journal, the history of Fremont County.

Writing about the events of the past, brings back memories to older residents, while at the same time, informing the youth of today, that things weren’t always as they are now.

The overriding theme is that people are the same, but events, technology, and the way we live has changed dramatically.

Writing about KOMA out of Oklahoma City, a radio station that not only the teenagers of Fremont County relied on for popular music, but that tied the entire Great Plains together a couple of generations ago is an example of that type of trip back in time. So were a couple of columns written about KWRB, the venerable Channel 10 out of Thermopolis, the only television station my friends and I were able to get locally aside from a very snowy KTWO from Casper on occasion.

Anyone remember the sign-off of the station of a Native American man in full regalia reciting the Pledge of Allegiance in sign language? If you do, it was a fitting closing for the station brought to Fremont and Hot Springs County by Joe and Mildred Ernst just a few months after I was born. Chief Washakie TV is what the couple named it when they began broadcasting in early 1957.

People may not change, but our view of them and our relationships certainly do. In 1995, I was just about to turn 38 when I began writing my weekly column. I’d just built our new home, Brian just turned nine and Staci was seven years old. I taught history and math at Shoshoni High School and coached football and track.

We produced the “Diversions” section of the Ranger, which contained my column, for a couple of decades. It went to press on Thursday morning most weeks, with Saturday afternoon and evening reserved for up-to-date sports coverage arriving early Sunday morning on your front step or in the Ranger tube under your rural mailbox. But those days are gone as well.

It’s been a great run on the opinion page. How long I continue is anyone’s guess, but as long as ideas come to me, I’ll write them down, and you are free to agree or disagree with what I produce.

Thanks for reading.

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