Guest Posts on County 10 are provided by contributors and the opinions, thoughts, and comments within are their own and may not necessarily reflect those of County 10.
I’m working on an upcoming series of stories on the country stores that once dotted the highway from Casper to Dubois. Concrete footings, perhaps a few disintegrating buildings and the memories of people who have seen a lot of summers come and go are all that remain of many of them.
Who knew there was a multi-story hotel and bar in Moneta? Or that baseball games played between town teams in Lysite, Hiland, and Waltman, or that Arminto once shipped four million sheep each year east on the railroad? Those are the stories I’m currently researching for this series.
First hand accounts are hard to find, and newspaper archives are sketchy at best, but the most difficult thing to locate so far are photographs of these once vibrant businesses.
I’m on many historical groups on Facebook and thought they might be a good venue to use in locating these elusive images.
I posted a message asking for vintage photographs anyone might have of the stores at Natrona, Hells Half Acre, Arminto, and Waltman early last week.
A day passed and there was no response, then Monday night two photographs from the 1930s taken at Hells Half Acre appeared in the comments section of my post.
I thanked “Mary Ann” for the images and checked her profile.
To my surprise, she was from Fairfield, California.
Fairfield was one of the towns we lived in for a couple of years when my dad was stationed at Travis Air Force Base.
I sent her this message on Facebook, “Hi Mary Ann, Thanks for the Hells Half Acre pics. I’m writing a series on small country stores from Casper to Dubois from the 1920s to the 1970s. I checked your profile and see you are from Fairfield. My dad was stationed at Travis AFB in the 60s and I was in 4th and 5th grade at David A. Weir Elementary in Fairfield. Small world.”
To my surprise, she answered in just a few minutes. “That’s really fun info. I went to David Weir from K-6th in the 60’s! We were probably in school together. I lived on Tipton Way, really close to the school. My dad was a jeweler and watchmaker at Gensler Lee Diamonds downtown,” she said.
I took a guess, thinking Mary Ann might be familiar with Wyoming, and sent her this.
“I graduated from Wind River in 1975. We moved to Rancho Cordova from 1968 to 71 for 6-8th grade. Maybe we were in the same class. We were close to the school too. I used to stop at the 76 Station across from the school that became a 7/11 for Slurpee’s and comic books.”
At this point, I started to feel like I was in an episode of “The Twilight Zone” or maybe the winning play in “Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon.” Here was someone who attended the same school I did 57 years ago, who had reached out and sent me a couple of photographs for a project I was researching. It seemed so surreal, but this was just the starting point.
When I mentioned the 76 Station, Mary Ann was once again quick to respond, “OMG yes. My dad was good friends with Tony who ran the 76 Station and me and my friends would go to 7 11 for “giggle pills” (candy) and Slurpee’s. We played in the ditch by the school and caught pollywogs. I’m 63 now. I think I started at David Weir in the fall of 1966. I’m racking my brain to recall my 4th and 5th-grade teachers 5th grade was a man. I was also in the band, Mr. Vecchioni. He was really nice. I went to Sullivan for 7-8th grades and then to Fairfield High.
I was in the elementary school band too, playing the trumpet, and I’d caught tadpoles, what she called pollywogs from that same ditch.
“I’m 66 I was in band too,” I said. “We caught tadpoles and fed them fish food until they were frogs. Remember the alligator lizards? There was an outdoor pool up the hill from the school and about three blocks east. My sister is 63, she was probably in your class.”
The connections were getting so concise I knew it was leading somewhere deeper.
She told me her maiden name, Mary Ann McPeek, and asked me my sister’s name. I told her Susan Tucker, and mentioned that she was in Blue Birds, the junior division of the Campfire Girls.
To my amazement, Mary Ann said. “I was a Blue Bird too. Your mom was probably my leader. I remember her telling us we were going to learn a hula dance and without realizing I started humming some sort of Hawaiian melody and my humming got louder and your mom said “Mary Ann, stop that.”
I called my mom and asked her if she knew Mary Ann McPeek. Mom was surprised, “Yes, she was one of my Bluebirds, a little blond girl.”
Meanwhile, Mary Ann was busy taking cell phone pics of her kindergarten, first, and second-grade class pictures.
My sister Susie wasn’t in the kindergarten pic, but there she was in Mary Ann’s first-grade picture near the bottom on the right.
Serendipity is the only word to describe the connection.
We went on to text about fishing at Suisun Bay south of Fairfield with our fathers for bass and catfish, and then we got back to Wyoming.
Mary Ann lives near Kirby, close to the ghost town of Gebo.
I mentioned I’d written a “Lookback” feature on Gebo for County 10 and sent her the link to the story.
Her response was as amazing as the previous connection to an obscure grade school in a little Northern California town almost six decades ago.
“This is so incredible. I read that article a while back and thought it was the best I’ve ever read about Gebo. I wrote to County10 and told them so, and said I had questions for the author, and here you are!”
She continued on Gebo and gave me a few stories I had not heard before. She has a friend who is writing a book on Gebo and is helping her with research.
We have a shared interest in history, but an even more direct connection that neither of us expected.
When mom held Blue Bird meetings I holed up in my bedroom with my old black and white TV and a book to read.
As a 10 and 11-year-old boy, who has time for a bunk of giggling, silly seven and eight-year-old girls?
Mary Ann had been in my living room, gathering around our kitchen table for projects my mom was leading and played with my little sister.
She invited me to meet with her and her friend who is writing the book on Gebo and I’m planning to follow up on it.
Just when you think every day is just like the day before and fall into a rut, once in a while you get a bolt from the blue that reminds you how remarkable a place the world can be.
Serendipity with a couple of aging black and white photographs from Hells Half Acre, a store and tourist attraction that no longer exists.
Who would have guessed that connection?