Waltman and Hiland – The Field of Dreams

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    It’s perhaps the most surreal scene in a movie dedicated to the surreal. As Terrance Mann (played by James Earl Jones) and Ray Kinsella (played by Kevin Costner) drive back to Iowa from Chisolm, Minnesota, they stop to pick up a young hitchhiker.

    “Thanks. You’re the first car by,” the youngster says.


    “How far you going?” Kinsella asks.

    “How far you going?” the young man replies.

    “Iowa,” Kinsella answers.

    “If it’s okay, I’ll just ride along a while,” the young man says as he gets in the VW van. “I play baseball.”


    “Hop in,” Mann and Kinsella tell the youngster.

    “All right, I’m looking for a place to play. I heard that all through the Midwest, they have towns with teams, and in some places, they’ll even find you a day job so you can play ball nights and weekends,” the young ballplayer says.

    “This is your lucky day, kid. We’re going someplace kind of like that,” Kinsella answers.


    “All right,” the happy youngster says.

    “I’m Ray Kinsella. This is Terence Mann,” Kinsella says.

    “Hi, I’m Archie Graham,” Graham says as the soundtrack takes a mystical tone.


    The duo met Graham the night before as an 80-year-old physician in Chisolm, and now he’s transformed into a teenager setting out on his own.

    Transformation is the theme here.

    Baseball was America’s sport in the 1920s. Towns did field teams that played other communities throughout the summer, and yes, they often brought in “Ringers” to bolster their team’s chances.

    You wouldn’t think of it on the long drive from Casper to Shoshoni, but from the 1920s through the 1940s, those wide spots in the road that tourists marvel at when they see them listed as towns played baseball against each other.

    A Wisconsin town team 1923 – h/t

    Hiland had a bitter rival in Waltman, and both squared off with teams from Powder River, Lysite, and occasional squads from the big towns of Shoshoni, Midwest, and Casper.

    A memorable game was played on July 4, 1923, to commemorate the grand opening of the “Bright Spot” a store built by Robert A. “Dad” Smith.

    The Bright Spot was the center of the vibrant little community of Hiland, located on the Burlington Northern Tracks.

    Hiland built a baseball field and Smith served as umpire for the home games, and occasionally games played in Waltman.

    This memorable afternoon he offered free ice cream to spectators throughout the day, and a dollar’s worth of merchandise to any player hitting a home run.

    His family thought the roughly $15 he lost that day in ice cream and merchandise was insanity, but Dad Smith was a businessman and knew the power of advertising.

    Since he was the umpire, and the Hiland squad had the home field advantage, Smith parked his car, an Oakland Touring Car, halfway down the third base line a few yards to the right of home plate. The cars, trucks, and horse driven buckboards of the other spectators circled the field, similar to what you’ll see along the outfield at Roy Peck Field when the Raiders play in the summer months.

    No one parked behind home plate since there was no backstop, and Hiland’s best player, Walt Brandau had a penchant for hitting foul balls. Brandau was nearly impossible to strike out, but he hit a lot of errant shots into the cars parked around the field.

    1920s style town baseball – h/t

    Spectators in those days were different from the inattentive lot you see on televised games glued to their cell phones and missing the action. The net at big league ballparks and the 20-foot high chain link at amateur fields allow that type of behavior today.

    Waltman won the game 5-3 behind a pitcher named Richards who had a wicked fastball and was able to strike out most of the Hiland batters.

    There was only one home run hit in the game, by a Waltman player. He took his dollar worth of merchandise in 12 gallons of gas right from Dad’s pump in front of the store.

    This wasn’t exactly an Iowa cornfield filled with the ghosts of National and American League all-stars, but it was a slice of heaven, Americana style heaven.

    The weather that Fourth of July a century ago featured clear blue skies, no wind, and a high of 75 degrees. If there is more perfect baseball weather, I’ve never heard of it.

    Times were different, and entertainment had much greater value than the constant barrage of noise, lights, and extremist behavior that passes for it today.

    Just two years after that Independence Day game, the first night football game in America took place a few dozen miles north in Midwest.

    On Thursday, November 19, 1925, the Natrona Mustangs defeated the Midwest Oilers 20-0 under an array of bright, artificial lights.

    Midwest was a big town in those days and a regular opponent of both Riverton and Lander from 1924 to the early 1950s.

    A memorable 2-0 Riverton win in 1942, under the lights at Midwest was relayed to me by both my late uncle Eugene Gasser who played tackle, and my late friend Gene Franklin who played tight end for the Wolverines.

    Midwest is one of the teams along with Greybull, and Ten Sleep who played Riverton, Lander, Wind River, Shoshoni, Dubois, Pavillion, Wyoming Indian, and St. Stephen’s over the last century, yes, the entire county.

    The drop in enrollment from playing in the largest division in the state to barely being able to field a 6-man team is indicative of Wyoming as a whole.

    Too often we consider the things of today as the way things have always been. They are most certainly not.

    Daydreaming is easy, perhaps too easy when you’re driving from the “big town” of Shoshoni east to the Oil City on a sunny summer day. From November to May, that isn’t the case since its often white-knuckle driving that matches the white, snowy coating on the road.

    The next time you pass the closed stores at Waltman and Hiland, and the boarded up town that was once a primary agricultural town at Powder River, think of the days when they had enough business and population to field competitive baseball teams.

    There really were fields of dreams.


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