Monday, March 26, 2012

Granger’s “Church” Bar

From the series “Southwest Wyoming A Tough Place to Live”
(Originally printed in the Historical Issue of the Green River Star,
March 23, 1999)

Sometimes tracking down the origin of a place name is like looking for the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow.  A rainbow’s end is an illusion, and there is no hidden gold.  Such is the case with the so-called Church Bar in Granger.

Granger’s “Church” Bar in the background in this 1964 picture.

Built in 1924 by Evers Brothers as a schoolhouse, the building supports a bell tower but no steeple.  The bell has long since disappeared, as has the dedication plaque from the building’s north face.

But according to Deyon Tyler, owner of the building that houses the Dee-Mart Tavern, her grandmother donated land from her great-grandmother’s original homestead to erect the school.  Tyler’s father went to school in a much smaller building behind the tavern which was later turned into the teacherage.

Tyler and her brothers and sisters all attended school in the newer building.  It served all of Granger’s kindergarten through 12th grade students until the 1950s, when the school was moved to a former hotel.

According to Russ Tanner, a BLM archeologist who grew up in Granger, the building was abandoned for years after its demise as a school.  The LDS Church bought it, and Tanner said they held services there for a few years. 

He remembers the bell ringing to call people to services on Sunday, but according to Tyler no real services were ever held there and it was during the church’s tenure that the bell was broken and the bell and the dedication plaque disappeared.

More familiar to Granger children were the classes sponsored by various church groups and held wherever possible.

Tanner, from an LDS home, remembers attending catechism class with the Catholic nuns, just to “have something to do” during the long summers.  George Blasi recalls going to LDS children’s classes until he refused to donate the required dime for religious instruction, preferring to buy candy with it instead.

Small stucco building directly across the street from “Church” Bar in Granger, variously called “Reno’s” Bar or as in this 1973 photo, “Blasi” Bar.

Blasi’s father, a Catholic immigrant from Italy, owned Reno’s Bar, a smaller establishment across the street from the former school.  Reno allowed the nuns to conduct classes in booths at the bar, but they requested that the whiskey bottles and pool table be covered out of innocent children’s sight.

A man named Del Chapple, later manager of Little America, bought the former school building and turned the lower level into a bar. 

According to Tanner, Del Chapple had the establishment for only a year or two, and then Deyon and Martin Tyler reclaimed the building whose land had been donated by her grandmother.  With a lot of work, the couple carved a tavern and grocery store out of the lower level and living quarters above.

In the mid-1960s the Air Force moved to Granger to monitor low-level flights in simulated Viet Nam bombing raids.

Blasi remembers the huge planes flying low overhead as he swam in the Black’s Fork.  The Air Force set up houses and equipment, and parked up to sixty silver rail cars with the blue Air Force emblem on the tracks.  There are conflicting accounts, but most agree it was the Air Force that code-named the former school “the church,” probably for its empty bell tower the resembles a church’s steeple.

Tyler said one night as she was upstairs tending to her grandson and watching TV she heard, “Oh, hell, you hit the church.”

She went to tell the colonel who was bartending for her what she had heard coming from her television, and he ran out of the bar to get the Air Force radio towers higher then the old school building to prevent future transmissions being broadcast over people’s television sets.

Others say the name is older than the present bar, having transferred from an earlier bar and motel in Granger, and still others say it was the colonel himself who named it his “church,” his “sanctuary.”

Granger has had churches of several denominations, and still does, but one thing all agree on:  The name “Church Bar” has nothing to do with an actual church’s occupation of the building.

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Coal Camp Cooking in Southwest Wyoming

From the series “Southwest Wyoming: A Tough Place to Live"

March is Women’s History Month.  This look back at cooking in southwest Wyoming's coal town of Superior emphasizes just how far women have come since the days when we were tied by our apron strings to the coal stove in the kitchen. 

Taking a break from the kitchen.  Can you smell the starch in the women’s housedresses and aprons?  It looks like the woman on the left might be wearing a hairnet as well, proper kitchen attire in the mid-1950s.

One of my favorite ways for a historical glimpse of a place is the community cookbook.  In the days when housewives spent a lot of time in the kitchen and not working outside the home, one surefire way to make money for church guilds and ladies’ auxiliary organizations was the cookbook.  Each member would contribute at least one recipe, and the collection would be sent off to be printed.  Kansas and Missouri were popular locations for cookbook printing companies, whether because forebears of Superior and Rock Springs people came from farms on the plains or because of a dearth of Wyoming local companies.

Today’s young people are rediscovering yesteryear’s recipes, compiling their own cookbooks and trying to re-create forgotten favorite dishes Mom and Grandma used to make.  A big problem with this process is Grandma didn’t use a measuring cup or spoons.  It sufficed to say a “pinch” of this, or a “handful” of that.  And she rarely wrote down a recipe.  Her children learned, if they bothered to learn, by paying attention while they were peeling potatoes or washing the many dirty dishes and pots and pans that good home cooking required.

Interior image from Superior’s Kitchen Secrets, used by permission 
 Cookbook Publishers, Inc.
Copyright © 1951 Bev-Ron Publishing Company

From my mom’s sister I inherited a cookbook called Superior’s Kitchen Secrets, Compiled by the Mary Martha Guild of the Community Church, Superior, Wyoming.  This book has a copyright date of 1951 by the Bev-Ron Publishing Company of Kansas City, Missouri.  Cookbook printing must be an eternally profitable business: Founded in 1947, the Bev-Ron Company is still in business in 2012 as Cookbook Publishers, Inc. of Lenexa, Kansas.

Cover image of Superior’s Kitchen Secrets used by permission
Cookbook Publishers, Inc.
Copyright © 1951 Bev-Ron Publishing Company

The cover of Superior’s Kitchen Secrets is unquestionably politically incorrect today, but back in the 1950s and previously the kerchief-headed plantation cook was the universally understood symbol of the secret recipes of good down-home cooking. 

It is interesting to note what was popular in this particular cookbook in the middle of the last century.  The section on appetizers, pickles and relishes barely covers three 6” X 9” pages.  Soups, vegetables and salads also don’t make up three full pages.  Poultry, meat and fish recipes fill five pages with bread, pastry and rolls coming in at the same number.  But cakes and cookies, the two staples of bake sales, and another perennial way for moms to make money, fill nine pages of the book.  Desserts are more than four more pages and candy, jelly and preserves one more.  Beverages is one page, and then comes ten pages of dieting advice!   The more things change the more they stay the same.

Everyone hates fruitcake, right?  Not in my experience.  I went looking for a recipe for fruitcake that people would actually eat and found it in Superior’s Kitchen Secrets.  What has to be the best fruitcake recipe in the world (with a minor modification of macadamia nuts) is found in this book: a White Fruit Cake contributed by Mrs. Wm. Fox.  Using six eggs and a pound of butter, the recipe’s secret lies in adding pineapple and applesauce to the recipe for moistness.  (It does make four generous loaves of fruitcake, so that really only works out to one-quarter pound of butter each!)


Although Rock Springs bills itself as “Home of 56 Nationalities,” the smaller town of Superior had to have at least that many.  Mrs. Carl J. Carlson’s “Swedish Meatballs” made it into the book, but the closest most of the recipes in Superior’s Kitchen Secrets come to ethnicity is found in such generic offerings as “Chicken and Rice Curry” or “Tamale Pie.”  Especially in small towns in the years after two world wars, the Fifties were a time of fitting in, of American homogenization.  Although the logical plural of egg in English should be eggi, which my grandmother was scolded for using, grandmas of European extraction were urged to speak only English with the grandkids and not to be teaching them any “baby talk.”   My aunt regrets to this day that she wasn’t taught Italian.  The grandchildren learned neither proper Italian nor the Tyrolean language.  We are all poorer for refusing the gift of  Empress Eugenie’s insistence on education for all.

Some of the ingredients in the cookbook I didn’t recognize, such as Spry.  Turns out it was a Crisco shortening competitor.  And it was easy to tell from all the sugar in the recipes that they were published post-WWII.  Each section had at least one page of ads, no pictures but a few logos such as Buick and Texaco, and containing business phone numbers of three digits.  Not many of the companies advertising in the book are still in business more than 60 years later, but I would bet at least a few copies of the cookbook can still be found in southwest Wyoming kitchens.  And although modern women might cringe at the thought of spending hours in a dress in the kitchen while attempting to live up to some definitely white middle-class notion of proper housewifery, there was certainly less stress in being able to stay home all day and a limited kind of power in deciding her own schedule.

Saturday, March 10, 2012

Kirkus Indie review of Willow Vale

Kirkus Indie says of Willow Vale:
Williams writes with familiarity, easily transporting the reader back to the 1920s.  A poignant story of loss, love and family.
Read the entire review of Willow Vale.

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

The Last of the Big Boys

 Happy 150th, Union Pacific Railroad!
This blog post originally had a week's run starting March 7, 2012 on History Undressed.

The Last of the ‘Big Boys’
From the series “Southwest Wyoming:  A Tough Place to Live.”
(Originally printed in the Historical Issue of the Green River Star, March 19,1998.)


I didn’t want to go down in that hole.  I wanted to see the sunshine.
– C.D. “Don” Englert

Fresh out of high school in Superior, Wyoming in the spring of 1950, C.D. “Don” Englert had the choice of joining the Union Pacific Railroad or the coal mine.  He picked the railroad, starting on the extra gang at Thayer Junction where the Superior road joined Highway 30.

The extra gang was a labor intensive crew of 180 men that comprised three gangs in one.  The first gang raised the track, the second put in the ties, and the third ballasted and tamped.

The four-hole, bolted track was raised and leveled by eye, with a “rabbit” peepsite on the track and a long white spotboard with a black line.  But according to Don, raising track without benefit of electronics still “made a good looking track.”

While other U.P. divisions were rapidly converting to diesel engines, the Wyoming Division continued to run the huge black steam engines called Big Boys in order to best utilize the company’s coal.  Men hitched rides to work on Monday on milk trains, local trains that hauled the mail and were willing to stop anywhere free of cost to company employees.
Union Pacific Railroad's 4-8-8-4 "Big Boy" class steam locomotive #4019 and
string of PFE cars in Echo Canyon, Utah.  First of this type locomotive built in
1941 for freight service.
Photo Courtesy Sweetwater County Historical Museum

During the week, maintenance-of-way workers lived in outfit cars, 10 or more men in each boxcar converted with windows, a door, a stove and bunks lining the walls.  One or two men in the bunk car kept coal and water buckets filled.

Breakfast and dinner were served in the commissary car, but chow lines formed at the work site for lunches of huge 20-gallon “hot pots” of soup with sandwiches.  While the crew was working, one man was designated the water boy.  With his wooden barrels, a bucket and a dipper, he would start with the head man and come down through the line offering each a drink from the dipper.

Unable to completely fill the ranks for the grueling summer work, the railroad recruited on the skid rows of 25th Street in Ogden, Utah; Larimer Street in Denver; and in Cheyenne. 

Don recalls with amusement that the “winos” worked only until they got their paychecks of $1.12 an hour and that today there would be few who would be willing to share living quarters or the same water dipper with them.

With grades and curves the enemies of railroad efficiency and heavy Big Boys hammering the rail, there was still work for an ambitious young man after the extra gang was disbanded for the winter.

Don took a job as a section man, married and lived with his bride in a two-room boxcar with no running water.  He passed the foreman’s exam in 1952, working the Wyoming Division between Ogden and Cheyenne relieving other foremen for vacations.  

Promoted again to rail inspector, Don rode a little motorcar with no windshield, looking for broken rail, bad ties and deep holes in the track.  Before the days of insulated coveralls, a rail inspector wore layers of clothing to ward off the bitter cold and wrapped his feet in a piece of sheepskin.  Putt-putting down the track against the Wyoming wind, it often took much longer than eight hours to cover the 30 miles a day, stopping to inspect all the switches and look for loose bolts.  When he came up on a curve, he set the 500-pound motorcar off by its handles and inspected the curve on foot with a magnifying Sands mirror, looking under the rail for cracks, head and web separation and broken rail.

The lineup was put out morning and noon to alert workers on the track to train schedules.  Every two hours, Don would stop at a telephone situated at passing tracks or use a field phone with a long pole that connected to the telegraph lines to call the dispatcher.  Wiley Shaver was the dispatcher in Green River and if he gave a time on a train, “you better believe it” according to Don.  Or a brave man could just “look for the smoke” of the steam engines; not an option with the coming of the diesels!

Telegraph poles no longer line the track.  The coal chutes are gone.  But those who worked the rails remember when the Big Boys passed and men stood with shirt collars clutched and eyes closed against flying cinders as the boiler worked uphill.  Still yet at Creston Hill, Tipton Hill and in to Rock Springs, the carbon residue from steam engines drifts deep in the ditches alongside welded tracks built mainly now with machines instead of manpower.

Thursday, March 1, 2012

More Living in Southwest Wyoming

New!  A compilation of my newspaper columns from 1999-2000 in the Green River Star about living in southwest Wyoming.  Still relevant, I promise.  Only 99 cents to download to Kindle.  Thanks for following actuallyalethea!