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 The Trek: The Journals

•
Team: North
Robert Ashley
Tuesday, September 17
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Bob Whitmore

Bob Whitmore
Courtesy Bob Ashley

Tuesday, September 17. 5:30 p.m. Energy Inn, Kemmerer.

Kemmerer is about energy, so the motel is appropriately named. Only a few miles away is the biggest open pit coal mine in the world-deep, too, at 1,700 feet. It is this area and the mines around Gillette in northeastern Wyoming that send the trainloads of coal to the electricity generating plants in the Midwest, now that the Clean Air legislation makes it impossible to use the high sulfur coal found in places like southern Illinois. Just outside Kemmerer is a coal-fired electricity generating plant, sending electricity to more populated places via wires strung to enormous steel towers.

Petroleum and natural gas drilling rigs and storage tanks cover the landscape; the absence of trees in this very dry region accentuates the human activity. Exxon and Williams are the major players, I’m told, but there are also a number of independent drillers. Halliburton trucks circulate on the network of dusty roads through the sea of sagebrush, carrying tools and replacement parts for servicing the drilling operations.

Fuels are not the only fossils of interest in this area. West of town, amid more expanses of sagebrush, rocky soils and rock outcroppings, and flat-topped buttes which stand above the surrounding land surface, is Fossil Butte National Monument. It is the Green River Formation, a rock layer some 200-300’ thick laid down about 50 million years ago, that excites paleontologists. Millions of fossil fish and other organisms have been found, including primitive horses, early primates, crocodiles, lizards, turtles, and plants. Our group heard a special presentation by the park staff. I suspect some limited fieldwork had been planned, but the steady cold drizzle discouraged outdoor activity.

Later, I visited Bob Whitmore. “Bob at the Rock Shop,” said the manager at the Energy Inn. “He knows more about Kemmerer than anybody around.” Might be. He welcomed me into his shop, which appeared to have served as an auto repair business at some earlier time, and much larger than the previous place from which he had recently moved. It was apparent that the move was necessary. Shelves ran along the walls and stretched to the ceiling, and they were crammed full of rocks of various shapes, sizes, and compositions. A remarkably complete crocodile skeleton inhabited a glass case; geodes of assorted sizes lay scattered on a counter, a multitude of colors glistening from the assortment. “The crocodile could be in a museum,” he said. “And the petrified palms--“ he pointed to three large polished rocks-“Why, I turned down a guy who wanted to give me $40,000 for that one.” I gawked, and he pointed out other unique pieces. “Have a seat,” he said, shoving a chair my way. We talked, I mostly asking questions to prompt him to continue talking about what has become his life. He is retired, and he continues his collections because he simply likes to do so. “It’s nice to sell a piece now and then-you know, pays the electric bill. But I do it because I want to.” He has been retired for some time, and he makes his own hours. “This stuff should stay here-in Kemmerer. So when I go, I hope they will build a museum to put it in.”

Harrison Church discovered coal in 1868 and built his home in what is now Diamondville. The first mine opened in 1894 and the Kemmerer Coal Company continued to operate until 1981, when it was sold to Pittsburgh and Midway Coal Company (locally called “P and M”). When the Oregon Short Line Railroad was built to connect to the Pacific Northwest, Kemmerer became an important station for fuel in the steam locomotive era. Other mines opened near the Kemmerer site, and a rowdy lifestyle was commonplace in some communities. Sublette had “a killing a week,” Diamondville had 13 taverns in its zenith (and a three-cell jail); during Prohibition in the 1920s Kemmerer became known as “Little Chicago.” Secret passageways and hidden cellars ran under many of Kemmerer’s buildings, providing avenues of trade for the bootleg liquor that ended up in Chicago!

Originally, Kemmerer was the residence of coal company management; coal miners lived in company-owned houses in Diamondville and Frontier. The houses which still stand behind Kemmerer’s “Miners’ Park” are still called “Paper Collar Row,” a reference to the mine bosses who lived in the company-provided houses. Today, the towns have coalesced, although some distinction in living patterns is still acknowledged. Diamondville houses are smaller and on smaller lots; they need paint. Frontier was largely by-passed by highway 189, and little remains of the old town. Most new housing construction is in Kemmerer, now at just over 3,000 population. Only 800 live in Diamondville. The original J.C. Penney’s store sits on the corner across from the small park in the center of Kemmerer. This year it celebrates its 100th year in business.

`Zem Hopkins invited me to visit his Kemmerer High School geography class today, and I was delighted to comply. I was welcomed by friendly faces, both in the office and in the classroom. Only six students are enrolled in the class, an elective, and the students are Juniors and Seniors. They reminded me of kids back home-they were polite and attentive, but he topic “public lands” was not high on their interest lists. “We take public lands for granted around here,” explained Mr. Hopkins.
for Tuesday, September 17
North South Both




Biographical
•
Team: North
Robert Ashley
Bob Ashley poses with school children at the Wyoming Hunting and Fishing Heritage Exposition 2002
. Robert Ashley is a teacher from Illinois.
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List of All Journal Entries
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Thursday, September 26
Robert Ashley
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Tuesday, September 24
Robert Ashley
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Saturday, September 21
Robert Ashley
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Friday, September 20
Robert Ashley
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Thursday, September 19
Robert Ashley
   >> more...

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Wednesday, September 18
Robert Ashley
Kemmerer
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Tuesday, September 17
Robert Ashley
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Monday, September 16
Robert Ashley
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Sunday, September 15
Robert Ashley
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Saturday, September 14
Robert Ashley
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Friday, September 13
Robert Ashley
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Wednesday, September 11
Robert Ashley
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Monday, September 9
Robert Ashley
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Saturday, September 7
Robert Ashley
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Wednesday, September 4
Robert Ashley
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Tuesday, September 3
Robert Ashley
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Sunday, September 1
Robert Ashley
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Friday, August 30
Robert Ashley
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Thursday, August 29
Robert Ashley
Stoddard Creek (F.S.) campground
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Wednesday, August 28
Robert Ashley
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Sunday, August 25
Robert Ashley
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Friday, August 23
Robert Ashley
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Thursday, August 22
Robert Ashley
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Wednesday, August 21
Robert Ashley
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Tuesday, August 20
Robert Ashley
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Saturday, August 17
Robert Ashley
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Friday, August 16
Robert Ashley
Meyer Hill
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Thursday, August 15
Robert Ashley
Aspen Grove
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Wednesday, August 14
Robert Ashley
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Tuesday, August 13
Robert Ashley
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Monday, August 12
Robert Ashley
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Sunday, August 11
Robert Ashley
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Wednesday, August 7
Robert Ashley
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Wednesday, August 7
Robert Ashley
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Wednesday, August 7
Robert Ashley
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Sunday, August 4
Robert Ashley
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Saturday, August 3
Robert Ashley
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Thursday, August 1
Robert Ashley
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