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My Growing Up In Thermopolis

   Being a kid in Thermopolis was a bit like living in Never Never Land, or at least it seemed that way to me. We followed the oil rig to Thermopolis and didn't expect to be there long but my step dad hurt his back and when the rig moved on we stayed.

Some Perspective

   I lived there in a time before Nintendo, Wii, and PS anything. Our heros were The Lone Ranger [ Wikipedia, - audio ], Hopalong Cassidy [ Wikipedia, - audio ], and many other great cowboy figures. Our games came from our imagination, not from a box. There were no joysticks for us. Thermopolis had no TV when we moved there. The nearest station was in Casper but you couldn't get the signals over the mountains. Thermopolis did have a radio station that played, what was then, the popular music of the day. Time was spent outside doing things. Using our imaginations. Our games may not seem like a lot of fun to modern kids but they sure were for us.

Play Time

   We spent a lot of time up in that little valley between "T" Hill and the airport. Looking on Google Earth it looks like nothings changed there since the fifties. If you look you will see a litle washout, just a dark jagged line in the satellite image. A great place to act out our cowboy heroes stories. The cracks in the caprock on T Hill made great hideouts and climbing up through them gave us easy access to the top.
   When we got tired of that we could always go swimming at one of the two pools in the park. We mostly went to the "old" pool. The "new" pool is/was The Plunge. It doesn't look like the old pool is there any more. My first time swimming my feet blistered pretty bad, as most do. Mom worked at J.C. Penny's and bought me some moccasin's before I went. Had to hobble around in them for a week or so. After a couple times swimming I no longer had a problem. I guess the water toughens the bottoms of the feet or something. I would love to get back to Thermopolis at least once. But I'll be sure and buy some moccasin's before I go swimming.
   We would climb up behind the shelter at the spring, go around the fence and climb Monument Hill. In case you've never been up there it's quite a view. The rodeo grounds was a good place to catch birds. Why catch them you ask. Because we could. Never did anything with them. That might have been the beginnings of "Catch and Release". Catch a box of grasshoppers on T Hill and go fishing in the river. And just ride our bicycles and hang out.
   In the winter there was everyones favorite. Sleds! They used to close off a block or so of Mondell Street because you couldn't drive up the hill when it was snowcovered and icey. Made a great place to sled. We spent time building jumps and obstacles to "improve" the hill. Or, you could go swimming. Both pools had indoor pools to swim in. The old pool had a tunnel under the wall to allow the water to flow from the outdoor pool to the indoor. You could crawl, or paddle, through the tunnel and, if you didn't get to far out of the water, have snow ball fights in the pool. I guess I forgot to mention that the pool was fed by channel directly from the big spring so the water was quite warm. There was a layer of warmed air just above the water that kept US from freezing solid.
   We did a lot of hunting. It was like the meat market was open 24/7. Deer, Elk, Antelope, Prairie Hen, Pheasant, Duck, just about everything. We had a German Pointer, Joe, and there was a Water Spaniel, Sam, that sort of came with the Round Top Mountain Courts, more about that later. Most of the year they barely tolerated each other but come hunting season they were fast friends. Either, or both, got to go hunting a lot. We couldn't hardly get them out of the house unless you had a gun in your hand during hunting season.
   One of my favorite places to go when everyone else was busy or I was alone was the radio station. They were pretty good about letting me hang around as long as I didn't cause any problems. I even got to go into the studio and help get out the 45 RPM records and get them ready to go onto a turntable in the right order. Yes boys and girls, real vinyl records and real turntables. This was the old days of radio when you had to have a live Disc, record - disc(k) - get it, Jockey in the studio whenever the station was on the air. There were two turntables and one would be playing on the air while you cued the next record on the other. All commecials were read live. If you had to make a quick trip to the bathroom, three minutes or less, you would have to have some snappy patter while you cued up the next record. If you were REAL lucky, there was someone else in the station that could play the next record for you. There was no automation. No huge disk drives with tons of music.

Round Top Mountain Courts

   I have to tell this part before I can tell you the next. Mom worked at J.C. Penny's as I said beore. She worked as a floor sales person and window dresser. Some how we also wound up managing the motel. It belonged to the Clegg family but was in trust for Bill Clegg until whatever the terms of the trust were met. We lived in the big house that used to sit at the back of the parking lot. Our "living room" was also the "office". There was a small stand up desk right by the door with all the obligatory motel stuff, postcards, cans of Jackalope Milk, souveniers, etc.
   What! You don't know what Jackalope milk is? Do you know what a Jackalope is? I declare. A Jackalope is kind of the siren of the cattle ranges. Cowboys would lay at night and be sung to sleep with the Jackalopes song. Very elusive. Hardly ever actually seen. We were lucky enough to have a mounted Jackalope head right by the front door to show the tourists what they looked like.
   Alright, I'll come clean. I'm jerking your leg a bit. The Jackalope head is a Jack Rabbit head with Antelope horns mounted on it. Get it, Jack - alope. The "milk was either Pet or Carnation canned condensed milk that we replaced the wrapper with a specially printed Jackalope Milk wrapper. Kind of like the envelope with the rattle snake eggs in it. Something for the tourists to take home and amaze their friends and family with.
   The courts had nine log cabins. Number nine could be split into 9A and 9B or used as one for larger families. In the morning mom and I would go out before she went to work and I went to school and make up the cabins that people had vacated early. We had a lady that worked there that made up the rest of the cabins later in the mornings. A lot of the time during school year I would come home after school and start renting out rooms until mom got home. On the north side of the house there was an enclosed porch that had the washing machine, drier, and mangle, Don't know what that is either do you. It's a machine that "irons" clothes. Has a rotating cloth covered drum that pulls whatever you want ironed under a heated steel plate. Fingers would go in to if you weren't careful. Something you REALLY want to happen. Mom used it to iron my jeans. Gave them a crease you could cut a steak with. Mostly we used it to iron the sheets for the cabins.

Cable Comes To Thermopolis

   As I said before, no one had TV because you couldn't pick up the signal from Casper over the moutains. There was a nice couple that moved into Thermopolis to start a cable television company. I don't really know any of the details but I'm sure they had a tower someplace up on a mountain for their antenna. It was really just the Casper television channel(s) but it was wonderous.
   When they were coming to town their trailer home was wrecked in the canyon someplace. They came on into town and showed up at the courts just after I got home from school. They told me what happened and that their cat had a litter of kittens in the trailer. I traded a couple nights in the courts for one of the kittens. To say mom was a tad upset when she got home would be an understatement. She had to have the books balance for the bank every month. But, in the end it all balanced out and the books were fine. Mom said she thinks I stuck a tiny bit more on each room to make up the difference. I was happy. I had my kitten. The bank was happy. They had their money.
   They got the cable system set up in a few weeks and one of the feeder lines went down the alley behind cabin nine. Bill Clegg came home on a school break and he and a friend climbed up the telephone pole and spliced in a cable that ran to the big house. I'm sure the people that owned the company knew about it but they never said anything. It wasn't all that hard to see the cable coming over. Oh yes. The kitten. He was a silver black persian that I named Panther. He was georgeous. He and I were buds for many years.


   Not what your thinking right now. When my step dad's back got better and he could go back to work he joined the police department under Chief Matthews. Mom took an FCC test and became a dispatcher for a while.
   Chief Matthews kids came down with Chickenpox. I was propmtly shipped off to stay with them for a few days. A fairly common thing in those days. If someones children got measles or chickenpox you sent your kids to stay so they got them to. Anyway, we terrorized the Matthews household for a few days and I never did get the chickenpox. So far as anyone knows I've never had them. Not even when my own kids came down with them. Somehow I'm just immune.


   That gives you some idea what it was like to grow up a while in Thermopolis back in the fifties. I'm sorry, but time has pretty much robbed me of any names of people I knew. I do remember one of my friends was Jerry. And, there were two girls. Ones name was Diane and I want to say the others name was Carolyn, but don't quote me on that. They were cousins but told everyone they were sisters. Which wasn't to terribly far from the truth. Their fathers were twins and their mothers were twins. That means that the genes were very nearly identical for both girls. They were probably more alike than most real sisters.

Thermopolis in the fifties was a good place to be a kid.
Billie Walsh
Nov. 2009

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