Chugwater, Wyoming

As I drove through Wyoming on the morning of May 26, I pulled off of Interstate 25 into the little community of Chugwater: population 212. The iconic bucking bronco that serves as the motif for Wyoming’s brand (visible on license plates and many other items), “Steamboat”, was born there. Additionally, it’s the home of Wyoming’s oldest operating soda fountain. It was about 9:00 AM so no milkshake for me. I wanted to at least buy a cup of coffee and a postcard so I stopped – and got a lot more than that.

The building itself dates back to 1914 and has served a variety of functions over the years. For much of the last decade, it was the only place in town people could get provisions due to the fiery end of the only grocery store/gas station. Although there’s a new gas station/convenience store near the Interstate now, this place has all of the charm. Granted, it doesn’t have much competition from the grain silo, the shuttered hotel, or the post office.

I parked and started walking in at the same time that an older man was doing the same. It was incredible timing considering I could basically take a nap in the middle of Main Street and not be disturbed. He looked at my car and started chatting with me immediately. “Wow, you must be rich!” he said, referencing the bright red Mustang I’d just come out of. I told him it was just a rental as we walked into the shop together; he just nodded. He introduced himself as Daryl and began telling me about himself.

He told me he repaired lawn mowers while pointing out the window at the trailer attached to his pickup truck, which bore a riding lawnmower. I ordered a black coffee and sat down at the vintage counter while he continued talking. I admit that my focus was split at first as I admired the wooden counter with five angular barstools along with the various machines and other accoutrements around the mirror that were used to serve this small community and passers-by.

But I quickly lost sight of my surroundings as Daryl unwound his life story – a yarn of fact, fiction, exaggeration, or all of the above.

Daryl also built his own little airplane, which he flew across the Wyoming skies on occasion. He loved Subaru cars and had restored several for racing over his lifetime (with about two dozen remaining on his property that he could sell for tens of thousands of dollars apiece – if he wanted to). Daryl worked for the FBI years ago, where his job involved catching child sex traffickers in the Pacific Northwest. One culprit had some kind of involvement with a judge’s daughter and ended up getting ejected out of the back of a C-130 over the Pacific Ocean.

He paused for a moment and asked what I did for a living. I told him about my logistics work for a cell phone carrier and that started a whole other branch of conversation. He told me how the federal government required the State of Wyoming, as well as other states across the country, to replace their emergency radio antennas with a specific type of system originally developed for military use – one that the police could use to liquefy the human brain at a certain frequency and shut down motor vehicles in an instant at the inevitable declaration of martial law.

He asked where I’d traveled in the state. I was able to say Devil’s Tower and then he launched into a lamentation about the control of the government on people going up Devil’s Tower, telling them what they could and couldn’t do in an area that should be free from restriction. I can’t remember how it came up during our one-sided conversation, but when COVID-19 was mentioned I knew exactly what was coming. Or, rather, I didn’t.

Daryl isn’t getting vaccinated. According to his research and experience (the FBI put him through med school during his investigative career, it seems, and he served as a phlebotomist for many years) they contain a number of deadly chemicals and other ingredients that can be used to control the population. Everyone in Chugwater, he said, instead took a horse pill to prevent infection. I don’t mean “horse pill” as in the colloquial term for a large capsule – I mean literal horse medicine. It can be bought on the shelves and it boosts the human immune system; it’ll even cure malaria.

I don’t know if this guy was just putting me on…really believed all this…or a mixture of both. Was his name even Daryl? There was no grin, no glint of mischief in his eye. Just the pretense of an “honest conversation” capped with a short discussion about how eastern Wyoming is the best place in the world because people just take care of one another and the cost of living is cheap.

After nearly half-an-hour, another local came in for a cup of coffee – a white-bearded cowboy known as Curly – and Daryl disengaged to greet his friend. The interruption gave me time to pay for my coffee and excuse myself to peruse the uncluttered store shelves for items I wasn’t going to purchase. It was enough for the conversational repairman to wind it down, say farewell, and head down the road. I thanked the lone employee (who, this entire time, had kept busy a fair distance away) and made my exit.

I will never forget the Chugwater Soda Fountain, or Daryl.

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