(Mis-)Adventures in the West: Episode 1 – Three Days in Buffalo, Wyoming

Linda and I were married in her hometown of Hingham, Massachusetts on June 8, 1968 - the day after I received my bachelor’s degree. Here’s a photo of us leaving the reception. After a honeymoon in New Hampshire, we packed all our possessions into Linda’s 1962 Chevrolet Impala and headed for Pasadena, California, where I was beginning graduate school.

We did some sightseeing along the way, and our trip was problem-free until one afternoon in Wyoming. We had visited Wind Cave and Jewel Cave that morning, and we were heading west on Interstate 90 toward Buffalo, Wyoming. The speed-limit signs read “reasonable and prudent” or something similar. The traffic was light and mostly traveling between 80 and 90 mph. We passed a sign that read “No Services – Next 80 Miles.” In accordance with Murphy’s Law, it was about 40 miles later that the engine temperature needle shot up. By the time I pulled over, the engine had quit.

Linda and I got out of the car and looked around at the arid landscape. (Here’s a link to a Google-maps photo taken 44 years later – the scene hasn’t changed much: https://goo.gl/maps/WBJsKxUxzqj.) We’re really not hitch-hikers, but there was no other choice. Fortunately, we were soon rescued by two college students who were spending the summer driving an 18-wheel moving van. They were happy to drive us to Buffalo, where we could hire a tow truck. We sat (Linda on my lap) in the middle of the truck’s bench seat. Just a couple of minutes into the ride, the young man on the passenger side reached into the glove compartment and pulled out a six-pack of beer. We politely declined his offer of a can, and we wondered what fate awaited us as he and the driver enjoyed some beer.

Despite our anxiety, they delivered us to the small town of Buffalo, and we started by checking into a motel. When the proprietor asked if we wanted to see the room and we said that we would come back later, he looked at the two of us and said, “Oh, you have to get married first?” (We weren’t amused.)

We located a towing service run by Cecil S. Mudge. (The fellow was unforgettable; be assured that I couldn’t make up the name!) Cecil was not a young man, but small children were frolicking in the yard, and Cecil’s young wife had a baby in her arms. When Cecil told us that he had recently had a heart attack and had been taken to a hospital by “holly-coopter,” I admit that we wondered what might have triggered the attack. When we told him that our disabled car was about 40 miles east of town on Interstate 90, he said “Oh, you must be out there at Crazy Woman Creek.” Cecil let us ride with him as he retrieved the Impala. It was after dark by the time we got back to Buffalo. Cecil towed the car to a repair shop on Spruce Street.

The next morning we started by getting breakfast at a diner. If the other patrons didn’t recognize us as tenderfeet as soon as we walked in, they surely knew it once we asked for sugar and milk for our coffee. (The waitress got sugar from behind the counter, but to get us milk, she needed to go back to the kitchen refrigerator!) After breakfast, we walked (what else?) to the repair shop and met Mr. Lloyd Rood, the owner. Fortunately, he and his mechanic, whom we remember only as “Swede,” did not have any major jobs ahead of us, so they were able to start with the Impala that same day.

Lloyd and Swede immediately discovered that our car had run out of both coolant and motor oil. They spent the next two days doing a major rebuild of the engine. During that time, we conversed with these two men quite a bit. Swede, who walked with a pronounced limp, mentioned that he was really looking forward to elk-hunting season later in the year. We eventually got up the courage to ask Swede about his limp, and he told us that the previous year he was hunting elk on horseback when his horse fell into a canyon. He was helicoptered out, but his horse was killed in the accident. Hearing his story made us impressed at his eager anticipation of the upcoming elk season. (We could also figure that helicopters are used quite a bit in that part of the world!)

After two and a half days, Lloyd and Swede put the engine back together, but when they started filling the radiator, the coolant spilled right out onto their pantlegs! Evidently a rock had hit the radiator out there on I-90! Fortunately, it didn’t take long to fix the radiator, and that afternoon we resumed our drive to Pasadena. There were other small adventures en route, but thanks to the repairs made by Lloyd and Swede in that “Log Shop on Spruce Street,” we reached our destination in time to find housing and start work. And we have fond memories of the friendly helpfulness of the good people of Buffalo, Wyoming.

We spent only one year in California, but when we headed back East in May 1969, it was not in the 1962 Chevrolet. The story of the Impala’s final days will be the subject of Episode 2. --Bill Ingham