Far eastern part of state offers Black Hills views

By Bill Sniffin

During the past five years, we have made an effort to visit just about every city and town in Wyoming. We have given talks and been involved with other authors in book signings.

We have had wonderful times in Cheyenne, Laramie, Rawlins, Saratoga, Rock Springs, Jackson, Pinedale, Lusk, Wheatland, Douglas, Casper, Thermopolis, Buffalo, Sheridan, Worland, Gillette, Hulett, Sundance, Cody, Powell, Lander, Torrington and Riverton.

Towns on our to-do list include Afton, Evanston, Kemmerer, Dubois, Lovell, Greybull-Basin, Pine Bluffs, Green River, Mountain View-Fort Bridger-Lyman and others.

Lately, I had not been having very good luck with Wyoming roads, but back on Nov. 30, the roads were as dry as mid-summer all the way on our 306-mile, one-way journey to Newcastle.

We drove by Teapot Dome north of Casper and recalled how this massive oil field was the source of one of the biggest scandals in American political history. Author Laton McCartney of Dubois wrote an informative book about that scandal a few years ago. Ironically, the pending scandal called Uranium One is located about 30 minutes from that site, according to Tom Lubnau, Gillette.

The towns of Midwest, Edgerton and Wright are along a route that takes you from Interstate 25 over to Highway 59. The imposing Pumpkin Buttes loom to the north. The buttes is an area that I have always wanted to explore.

You head east from Wright and go through the massive Thunder Basin coalmine complex. If coal is dying, it does not look like it there.

Later, we met members of the Wright family, who have a big ranch in the area. The town was named for them.

We passed through the vast Thunder Basin National Grassland. One rancher told me three Triceratops fossilized skeletons have been found on their ranch. That particular critter is the official state dinosaur for Wyoming.

Newcastle knows how to celebrate Christmas. They staged a big downtown celebration on Dec. 1, which was topped off by the 15th annual Pinnacle Bank Festival of Trees. The senior center was jammed full with people of good cheer, raising money for charities.

Newcastle appears to me to be a successful mix of folks from all different kinds of employment persuasions. Some are coal miners who are bused daily to the Thunder Basin mine. I ran into former Landerite Paul Piana, who now works there. Paul is one of the state’s premier mountain climbers. His wife Deb is mayor of Newcastle.

There is a big oil refinery in the middle of the Weston County seat that is running at capacity. Coal trains pass through the town all day long.

The coolest building in the town (and one of the most unique in the state) is the county courthouse. You have to see it to believe it. It was recently refurbished. It, alone, is worth a trip to Newcastle.

Newcastle is nestled in the Wyoming Black Hills and is just eight miles from South Dakota. Tourism appears to be a huge opportunity for growth.

There are big ranches in the area and an abundance of oil and gas wells. Folks appear to be doing well, although some business people complained the economy has tightened up in recent years. The town has a new motel under construction.

My host was local publisher Bob Bonnar of the News Letter Journal. He is very energetic about promoting the town.

Bob is a former president of the Wyoming Press Association, and he has worked hard for years pushing newspaper interests across the state. Not sure he has received the credit he is due for his hard work.

Bob had also lined me up to talk about Wyoming history with 49 fourth graders on Nov. 1, which was so much fun. Our future is in good hands if all young people are as energetic and anxious to learn as that bunch.

Newcastle is one of Wyoming’s oldest towns. It originally was a coal-mining hub, hence the name Newcastle, which is the name of one of Great Britain’s greatest coal mining regions.

Their Wyoming coal was in an area called Cambria, which was mined back in 1889, before Wyoming became a state.

One of the early train masters for the CB&Q railroad at Cambria was a chap by the name of Carl Kugland; he worked there from 1895-1903, and later became a Weston County commissioner, mayor of Newcastle, and owned an insurance agency there.

He has two granddaughters who live in Wyoming, Jean Denham, Cheyenne and Kate Brown, Wheatland.