Like the covered-wagon driver of yore, we faced our share of trip obstacles

© 2017-Kemmerer Gazette

It seems like whenever we find ourselves crossing the east-central and west-central parts of Wyoming by motor vehicle, I find myself imagining what this trip must have been like for pioneers on the Oregon-California-Mormon Trail.

Some 350,000 hearty souls crossed the country along a route that spanned the entire width of present-day Wyoming.

Their wagon trains entered the state on the eastern edge between Torrington and Lusk and headed toward Fort Laramie by way of the Lingle area.

The first mountain they saw was Laramie Peak, which towers 10,276 feet above the plains west of present-day Wheatland. What an inspiration that sight must have been!

Because the power they were using came from oxen and horses, they needed to stay close to rivers and grass. Lots of grass. 

The pioneers followed the North Platte River north and west near what today is Casper.

They soon encountered the Sweetwater River, which they followed upstream all the way to the mystical South Pass.

This famous pass is literally the “hole in the wall” that allowed America (and Americans) to satisfy manifest destiny by heading west and claiming the western third of Wyoming, Idaho, Oregon and California.

South Pass was nature’s oddball notch in the length of the towering Rocky Mountains. This gap allowed wagon trains to pass through and head west.

It took a series of coincidental places such as the rivers, the grasslands and the notch in the mountains to make the whole thing possible.

Without water or grass or South Pass, the westward march would have been much more difficult.

As I write this, I had just joined the trail for this trip at South Pass.

We were on our way to Las Vegas where we planned to spend a couple of weeks soaking up the heat.

Then we would put the old rig in storage until we headed back to Vegas sometime around Feb. 1 for a month or two.

We were driving down the road in our 12-year old motorhome, just west of Farson, when I noticed that our house batteries were not charging.

So what the heck was wrong with my house batteries?

I’m not sure if anyone out there cares, but a motorhome has essentially two electrical systems. The normal motor vehicle system has two big 12-volt batteries that operate the starter and provide power for the headlights and normal driving-type functions.

The coach, meanwhile, has six big 6-volt batteries that operate everything from the refrigerator to the air conditioning when the rig is not plugged into an outside electrical source.

Yes, it is possible to drive without the coach batteries, but this is not an ideal situation.

I thought about stopping at Little America, but it was such a nice day and the rig was driving well, so I crossed my fingers and just kept on going.

We passed the road to Kemmerer, and I was tempted to go visit my friend Vince Tomassi at his car dealership.  Surely they could help get my batteries functioning? 

But then again, it was such a nice day, and so I kept on going.

As we passed the turnoff to the Bridger Valley, I tried to imagine what it must have been like to have been an Oregon Trail traveler 160 years ago in this spot. 

What would you do if your house batteries were on the fritz in your old reliable Conestoga? You would probably plan a stop at Fort Bridger to make repairs.

But I motored on.

Our next potential stop was Evanston, where our former Lander bookkeeper, Marsha Redding, operates Spanky’s Bar.

Since our rig is 40 feet long and weighs over 30,000 pounds — and  we were also towing the car — I decided it was not a good idea to stop.

When I got to Interstate 80, the weather was windy. Sure enough, as soon as we left the state, the wind died down. The legend of Wyoming’s big winds continued for another day.

We waved good-bye to our Wyoming as we headed on to Salt Lake City and then all the way to St. George, Utah, where we spent the night.

We got to Las Vegas the next day and everything got fixed.

Like many a trail master, I had conquered adversity and made it to my destination.

Then I heard it was starting to snow back in Lander. It was 91 degrees in Sin City. I had to wipe a satisfied smirk off my face.

Check out additional columns at www.billsniffin.com. He has published six books.  His coffee table book series has sold 30,000 copies. You can find them at www.wyomingwonders.com.

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