Last weekend, after commenting on Quin Anne’s post Indiana Jones~In the Beginning, and advising her that I lived and worked on one of the Wyoming ranches where the movie was made, Quin asked me to share a story about that episode in my life.
After graduating from college and not being able to land a teaching position in my major field, I was working 3-4 part-time jobs, one of which was being in a small beef cattle partnership with my father. During my last two years of college, I took a number of animal science courses, in addition to my major/minor courses, to increase my knowledge of beef cattle operations.
During those last two years of college, on the average weekday, I would get up very early in the morning and go on my AI (dairy cattle artificial insemination) route, then hustle back home, grab a quick bite for breakfast, then hop in my school bus and drive that elementary school route, then hustle back home, jump in my ’72 Chevy pickup and drive 50 some miles down to the university where I was taking classes.
After classes all day, I would tromp it back home, go on the school bus route, then the AI evening route, then home for supper. Afterwards, study time and spend a little time with my spouse of 2-3 years, then get a few hours of sleep.
Life was fast then, and has been pretty much uphill ever since.
Around Christmas time, 1973, while reading the want ads in the Drovers Journal cattlemen’s newspaper, I saw an ad for a ranch foreman in northeast Wyoming on a newly purchased, 18,000+ acre cattle ranch. I sent off a quick application and resume, and the next week, received a call from the owner.
To make a long story shorter, in mid January, I drove out to Wyoming, driving straight through, interviewed for the ranch foreman position, got it, and turned around and drove straight back to southern Wisconsin.
The deal I made was to drive back out and start my new job in a month, in February, after making arrangements back home. The hardest part of leaving home for the west and my new position, was leaving my dear wife of about 6 years, who was then three months pregnant with what would be our first born, and being away from her until June, when I would fly back home, load up all of our earthly possessions in a truck and move her and our stuff out to the ranch.
In mid February, I loaded up my Chevy 4×4 with a rollaway bed, bedding, my clothes, tools, a small dresser, and one of our two cats, a fiesty Siamese female named Woodstock (those were the days), and headed for Wyoming. Those next four months were a very lonesome time. Kind of like the last year and a half, down here on the coast on hurricane relief mission.
About two years pass, during which we have the birth of our first son, and get settled into the life of ranchers literally out in the middle of nowhere. In fact, our nearest neighbors lived five miles away! Our doctor and the hospital where our first two children were born were 55 miles east of the ranch, over the Little Bear Lodge Mountains, in Belle Fourche, South Dakota.
Belle Fourche River
I was able to do many things on the ranch, including operate heavy equipment (dozer and scrapper), guide out-of-state deer hunters, dynamite beaver dams and stumps, build corrals, establish the second beef cattle AI program in the state at that time, and be the tanker driver fire fighter of the two-person local fire department.
Life was at a somewhat slower pace then, it seemed.
I can remember coming in for dinner one day and asking my wife, “Is this Tuesday, or Saturday?” Not really knowing, or really caring. The ranch I was the foreman of, measured approximately 4 miles wide by 10 miles long. It seemed like we were forever fixing fence on that place.
There wasn’t a lot of excitement in those parts, except for a rodeo once in a while, and occasionally playing pinochle with friends.
None, that is, until Steven Spielberg, George Lucas, Richard Dreyfuss and Melinda Dillon came by one day…
When we first heard the rumors of a big movie being shot in the county, (Crook County), most of us didn’t believe it would ever happen. Then advance people started showing up, followed by props, semi trailers and all kind of goodies arriving at the entrance of Devils Tower National Monument every day, it seemed.
This particular piece of land, about 8 acres, was part of the neighbor’s ranch, which adjoined the park and our ranch. Our ranch had about 10,000 acres on the front (east and north side of the park, and 8,000 acres on the back (west) of the park. One had to drive through the park to get from the front ranch to the back ranch.
What caused a lot of excitement among easy-going locals in those parts, was the opportunity to be one of several hundred people hired as extras for some of the scenes to be filmed in front of the park and nearby at several locations.
As fortune would have it, my wife, pregnant at the time expecting our second child, and my best friend out there, Tom, both got hired as extras for one of the scenes to take place on the highway going over towards Moorcroft.
Tom and my wife were to be riding in Tom’s pickup, which had my camper top on it (my only contribution to the film), while Richard Dreyfuss and Melinda Dillon were trying to get to Devils Tower on a back road, and were fighting traffic in that effort. I believe that they paid the extras about $50 and meals for their participation in the scenes.
I didn’t go to apply for an extra part, as I just had too much to do with work on the ranch. It was really cool, though, having the choppers buzzing all around at dusk and early nightfall, with their searchlights on, as if looking for Dreyfuss and Dillon when they were trying to climb their way away from those pursuing them.
Every day it was a neat experience to go get our mail at the Devils Tower Post office, which was located across the road from the movie set, as it provided the opportunity to check up on what was going on on the set.
Once the film actually came out in theaters, it was exciting to go and view it, and see all the local scenes in the Devils Tower area, and remember back when the movie was being filmed.
It was an interesting and memorable stop on this trip called life.