Friday, August 3, 2012

Small Town America: Torrington, Wyoming

 When this profiling blog was first conceived, it was to focus in on one aspect of an American small town somewhere in this Great Country, such as the ones already done on a boardwalk or how a small town organizes a great festival.
However, this profile will be an exception. It will be more a perspective of Torrington, Wyoming, having knowledge and experience in Torrington, Connecticut.
This was the motivation to travel to the wonderful small city of Torrington, WY…the best motivation for the human spirit and for the American Vagabond’s curiosity.
Torrington WY was founded by Torrington, CT native, W.G. Curtiss, in the very early 1900s. That is the genesis for naming the second Torrington in the West. That is where much of the similarity will end.
Torrington, WY is a small town of approximately 5000 residents-about the same size in population as Harwinton, CT. However, because it is the county seat of Goshen County, WY, it has a commercial district rivaling the much larger Torrington, CT version. It does not, however, for good or bad, have any of the large box stores that are ubiquitous in much of America.
Yet, it must be mentioned that the fast food chains have succeeded in having their presence in the small town of Torrington, WY, just as we can get the Big Whopper and Big Mac in Torrington, CT.
In all of New England, much of the founding of one city or another is due to the rivers as a means of power for factories, and transportation from one point to another.
In the West, it was not only the rivers, but also the railroads that gave rise to many small and large cities. Two railroads meet in Torrington, WY, Union Pacific and the BNSF.
Unlike what we are most familiar with here in CT, the Union Pacific and BNSF move sugar, coal, and other bulk products through Torrington, WY. Also, aiding the “raison de etre” of Torrington, WY, is the intersection of two state highways, and as previously mentioned, being the county seat.
One digression is in order for the CT readers of this profile. Here in CT, we have a tradition for “home rule” manifested in a strong local government. Counties in CT exist in name only for the most part. In most of the country, to include Wyoming, counties are very strong in both their taxing authority and governmental powers. This is not to say the local government is not without their own authority and responsibilities, which I will mention later in this profile.
One of the issues we Vagabonds like to think about with each small town we visit are the economic engines that drive the local economies. All employment brings income to the workers, but it is the employment that brings income into the community that is the key to the economic vitality of any city or town.
I previously mentioned the larger than expected, given the population of Torrington, WY business community. This is not only because it is the county seat with all the trappings of county government such as the county courthouse, it is because of the local larger employers.
Torrington, WY is home to a private special education facility, St. Joseph’s Children’s’ Home, a beet sugar factory, the Eastern Wyoming (2 year) college, a state medium security prison, a soon to be plastic factory and a temporary influx of oil pipeline workers. As Torrington is very close (7 miles) to the panhandle of Nebraska, the surrounding community is heavily engaged in agriculture--both livestock and crops (corn, soybeans and beets).
We, the Vagabonds, feel the heavily weighting towards agriculture contributes to the very friendly demeanor of the small town. Farming, universally, makes nice people.
Kelly, the Director of the Visitors’ Center of the local Chamber of Commerce, was and is extraordinarily friendly — plus she is a relocated Bostonian. She understood James’s accent completely :). Besides making us feel very welcome, she was a valuable source of information about the community. One anecdote was she knew of the homeless man we met, temporary living in the park we stayed in that offered hook-ups for RVs. She mentioned he was the only homeless man in town. This man was well-spoken, knowledgeable, and helpful to our visit. Hopefully his misfortunes are temporary however; even he, in the mist of his own issues, exhibited the inherent friendliness we encountered all across the Mid-West and Western States.
While I mention people we met, it is incumbent upon us to mention the Mayor of Torrington, Wyoming, Mike Varney. He is a retired history professor with a most charming personality. Politically astute, well informed about the inner workings of his town, he was gracious enough to give us ample time in his office to not only complete our quest to learn about the town in the short time we had allocated, he made us feel this can not be the only visit for the Vagabonds to this fair city. It is rare for an elected politician to say they won their office via a “write-in” as Mayor Varney had done.
On a more serious note he did talk with us at length about the water issues and challenges the town faces. The abnormally hot summer is an inconvenience for Torrington, CT as well as the rest of the state. For those in Torrington, WY, and throughout the Mid-West, water and its related issues are becoming more and more of a critical concern. Fortunately for Torrington, WY, with Mike Varney’s leadership and vision, and the good fortune of the proximity of the North Platte River Valley, Torrington has a stable, reliable, and ample water supply for the time being.
 Across from the beet sugar factory is the town museum complete with a real Union Pacific Caboose right next door! The museum is located in the abandoned railroad station and is filled with historic artifacts and memorabilia of the history of Torrington, WY donated by the local citizens. The museum is open during the week and free. Inside the museum, the Vagabonds and other visitors are transformed immediately into the past. The ambiance of the museum is quit invigorating and in a short time, one can get the feel of a time long gone that is the history of strong, resolute, accomplished, and proud American West townspeople.
Another impressive structure is the Volunteer Fire Station and equally impressive fire training facility in the local Pioneer Park. The Vagabonds did not get a chance to talk to any of the volunteer firemen and firewomen but; judging from their facilities we are confident they are as professional, capable and dedicated as any volunteer fire department throughout America. A Vagabonds well-done to all!
Throughout Connecticut, one notices and unfortunately too many take for granted the greenery of the State’s abundant and prolific vegetation. Torrington, WY is not blessed similarly. Trees and luscious green lawns as well as the abundant deciduous tress of New England are not present, or are very few sparse indeed, in Torrington, Wyoming.
Yet the vistas and the nearby plains offer their own allure to resident and visitor alike.
The people of Torrington, WY are a resolute lot — proud and independent as the geography and nature demand.
Mayor Mike Varney, Torrington, WY

Main Street in Torrington, WY

A museum guide

Torrington's sugar beet factory

We always found a great place to hike on the road.

Torrington CT native W.G. Curtiss, founder of the town of Torrington, Wyoming.

James and Joan, enjoying some time on the dance floor - one of their favorite places.
Yet there is a friendliness and charm ever present that unites all Americans that says, “For all our differences, we are most alike in all that matters.”

1 comment:

  1. I love that you're doing this! I am living a similar reality, also in an RV. I applaud your choices. Check out my site as well!