Lyn Riddle



Alberta Newspaper Group

And Finally

Newspaper jobs were not abundant the year I graduated from the University of Northern Colorado. That was 1975, in the aftermath of the Watergate scandal when everyone thought they could be the next Woodward or Bernstein. As I recall — and this could be way off, but it was real to me at the time — some 20,000 people graduated with journalism degrees and newspapers had room for 1,000 or so fledgling reporters. I had been told I’d be the next hire for the Greeley, Colorado, Tribune, where I did a semester-long internship, but nobody left. So I went home to my parents’ apartment in New York City and applied for jobs. On a typewriter. Mailing off letters to all the places listed in the back of Editor & Publisher magazine. About six weeks later, I got a call from Helen Poulos, the business manager for the Rock Springs Daily Rocket-Miner in Wyoming. She hired me during the same phone call. I don’t think it was that I was so impressive. Knowing what I know now, I think she was desperate. Back then, Rock Springs was a pretty wild place with thousands of workers coming in to build a coal-fired generating plant. They attracted what I’ll call ancillary industries. My mother drove with me to Wyoming. She said Rock Springs looked like the moon and wanted to say, “Honey, let’s just go back home,” but she held her tongue. Most of the people who worked there were like me, young, inexperienced, just out of school. The first day I was told to rewrite a press release and when I got back from dinner (it was a morning newspaper) the editor had put the story back the way the flack had written it. Immediate failure. I asked why and his vague response didn’t do much for my wounded ego. It was a lonely time. Then I found Kaiser’s Wyoming Club on K Street downtown, a dimly lit establishment with a long bar, wood paneling, Formica tables and a jukebox that played polkas. The proprietor was Kaiser. At the time, I thought he was 80. He was a retired miner — coal and trona mines occupied most workers back then. I’d never heard of trona and he brought out a chunk that looked like crystal yellowed by time. It’s used to make soda ash. Kaiser basically became grandpa to all of us who came to his little town from so far away. He’d make sure we had enough money (you can imagine how low the pay was) and that we were safe. He let me work behind the bar and that’s when I learned the similarities of news reporting and bartending, listening to people’s stories. There was a full bar but the only thing I had to learn to do was open a long-neck Coors and slide it down the bar. In winter, people ordered hot toddies, but that was Kaiser’s speciality. Not long ago, Sonora resident Barbara Dresslar drove through Rock Springs, remembered I had worked there and bought me a Rocket-Miner. I had not seen one in four decades. Kaiser is the first thing I thought of as I held that paper. I googled him. He died in 1986 and for the first time I learned his real name: William Elich. By then he had owned the bar for 40 years. He was 67 when he died, which meant he was in his mid-50s when I knew him. So much for the perspective of youth. I also found out that Rock Springs native Steve West had bought the bar in the 1990s from the people Kaiser gave the bar to. Yes, he gave someone the bar. I called Steve. He said he knew Kaiser, everyone did. “He kept a lot of cash and cashed checks for the miners,” West said. Reading between the lines, people knew not to mess with him. I remembered him jumping across the bar to tell folks they were not welcome there. That’s why he named it the Wyoming Club, so people would think you had to be a member. “He didn’t tolerate riff raff,” West said, “and back then there was a lot of drugs, prostitution.” I asked West what the bar was now. “I’ve updated the bathrooms, bought the lot next door for outside tables,” he said. And it’s called Steve’s Wyoming Club. The bar manager sent me a picture. The feeling of the 70s came right back, along with memory of a kind man who offered membership to some journalists who weren’t quite sure where they were headed. Above is a current photo of the Wyoming Club. Photo courtesy of Steve West