Billy Owen never saw a railroad until he was eight years old. His mother had told him about railroads. But in his mind as he traveled east by wagon train across Wyoming in the spring of 1868, he had imagined railroad wheels that looked something like wagon wheels. They rolled in grooves. Each groove was made by two rails. That meant it took four rails, as he imagined it, to make a track.
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Business & Industry
As soon as Europeans came to the coasts of North America, they began trading for furs with the people who already lived here. On the first of June 1834, about 60 men and a caravan of horses and pack mules splashed across the Laramie River. They were headed for rendezvous in the mountains — the big summer fur-trading fair — and they were late.
The railroad hailed once as the “only line to the great Wyoming copper mining district” in the upper North Platte Valley failed to arrive in time for the copper boom—but still carried passengers and cattle for decades, and lumber for nearly a century.
Accidents and disasters have plagued Wyoming coal mines since territorial times. In 1886, legislators created the office of the state mine inspector to help improve safety. Still, explosions and cave-ins killed hundreds of miners in the following decades. The worst accidents happened in Hanna in 1903 and near Kemmerer in 1923. Lawmakers continued to increase safety measures and eventually expanded the duties of the state mine inspector. Modern strip mining is far safer.
Called Camp le Grand by trappers and fur traders who held rendezvous in the 1830s, the scenic place at the base of the Sierra Madre Mountains eventually became known as Encampment. Rich copper deposits brought miners, promoters and others who hoped the town would become a western industrial stronghold. That didn’t happen, but today, visitors and locals gather here for numerous festivals held throughout the year that celebrate the town’s heritage.
In 1843, explorer John C. Frémont reported coal in what’s now southwest Wyoming. In the 1860s, the route of the new transcontinental railroad across Wyoming was chosen partly to access abundant coal deposits for fuel for the locomotives. Coal mining boomed, labor strife increased and Wyoming’s coal industry thrived despite worker strikes and a number of horrific mine accidents. Today, the state produces 40 percent of the nation’s coal, most of it from huge strip mines in the Powder River Basin in northeast Wyoming, for rail shipment to electric power plants in 34 states.
Guernsey Dam on the North Platte River lies between historic Fort Laramie and Laramie peak and just a few miles from some deep, sandstone ruts on the historic Oregon Trail. The dam was completed in 1927, for hydropower and flood control. In 1934, crews from the Civilian Conservation Corps located camps near the reservoir. With design help from the National Park Service, they built the handsome stone-and-timber shelters and buildings at Guernsey State Park, in what became a showplace of state park design.
Before Glendo Dam could be built on the North Platte River in Platte County, Wyoming, complicated water-rights disputes had to be settled among Wyoming, Nebraska and Colorado and the settlement approved by the U.S. Supreme Court. The process took more than a decade, and shows the difficulties of allocating water in the arid West. The earthfill dam, nearly 2,100 feet long and 190 feet high, was completed in the fall of 1957. It stores water for irrigation and recreation, controls floods, reduces sedimentation in the Guernsey reservoir downstream and produces hydropower.