Heard around the West

  • Dino-wrestling along I-40 near Holbrook, Arizona

    Greg Woodall


Joseph, Ore., population 1,100, doesn’t often get rowdy, so local police quickly followed up on a complaint June 9, regarding some noisy teens. A youth group had apparently massed on the sidewalk in front of their church, where they practiced singing. Here’s the sweet denouement, as reported by the town policeman in the Wallowa County Chieftain: "Went by and they sounded pretty good; no action taken."


The housing market in suburban Phoenix is so competitive that developers are creating farms and pseudo-towns as amenities, reports the Arizona Republic. Santa Cruz Ranch in Pinal County, for example, bills itself as a "John Wayne-style development" because its fire station will look like a barn and some homes will back up against a working farm. The big draw, the paper reports, is a community of a thousand or so homes that resembles a real town with real activities, such as "flag football games and fund-raisers."


The more Montana Gov. Brian Schweitzer insists he’s not interested in being the Democratic candidate for president, the more the press asks him if he’s running. "These people are kooky," Schweitzer says of pundits who say he’s the "best shot to take back the White House." What does Schweitzer do right? Howard Dean, chairman of the Democratic National Committee, says Schweitzer, 49, is "no-nonsense," understands fiscal concerns and has figured out how to win elections in the conservative West. His stands are a mix of "yes" on abortion rights and "no" on gun control and gay marriage, reports The Associated Press. Surprisingly, he chose a Republican as his lieutenant governor. Perhaps his most endearing trait: Schweitzer brings his border collie, Jag, to work.


Connie Sasser of Casper, Wyo., knew that her area was zoned light industrial, but she wasn’t prepared for the huge new neighbor looming over her house — an 80-foot-tall imitation oil rig that has "more property rights than I do." Would-be roughnecks use it to learn what it’s like to live and work on an oil rig. The men are usually polite, she told the AP; they sometimes stop operations at noon on Saturdays so she can use her deck. But, she asks, "What about my right to privacy? This is insane."


Congratulations to Teddy Draper Sr., the World War II Navajo Code Talker who received a Purple Heart from the U.S. government this May. Three hundred well-wishers attended the ceremony at Window Rock, Ariz., where Draper, 83, "at long last received the award reserved only for soldiers whose blood is shed at the hand of an enemy," reports the Navajo-Hopi Observer. A former Marine, Draper told the crowd it had taken him "appeal after appeal" over 58 years to receive his medal. Code Talkers such as Draper were invaluable during the war because they could transmit secret information in a language the enemy found incomprehensible.


Computer analyst Dan McKay recently won the coveted trophy for purple prose bestowed each year by San Jose State University. Its model for the first line of a bad novel comes from Edward Bulwer-Lytton’s 1830 book, Paul Clifford, which begins: "It was a dark and stormy night … ," a sentence that continues for another 49 words. In manly style, McKay wrote: "As he stared at her ample bosom, he daydreamed of the dual Stromberg carburetors in his vintage Triumph Spitfire, highly functional yet pleasingly formed, perched prominently on top of the intake manifold, aching for experienced hands ..." Well, you get the gist. McKay won $250 for satisfying the judges’ search for "writers with a little talent but no taste."


Arvada West senior David McSwane wondered just how far today’s Army recruiters would go to reel in a teenaged soldier. So the honor student posed as a potential recruit who just happened to be a pot smoker and high school dropout. "No problem," said the recruiter. "I’ll just give you this detox stuff, and we’ll basically beat the drug test." McSwane then deliberately flunked the GED, the high school graduate equivalency exam. No problem, once again: The recruiter "told me how to create a fake diploma to get in the Army." McSwane told the Rocky Mountain Bullhorn in Fort Collins that he decided to expose increasingly pushy Army recruiters because their actions affect the lives of so many young people. He doesn’t blame the recruiters themselves; as the Abu Ghraib prison scandal showed, he said, the Army "lets the little guy take the fall." McSwane, whose adventures made national news in May, will major in journalism when he enters Colorado State University this fall.

Betsy Marston is editor of Writers on the Range, a service of High Country News in Paonia, Colorado. Tips of Western oddities are always appreciated and often shared in the column, Heard around the West.

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