Niobrara County Reflections
Lusk's Bob Vollmer reflects on life in Niobrara County
Lusk's Bob Vollmer can call himself a true native of Lusk, Wyo. He was born in the town - where the telephone office is now - in 1916. Except for the six years of active duty service he had with the U.S. Army, he has lived his life in Lusk.
Vollmer reflects on days gone by and remembers things about how downtown Lusk used to look.
"Main Street ain't as pretty as it used to be. It's not as muddy as it used to be, but it's not as pretty," he said. "There used to be big cottonwood trees on either side of the street that almost came together. It was awful muddy then - it was just plain 'ol dirt."
Vollmer entered the service in 1940 and served six years in Army ordinance.
"I traveled all over the United States and was stationed in England. My job was to travel around setting up maintenance shops and ordinance. I was in 46 of the 48 states and that's what I did in England."
Vollmer has been a member of the Lusk Volunteer Fire Department for 58 years. One of the first fire trucks was a Model D with a soda and acid tank on it.
"I've been on the fire department ever since I was 16 years old," he said. He was allowed to join the fire department then because of a competition the firemen participated in that required a small man.
He joined his father in business at Vollmer's Machine Shop and when his dad died he took over the business. It is a corporation now and is owned by Bob and his brother Frank.
"The shop is around 100 years old. It's been in town (Lusk) since 1914, but it started in Pollack, La., as a bicycle, watch, gun and boat repair shop. The flood got him four years in a row. His (Bob's dad's) health got so bad he came up to Wyoming."
Vollmer said the family had a doctor friend who lived in Wyoming. His sister, Helen and his dad both were ill and the doctors told both of them to move to Wyoming for dryer climate.
"They stopped in Lusk to see Dr. Steveson on the way to Medicine Bow. There was a knifing incident and they stayed to help doc. A freight train came in with a steam engine and a thrashing machine on it. No one knew how to get it off the track. Someone told them there was a mechanic over at the doctor's office. They hired my dad to take it off the tracks and he taught them how to use it. He missed his train to Medicine Bow. The people here talked him into staying in Lusk. The north part of the Corner Bar was his first shop."
Vollmer discounts the theory that the ranchers started the Town of Lusk.
"This town started up on account of the mines. There were cattle, but there were a lot of mines - the Silver Cliff was one. McFarlane's line and Muskrat Canyon were others. There were coal mines at Keeline, Lost Springs and Shawnee. The railroad had coal mines up there. The oilmen, ranchers and miners used to have some pretty good brawls," he said with a chuckle.
Law enforcement was a little less lenient then, he said. If the men were just throwing punches, the marshall would watch, but if one of them started fighting using a weapon, the marshall would step in and arrest them.
"Lusk was known as one of the roughest towns in the country. One Saturday night there were 32 fights. They were all fist fights - no rough stuff."
Vollmer said he has seen Lusk go through three boom-busts. The first was when the oilfield came in 1920. The second was in the 1930's and the last one was in the 1980's with the construction in the county.
"During the first boom, the post office didn't have room enough so it was put in the Baptist Church. People who didn't have jobs were hired to stand in line to get people's mail. They say there were as high as 20,000 people here. I don't know," he said.
Vollmer said during the boom days Saturday was a big day on Main Street. "You could hardly get down the street. Everybody had to come to town," he said.
"The stores used to open up around 5 a.m. and stay open until almost 9 o'clock at night," he said.
Vollmer said during this time there was a two block stretch of Main Street that was full of businesses. He also said the town was originally designed to head west along what is now Third Street toward the oil fields. There were several businesses west on Third Street and on Pine Street. He said that changed when the highway was moved and rerouted to its present route.
The state oiled the highway in about 1935, according to Vollmer. He helped with that work. "The road used to go out east. It was changed to go over the hill. It was the first oil road that stretched from the Canadian border to Mexican Border - Highway 85," he said.
Vollmer has three living sons and one daughter, John Robert, Portland, Ore.; Tim, Superior, Mont.; Cindy, Kenewick, Wash.; and Milton, Minneapolis, Ind. Vollmer lost one son, George, as a child.
Vollmer is full of tales of his early years and the tales of his grandfather who was a government agent. He tells of his grandmother baking bread when the chiefs came to visit. The first batch of bread always went to the chiefs he said. Whenever a hunting party went out, his grandparents got first choice of the meat and whenever there was trouble in the area, a chief or warrior would come and warn them to stay in their house until the trouble was over.
"My father could talk Sioux, but seldom said any," Vollmer said. He chuckles as he remembers a tale of his father playing a trick on his other while they were dating. They were at a Wild West Show and his mother convinced a young Indian woman to let her hold her baby. Vollmer's father told the Indian woman she should not have let her hold the baby because she was a bad woman. The mother snatched the baby back. Vollmer's father had a good laugh and then was invited in to talk Sioux with the other Indians in the show.
Vollmer has the distinction of holding the Silver Eagle award for Boy Scouts of America. Vollmer was the first Eagle Scout in Niobrara County and has worked with the organization for more than 40 years.
He also was the manager of the swimming pool for a number of years. "I would like to see them get a board and tower and teach diving," he said. Vollmer was an accomplished diver when he was younger.