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TimeSpace: Half A Tank
TimeSpace: Half A Tank

Post photographer Michael Williamson is traveling across the country covering the economic situation.

Meet Lost Springs, WY (Won't Take But A Minute)

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Welcome to Lost Springs, WY. Photo by Michael Williamson/The Washington Post

LOST SPRINGS, Wyo.--Michael and I had hoped to interview an entire town’s population about the recession. We settled for a third of one: Art Stringham.

The sign outside Lost Springs lists the population as one. Turns out, it's wrong. It should say three.

“I tell everyone, they counted only one side of the street,” said Stringham, 52.

We laughed, but Stringham didn’t. He wasn’t joking. Sure enough, on one side of Main Street sits Lost Springs Store and Post Office, where Stringham works and lives, and behind it, a trailer where his brother Alfred Stringham stays. Across the street from them both is the bar that serves as business and home to Leda Price. She was the one who was counted.

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Art Stringham is one of only three residents in Lost Springs. Photo by Michael Williamson/The Washington Post

“Leda’s the mayor,” Stringham said, adding that he’s the sole councilman because politics doesn’t interest his brother. “We have regular meetings the 2nd Tuesday of every month.”

“Where – at Leda’s place or in the store?” I asked.

“In Town Hall,” Stringham said. “We open it up and have our meeting.”

“How long do they last?”

“Anywhere from one to two hours.”

Thinking he was joking, we laughed again. He didn’t, again.

Wyoming is the least populous state in the country and Lost Springs is its smallest incorporated town. In 1920, there were 280 residents. When Stringham's parents bought the store in 1969 and moved the family in, Stringham said the population was eight: his parents, his four sisters, his brother and him. But then his sisters moved out and his parents passed away. Now, he runs the store alone, selling antiques ranging from porcelain figurines to California Raisins key chains. Flash cubes hang on one wall in yellowed, unopened packaging.

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Flash cubes from the 1970s are among the items for sale at the Lost Springs Store. Photo by Michael Williamson/The Washington Post

The population sign brings some customers into the store from the road, Stringham said, but their numbers have dwindled lately. (He gave Michael and me wooden nickels he had made up to offer to passing tourists. One lists the town's real population and the other says, "Get Lost in Lost Springs.")

“People aren’t traveling quite as much,” he said, adding that in the past, the store might see 10 to 15 customers over a weekend, but now maybe two or three people come in, and even then, many don’t buy anything. Because the profits from the store aren’t enough to survive on, Stringham works 40 hours a week in Bill, WY, half an hour's drive away, repairing rail cars.

That’s where Stringham's brother was on the afternoon we arrived in Lost Springs. Price was also gone, busy with a catering job. So Michael and I accepted that we wouldn’t be able to interview the entire town, just its storekeeper-councilman-groundskeeper-photographer-substitute postmaster.

“Do you ever want to be mayor?” I asked Stringham.

“Eventually,” he said. "When Leda retires.”

“But then I guess you wouldn’t have any council members?”

“Well,” he said, pausing as if he hadn’t thought about that. “No, I guess, you wouldn’t.”

He laughed.

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A coal train passes by the entrance to Lost Springs. Photo by Michael Williamson/The Washington Post

By Theresa Vargas  |  August 20, 2009; 11:20 AM ET
 
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Comments

This is sad. The Post wasted time on this article? Of the hundreds of millions of people in the USA, you went to the most underpopulated state in the union to ask about the effects of the recession? Wyoming isn't booming, wasn't booming, and has never really boomed, period. The only things affecting them is time without consequence. You should've asked about something more meaning to the guy, like Yellowstone National Park. At least these two got a free road trip out of it, I guess.

Hey, there's a scorpion in a scorching desert somewhere in the Southwestern United States that hasn't been interviewed yet. Hope to it, Post. Between this, and the emergence of neocon nutbag writers you guys seem to be allowing in, in droves (for no apparently good reason), you guys are screwing up, a lot lately, down there. Are you TRYING to drive away your readership?

Posted by: fbutler1 | August 20, 2009 3:39 PM | Report abuse

fbutler1 - "This is sad. The Post wasted time on this article?"

Yeah, but you read it and took time to comment...

Some of us still believe there's life outside the ever-so-illuminated gentry of the East Coast.

Posted by: mwcob | August 20, 2009 3:54 PM | Report abuse

Have to agree with fbutler1; this piece is pure fluff. Wyoming is so desolate, and arent' those quirky & stoic rural types just a hoot - well, stop the presses!

You have experienced journalists doing these pieces, so can't believe they actually think this stuff is worth anything - therefore I am assuming it is editorial policy to trot this pablum out.

I think this time you just lost a reader, and your advertisers lost a couple of eyeballs.

Posted by: ballymuck | August 20, 2009 3:56 PM | Report abuse

I can't imagine why the authors chose to stop in Lost Springs of all places in Wyoming, as there are towns across the state that have experienced significant effects due to the downturn in the economy. While fbutler1 may claim that "Wyoming isn't booming, wasn't booming, and has never really boomed, period," the fact of the matter is that it actually has. The state economy has benefited greatly from extraction industry development in many locations including Sublette County, Wyoming, which still had one of the lowest unemployment rates in the country, even after the recession hit.

It's unfortunate that these authors chose to stop in Lost Springs instead of another town that would have actually showcased the effects of the national economy on the lives of people in Wyoming.

Posted by: alicg | August 20, 2009 4:00 PM | Report abuse

fbutler1: Glad you could craw out from under your rock and join the blog. Now you might want to check out all the other articles that led up to this one and see how the writer and photographer ended up in Colorado. Just who's the shallow nutbag? The answer is in your mirror.

Posted by: Jumpy66 | August 20, 2009 4:00 PM | Report abuse

I actually think that these articles are what make the WaPo and the NYT great. America is a huge place, filled with big cities, medium-size towns and yes tiny little villages that consist of nothing more than a post office and a general store/gas station/restaurant.

I actually vividly remember driving through Lost Springs when I was a 22-year old unemployed college grad (I'm 28 now) out to see a bit of the non-east coast America and I think that paying attention to the fact that these towns exist and they are impacted all the same by the economic environment is a story worth telling.

Posted by: evanblevine | August 20, 2009 4:04 PM | Report abuse

Hmm... I can't believe the Post's readers are biased against rural America. Nope, just can't believe it.

Wyoming was actually doing pretty well in some senses, particularly when energy prices were high.

By the way, fbutler1, Yellowstone is 318 miles from where this guy lives. Amazing you'd think their fates were intertwined, seeing as how anything west of Chantilly seems a little "out there" for you.

Posted by: MosesCleaveland | August 20, 2009 4:04 PM | Report abuse

Oh please! The commenters above have no sense of whimsy. I loved this piece. Reminds me of the wonderful stories Charles Kuralt used to do for CBS.

Posted by: Junior3 | August 20, 2009 4:06 PM | Report abuse

I wanted to say this was a great little article, it is like time has stood still in this little town...I would like to see some growth here, to be an example to the rest of the U.S. trying to get back on it's feet, they should get some of that bailout money and build something like a...auto plant, call center, a Walmart...

Posted by: sandeelowe | August 20, 2009 4:21 PM | Report abuse

I have to agree with Junior3 and rest of the supporters of this piece. I think it was a great article. I enjoyed reading it, and I appreciate that the authors are reminding people that America is vaster than just the area you live in and that the recession touches all of us, from the biggest metropolis to the tiniest town (which I think might be a title Lost Springs would win). This tiny town has been suffering from a recession much longer than most places and the image teaches a valuable lesson: life must go on, no matter how tough the road gets.

Thank you for including this piece.

Posted by: K215 | August 20, 2009 4:48 PM | Report abuse

The sad thing is that readers such as fbutler1 and ballymuck have such a parochial view of the America they have no interest in anything outside their narrow field of vision. There are those of us who have escaped the Beltway environment and have learned that local news is actually different something different than national/world news. Sometimes news includes learning about your neighbors no matter how far away they live.

Posted by: KansasBob | August 20, 2009 4:49 PM | Report abuse

I can't believe people are beating up on Lost Springs! If you can't say anything nice...

To the Stringhams: I'll bet some of those old, never used items in your store will fetch a good bit of money on ebay.

Posted by: jonesey1 | August 20, 2009 5:00 PM | Report abuse

Here is a nice peice and having lived in Wyoming..I can say yes its not populated but it is relevant..and there is a bit of true Americana to be found there. The real litmus test of America can be found in posts to stories in newspapers..where you find that people don't believe in the quirks and issues facing people outside of their own bubble. There are real live american stories to be found on every dirt road , every hamlet from Idaho to New York and scoffing at their irrelevance is in truth scoffing at your own irrelevance.

Posted by: shanester5 | August 20, 2009 5:02 PM | Report abuse

Having been a long time resident of Laramie, I love this post - just as I have njoyed the series. BTW, the Thunder Basin National Grassland is surely one of those great wide open spaces that is often referred to in country music. Are our intrepid duo "High Plains Drifter[s]"? Anyone? Anyone? Bueller?

As has been pointed out, WY has been through a boomlet and is more than likely a lagging economic indicator than a leading indicator due to its low population and limited industry. If people are not stopping in Lost Springs, they are probably not stopping in Rock Springs either other than to gas and go on I80. The impact of recession can be just as severe on my friends and family in WY as it is anywhere in the US. (I felt the recession "bust" in WY during the Reagan admin.) The timing and appearance may be different but the effect is still there. My sympathies go out to the denizens of my favorite state in the union.

Posted by: mraymond10 | August 20, 2009 5:05 PM | Report abuse

Several of you could learn an awful lot if you simply spent 3 days in the Powder River Basin in Wyoming. Corporate America is alive and well in this area even tho' government regulation would love to choke the lifeblood out of the energy companies. Wyoming offers so much that can make the USA an even better place to be. The state takes very little from the Feds because of their healthy tax base and therefore call their own, conservative shots. I'm glad it is a secret treasure. I would move back there tomorrow if I could.

Posted by: susantrainor | August 20, 2009 5:21 PM | Report abuse

I thoroughly enjoyed this little piece -- I certainly read it all the way through without stopping to worry whether it "belongs" in the Post or whether I was "liking" it. And I'd certainly consider dropping in on the folks in the article -- maybe they'll give me a deal on those flashcubes.

Posted by: Silkwood | August 20, 2009 5:23 PM | Report abuse

All of you sound like a bunch of elitist wind bags. So what that the Post ran a story about small-town Wyoming. It's a human interest piece, if you don't like it then STOP READING THE HUMAN INTEREST SECTION!

Posted by: -badkarma- | August 20, 2009 5:30 PM | Report abuse

Very cool photo. Don't listen to the critics. But I would have liked to have known in this piece exactly where this town sits relative to Jackson Hole, Cheyenne and Laramie. And were Vargas and Williamson smart enough to buy some of those flash cubes?

Posted by: mountaindonna | August 20, 2009 5:30 PM | Report abuse

The WP reporters draw a very misleading picture of Wyoming. If you want to find work, good work, good paying work, find Campbell County, Wyoming.

Wyoming is the LARGEST producer of coal in the U.S. They have a SHORTAGE of labor, of workers. Folks from back East who are willing to head West, should stop in Wyoming where they will find work. They just won't find many trees.

Posted by: leochen24551 | August 20, 2009 5:49 PM | Report abuse

I guess there's no worries about inflation in Lost Springs. The flashcubes are still priced 2.28 and 1.92.

Posted by: shhhhh | August 20, 2009 5:52 PM | Report abuse

That guy's just jealous he doesn't live in Wyoming! We have lots of small towns, though not many quite that small, and we have the kind of strong values that make this country great.

Posted by: BonnieinJacksonHole | August 20, 2009 6:21 PM | Report abuse

I love Wyoming. When driving past one another, people wave to the other. I love that.

--
Thomp

Posted by: thomp | August 20, 2009 6:29 PM | Report abuse

I suspect all "news" media is out to get us,and keep us stupid and misinformed, so that our GOV can rob and murder the people that resist the lies and deception necessary to complete our robbery, they are after all "BIG" business.

Posted by: senatorseven | August 20, 2009 6:32 PM | Report abuse

The article missed the most important point about a town like Lost Springs and many others - this town, as most of rural america, is drying up and blowing away.

It is not only big factories in the cities that are hit by recent changing economic structure in the US, but farming as well has been dying for a century. Giant agribusiness, oil and mining corporations have taken over the countryside. Pesticide programs and co-ops control what happens to the rest of the land.

Only the elderly and kids who don't have the skills to leave remain.

Posted by: garethharris | August 20, 2009 6:39 PM | Report abuse

Nobody here is biased against rural America. This article merely shows how the political debate and votes to get progressive gains is being sand-bagged by mineral rich but lowly populated regions.

Posted by: dglfalls | August 20, 2009 7:02 PM | Report abuse

Nobody here is biased against rural America. This article merely shows how the political debate and votes to get progressive gains is being sand-bagged by mineral rich but lowly populated regions.

Posted by: dglfalls | August 20, 2009 7:02 PM | Report abuse

This series hit rock bottom a way's back, leaving me yearning for a fresh expose re: "Chandra Levy--Still Dead".

Posted by: mark2004a1 | August 20, 2009 7:33 PM | Report abuse

This series hit rock bottom a way's back, leaving me yearning for a fresh expose re: "Chandra Levy--Still Dead".

Posted by: mark2004a1 | August 20, 2009 7:42 PM | Report abuse

fbutler1 - "This is sad. The Post wasted time on this article?"

Yeah, but you read it and took time to comment...

Some of us still believe there's life outside the ever-so-illuminated gentry of the East Coast.
++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

I agree. It is better than Obama fawning and political BS we are used too from the WaPo.

Posted by: bnw173 | August 20, 2009 7:45 PM | Report abuse

It's a human interest story folks, get over it. Who wouldn't be interested in the story behind a town which posts a sign listing its population as "1"?

For anyone who's never been to Wyoming, you're missing one of the USA's great places. Drive I-80 from Cheyenne to Laramie (in summer, unless you're driving a snowmobile). Stop and visit Vedauwoo. If you're coming from the east coast, it feels like the place where the Rocky Mountains really begin.

Or take I-90 (if you're coming from the east, don't miss the Badlands and the Black Hills [including Rushmore and Crazy Horse monuments] in South Dakota), and turn off at Sheridan, heading for Yellowstone, for one of the most dramatic drives anywhere in the world.

Drive across this state at your own peril in mid winter.

Posted by: douglaslbarber | August 20, 2009 8:27 PM | Report abuse

The Washington Post should be praised for publishing this article. I suspect the paper paid far more for the space to print this article than the town will earn in many years, if ever. It is important for readers to have an opportunity to learn about the smallest community as well as the movers and shakers of the large communities. Thank you Washington Post.

Posted by: elo3 | August 20, 2009 8:51 PM | Report abuse

One self-correction: If you're going to Jellystone, don't get off I-90 at Sheridan (except for a snack), get off at "Dayton" and take Route 14 toward Cody.

Posted by: douglaslbarber | August 20, 2009 9:02 PM | Report abuse

I liked this post- I follow this series religiously and will be sad to see it end. Some posts are better than others, but I am left to contemplate something after each reading. I follow it precisely to step outside of my big-city world and see how others are living, making it, etc. Living in a city of millions makes me laugh out loud to see a population sign that reads "1." I don't think the only point of this series is to focus 100% on the recession, but rather to incorporate diverse pieces of Americana and to expose the vulnerability, humanity and humor that's out there. Keep up the good work!

Posted by: jledva | August 20, 2009 11:16 PM | Report abuse

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