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Riding with the Rangers: A bridge, original astronauts, and cheerleaders from the past

Nov 20, 2013 - By Steven R. Peck

Bob Peterson brought some newspaper clippings about the New River Gorge Bridge near Charleston, W.V. That bridge is on the other side of the continent, but there is a local connection.

It is a spectacular structure, 3,000 feet across a gap 876 feet above the river below. In West Virginia it is, understandably, a major tourist attraction as well as a transportation centerpiece and a state landmark. It's recently been added to the National Register of Historic Places.

The clipping from the Charleston Gazette-Mail showed pictures of people jumping off the bridge with parachutes.

The New River Gorge Bridge couldn't have been built without Fremont County. All the iron used to construct the steel bridge, which was completed in 1977, was mined at the old Atlantic City mine southwest of Lander. Bob Peterson worked there before the mine closed 30 years ago.

Bob noted that construction steel made from Atlantic City taconite could be twisted without compromising its integrity to a greater extent than any other steel in the country.

He recalled as well how it didn't really need to be painted, because the surface rust bound to integral steel beneath the surface actually created an almost impenetrable surface for construction. An example locally can be found at the walking bridge over the Little Wind River just south of Riverton.

A military buddy of Peterson's lives in West Virginia and keeps him up to date on goings-on there. His name is Bob also (Kosky), and, continuing the coincidences, both their wives are named Caroline. The Koskys mailed the clippings.

Bob Peterson, who is well known locally as a pilot and flying enthusiast among other things, put in some productive years at the Atlantic City mine.

"That was a good job while it lasted," he says. "But I could have used two or three more years."

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It's now been about 40 days since we last "missed the mail," meaning we have handed over the to-be-mailed editions of The Ranger to the post office before 3:30 p.m., in time to meet the recently adjusted deadline to ensure -- supposedly -- timely delivery of the paper in the next day's mail within Fremont County.

The post office moved us first from 5:30 p.m. to 4:30 p.m., then to 3:30 p.m. As we predicted at the time last spring, complying with the much earlier deadline took some doing, but we now have the hang of it pretty well.

If we go a full calendar month without missing, we might stop the daily posting of our post office delivery time every day. We'll see.

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A couple of weeks back in his Sunday column, staff writer Randy Tucker wrote a nice piece touching on the recent death of original Mercury astronaut Gordon Cooper. It was a good column -- Randy is the defending Wyoming Press Association daily newspaper columnist of the year -- but there was just one problem. The astronaut who had just died was Scott Carpenter, not Gordon Cooper, who died nine years earlier.

I don't know how this kind of stuff happens occasionally, and neither does Randy, but it has happened to both of us -- and to virtually everyone else who works in the community-sized newspaper business.

Oddly, though, not one reader noticed the error -- or, at least, not one reader called to correct us. I don't know if that's a good thing or not. For review, the original "Mercury Seven" spacemen were Alan Shepard, Gus Grissom, John Glenn, Gordon Cooper, Scott Carpenter, Wall Schirra and Deke Slayton (and, yes, I named them from memory, thank you very much).

I'm not sure if Carpenter was among the several NASA astronauts who took part in the Lander One Shot Antelope Hunt in the 1960s. A quick flip through the archives didn't spot him, but he might have been here. Both Wally Schirra and Jim Lovell, the hero of the near-disaster that was Apollo 13 ("Houston, we have a problem"), did hunt the One Shot. Our archives have pictures of many celebrities, politicians and business bigwigs flying commercial planes into Riverton Regional Airport.

The astronauts were all pilots, remember, and often they had their own planes. Maybe Scott Carpenter jetted straight to Lander in his own aircraft. Does anyone out there remember if he ever was at the One Shot?

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On Sunday we asked readers to help with identifications of four high school cheerleaders from Lander pictured in our usual Sunday feature called "The Way It Was."

Through Wednesday morning, five people had responded, each with a tidbit about that picture, which was published 60 years ago this month. One caller argued about the date, however, insisting that the picture was from 1954, not 1953. I didn't really know how to answer that one -- the front page of an early Ranger, dated Nov. 10, 1953, was open on my desk at the exact moment I took the call, nestled in a big bound volume of papers from October and November of '53. "Chamber to protest freight increase," reads one prominent headline from that day, referring to a disagreement between local merchants and the Chicago and North Western Railroad.

Anyway, the assistance is appreciated. We'll run the picture again this Sunday, this time with everyone identified. The reader contributions will make the paper better this week, and we thank these helpers for Riding With the Rangers.

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