Jun 9, 2014 - By Randy TuckerThe news is a a lot better than I reported three weeks ago.
"The reports of my death have been greatly exaggerated," the legendary author and humorist Mark Twain is supposed to have said. While Twain was speaking of a rumor that he had passed away, the same sentiment can be extended to inanimate objects as well.
Three weeks ago I wrote in this column that the A&W in Thermopolis was being demolished. I'd like to correct this allegation with another quote, this one from the newspaper film "Absence of Malice."
Reporter Megan Carter is being interviewed by another reporter and is asked this question. "That's true isn't it?"
Carter responds, "No. But it's accurate."
The building is not being demolished. It's being remodeled.
In the interest of accuracy, it's true that the A&W is no more. The franchise is gone and will not return. But the bowling alley and another restaurant on the same locale are in the process of returning, with the restaurant tentatively opening in September and the bowling alley in December.
That's if an incredible amount of work necessary to restore the building to usefulness can be completed.
Tony and Julie Reiman purchased the property and began the arduous process of restoring decades of neglect and substantial water damage.
"There was a foot and a half of water on the west side," Julie Reiman said. "The gutters failed, the roof failed, and there were posters on the ceiling to hide the holes where the water came in."
The west end of the building was five inches lower than the east side, and water always follows gravity, along with the path of least resistance.
"We had to tear up the floor," Reiman said. "We gutted the bowling alley and had to deal with some asbestos."
The electrical wiring in the building had to be completely replaced. When the Reimans explored the area above the suspended ceiling, they discovered the building's original wiring had been replaced with 30 to 40 orange extension cords, connected together with power strips.
The bowling alley will be called Jurassic Lanes, in deference to the nearby Dinosaur Museum in Thermopolis.
All new pinsetters, new ball returns and an automatic scoring system are being installed.
The original wooden lanes are being covered with synthetic material.
"The pin setters and lanes will cost between $180,000 and $210, 000," Reiman said. "And we may have pour cement to level the facility."
When asked why they decided to rebuild, Reiman said "Tony is kind of a handyman; he was looking for an investment. He might have more than he bargained for."
They think they are doing something important for their community.
"This town needs something. There's nothing here for the kids, and the building was an eyesore, "Reiman said. " We went with the dinosaur theme, to tap into the dinosaur museum. We'll have a sports bar along with a nice restaurant."
An animated, 13-foot-tall Tyrannosaurus Rex is on order.
"We're toying with the name Raptor," Reiman said. "Kind of an Appleby's Restaurant with pool tables and big-screen televisions. We're making the bowling alley kid-friendly."
The bowling alley will contain the original eight lanes.
"My brother, Ross Hawkins, is a teacher in Seattle," Reiman said. "He's coming back to run the bowling alley, I'll run the bar, and Tony will run the restaurant."
It won't be anything new for Julie Reiman.
"Bar tending put me through nursing school," she said.
Thermopolis is an aging community with a declining high school population, but Reiman is not concerned about finding good quality help to run the business.
"We haven't had any trouble getting people to help build the place," Reiman said. "I have college kids who need work too."
The southeast section of the building will have to be enlarged to accommodate a large sports bar. The east section will have new bathrooms and a soda fountain.
Originally the Reimans planned on building a large meeting hall for conventions and large gatherings, but the water pressure in Thermopolis is inadequate to meet code for fire suppression.
"The infrastructure with the sprinkler system limits construction," Reiman said. "The town said they'd improve the water pressure for us in the future, so we may look at expanding then."
The A&W, along with the familiar statues of Papa, Mama and Baby Burger are gone.
But the bowling alley remains, and, just as the Phoenix rose from the ashes, a new restaurant and sports bar on the south end of Thermopolis will soon offer tourists and locals alike a new place to enjoy.
Editor's note: Staff writer Randy Tucker is a retired educator.
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