(Sheridan, Wyo) Press Release: Sheridan County Fulmer Public Library
John Richard Waggener, Associate Archivist at the UW American Heritage Center, will give a program at Sheridan Fulmer Library on April 24 at 6 p.m. about his recently released book, Snow Chi Minh Trail: The History of Interstate 80 between Laramie and Walcott Junction.
The title comes from long-haul truckers who dubbed Interstate 80 (specifically the 77-mile stretch between Walcott Junction and Laramie) the “Snow Chi Minh Trail,” a negative reference to the similarly mountainous roadway used by North Vietnamese soldiers to reach South Vietnam during the Vietnam War. “Those guys saw a lot of action and relived some of it as they drove across I-80,” said Waggener, adding “Not many stretches of highway across America have generated so much interest to fill the pages of a book, but Interstate 80 between Laramie and Rawlins is one of those exceptions.”
This stretch of road in south-central Wyoming is steeped in tragedy, controversy, myth and even conspiracy. On October 3, 1970, the newly constructed stretch of Interstate 80 was dedicated. Residents had warned highway officials of the adverse weather conditions around the area of Elk Mountain and advised them not to build a road there. Wyomingites who knew their history reminded highway officials that the UP Railroad looked at that same area 100 years earlier when it was planning and constructing the nation’s first transcontinental railroad and decided against the shorter, more direct route. It was just four days after the road was dedicated that a winter storm wreaked havoc on motorists traveling on the new road. Wyomingites referred to the road as a “monument to human error.”
“I started working on this project in 2004. It is pretty emotional to finally see it published,” Waggener said. “My family made many trips down I-80. Our road trips were full of sightseeing, explanations, and interpretations of the natural, cultural, and historical wonders found along the way.” One of his more vivid memories comes from an introduction to the Snow Chi Minh Trail in 1972 when his parents took him to the October 7th Wyoming Cowboys football game (he still has the ticket stub). “The road conditions that day were favorable, but I will always remember the near whiteout conditions my dad got us safely through on several other occasions.”
A 5th generation Wyomingite, Waggener was born and raised in the Interstate 80 town of Green River. He attended the University of Wyoming where he earned his undergraduate degree in education and geography and his graduate degree in geography. Since 2001, he has been a faculty archivist at the American Heritage Center, the archive of the University of Wyoming. He and his wife Diana Marie make their home in Laramie.