Clearing the Table

With relocation of houses, '70s boom village becomes a memory
2006-09-03T00:00:00Z Clearing the TableJEFF GEARINO Southwest Wyoming bureau Casper Star-Tribune Online
September 03, 2006 12:00 am  • 

TABLE ROCK - For most travelers, this small village along Interstate 80 midway between Rawlins and Rock Springs has been a curiosity, a sort of frontier outpost on the edge of southwest Wyoming's vast Red Desert.

The handful of travelers who occasionally stopped discovered the gas station had one pump, a seven-stool bar and a couple of shelves for convenience items.

The 25 houses perched on a small rise just behind the store seemed nearly identical at a glance, an indicator of the company-built community that Table Rock was for nearly three decades.

But times change, and like many other oil and gas company towns built during the boom in Wyoming, the demise of Table Rock is at hand.

Unlike other ghost towns, however, Table Rock is being reborn in another town to help fuel another boom.

Table Rock's history is relatively brief, but it's also a familiar scenario to longtime residents.

During Sweetwater County's boom in the 1970s that brought expansion to the trona mines and soda ash plants west of Green River and the building of the Jim Bridger Power Plant east of Rock Springs, energy companies including the Colorado Interstate Gas Co. were having trouble housing workers.

To help with the housing woes, the company built 50 homes at Table Rock in the late 1970s for employees who worked at the nearby Table Rock natural gas "sweetening" plant, located south of the village. The plant processes natural gas to meet pipeline quality specifications.

The houses were three- and four-bedroom, tri-level homes that each included two baths and a double-car garage. The homes were provided free by CIG to employees. The company also constructed a modern recreation center for families to use.

In 2001, El Paso Corp. acquired the Table Rock Plant and the employee housing. At the time, many residents took a severance package, and the community began to dwindle.

Two years later, Anadarko Petroleum Co. acquired the Table Rock village as part of a deal to buy the gas plant from El Paso. Anadarko officials decided not to operate the village and ultimately sold the remaining housing to a Rock Springs developer, who is moving the houses to a new subdivision in Rock Springs.

Table Rock store

Roger Varley bought the Table Rock Station with his parents in 1995. The family also owns a convenience store at Point of Rocks, a highway pullout located east of Table Rock over the Bitter Creek Hill.

Though tiny, Table Rock had a character all its own that changed over the years, as small towns often do, Varley said.

"We've known the people there since the early 1980s just after it was built, and it really was family-oriented when it first went in," he said. "CIG did a good job of making sure that the wives and kids were taken care of."

Varley said the village was starting to wane a bit when his family took over the Table Rock store. "By then they had two or three empty houses, and mostly single guys were living there … there weren't many families left.

"As time went on, people lost interest and families moved out, and it became more and more kind of a man camp," he said. "In the end, it was just the single guys living there."

Varley said the loss of the village "definitely marks the death knell" for the Table Rock Station, even though the store was constructed long before the adjoining community.

"The interstate traffic probably would have kept it alive, and I've got a pretty good little operator there … but what's really going to kill it is the new storage tank regulations," he said.

"It's got above-ground storage tanks, and there's no way to have enough volumes to meet the regulations, so it was sort of a domino thing," Varley said. "If the village was still there, we would have invested in it, but without the village there, what's the point? Because it's not going to make it."

Varley said he worries about the loss of the store for I-80 travelers, especially during Wyoming's harsh winters.

"Our busiest times in that little store was when the roads closed," he said.

"We've got this store (Point of Rocks) on this side of Bitter Creek Hill and that store on that side of the hill, but that store's not going to be there anymore," Varley said. "That's a big stretch of interstate from Wamsutter to Point of Rocks to not have anything at all now to fall back on."

Southwest Wyoming bureau reporter Jeff Gearino can be reached at 307-875-5359 or at gearino@tribcsp.com.

Copyright 2015 Casper Star-Tribune Online. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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