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Mike Kuzara

Mike Kuzara

Working pretty much alone for more than 30 years in an area that covered more than 5,000 square miles of 3 counties in Wyoming and 2 in Montana, I was the lone service man for a rural telephone company which led to some very interesting situations. Here’s one.

Back in the day of overhead lines, living on the “wrong” side of Powder River had its drawbacks in the form of convenience or inconvenience as the case may be.

The “wrong” side of the river could be anyplace located on the side opposite of the county road. Very few vehicle bridges exist. In my service area there was one on I-90, one at Arvada, one near the confluence with Clear Creek,and another at Moorhead. Just driving across the river even if it looked shallow could be undertaken only by checking with a local rancher as to where the ever-changing nature of the mighty Powder left a “solid” spot subject to change without notice.

An isolated ranch on the west side of the Powder near the state line with Montana developed a “permanent” condition on their phone line. “Permanent” meant that there was a short that killed service to the phone. On this particular occasion the ranch was on a party line with several ranches meaning that they were also out of service.

I drove to the place where the “tap” to the ranch was attached to the main line and disconnected it which happened to be on the east side of the river and parallel the county road. Reading the line with my ohm meter indicated a short with no ground, and calculating the resistance to the gauge of the wire indicated the problem was probably across the river at the house. A look through my telescope showed the line wires appeared intact as far as the entrance to a canyon on the far side.

Because of spring melt and a heavy rain earlier, Powder River was a roiling mass of muddy flood water.

The only way then was to backtrack to Leiter, take the Buffalo Creek Road and then branch off on Fence Creek and cut across country.

I met an oil company truck on the Fence Creek Road. The driver informed me that the road was washed out and impossible to get through. Checking my map

I saw there was a section marker at the head of the dry creek where the ranch was located. I found the marker and the head of the draw and could make out a very old wagon road which followed the draw down. I followed that to a cut-bank washout a mile above the ranch. I could go no further and the two-way radio was useless in the canyon. There was nothing to do but take everything I thought I might need and set off on foot.

It turned out I didn’t need my pole climbers or any of the heavier tools since the problem seemed to be in the house itself. I saw tracks leaving the corral so I knew the couple that lived there had ridden off on horseback. I was truly alone.

A process of elimination indicated the problem was under the house. It was built on a sunny south slope and the gaping dark opening to the crawlspace showed a jungle of scrap lumber and other stuff.

Great! I neglected to bring a flashlight. I couldn’t find one in the house that worked and after searching I found a gas lantern which I shook and could detect a little gas. Darned little. I pumped it up, lit it, and crawled in. The confines got tighter as I went and I had to set the lantern down on a board halfway in but there it was. Mice had chewed the wires and I didn’t have any with me. I cut splinters off the floor joists and carefully placed them between the wires to clear the conductors. I had just finished when the lantern went out!

Now with the lantern hissing away I probably wouldn’t hear a rattlesnake if it did buzz as I fumbled my way out.

What a fine fix. No one knows I’m here, the phone doesn’t work and my truck is out of sight up the creek.

What’s sort of funny now could have been a very serious incident making a paragraph in the local news but it turned out okay. I didn’t get the line hooked back up until way after dark, and the folks at the ranch were surprised when the phone rang. I was back in a week to make a permanent repair and THAT is another story!

Mike Kuzara lives with his wife, Mary, in Sheridan.

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Opinion Editor

Dallas Bower joined the Star-Tribune copy desk in June 2017. She studied English at the University of Wyoming. Her favorite book is The Sun Also Rises by Ernest Hemingway, or Harry Potter, depending on the day.

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