Well I am betting that most of you might not know what SPEBSQSA means. The legend is that the creator of this alphabet soup deliberately made up a long string of letters in response to the Roosevelt’s New Deal creations of WPA, etc. Anyway not to belabor the point, the string of letters translates to: The Society for the Preservation and Encouragement of Barbershop Quartet Singing in America. Perhaps the short version is just Barbershop Singing. Barbershop Singing in its true form is a quartet of four voices, Tenor, Lead, Baritone and Bass. The Barbershop form of singing is still popular around the world and contests are held to determine the best quartets and choruses of men and women.
How does this relate to Wild and Wonderful Wyoming? Well, four of us in high school were inspired by records and perhaps by the rather famous quartet called the Boomerangs who toured Wyoming. The Boomerangs were winners of several contests if my memory serves me right. So Russ, Bill, Jack and I decided we should learn some barbershop songs and with the aid of some published music for quartets we begin to practice at noon hour and whenever we could. We decided it would be cool (in those days) to wear Derby hats and call ourselves the Derby Four (photo shows left to right, Russ, Bill, Jack and Jim)
Soon folks heard about the new quartet in our home town of Riverton. Suddenly we were singing our songs for every group gathering, or at least it seemed that way. After we gained some confidence in our ability to sing our barbershop songs we worked up our courage to extend performances outside of town. I am not clear how it came to pass that we were invited by other high schools to perform at an assembly of all their students. Our most noteworthy performance was at Worland High School, a school we considered to be at least our equal in those days. So, at least a bit nervous, we showed up on the stage at Worland HS to perform before the entire HS body of students. How would this go over we wondered? Would we be booed off the stage, probably not since students were very well-behaved for the most part in those days. So the performance began with some trepidation on our part.
Once we got started it seemed to go well. In between our list of songs, Russ played the piano, a skill he had to the degree he could play seriously difficult classical music. All in all we relaxed and had fun and the nice reception by the students of Worland HS was exciting and gratifying.
The Derby Four was a fun and happy part of our HS experience. Something to remember with joy. Singing has always been a part of my life, even if confined to the shower these days. I hope SPEBSQSA never dies and this part of the American experience will live long into the future.
This is a story about the unexpected that happens at the wrong time in the wrong place. It starts out as a lark, a three day hike into the wilderness of the Wind River Mountains to one of the most beautiful places on this planet. The four of us, me, two HS friends and my father, strike out on the trail that begins high above Ft. Washakie at a mountain meadow called Dickinson Park. It is a long hike of about eight miles if I remember correctly. Most of hike is uphill as we head towards our destination, Cathedral Lake (see photo by Tom Rudkin). We make the hike in good shape and the first order of business is to get in some fishing.
Early the next morning Bill and I strike out to do some serious fishing and plan to stay until later in the afternoon. Bob decides to stay not too far from camp along with my father. Sometime, I think in the early afternoon, my father decides we need some firewood for cooking and staying warm as night falls. So, out comes the big axe and he begins to chop a dead tree to make smaller pieces for the fire. Then the trouble happens! While hacking at the dead tree, the axe slips off and ends up buried into my fathers instep. Wow! Bob must have been close enough to hear my father call for help and returned to the camp to help as best he could. We were not well-prepared for an accident of this magnitude and the limited first aid stuff we had did not include anything to help with the pain and possible infection such a serious wound might cause.
Bill and I returned to camp about 4 PM to find out what has happened while we were away fishing. So, here we are more than 6 miles from any kind of help. There were no cell phones, radios, etc to call for help, so what to do? We held a council among the four of us to try to figure out what we could do. After some deliberation it was decided two of us must go back to Dickinson Park and seek some assistance there. We knew there was a ranch there and they had horses to rent so perhaps that was a possible way to get my wounded father back out to our car and then to emergency assistance. So, Bill and I headed out on the trail back to Dickinson Park, some eight miles or more. By the time we started it was already late afternoon and we knew we had to hurry or it would be dark before we could get all the way out to the ranch. Fortunately we were in reasonable shape after football and basketball so we literally ran down the trail as fast and as far as we could go with a brief rest now and then. By the time we got to the trail head it was dark but we were able to get down the dirt road to the ranch.
In the meantime, my father and poor Bob were having a very, very bad night. In addition to the pain of the wound my father was beset by mosquitos all night and there was little or no sleeping for him or Bob that very long night. It was clearly imperative that somehow Bill and I get back as soon as possible to try to get my father out of the wilderness and to some assistance soon.
The folks at the Gustin ranch were very helpful. They put Bill and I in a bunkhouse for the night and we rented a horse by first light the next morning. We made a quick trip back to Cathedral Lake, taking turns riding and running along side. We got there sometime in the late morning to find things were getting worse with time. My father had ridden horses many times so he was able to ride the rented horse with no problems. Bill, Bob and I loaded up all the camping gear and we headed back out to Dickinson Park. By late evening we were able to get back to Riverton where the doctor took care of the axe wound as best he could. ln those days the remedy for such wounds (a method used extensively in WWII) was to load the wound with sulfur to try to stop infection. Fortunately after some convalescence my father did not suffer any permanent disability due to the axe wound. All in all an unfortunate end to what should have been a wonderful time in the high country of the Wind River Mountains. My bucket list includes one more trip to Cathedral Lake, a beautiful place indeed.
THE ULTIMATE IRONY OF THE WHOLE THING WAS THAT MY FATHER WAS THE TEACHER OF AXE SAFETY FOR MANY BOY SCOUT CAMPS IN WYOMING!!
The big football game between our rival Lander and Riverton was coming up soon. A bunch of us decided we should do something to show our loyalty and to vex our rivals over in Lander. So on the spur of the moment we decided we should paint the big L on the side of the hill above Lander. That is we decided to paint it red, our HS color.
Painting a very large L on the side of a rather steep hill in the dark of the night is very large undertaking. We did not do much real planning for such an endeavor unfortunately. We gathered together a few gallons of paint and some mops or something to spread the paint over the rocks that formed the L. Our plan lacked much real thinking and was really just a lark, but a lark entered into with much excitement. Looking back, it was an example of mob action, a lot of enthusiasm but not well thought out that was for sure.
So, as darkness came, we gathered together and loaded several cars with excited HS students and drove the 25 miles to Lander. Once there we tried to sneak through the town to park where we could climb up the hill and do our dastardly deed. To see where we were going we had to shine some flashlights, a bad idea. We arrived at the top of the hill where the L was and dumped some paint on some rocks. It was soon clear that we did have nearly enough paint so it turned out to be mostly a token effort.
As we turned to start down the hill we could see the lights of many cars headed to the bottom of the hill! We had been discovered and the HS students from Lander were not about the let someone attack their L without retaliation. By the time we were part way down the hill the two gangs met. It seemed there was going to be a serious rumble and people would get hurt. Well, one of the boys of our gang did get hurt by getting hit in the forehead by a rather large rock thrown by one of the Lander gang. Blood streamed down his face and we called out that one of our gang was seriously hurt. Well, that incident seemed to scare both the Lander and Riverton students and cooler heads prevailed as we trudged back to our cars without any more violence by either side.
By the time we got to our cars the police had arrived. We were told all of us from Riveton were required to come to the police station. They did allow our injured student to get some medical help. It turned out the head wound was not too serious thankfully. So we all went to the police station. It turned out we were strongly lectured and told not to do something like this again. However, we were released without charges, I think in part because the couple of policemen at the station were overwhelmed by all these kids and did not know what to do with us.
So, we finally headed back home after a night we will never forget. There we several repercussions, such as the football players being required to run extra laps to atone for our sins. Our parents were not happy either and all in all it was a very bad idea. A lesson learned not to allow oneself to easily get caught up in a mob action that has not been carefully evaluated as to the consequences.