What Was Table Rock, Wyoming?

Table Rock Road coming up!If you happen to be traveling I-80 in southwestern Wyoming, take a moment to look southward as you pass Exit 150, where a sign reads, “Table Rock Road”. There’s an odd break in the prairie landscape there, where a few trees don’t appear to “belong”. You may also notice a large, lone, metal building, surrounded by a fence that appears to enclose more area than necessary. Soon that building, too, will be gone. The trees will remain, a testament to what was once Table Rock Village.

Tabe Rock housesOnce in a while, something special happens in a community that makes it worthy of remembrance. This was such a place. It won’t be in the history books. Its demise didn’t make national headlines. Nevertheless, this little “company camp” shaped the lives of an incredible number of people in a unique and special way. For a few decades, those few acres of the Red Desert were home to a group of modern pioneers. Those individuals carry the spirit of the community with them today and are passing it on to new generations.

This site and an upcoming book will tell the story of this unique community and the challenging, yet incredibly rewarding lifestyle of the residents. Table Rock Village was a vibrant, vital community and not only piqued the curiosity of travelers, but played an important role in Wyoming’s industrial development in the late 20th century. For that reason and many others, it deserves to be remembered.

The pages and blog archives on this site will give visitors an overview of the village, the reason it was there, and an idea of what made it special. We made Table Rock. It made us.

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A New Year – and the Final Chapter in the Demise of The Rock

Table Rocl Processing PlantI didn’t post my usual New Year article here this year; it’s been a busy year so far. As it happens, I’m glad I waited, since it turns out that 2014 will be another banner year in a sad sort of way. It’s been officially announced that Table Rock Gas Plant, formerly Table Rock Processing Plant, will be permanently shut down during the first quarter of this year.

From my perspective as one of the many who worked there, this will be a milestone that’s related to, but separate from the demolition of the village. Families, friends and even a few lucky passersby experienced the village and feel the loss. At the risk of sounding prideful, I believe the workers at the plant and in the supporting field shared something that even our families can’t fully appreciate.

The resources we processed, the processes themselves and the materials we used in the processes all posed serious risks. I’m not romanticizing the situation when I say that there were a hundred ways to suffer life-changing injuries or death at TRPP and being overcome by the toxic gas we stripped was among the least ugly and painful. We worked with substances that could burn the flesh off your bones, freeze your lungs or drop you where you stood. We worked with gases and liquids at extreme pressures and temperatures, heavy machinery rotating at insane speeds and substances so volatile that a spark could eliminate the entire crew on duty. We worked 200 feet in the air and on the ground with hundreds of tons overhead. We sometimes did all of this in temperatures that literally froze any exposed skin in minutes.

We were the front lines if disaster struck. We were the firefighters. We were the first – and the only- responders. We were the security team. We were the cleanup crew, the repair crew and the emergency transport personnel. We were trained in all of those disciplines and drilled regularly. When you’re in a hazardous environment, 45 miles from “civilization”, you have only yourself and your co-workers to depend on. To this day, I know I can have a Scott Air Pack donned and operational in less than 10 seconds. (The beard, of course, would pretty much defeat the purpose.)

Table Rock VillageHere’s a twist that few people think about: Our families were housed in a village only about a mile, as the crow flies, away from the plant. What’s more, the gas that ran all of the appliances in the homes came directly from the plant outlet stream. That meant that the safety of our loved ones and our friends was constantly in our hands, as well. How’s that for job-related stress?

I’m not pointing all of this out to brag or complain. We were well trained and well paid and we knew the risks when we took on the job. The real point I’m trying to make is that those of us who worked there were more than just a crew. We had to know that we could count on each other to do our jobs. Regardless of how  we felt about each other outside the work environment, when we clocked in, we were part of a team. What needed to be done got done. We also found ways to have some laughs while we did it. I’m proud to have been a member of that work force and, I believe, a better person for it.

Interestingly, I also find myself grateful that my book wasn’t completed last year as planned, since the closure of the plant wouldn’t have been included. The fact is, I still haven’t received the input I’ve hoped for from other Table Rockers yet, either. I’m hoping that the reunion later this year will be a good opportunity to collect some more stories. Although my own experiences there would easily fill the pages, they can’t possibly do justice to what Table Rock was on their own.

So, there’s my somewhat lengthy first article of the New Year on this site. Comments are, as always, welcome. Happy New Year, everyone!

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The “Big Coin Toss” at the Flare Stack

While reading through some of this year’s posts on the site to gather more book material, a comment by Table Rocker Jim Madden reminded me of one of the hundreds of interesting things I witnessed at the plant – although I was at home in the village at the time this one occurred. I thought I’d share my perspective of the event here – an event I still think of as the coin toss at the flare stack.

To provide a little background for those who don’t know, the “flare stack” at Table Rock Processing Plant was – and is – a vertical pipe on the north end of the plant where the inlet stream is diverted when there’s an interruption in the plant processes. The toxic gas is (normally) ignited by “pilot” burners at the top of the stack. Those igniters didn’t always work, and the fun we had manually lighting the flare is another story altogether. Understand, folks, that this isn’t a wimpy, little, 4-inch stack like those some of you may have seen at well sites. The plant flare, as I recall, is 24″ in diameter and about 150′ high.  (Someone please correct me if I’m wrong)

The control room

The Control Room, Back in the Day, with (l to r) Aaron Heki, Buddy Henley and Milton Cooper

“Back in the day”, the task of “taking it to flare” was the responsibility of the Senior Operator on shift in the control room. It was a routine we all knew well: Flip the switch to close the plant outlet valve and use a control knob to open the valve to the flare stack and regulate the internal plant pressure. All in all it was a fairly simple process – in a perfect world. Of course, it had to be done in the midst of flashing lights, audible alarms warbling, and while maintaining radio communication with the plant operators. All this was often accompanied by the drone of the H2S alarm siren and the whine of the emergency generator. It was a stressful situation for the most experienced personnel, and for new Senior Operators and those in training, it could be downright confusing.

Now, my memory isn’t as good as it used to be, but I’m almost sure that I remember who was in the control room that day and he was fairly new to the position. What happened, in simple terms, was this: After a power “blink”, the acting Senior Operator flipped the switch to close the plant outlet and in his rush to check the myriad indicators, silence alarms and contact his operators, forgot, for a while, to open the flare valve. This allowed the pressure in the plant vessels to build for a while. When the oversight was realized, he overreacted somewhat and spun the little knob to open the flare valve.

[Cut to my home.] I was enjoying a day off when the lights went out momentarily. (Just another power blink at Table Rock.) Because my living room window offered a great view of the plant, I was in the habit of watching the flare stack ignite – it just never got old. I got up and went to the window and waited… and waited… and waited.

Just as I was saying, out loud, actually, “C’mon, go to flare,” a translucent, white streak shot up from the top of the stack, at least twice the height of the stack itself. After what seemed like entirely too many seconds, a “tiny” flame sprouted at the top of the streak. The stream gradually reduced and the flame eventually fought its way back to its normal size.

The most interesting part, though, was what I saw emerge from the stack just before that white streak. It sparkled in the bright sunlight as it flew impossibly high in the air, spinning like a tossed coin and arcing back down out of sight. I wish I’d had the presence of mind to count the flashes as it flipped, but the truth is I was mesmerized. Note, folks, that the plant is a mile away from where the village sat, so you can imagine how brightly that object must have been flashing to be so visible from my vantage point.

As Jim mentioned in his post, we would all find out later that the sudden rush of gas to the flare stack had ripped the flame spreader from inside the stack and shot it into the air. This was a 2″ thick steel disc with nearly the same diameter as the stack. You can imagine the force required to do something like that. Imagine the punkin’ chunkin’ record we could have set.

It’s important to note that automatic relief valves throughout the plant would have vented the pressure before it reached a critical level. In the final outcome, no one was hurt and the plant came back online. We joked about it, but took the lesson to heart. We put it behind us, because that’s how you roll when you work with the things we worked with. The flare continued to function without that baffle plate, although the flame was somewhat less spectacular. Life at The Rock went on. I never found out whether the landing was heads or tails up.

This was just one of countless “adventures” we had at the plant, but it’s always been one of my most vivid memories of those days. In my mind’s eye, I can almost see an exaggerated bulge in the flare stack as the pressure built up behind the baffle plate, like something out of an old Roadrunner episode.

I’d love to read about this from the perspective of other Table Rockers who witnessed it.

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Thanks for the Memories…

With Thanksgiving on the horizon again, I know I’m not alone in including the opportunity to have lived at Table Rock in my list of things I’m most thankful for. To those who can’t grasp why so many would feel such a strong connection to a place, a lifestyle and an incredibly diverse assortment of individuals, I can only say that you had to live it to understand it.

The bond may be strongest for those who were children there and knew the security of living in a community with a sense of family that encompassed not just our village but our neighbors in Wamsutter, too. One of those lucky individuals took the time to create a video comprised of family photos taken by Table Rockers that provides a small glimpse into our past as well as a heart-wrenching view of the deterioration of our home in the desert. For Table Rockers, it will bring some smiles and perhaps a tear. For anyone else, it may help illustrate the sense of nostalgia and gratitude we feel for our lives there. I’ve embedded the video at the bottom of this post.

Thanks, Kevin, for helping preserve the memories. Thanks to my own family for taking the Table Rock journey with me all those years ago. Last, but not least, thank you to my crazy, mixed-up Table Rock family for sharing a part of yourselves with me and my children. Best Wishes from me and mine for a safe and Happy Thanksgiving.


(Click here to watch full-size on YouTube)

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Happy Independence Day, Table Rockers!

Independence DayTable Rock was, in many ways, a perfect example of the things that make our country great. Remember when people knew how to work together to build a community and raise children with strong moral principles and a sense of responsibility, rather than delusions of entitlement? Table Rockers do.

Today is another one of those holidays that brings back memories of The Rock for me. From picnics and pit barbeques to flag ceremonies with our Scouts to fireworks at the ball field, we knew how to celebrate our country’s birthday and remember the cost of the freedoms we enjoy as Americans.

To all my friends from The Rock: You are in my thoughts today, wherever you are. Have fun. Stay safe.

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Table Rock Reunion Scheduled

badgerWell, it’s been a long time coming and postponed once or twice, but the long-overdue Table Rock/Wamsutter reunion is scheduled for the summer of 2014! I don’t want to give the exact date or location away here, because it’s not a public event. For those who don’t already know, I’ll let you in on how to get the details at the end of this post.

This will be a great chance for members of our big, crazy, dysfunctional family to get together and reminisce, catch up on each other’s lives and just have a good time with good friends. There’s plenty of time to plan, so we’re hoping for a big turnout.

For details, Table Rockers can visit the Table Rock/Wamsutter Memories Group or the new Table Rock/Wamsutter Reunion Group on Facebook. These are closed groups, so if you’re not already a member, ask to join.

Let’s do this!

 

 

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From Sarah Heki

I’m the daughter of Shari & Aaron Heki & lived in TRV from the late 70s to early 80s. It was life, it was the only life we as kids knew….rather secluded to the “real world”. An hour to town “Rock Springs” a trip we’d take twice a month, one direction….and a 1/2 hr the other way to school and church in “Wamsutter” was the world we lived in. It was as much enjoyable as challenging & I was very sad when we moved because living so closely with the same families we had some very dear friends….I have many many memories & wouldn’t trade it for any other upbringing.

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Happy New Year! Changes Coming for 2013!

Well, the world survived another “milestone”. December 21, 2012 has come and gone and we’ve made it to 2013.

Unfortunately, Table Rock Village didn’t survive 2012. As recorded in earlier posts, the demolition of the remaining homes has been completed and little evidence remains that a comparatively small group of unique people once carved out a great life there. Soon, travelers across the Wyoming Red Desert won’t give this area a second glance. A few trees that clearly weren’t a part of the original landscape will be the only monument to what was once our home. Almost.

The real testament to the village lies in what those of us who lived there gained from the experience. I don’t need to explain that to Table Rockers or, for that matter, anyone who knows Table Rockers. As for the rest of you, I’m sorry that you will never know.

So, for myself, I hope that the restoration of that portion of the Red Desert to near its original state will be part of a new era of change. No more ghost town. No more squatters. Just the memories of what we had there and the knowledge that we’re better, stronger individuals for experiencing that lifestyle and sharing it with a select few. Let the pronghorn and prairie chickens raise their families there again. It was always their home; we just invaded it for a while.

Pronghorn Family

A young pronghorn family inspects the restoral project. Photo: Lori D. Maciel Crandell

2013 will bring changes to this site, as well. Obviously, some content changes will be needed, to go along with the changes in the landscape. I also plan to rework the membership and posting process, in the hope that more past residents will share some stories here.

That brings me to the final item in this post – the book about life at Table Rock that I’ve been promising to write. 2013 will be the year that this book is completed. How it’s completed will depend greatly on the response I receive to this final shout out to Table Rockers to share their experiences and thoughts, here, via email or via Facebook message to me.  I hope you’ll all help me create a fitting record of a place and a lifestyle that deserve to be remembered.

I wish you all a happy and prosperous 2013!

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Merry Christmas from Table Rock

If the title of this post seems a little odd, because the Village is no longer standing, let me put it in perspective for you. The spirit that made Table Rock what it was lives on in the hearts of those who lived there. Table Rock was, and is, much more than a place, and Christmas was a special time there. So, on behalf of Table Rockers everywhere, I’d like to wish all who visit this site the joy that we knew there during this Holiday season.

For those Table Rockers that will be missing a family member this year, please take some solace in knowing that an entire community feels your loss and you will be in our thoughts. You will never be truly alone.

For the world, I know that I speak for my Table Rock family in saying that my Christmas wish this year is for the one thing that we need again more than any: “Peace on Earth, Good Will Toward Men”.

Merry Christmas and “God bless us, every one.”
Dana and Family

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Thankful for What Was

With Thanksgiving only a few hours away, Table Rock comes to mind again, as always. I’ll be forever thankful that I’m one of the few that can call themselves Table Rockers. To have had the opportunity to experience that unique community and lifestyle has given us all something not many are fortunate enough to have.

I’m also thankful that the decision was made to leave the trees when the Village was demolished. It’s a fitting reminder for those of us who knew how much life could exist out there in the middle of nowhere, and the thought that people will wonder, one day,  how those trees came to be there makes me smile.

Happy Thanksgiving to all my Table Rock friends and family!

 

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