Sinclair, Wyoming, was a wonderful place when my brother and I grew up there in the 1950s and ’60s. It was a company town of under 500 people where our father, uncle, aunt and several other relatives worked at and retired from the Sinclair Refining Co. Even Joel and I worked at the refinery during summers between college semesters.
We had a grocery store, where we returned empty pop bottles for penny candy; a drugstore, where we drank cherry phosphate; a bowling alley, where many of us set pins for spending money; and a library, where Nancy Drew books were the rage. We had tennis and basketball courts and a recreation hall that hosted many a Halloween party and dances for all ages.
But the most magical place of all was the Sinclair Skating Rink, on a vacant lot near our house. It started as a makeshift rink with cracked, bumpy ice and holes to fall into near the fire hydrant. Then our dad, John Harold Johnson, stepped in and became the architect of a new rink. As a foreman at Sinclair, he persuaded refinery officials to level the lot, build a warming hut, provide hoses and shovels for maintaining the rink, and add lighting for nighttime skating.
One of my fondest memories is skating with him to “Canadian Sunset.”
Several evenings a week, Dad shoveled the rink and flooded it, making ice as clear and flawless as glass. Joel and several neighbors helped him maintain the rink, but Dad truly was the inspiration behind the magic.
On winter weekdays we could hardly wait to get home from school, put on our skates and hurry out to the rink. On weekends it became a destination for families from Sinclair and the nearby towns of Rawlins, Saratoga and Hanna.
Dad, who was a great skater, played music for us on Saturdays from a record player with speakers attached to a little building also provided by the refinery. One of my fondest memories is skating with him to “Canadian Sunset.”
I also remember learning figure eights and simple jumps from Mr. Coffey, a Sinclair native and former semiprofessional wrestler.
When the refining company decided to sell most of its properties in town, the public bought up houses and lots—and the skating rink disappeared.
But through the years, Dad received thank-you notes from all over, written by grateful people who skated their hearts out on the Sinclair Skating Rink. For those of us who grew up in Sinclair, memories of the rink and the town remain priceless.