Credit to the Casper Star Tribune writer – Margaret Matray

Article: 60th Anniversary

The following information was taken from the photo’s of the tribunes pages displayed in the display case at the Wagon Wheel:  The images included in these articles are from our archives.

To call the Wagon Wheel merely a skating rink would be an understatement.

It’s the place where crowds would cluster together for livestock auctions, listening to then-owner Walter “Shorty” Vanhorn speak a mile a minute.

Vanhorn Aucions
Vanhorn Aucions

It’s the place that hosted both beauty pageants and wrestling matches, where divas of different kinds battled for all the bragging rights.

It’s the place where square dancers paired up and galloped across the floor. The place where their children and grandchildren would learn the Twist, Chicken Dance and Macarena decades later.

It’s where disco lived out its days.

Where bumbling teenagers met and fell in love.

The Wagon Wheel, a social hub in Casper for decades, celebrates its 60th anniversary this weekend, December 13-14, 2008. As the Wagon Wheel community gathers to reminisce, dance and skate at weekend events, posters filled with photos, autographs, tickets and articles will line the walls – skaters of bygone eras beaming back at the newest generation of rink-goers.

The good ol’ days

In the earlier years, everything about the Wagon Wheel happened in a hurry.

Walter and May Vanhorn built the original skating rink in the late 1940s, next to a metal building that the Vanhorn’s like to consider Casper’s first events center. As soon as it opened, people came out in droves to see live auctions, wrestling matches and big name country artists who rolled into town.

During the day, Casper residents came out to skate. At night, Walter and May sprinkled soap flakes on the floor to add some treading, and people square danced into the morning hours.

In the 1950s, a fire burned the buildings to the ground. This would seem like a natural place for it all to end. It had lived several good years and went out in a large flame. But that’s not what Casper wanted.

The day after the fire, dozens of Casper teens showed up and helped clear the rubble. They wanted a rink.

“You’d be surprised at what kids did back then,” said Dorothy Vanhorn, Walter and May’s daughter-in-law. Dorothy and her husband, Fred, managed the rink starting in the 1970s.

Just as before, everything moved in a flash. Fred Vanhorn swears it happened in three days – the charred remains cleared away and the basic structure of the new rink built-in their place.

“We had the best construction workers around,” he said.

The artist they hired to paint several large canvases around the rink completed one painting every day – finishing his entire project in less than two weeks, Fred said.

The new Wagon Wheel rink, the one that’s still standing today, opened in 1955. As Fred and Dorothy remember it, people began lining up right away. On a given night, they’d see 800 people whir around on the new concrete rink, their coats stacked in heaps along the outside wall.

The Vanhorn’s continued to bring in big bands and top musicians: Grammy Award-winning country singer Marty Robbins played to a packed house and then stayed after to play as the Vanhorn’s cleaned up. Little Jimmy Dickens, the 4-foot-11-inch country singer with the rhinestone-studded outfit, took Dorothy’s broom and swept the floors.

Then, the Vanhorn’s could book a band for $300 to $500.

Those were the days.

Through the decades

Current owner Beverly Vanhorn and her cousin Laura Britton grew up with the rink.

As kids, they’d crawl under the piles of coats pouring over the rink benches and take a nap after a long day. As soon as they were tall enough to see over the booth, their Grandma had them selling tickets.

Britton dressed up as the original “Rink Rat,” a large, grey and pink rat mascot of the Roller Skating Association. She met her husband at the Wagon Wheel.

“It was a big part of our lives,” Britton said.

For years the rink was a hangout for Casper teens who had nowhere else to go. And what went on their mirrored the trends of each decade.

In the 1960s, when Girl Scouting hit a wave of popularity, troops came out by the dozens to earn skating badges for their uniforms. Beverly Geise, a frequent rink-goer and friend of the Vanhorn’s, said she must have taught skating lessons to 200 Girl Scouts one year back then.

In 1977, when “Saturday Night Fever” hit theaters, teens with bell-bottoms and big hair tried to spin and turn, just like John Travolta, under the Wagon Wheel’s disco balls.

In the 1980s, the rink offered jazz workout classes where about 100 ladies would spread mats on the concrete and learn aerobics routines. When skateboarding became popular in the 90s, the Vanhorn’s put in a course complete with quarter pipes.

With ice rinks and community centers now in Casper, Beverly Vanhorn said the Wagon Wheel is not quite the social hub it once was. Schools used to bring kids by on field trips, but that happens less and less now, she said.

Someone once told Beverly that kids today have outgrown roller skating, that kids are too sophisticated now. But the Vanhorn’s don’t believe that. Roller skating is for everyone: from adults down to children old enough to strap skates to their feet, said Dorothy.

The Vanhorn’s see a new wave of popularity coming. With an increased national focus on childhood obesity, the Vanhorn’s hope more will realize the health benefits of skating. Often, the Vanhorn’s don’t even have to turn the heat on in the building – the kids whooshing around the rink work up a good sweat.

Maybe, just maybe, Beverly said, skating is becoming popular, sophisticated once again.

Reach reporter Margaret Matray at (307) 266-0535 or at margaret.matray@trib.com.

Skate party held during our anniversary was a huge success.

What: Wagon Wheel Roller Skating celebrates “60 Years of Memories.”

When: Skate all day Saturday, December 13, 2008 from noon to 11 p.m. Dance Sunday, December 14, 2008 5 to 10 p.m., with music by the Dakota Country Band. Doors open at 3 p.m. Sunday for reminiscing – no skating that day.

Where: Wagon Wheel Roller Skating, 305 Van Horn Ave. in Mills.

Admission: Free if you fill out a “memory ticket.” $3 with own skates, $5 with rental.

skate-boot-2The Wagon Wheel has hosted generations of Casper Area activities, social and competitive events. It has been exciting and a privilege to entertain and share our sport with local schools, parents sponsored events, churches, day-cares, scouts, businesses and charities. We appreciate the support that you have shown our facility through your patronage.

The Wagon Wheel was first built-in 1946 by Walter and May Vanhorn as an auction, dance hall and skating facility. It burned down and was rebuilt in 1955 featuring entertainers such as Hank Thompson, Marty Robins, Brenda Lee and many more. Roller skating club and lessons were given by daughter-in-law Dorothy Vanhorn. Dorothy’s Daughter Beverly Vanhorn-Dice began coaching from skating at the Olympic Training Center. The club produced many good skaters, granddaughter Becky Dice was repeat Regional Champion in each of her age divisions and National finalist in Freestyle figure skating and placed in short track speed skating. Fred and Dorothy Vanhorn operated the Wagon Wheel through the exciting Disco years. Beverly Vanhorn has been manager and operator since 1995.

Bev Started her education at Mills School then East Jr. High, Natrona County (1966) and Casper College (1968). Daughter Becky Dice-Wheeler, also born and raised in Casper, went to McKinley and Oregon Trail elementary, CY Jr. High and graduated Natrona County High School 1991). Father Fred Vanhorn graduated Natrona County High School (19939) and mother Dorothy Phelps graduated Natrona County High School (1942).