Tri-State and Wheatland REA help keep history alive

Chugwater’s famous soda fountain is housed in a building constructed in 1916.

Chugwater’s famous soda fountain is housed in a building constructed in 1916.

It’s not uncommon for rural electric cooperatives to deliver power to unique and interesting people, organizations and businesses.Tri-State member system Wheatland REA (Wheatland, Wyo.) has provided power to the historic Chugwater Soda Fountain for as long as anyone in the area can remember.

The oldest operating soda fountain in Wyoming is housed in one of the oldest buildings in Chugwater, which sits about 45 miles north of Cheyenne. The original building was constructed in 1914. Not long after, it partially burned down and was rebuilt in 1916.

“Wendell” the elk makes sure the shakes and malts are tasty and memorable.

“Wendell” the elk makes sure the shakes and malts are tasty and memorable.

As was often the case around the turn of the 20th century, the fountain co-existed with a pharmacy — and the original pharmacy drawers are still intact along the south wall of the store. The pharmacy eventually closed and while ownership of the business has changed many times over the years, it remains one of the few active soda fountains in the U.S. that serves traditional hand-dipped ice cream shakes and malts.

Tourists from all over the country and sometimes even from outside the country stop in all year, but summer is an especially busy time. “We give the REA a lot of business then,” laughed Barbara Dayton, who bought the business five years ago.

So the next time you find yourself passing by Chugwater, stop into the soda fountain for a taste of the homemade treats and its one-of-a-kind atmosphere, which even features an elk overlooking the room nicknamed “Wendall” for the man who shot him near Jackson, Wyo., in 1946. A town petition prevents Wendall from leaving no matter who owns the soda fountain.

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