Long before Buford -- the tiny Wyoming town with its own zip code but a population of exactly one -- became an international sensation, it was a road-trip must-stop for my family. We'd discovered it one morning when we'd zipped past Cheyenne and realized we might need gas before Laramie. Buford, located between the two towns, was our only option.
It was only after we pulled off the highway that we spotted the sign pronouncing that the town has a population of one. Beyond that, there was the convenience store, a house, a couple of sheds, a circa 1905 schoolhouse, a shelter holding a collection of post office boxes, a cell tower, some abandoned vehicles and a view of the highway and empty prairie on one side, passing trains, more empty prairie and distant peaks on the other.
We didn't wind up getting gas in Burford (although we did stock up on beef jerky, postcards and other regular road purchases); the cranky clerk refused to give me the 4 percent discount for cash because I had a $100 bill. Today, of course, that denomination would barely fill the tank.
"Now we know why no one else wants to live here," my young niece observed.
Still, we were so perversely charmed by the set-up that we made Buford a regular stop on our summer road trips and collected as much information about the spot as we could. The town was established in 1866 as both a military and railroad outpost, and may -- or may not -- have been the second town in Wyoming. At one point, it may -- or may not -- have had a population of 2,000. It definitely had some great bad souvenirs.
And so when we learned that Don Sammons, who's owned the town for the past twenty years, had decided to sell the ten-acre property at auction -- and the auction of an entire, tiny town had attracted interest from around the globe -- we decided it was time for another road trip.
By 11 a.m. yesterday, the lot was full of cars -- many of them pickups, and many of those beat-up. There were TV camera crews, too, including one from CNN and one from Japan. The store, which was largely cleared out, was just selling T-shirts, some featuring Sammons looking much more like a mountain man than he did yesterday. He wore a dark suit that echoed the Secret-Service look of the Williams & Williams auction house employees.
Sammons is ready to retire, he told me; he was thinking of some beachfront property. (The bookshelf in the three-bedroom house -- a remodeled double-wide -- included a book on how to retire in Mexico or Costa Rica.) In the meantime, he'd bought a new place an hour south, in Windsor, Colorado.
The people eying his property ranged from a Wyoming man now living in Maine whose wife wanted to open a karate school, a pair from Denver who thought the old schoolhouse might make a good bar (too small, they decided). And two mysterious young men, hats pulled low against the wind, man-bags making it very clear they weren't from Wyoming.
The auction, which included online bidders from 46 countries as well as dozens gathered in the parking lot, started at noon and $100,000 and ended eleven minutes and $900,000 later. One of the man-bag bidders, a native of Vietnam who declined to be identified or interviewed, had won the prize. "Owning a piece of property in the U.S. has been my dream," he said in a statement handed out by the auction house.
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A very windy, dusty piece of the American dream.
Hope he can find a perky cashier.
More from our Calhoun: Wake-Up Call archive: "Billy the Kid photo snapped up for $2 million by William Koch."