Longform

ONE MORE FOR THE ROAD

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"If you ever see movies about how people partied back then, they're true," says George, now an insurance agent in Hudson, New York. "I'll tell you, those ranchers just really enjoyed themselves."

The 58-year-old George remembers popping the tops off beer bottles for her father during the Saturday night dances that were a staple at the State Line through the 1940s and 1950s. The entertainment was provided by the Woosters, a "Jed Clampett kind of family" of banjo-and-guitar pickers who lived eight miles north, near the railroad town of Tie Siding, Wyoming. "When I'd go over there with my dad to see if they'd play for the dance, they had goats, and the goats lived in their cars," she says. "It was kind of an interesting thing, because if they had to play for dances, they had to remove those goats."

Jim George also wooed customers with a pair of slot machines built into the wall of the dance hall, an arrangement that was tolerated by the state troopers of the day. "When one of the patrolmen from Colorado would pull up, he'd toot the horn and take his time about parking," recalls Boyd. "The Wyoming side would do about the same." If a customer was feeding the one-armed bandits when the troopers arrived, says Boyd, "old Jim, he'd go back in and say, `I have to close you down for a little bit.' He had a board that would come down and hide it."

Then, as now, the troopers spent most of their time mopping up after traffic accidents. And the breakneck curve that swung down out of Wyoming inadvertently led to the creation of what may have been the State Line's most exotic conversation piece. After an Indian man from Tie Siding lost control of his car on the curve and plowed through Jim George's front window one morning, the proprietor allowed him to work off the damage by painting a series of wildlife murals around the inside of the dance hall. The folk art disappeared after her father sold the place, says Waldene George, who assumes the beer-glass menagerie remains buried under several coats of paint in what is now Dave Durst's dining room.

The State Line's other hidden treasure is a little easier to find. Around the corner from a buffalo head sits a primitive AT&T telephone switchboard, still in place though long since disconnected. "We were the local connection for the ranchers," says Waldene George--and, even then, a lifeline for the truckers. Drivers on their way to Salt Lake and Great Falls stopped in for beer, burgers and homemade pie. The profits from the latter provided betting money for Waldene's mother (maiden name: Walden) during the family's gambling jaunts to Las Vegas.

"The truckers were wonderful," says Waldene. "One year we were snowed in with about fifteen or twenty people, and [the storm] lasted for a good many days. We were just about to run out of food and a lady was just about to have a baby when some trucker got through with supplies."

When Jim George died in 1960, the memorial service held for him at the First United Presbyterian Church in Fort Collins was "probably the biggest funeral I was ever at," recalls Robert Boyd. The church hall was standing room only, and George's casket was borne by three Wyoming state troopers and three Colorado state troopers in full dress uniform. Says Boyd, "It was the prettiest bunch of pallbearers I've ever seen."

Like Jim George, Dave Durst took an indirect route to the State Line. A divorce with eight children, he came to Colorado from Minnesota in 1972 and bought into the Spencer Heights Resort, "the first place up over the pass" along the scenic Cache la Poudre River. After he and business partner Betty Van Amburg sold their small resort as part of a U.S. Forest Service land swap, they bought the State Line and set about restoring it to its former glory.

The owner at the time was a logger who kept the cafe open only intermittently and used the parking lot as a graveyard for cannibalized vehicles. "If you ran him through the car wash, he would have still looked dirty," says Durst of his predecessor. Durst gave the State Line its seventh remodeling since its inception, adding a new kitchen and bathrooms and turning Jim George's old barroom into a gift shop. He later bought out Van Amburg and kept Gibson, an area native who had also worked for the pair at Spencer Heights, as his waitress and manager.

Gibson's Dutch apple pie and chocolate cake brought back the truckers, and business was good until the roadwork slowed it to a trickle last year. Now, says rancher Keith Walden, one of the few loyal customers left, "you drive by and there's nobody there. Before, it seemed like they always had customers in the restaurant."

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Andy Van De Voorde