CASPER, Wyo. – A vintage feature selling Wyoming’s attractions shows family vacations in a more innocent era, back when feeding and touching wildlife was not only accepted, it was in many ways encouraged.
The film is called “Wyoming Adventure” and was produced around 1956, and a rough copy has recently surfaced on Travel Wyoming’s YouTube page. It presents an idealized time capsule of Wyoming’s towns and attractions, emphasizing the friendliness, beauty and activities of the state.
“Wyoming Adventure” was originally commissioned by the Wyoming Tourism Commission and features prominent sponsorship by the Ford Motor Company, who it can be assumed supplied the featured family with a shiny new orange and wood-paneled Country Squire station wagon for their road trip.
The premise of the film has a man stopping at a service station on his first day back to work after vacation. He then spends the next roughly 20 minutes in flashback as he tells the attendant about his epic family trip through Wyoming, which he called “the greatest country I’ve ever seen.”
At around the 4 minute mark the family pulls up to Devil’s Tower to camp, and in no time the kids are feeding and petting dozens of prairie dogs.
By around the 5:30 mark we get a glimpse of Gillette’s downtown before the family heads off the beaten path and camps near a ranch, where they eventually walk right up to a herd of bison.
Then they’re off to Buffalo and up to Sheridan, where they see a downtown parade and stay in one of Sheridan’s “many modern motels.” It is difficult to tell if the motel featured still stands today, but many buildings in the downtown scenes are still quite recognizable.
The family then heads up to the Bighorn Mountains for more camping and fishing, with some truly stunning scenery captured by the film crew.
Around the 14 minute mark we see the family enjoying a rodeo in Cody before they head for a stay at what is now the Pahaska Tepee Resort, whose mid-century pitched motel cabins still stand today.
After a relaxing night they’re off to Yellowstone and Grand Teton National Parks.
At the 17:17 minute mark we get to see a tourist leave his vehicle for a close-up photo of a bear as a passenger tosses food from the window.
To our narrator’s credit the action isn’t encouraged, but the warning is rather tepid.
“In the interest of safety (wild animals) ought to be treated with caution,” we’re told.
Jackson, the Star Valley and Thermopolis are featured before Casper get’s a quick view and mention as a “modern city” and “oil capitol of Wyoming” at the 22 minute mark.
The film begins to wrap up with mentions of Independence Rock, South Pass and Atlantic City “ghost towns” and a stop at the Wyoming State Capitol, where then-governor Milward Lee Simpson makes a cameo on the steps.
After all this our intrepid family man hears the old factory whistle, hops back in the Ford station wagon and rushes off to work.
The film was produced by Vacationland Studios. A Vacationland still exists in Brooklyn and still makes travel films, but a direct connection seems unlikely.
Other credits include photography and production by Geo W. Grunkemeyer, and a “featuring” credit for Bill Grunkemeyer. Jim and Gloria Stresky “and family” are also credited.
“Geo” Grunkemeyer is likely George Grunkemeyer, a Sheridan-based outdoors writer, photographer and filmmaker who operated the Vacationland Studios with his wife, Prudence. George died of a heart attack in November, 1958, according to a tribute in the Casper Tribune-Herald. “The Wyoming Travel Commission had utilized many of his films to back up ‘Visit Wyoming’ promotions in various cities throughout the country,” they said.
According to an obituary, Prudence Grunkemeyer continued to operate the studio after her husband’s death, and was active in Sheridan and Wyoming organizations for decades.
“[Prudence] was the first woman elected to the Sheridan College Board and also served on several advisory boards at the University of Wyoming,” said her obit. “Additionally, she was an active member for many years on the Sheridan Planning Commission.”
She died in 2011 at age 94.
Their son, George William “Bill” Grunkemeyer, went on to start his own successful travel and outdoor film and video business in 1984. His Grunko Films about Wyoming’s outdoor and nature attractions were regularly advertised on Wyoming TV stations for years. Bill Grunkemeyer died in 2003 at age 60 from Lou Gehrig’s disease, according to a Casper Star-Tribune story.
The digital transfer of “Wyoming Adventure” that has been posted on YouTube was crudely made by shooting a screen with a camera. No doubt that such a vivid time capsule of 50s-era Wyoming deserves a proper high definition digital transfer and restoration.
The entire movie can be seen below: