Skip to main content

A uniquely Wyoming flowerpot

News Letter Journal - Staff Photo - Create Article
Photo by Michael Alexander/NLJ Ann McColley and Ann Hanson team up with others in the community to plant flowers and beautify various places around town each spring.
Michael Alexander, NLJ Reporter

City beautification effort led by local women

Newcastle appears much nicer than it would otherwise, and this is due to the efforts of some local women.

At various locations in town, one might have noticed coal cars holding flowers. Years ago, before the coal cars were an idea, Newcastle residents Ann McColley and Ann Hanson noticed how nearby towns, such as Custer, South Dakota, displayed hanging flower baskets to beautify their Main Streets.

McColley and Hanson thought, “If (these other towns) could do this, we could do this.”

The two started by selling hanging flower baskets to local Main Street merchants. They sold so many that scaling back became necessary. McColley said that it got to where she and Hanson had to get a horse trailer and travel to Custer to load up on enough hanging baskets to meet demand.

Inspiration struck when McColley encountered a metal fabricator at a festival in Spearfish, South Dakota. Chatting with the fabricator, McColley asked whether he could construct a coal car flower bed, and it turned out he could. Using profits from their hanging flower baskets venture, Weston County Travel Commission funds and individual donations, McColley and Hanson turned their focus to these coal cars.

The coal car design was chosen because of “the town’s history and connection to the mining industry,” McColley said.

McColley and Hanson eventually obtained more coal cars than the two could manage on their own. The Dirt Daubers and Flowering Fingers garden clubs, headed by Marsha Halliday and Deb Piana, respectively, took on responsibility for some of the coal cars.

Flowering Fingers, the larger of the two groups, counts about a dozen members, while the Dirt Daubers currently consists of only a few. Halliday said that each group welcomes new members.

“We kind of need some (new members) because we’re getting too old to do it,” she added.

Still, the willing assistance of the garden groups is appreciated by McColley and Hanson. Once certain coal cars were delegated to each garden group, the two Anns were left with a much more manageable number of coal cars to take care of.

Each year, Hanson and Halliday choose and purchase the flowers. This includes plugs that Halliday and other garden club members with greenhouses tend to until the flowers can be planted.

Before planting, the ladies also need to wait for the city to turn on the water for the drip lines used in the coal cars. Preparing each park, which involves checking and replacing sprinkler heads, takes the city about a month to complete.

“This is quite a process for the city,” Hanson remarked.

After the flowers are planted, Hanson, McColley and members of the garden clubs tend to them throughout the summer or until the city decides to turn off the water. The ladies try to check on the flowers once a week.

“Just driving around and looking at the color” is what Hanson said is most rewarding about these beautification efforts. She added that people will often stop by and give compliments when she or others are working with the flowers. However, she clarified that she’s “not doing it for the compliments.” Rather, she is “looking to make the community look alive.”

Hanson finds this concern especially potent now due to the high cost of water.

“I think we’re going to start seeing more dead lawns,” she said.

Gardening has been a lifelong interest for Hanson and Halliday. Hanson recalls appreciating the petunias and snapdragons in her childhood yard. Halliday can also trace this affinity back to childhood. She was raised in the South and can remember being carried in her mother’s cotton sack so that she could assist with picking cotton. This, along with her parents’ reliance on a home garden to keep the family fed, instilled in her a fondness for gardening that has remained.

McColley claims that it wasn’t until adulthood that she started to enjoy gardening. She credits her mother-in-law for sparking her interest in this hobby. She is also modest about her skill and contends that she’s “not near the gardener that some of the others are.” Rather, she is motivated by the stress relief that the hobby provides.

“It’s good to get your hands in the dirt,” she said.

Each woman has her own favorite type of flower. Hanson is partial to petunias.

“[They] will keep blooming and keep more color,” she said.

Halliday’s favorite is the dahlia. She said that she once grew a dahlia that measured a foot across. And McColley is fond of zinnias, which is a type she always plants in her own yard.

For their efforts at making the city look nicer than it would otherwise, these local women deserve plenty of gratitude.

--- Online Subscribers: Please click here to log in to read this story and access all content.

Not an Online Subscriber? Click here to subscribe.

Sign up for News Alerts

Subscribe to news updates