The State of Wyoming Has 2 Escalators

And they're totally fine with that.
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[IMAGE DESCRIPTION]
This is not one of Wyoming's escalators. (Shutterstock/PhotonCatcher)

In 2008, Megan Lee -- then a reporter at the Star Tribune in Casper, Wyoming, and the author of the paper's "Answer Girl" column -- received the following query: "How many escalators are there in Casper? In Wyoming?"

Lee looked into the matter. She found that there was one escalator in Casper -- and that the escalator, it seemed, was the only one in the state. Lee's reporting was later amended: it turns out that there were, in fact, two escalators in Casper -- and therefore in the state of Wyoming -- in 2008. (Actually, technically, there were four: two sets of escalators, each with an ascending and descending set of stairs.) Both were located in banks. One was set in the city's First National Bank building, and the other in the Hilltop National Bank.

Here is Lee, escalating with abandon:

So, yes: In 2008, Wyoming had two-and-depending-on-how-you-count-four escalators, in the entire state. Which works out, using 2012 state population statistics, to 0.000003467 escalators per capita. Not a high number, but hey, per the Governor's office itself, "it is widely assumed that there are no escalators in Wyoming." So, take that.

A lot can change in five years, though. And since the two-escalators stat is getting some attention now that Wyoming is back in the national news, I decided to embark on a very important fact-finding mission when it comes to the technological infrastructure of the great state of Wyoming. How many escalators, I wanted to know, are in the state right now -- in 2013?

Best I can tell ... two. Yep, still two.

I asked a spokesman for the Wyoming governor's office whether any escalators might have been constructed in the state since 2008; he wasn't sure, but thought the newly-constructed airport in Jackson Hole might be a contender. The airport is single-level, though, it turns out -- no escalators necessary.

And there seems to be no escalator elsewhere in Jackson, either. "I'm not aware of any," said Andy Heffron of the city's Chamber of Commerce. "I don't even think the hospital has an escalator," another Chamber representative said. It's "just stairs and elevators, that kind of thing."

But maybe the city of Sheridan has one? "I'm not aware of any escalators in the city," Sue Goodman in the City Planning Office told me. "Just elevators."

But what about Cheyenne, the state's capital and its most populous city? No again. "We haven't had one for quite a long while, as a matter of fact," Dick Mason, in the city's Building Office, explained. There used to be an escalator in an old J.C. Penney building, he said ... but the escalator was demolished along with the building itself. (Fellow former escalator-havers of Wyoming include Pink Garter Plaza, a mall-style complex in Jackson, and the Casper/Natrona County International Airport.) Today, for the most part, if you need to get up a level and can't or don't want to use stairs, elevators are the way to go.

And that makes sense. Escalators may be magical machines, the stuff of literature and comedy and epic, epic poetry; they are also, often, less practical than their fellow vertical people-movers. "There are code issues involved with escalators, which make them somewhat less popular," Mason noted. "The code does not want openings between adjacent floors that are unprotected." Say there's a fire: stairways offer people enclosed ways to escape buildings, while escalators generally don't. If you're an engineer thinking about the best ways to move people between floors, escalators often lose the contest. Plus, escalators tend to be more expensive to install and maintain than their counterparts. 

Whereas "elevators," Mason said, "are pretty much foolproof."

The dearth of escalators in Wyoming could also have to do with the particularities of the state's buildings themselves. "I think a lot of it has to do with some of the buildings being older," Sue Goodman said -- and older buildings with multiple stories tend to rely on stairways and elevators for their inter-floor transport. Two of the most common settings for escalators are malls and larger airports, and places like Sheridan have neither: their stores tend to be standalone structures. Plus, "in the Great Out West, I think land is probably cheaper," Goodman said. So rather than build up, "we spread out."

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Megan Garber is a staff writer at The Atlantic. She was formerly an assistant editor at the Nieman Journalism Lab, where she wrote about innovations in the media.

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