Drift Fence Sheep,Women operate book, wool business off Hwy 135Written by Melissa Hemken
Sweetwater Station – In response to the question of why Sweetwater Station, Lynda German and Polly Hinds laugh and talk on top of each other, saying they arrived as soon as they could.
Lynda and Polly first started their Mad Dog and the Pilgrim Bookstore in 1990 in Denver, Colo. In 2001 they moved to Sweetwater Station and today they run the bookstore as well as a wool business known as Drift Fence Sheep Company.
Polly says the move northwest from Denver took 12 trips with a 20-foot moving truck – and that was just the books.
Before moving, Lynda “Mad Dog” and Polly “The Pilgrim” logged 3,000 miles in Wyoming, looking for a place with land and a good location for the bookstore.
“Then we saw this place on the Internet, and it hadn’t been lived in for a few years,” Polly explains. “The realtor told us it was boarded up because the moose kept breaking the windows, and I was like, ‘Yeah, sure.’”
“She was right. When we moved here they terrorized us. They came up to get our hay, and we had to have the Game and Fish come help us because they were tearing everything up. We were afraid to go out our back door!” says Polly.
Polly and Lynda built a reinforced and climate controlled two-story building to house their 70,000-plus books. This collection does not include the 600 cases of paperback books they’ve never unpacked from their Denver move. They’ll open them as soon as they sell enough books to fit them in, but with Polly’s (a self-proclaimed insane reader) habit of selling 10 books and buying 100, that might take a while.
“People say, ‘Oh my, 70,000 books,’” Lynda says. “And I reply, do you have a hobby? And they’re like, well you know, I collect buttons. Do you know how many buttons you can collect? We know people that have jars and jars of 100,000 buttons.”
The ladies do not advertise, unless you count the “Used books, fresh eggs for sale” sign on Highway 287 north of Sweetwater Station Junction. They only have about 12,000 books listed online, as Polly finds it tedious to enter them into the database.
“Generally what we do is put books online that we know are good but that we don’t have a market for here,” Polly explains. “I sell a lot of books overseas; about 70 percent of our sales on the Internet go mainly to Europe and other countries like Japan. The most difficult places we ship are Africa and South America.”
In 20 years of business they have lost one book order and it was mailed to California.
“Everywhere we go we look for books, it is just a passion,” Polly says. “I’m dying to find the book I’ve never seen before, to discover some subject I’ve never heard of. Like dendrochronology, I found a textbook on dendrochronology. I didn’t know what it was about but I had to have it. I read the whole thing and it’s about the study of tree rings. Who would have known? And now I have a whole section of books on dendrochronology.”
The Mad Dog and the Pilgrim draws a fair amount of business from Denver and across Wyoming. Lynda says they receive a lot of support from Fremont County and Wyoming Catholic College.
“You can’t imagine how many people go past here on the highway and how many of them stop,” Polly says. “I know they probably think it’s some little old guy with a shed of paperbacks or something, but they stop, and then they walk into the book shop and their mouths drop open.”
Polly and Lynda’s wool business began with a few bum Rambouillet lambs. When Polly first looked in the box she asked if they were real, and her second question was, “What do they eat?”
“We didn’t know anything about sheep then!” Lynda remembers. “We definitely learned as we went along and we started with two really sick lambs. They both made it and we were hooked.”
The ladies now have 39 sheep, which include a friend’s herd on winter pasture. Most of their sheep are the old, the lame and the sick when they come to Polly and Lynda, who purposefully do not have a breeding operation.
They currently have eight breeds used for wool. Their main product, In Sheep’s Clothing, is all-natural, hand-made soap with Navajo Churro wool felted around it.
“We haven’t built a website yet,” Polly says. “We hope to do that soon for our wool products. Basically, it’s been word of mouth and fairs so far. We have a couple places we stock the soap and they always need more. We do all the little bazaars in Fremont County and around. We did the Jeffrey City Christmas Fair and sold out!”
Lynda is a needle felting extraordinaire, having won the Fremont County Fair People’s Choice Award twice and the Fiber Arts Guild Grand Champion three times. They sell a lot of their wool to needle felters, and have begun to sell dyed roving.
“We also use our wool as insulation, as it’s fire retardant,” Polly says. “Wool melts if you try to burn it, but it won’t start on fire. Our whole barn has wool inside the walls. I wrap it around water pipes and use it anywhere I need insulation.”
Lynda and Polly use guard llamas to protect their sheep from coyotes and other predators. They tried guard dogs first, but found that llamas work best logistically for them.
“Guard dogs need to be busy, moving the herd around and going for miles,” Polly explains. “They don’t work well for small flocks that are pastured in a confined area. Llamas eat less proportionally than a sheep and are low maintenance. Joe, our llama, is a fierce protector of our sheep.”
As their highway sign says, Lynda and Polly also sell eggs. Lynda delivers to customers in Lander and passers-by frequently stop in.
“Honestly, we have such demand for our eggs it’s terrible,” laughs Lynda. “We have a waiting list and are always sold out.”
When counting the inhabitants of Sweetwater Station, Polly counts one for herself, points at Lynda for two, and then numbers their neighbors as three and four.
“You know, things will adapt,” Lynda says. “The realtor lady kept saying it’s 40 miles from town, and she probably said that a 100 times. But you learn to live this way and we love it. We should have gotten here sooner.”