By: Nick Perkins
When those words were spoken to Ray Kinsella at his farmhouse in Iowa, he had no idea what to make of it. “If I build what, who will come?” he wondered to himself. He had a thousand questions, but the only answer he received was “if you build it, he will come.” So, he got to work. He transformed his cornfield into something bigger, something brighter, something better. It was a baseball field, and it would play host to the dreams of legends.
For John Huff, owner of Yellowstone Garage in Casper, WY, a similar message was spoken to him: “If you restore it, they will come.”
The building always called to him. The area has always been home. From even as far back as the 1970’s, Huff was a fixture of the Old Yellowstone District.
“When I was a kid, I worked over here on the corner of Midwest and Yellowstone and did oil changes on Gremlins and Hornets and Matadors,” Huff reminisced. “This neighborhood is not foreign to me. This was a Lincoln Mercury dealership back then.”
The Mercury dealership was but one iteration of the Yellowstone Garage. It has also been a gas station, a mechanic’s shop and much more. If walls could talk, the interior of Yellowstone Garage could tell stories for days. When Huff was a kid, he would sneak glances at the building while he washed and waxed cars. The building was always beautiful to him and he knew that one day, it would be his.
“I liked this building because it had a cool glass front,” Huff stated. “There’s no other building in Casper like this building and I always kind of had a soft spot for it and one day it popped up for sale in 2004, so I went to work.”
Not yet knowing just how much work it would eventually take, Huff approached then-owner, the late Bob Trippin and told him he was interested in purchasing it.
“I told him I wanted it and I don’t think he really believed I was serious,” Huff said with a laugh. “He started showing it to somebody else a couple days later and I went, ‘no, I’m taking this.’”
When Huff bought the Yellowstone Garage in ’04, it was originally intended to be a showcase for his collection of muscle cars.
“I was gonna fix it up and have a man cave space,” Huff admitted. “At that point in time, nobody had done anything in this neighborhood. This was a rundown, dumpy part of town. It wasn’t a place you wanted to hang out at after dark.”
Huff knew what this area was, but he also saw what it could potentially be. And that’s when he heard the voice.
“If you restore it, they will come.”
So, he did.
“I started working on it and realized it was in bad shape and needed a lot of work, so over the next 3-4 years, I spent a lot of time, money, blood, sweat and tears on it,” Huff stated. “As I’m doing that, everyone else decided that ‘Wow, this neighborhood is kinda cool!’”
Suddenly, the “dumpy side of town” bore witness to something interesting. Nostalgia was in full effect, as pure as baseball and apple pie. People saw that Huff was building something great out of a building that had almost been forgotten about. But they started to remember.
Huff said that “A lot of people stopped by over the course of me working [on the building] and said ‘Man, I used to work here- I sold cars in there, my dad sold cars in there, my dad painted cars.’” A lot of older guys in town worked here, fixing cars. There’s a lot of local history to this place.”
Huff set about restoring and preserving some of that history. As he did that, he realized that this idea could be bigger than just a garage for his cars. He realized that he could offer something, really offer something to the community.
“If you restore it, they will come.”
Being that cars had always been Huff’s first love, he decided to start promoting annual car show as his first big event. He hired Garijo Brierley to handle the promotion and execution of various events, with a Memorial Day Car Show being the highlight.
“We did one every year for several years and then the Car Club said ‘Hey, do you mind if we come down?’” Huff stated. “They’ve been coming here for 7 or 8 years now and the Oil Capitol Auto Club have been coming here ever since. We throw a big party for them, feed everybody and have some music and entertainment. This last Saturday was probably the biggest one we’ve ever had.”
May 26th and 27th, 2018 was a big weekend for Yellowstone Garage. They hosted their Memorial Day Car Show (lovingly referred to simply as ‘Car Show’ by YG’s employees) and it was, in a word, huge.
“Last year, we were busy” started Yellowstone Garage’s Bar Manager, Forristt Andress. “This year we were even busier. I got here at 5:45am and I was the first person here, but everyone else got here at 6:00am. It was packed all day long.”
Car enthusiasts from all over Wyoming and surrounding states gathered for food, fumes and tunes at the Yellowstone Garage. The District was backed up for blocks, as classic cars adorned Downtown Casper. It was truly a sight to behold, and it offered validation to the message John Huff was given all those years ago. People were coming, and they were coming in droves. The Yellowstone Garage had become a destination.
“I think the best part about Car Show is that it’s so focused on Yellowstone Garage,” Andress said. “We collab with all of the other businesses down here; we do the 3rd Thursday Pub Crawl, we do the Art Walk, but Car Show is ours. It’s not the Yellowstone Garage Car Show, but it’s a car show that we do at the Yellowstone Garage. To me, that’s the coolest part about it- the amount of people that turn up, people from out of town, the fact that we get so many cars when there’s not even a registration. Our turnout was fantastic. It’s fun for everybody, I think.”
In addition to the car shows, Yellowstone Garage also offers weekly Summer events called “Rock the Block,” which always produces a fantastic turnout as well. Years ago, Huff and Brierley collaborated to create something that would bring the community together, celebrating local artists, musicians, food vendors and more. It also offered the community a chance to celebrate its history.
Huff had purchased a liquor license that was up for grabs, and Yellowstone Garage was now becoming an events venue, a bar and a restaurant. People were responding in kind, and his idea had a domino effect on the rest of Downtown Casper. Other business owners were taking notice and they wanted a piece of the pie. Huff noticed this and welcomed it.
Venues like the David Street Station, the Gaslight Social and more were built. The Art Walk and the Third Thursday Downtown Crawl were created. All of a sudden, Downtown Casper had transformed into something that people wanted to spend a significant amount of time in. For Huff, there couldn’t have been a better outcome.
“It’s a community-minded thing, where everybody gets a little bit,” Huff offered. “It’s a big deal, it really is. I mean, I think that building community is as important as anything down here and I do try to get along with my neighbors.”
Huff has been somewhat of a Godfather to The District. He was the first to see the potential in the area. He was the first to produce weekly or monthly or yearly events. He was the first one to transform the “wrong side of the tracks” into something that could offer an experience for the entire family. He was, in reality, the first one to really see what Downtown Casper had the potential to be.
When Huff originally purchased the Yellowstone Garage, he didn’t intend for it to be a siren song to Downtown Casper. He just wanted a place for his cars. But then he heard a voice whisper that if he restored it, the people would come. Huff decided to give something back to the community that he has called home for more than 40 years. He continues to give back to the community as well, supporting local fundraisers, auctions and more. The Yellowstone Garage even donated $1,000 to the Science Zone during their car show. Huff and the rest of the crew at Yellowstone Garage know how important they are to the community, and how important the community is to them. They want to continue to produce events that will bring people downtown to sample all the things that make The District special. Downtown is full of restaurants and bars and art galleries and shops and they were all inspired by John Huff and his garage. They were all designed to turn The District into something bigger, something brighter, something better.
They were all built on a field of dreams.