Wyoming's oldest operating soda fountain

Christian and Jill Winger stop for a malted break after a hard day of restoration of the historic soda fountain. People have been sitting at that counter for over 100 years sharing a fountain treat.

alive and thriving in Chugwater

CHUGWATER – Loving old-fashioned everything is one of the reasons that Christian and Jill Winger decided to purchase Wyoming’s oldest operating soda fountain.

The young entrepreneurial couple purchased the iconic landmark April 20, 2021, and immediately rolled up their sleeves to bring it back to its former glory.

Growing up in Moscow, Idaho, Jill Winger was home-schooled, graduated in 2003 and the next step in her education brought her to Wyoming where she attended Laramie County Community College (LCCC) where she earned a degree in equine studies which she said kind of tongue-in-cheek totally qualified her to restore and run a soda fountain.

She is an entrepreneur and loves everything that has anything to do with vintage or antiques.

“She’s not the only one that’s like that,” said Christian who is a 1998 Cheyenne East graduate. “I’m probably worse from my standpoint. After high school I went into the electrical apprenticeship trade. I still have my Masters License.  We have several businesses so we ranch and have a construction business, remodel houses and we remodeled this fountain.”

In their construction endeavors, the couple have just recently flipped a home in Chugwater and their personal projects have been keeping them very busy. For the couple to be not only dreamers, but have the time and resources to pursue those dreams, they have managed to multitask on their businesses.

“We have a few online businesses that we do along with ranching,” he said and continued with a stout laugh. “Although I don’t think anybody makes money in ranching.”

“As Christian was doing electric, I started a blog back in 2006,” Jill said. “I called it Modern Homesteading. It covered things like how to bake bread, how to keep chickens, how to grow your own food. That was just a hobby of mine and then it started to take off and we figured out how to monetize it. We developed quite and audience there and so that’s really the engine that spun the other projects.”

She says that she has developed multiple income streams from advertising, educational courses and a cookbook that was written in 2014 entitled “The Prairie Homestead Cookbook.”  The blogs is Prairie Homestead, so it is all consistent in the branding. At theprairiehomestead.com there are a plethora of activities, educational teachings and ideas on everything that she calls, “Old fashioned on purpose.”

The blog gives tips and sells products to help people get started becoming old fashioned. There are podcasts and tips from everything from canning to compost.

The couple has many resources from the blog including products, books, recipes and so much more. They are also now beginning to get into the market to sell grass-fed Herford/Red Angus cross online. That will be shipping nationwide. That will bring in another source to support ranch activities.

In order to sell the beef, everything must be processed at a USDA facility, according to the Wingers.

“Everything is processed there and packaged there,” he said. “We use several processors which is usually anybody we can find. We take stuff to Colorado and South Dakota and I have some cattle doing to that new USDA facility over on 313. We really just got started and we will have close to 50 processed this year.”

When they took over the soda fountain, they knew that substantial renovation had to be done and they say that they were well aware of the projects that would come with the purchase.

“So far, we put a new roof on,” Christian said. “We also built a whole new commercial kitchen as there was no kitchen in here. Before we took it over, they were in here cooking with microwaves and Gerorge Foreman gills.”

When the couple began to dig deeper into renovations for the 3,000 sq. ft. building, they discovered substantial termite damage under what is now the kitchen.

“I didn’t even know we had termites,” he said. “They weren’t active, so it was probably came in from where the product was shipped from when they built the place.”

In a further inspection of where the floor was sagging, the couple discovered that the only way to get under the building to check the damage was to tear up the floor since the building didn’t even have a crawl space.

“We basically had to replace all the joists in the back of the building,” he said. “It’s all like brand new where the kitchen now sits.”

In the remodeling of old buildings, there are sometimes hidden treasures discovered.

The couple have found newspapers from the 1930s, and they have also found school supplies in the original wrappers from the ‘30s and ‘40s that had fallen behind a shelf. They plan on displaying some of the finds when the renovations get to that point. They also have discovered some old prescription bottles and they say the labels are “pretty cool.”

Things have changed so much through the years and it would be difficult to find out what it actually looked like at the very beginning.

“It’s changed a lot over the years,” Jill said. “We’ve had a hard time deciphering what it was and where it was in the store. The history has been an adventure of who owned it when and added what. We piece it together. I’ve been to the museum here and finding ads and different stories. Most of the articles I found that mentioned the soda fountain were in the ‘40s.”

The soda fountain was originally built in 1914. According to the Wingers, the business changed hands more than a few times and some of more prevalent families that the couple knew about were the Lattas and then the Snyders who were both in the pharmaceutical business.

“It’s been humbling to see the support of the community,” Jill said. “It’s been really nice and even tourists who tell us it’s going to be their new stop as they travel through Wyoming has been fun and surprising.”

The investment from a young entrepreneurial couple has been a welcomed venture by the community of Chugwater.

“We knew going into it that it would be as much of an investment into the community as in the building itself,” Christian said. “And eventually we want it to be the hang out like back in the day. A place where locals can come for the news and the food.”

The couple are hoping to have things jumpin’ by late spring or early summer of this year. They came in with a timeline and knew the kitchen and the roof would be the big things right off the bat. Those projects are done and they are on to finishing and fine tuning.

“People ask us why on earth we ventured into this,” Jill said. “There’s business potential, it’s exciting, it’s an interesting product, but that word “called” gets thrown out a lot, but I really do feel “called. I feel that there’s something here that we are supposed to be a part of.”

With things like The Stampede, Chugwater Chili, The Mercantile, the history of Diamond Ranch to list just a few things, there is an infusion into Chugwater that is ripe for revival of a community.

“Chugwater is a compelling place,” Jill said. “It’s kind of the brunt of a lot of jokes, but it’s got a lot of potential and a neat place. And you know, 50 years ago it was a happening place.”

The couple moved to Chugwater from Cheyenne because they wanted a small town feel. They have a small ranch south of town, they have three small children (Mesa 11, Bridger 9 and Sage 6) being raised “Wyoming friendly” and taught how to make the homestead thrive.

“We’ve built a life that we also enjoy,” Jill said. “We enjoy our work, but we also take time off occasionally to just dedicate quality time to family. I also compete in horse shows which is my biggest disconnect.”

According to Christian who says that he’s happiest when he is working on projects sees the family doing the same things 10 years from now. According to Jill, she says that she loves visions, but has a hard time casting one that far out.

In the meantime, their work is their play is their life. And according to the Wingers, it’s a good life.

Christian and Jill Winger stop for a malted break after a hard day of restoration of the historic soda fountain. People have been sitting at that counter for over 100 years sharing a fountain treat.

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