If I were to drop the words “dudes” and “sagebrush” into a conversation, you might picture cow-punchers out riding the range. Those words probably wouldn’t make you think about hotel maids at Yellowstone National Park, would they? But that’s exactly where my mind goes!
Elsie Brookes, the heroine of my new novel, Ever Faithful, works as a hotel housekeeper in 1933 Yellowstone in order to save money for her lifelong dream of attending college. These words are slang terms she and her friends would probably utter on a daily basis. While doing research for the story, I spent several days leafing through historic documents in Yellowstone’s Heritage and Research Center [https://www.yellowstone.org/heritage-and-research-center/] located in Gardiner, Montana. The archivist told me that the college kids who worked for the Yellowstone Park Company’s hotels, lodges, and campgrounds back in the 1930s were known as the “savages” and actually had a unique lingo all their own. Rather than calling themselves maids, dishwashers, and waitresses they were pillow punchers, pearl divers, and heavers. Porters were known as packrats, and the good-looking fellows hired to drive the yellow tour buses answered to “gear-jammer.”
Even the visitors were labeled in fun ways. A tourist who booked a trip on the park’s stagecoaches or touring buses was called a “dude” or “dudette.” Those who stayed overnight in the auto campgrounds were “sagebrushers.”
I couldn’t wait to start peppering this slang into my characters’ dialogue. But one of the best finds was yet to come. When I discovered the term for romantic relationships in Yellowstone, I knew I’d struck story gold: rotten-logging. Doesn’t that make you picture an adorable couple sneaking away to smooch in the woods?
So when my novel’s hero, Nate Webber, takes Elsie for a romantic walk, the other “savages” would joke that he’s out “rotten-logging with a pillow-puncher.”
Tell me that doesn’t make you smile!
How about this song from the Yosemite Park Camping Company songbook? (Shared courtesy of the Yellowstone Heritage Center).
Rotten logging, rotten logging,
That’s what we do each night;
Strolling along under Yellowstone skies
Whispering secrets and making up lies.
They may all say, to hug and to kiss is a crime,
But as soon as it’s dark in Yellowstone Park
It’s rotten logging time.
The fun stories and songs made working in Yellowstone’s hotels sound a bit like going to summer camp, though I imagine the labor wasn’t easy. Last month I took my family to the park to celebrate Ever Faithful’s release, and I had a chance to talk with modern-day equivalents to my characters. Many things have changed since the 1930s. When I asked about the slang terms, they all agreed that no one used them anymore, though they could rattle them off without prompting.
As one of the housekeepers at the Old Faithful Inn fixed a problem in our room, I talked to her about what it was like to work in the hotel. She mostly had positive things to say, though I’m sure they’re warned about complaining to the “dudes.” When I asked about her future plans, she gave me a huge smile and told me she’s been working hard and saving her money. She dreams of going to college.
I guess some things don’t change.
To celebrate the release of this new novel, let’s give away a paperback copy of Ever Faithful! (Winner must be 18 years and older and have a US mailing address).
So, if you were going to sign up for a summer job in a national park, which one would you choose? Please tell me in the comments below!
Bio: KAREN BARNETT is the award-winning author of Where the Fire Falls and The Road to Paradise and five other novels. A former park ranger and outdoor enthusiast, she loves to share her passion for God’s creation in her books. Karen lives in Oregon with her husband, two teens, and three attention-starved dachshunds.