Retired’ Johnston is back on the road, again

Courtesy photo Wes Johnston shows off one of his retirement gifts, a stained glass replica of his Sublette County Sheriff’s Office badge. His retirement was effective June 30.

Wearing a uniform is a longtime family tradition

Wes Johnston

might have retired as a Sublette County

Sheriff’s patrol deputy a month ago but he’s

still in uniform making rounds on a new beat.

His new “office” has quite a view through

the windshield of the tan 2004 Chevy Tahoe

that Johnston drives along dirt roads as the

new Bridger-Teton National seasonal patrol

officer. The position is contracted between the

Forest Service and Sheriff’s Office and was

filled for years by retired Sheriff Hank Ruland.

When Johnston announced plans to retire

from the Sublette County Sheriff’s Office after

15 years, Sheriff K.C. Lehr asked him if he

wanted to take over the seasonal position.

“It’s a pretty relaxing job,” Johnston said.

“There’s no stress and I get to play. I’m still

a certified peace officer so I can do anything I

did as a deputy. … It was fun for a lot of years

but it was time to do something different.”

Johnston wears his official SCSO uniform

three days a week driving around to all the

Forest Service campgrounds, docks, parking

lots, beaches and trailheads in Sublette County.

One task he checks off his daily log at

Fremont Lake is to spot anything that might

pollute the watershed – dead animals, sewage

and pesticides.

“But I’m not going to report people for

using Off! because of the mosquitos,” he


His goal is to let people see a law

enforcement presence even while they’re on


Family traditions

Johnston was born in Jackson to Gordon

and Marjory Bloom Johnston “and raised all

over” with his father’s Marine Corps career.

His mother’s parents, Otto and Hazel Bloom,

lived in a tidy log cabin in Pinedale while

raising four kids. His father, who attended

Utah State for animal husbandry, came to

Pinedale to visit Bob Dew and cowboyed

for Rex Wardell on the Green River Wagon.

Eventually Gordon retired to Daniel and was

a county commissioner for 12 years.

In the meantime, Johnston joined the

Marines in his father’s footsteps. He is proud

of the fact that his and wife Ida’s sons Justin

and Morgan were also Marines and son

Bridger and daughter Shannon have served

By Joy Ufford

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Sublette County as detention officers.

“It’s heartwarming to have kids that are

productive citizens when I have dealt with

so many who aren’t,” Johnston said. “I am

blessed that all my kids and grandkids are all

now within a 1-mile radius of me.”

Johnston next got his bachelor’s degree in

wildlife conservation from the University of

Wyoming and worked for Wyoming Game

and Fish in construction and wildlife projects.

In eastern Wyoming where he was a firefighter

and EMT, Johnston applied to be Pinedale’s

construction supervisor.

“I was the guy with the Tonka toys,” he said

with a smile.

The lifestyle fit him for almost 29 years

until he heard about vacancies at the Sublette

County Sheriff’s Office and began considering

a career change.

“I was driving back to Pinedale, and I told

Ida,” he recalled. “She said, ‘You’ve been

kind of burned out and looking for something

different to do – think about it.’”

He got advice on how the state retirement

system could work in his favor and filled out

an application. He retired at 50 from Game

and Fish on May 31, 2005, and started his new

career the next day at 8 o’clock.

He was a detention officer under Sheriff

Wayne “Bardy” Bardin but his heart longed

for the road. His rank has gone up, down and

sideways – depending on whom was sheriff

and how the department was reorganized. He

served under Bardin, Dave Lankford, Stephen

Haskell and now Lehr.

“I had no intentions of working in the jail,”

Johnston said, but that’s where the openings


After training as a detention officer in

Douglas, Bardin asked him to become jail

administrator at rank of lieutenant. “I told

him I’d give him a good two years as jail

administrator and then I’d start whining about

going to the road.”

As Bardin reorganized, Johnston became

a captain with no pay raise and added more

officer certifications. Johnston still wanted

to go on the road. He told Patrol Capt. Mike

Peterson one day, “I’ll trade you these captain's

bars for those truck keys,” which Peterson was


“I talked with Ida and she reminded me

that’s what I’d wanted to do in the first place.

So I gave up the captain’s bars and went to

patrol until I retired.”

When Haskell was elected to replace

Lankford, he asked Johnston to be patrol

captain. That was a controversial time with

friction between county officials and the new

sheriff. Ultimately, Haskell was convicted of

misuse of office and funds.

“When Stephen Haskell beat Dave in the

primaries – that caused a lot of hard feelings

in the clerk’s and commissioners’ office,”

Johnston said. “It made it hard for me to do

my job as a fleet manager.”

For example, the ’04 Tahoe he drives now

is one he tried to trade in back then after a

deputy drove it through a hayfield. “But it

didn’t have 125,000 miles on it. I told them

it would cost thousands to repair it to get it to

125,000 miles.”

“The Tahoe has 76,000 miles on it – I still

have 50 more to go before it gets traded in,”

he said.

Lehr was appointed and then elected the

next sheriff. “When everything went south

with that administration, after K.C. was sworn

in, I told him, ‘I will work for you in whatever

capacity you want me to.’”

Lehr asked him to stay on and Johnston

went back to the road when Lt. Dave Siefkes

was promoted. With time, many hard feelings

have faded, he added, and his retirement party

was the best he could have imagined.

Now, Johnston drives his routes with

nods and greetings from campers and locals

alike. His favorite unidentified Fremont Lake

campsite might help him enjoy one of his

hobbies – vintage campers.

A 1976 Boles Aero fifth-wheel trailer is his

“new camper” and parked in various places

are a ’68 Airstream, a ‘60 Winnebago and a

’51 “canned ham that was my grandparent



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