July 19, 2016
The history of the old west is filled with the legacies of what came to be referred to as “Boomtowns”. These cities were typically birthed by some geographic anomaly, like a stage coach line or a gold or silver mine, whose rise and demise spanned just a few short years but have lived on via the cinematic genre known as “the Western”. We know that Tombstone was where the Earps and the Clantons squared off at the OK Corral, Deadwood was the last mailing address for Wild Bill Hickok who died holding the infamous “dead man’s hand” of aces and eights and Marshall Dillon was the law in Dodge City, except when he was hanging out with Doc, Festus and Miss Kitty—and I think we all know what she did for a living. I remind you of those thrilling days of yesteryear in light of Prineville, Oregon’s quest for modern day Boomtown status.
As I said, most boomtowns were the result of some geographic anomaly and Prineville’s (population 9,223) current status as a prime geographic data center location certainly fits the bill. While not as a compelling and newsworthy as a gold strike, since, the last time I looked, no one is running around yelling “There’s data centers in them thar hills”, it sure seems to be drawing a lot of people to its bucolic confines.
Another attribute that Prineville shares with its progenitors from the wild west is a severe lack of housing. Due to the rapid influx of workers, the limited availability of accommodations and the total lack of a hospitality industry, the folks who came to town to seek their fortunes were often forced to fend for themselves or take residence in quickly thrown together wood boarding houses that weren’t exactly “Motel 6” level accommodations, if you get my drift. Well, Prineville finds itself in the same predicament as its hotels and rental properties are filled to capacity, forcing newcomers to seek shelter in RV parks and even tents. Take it from a guy who equates staying in a Marriott to “roughing it”, coming home from a hard day to at work to a pup tent and roasting a wienie over a Coleman stove constitutes a less than optimal working environment.
Boomtowns were primarily populated by men, and so is Prineville, and where any large body of relatively young males congregate there emerges a need for…entertainment. Back in the day, this meant the erection of saloons and the kind of establishment with proprietors like Miss Kitty, but Prineville seems to have averted this slide into moral decay—for now. They have a sports bar and I believe there’s a multiplex in the next town, but will that be enough to stave off the urges of hundreds of red-blooded American men? I don’t know and I don’t think the good citizens of Prineville want to find out. This tension-packed situation may also be exacerbated by the fact that Oregon is an open carry state—who knew—and while no one has gone “all western” yet, no one is wild about the prospect of two guys yelling “draw” in the middle of Main Street.
It’s been said that history repeats itself, and I think Prineville exemplifies that adage. However, unlike in the olden days, Prineville should be more than able to address these immediate challenges. A couple of Red Roof Inns and a bowling alley should do the trick. However, the real issue that Prinevillians will soon face is: what will they do after all the data centers have been built. You can still tour the OK Corral on your next visit to Tombstone, but what will Prineville have to offer? Surely, they do not want to become one of those places where Trip Advisor’s “Top Ten List of Things to Do” only goes to 6. Prineville needs to learn from the mistakes of its predecessors and begin planning for its future now. Because, unfortunately for them, most of the boomtowns ultimately became ghost towns, and a master electrician makes a poor substitute for Wyatt Earp.