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September 24, 2004
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ARCHIVE: Bonnie Springs

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Bonnie Springs
Bonnie Springs Old Nevada

PLASKON: Bonnie Springs Old Nevada sells the air of the old west. With a replica of a town from the 1800's they attract mostly tourists. In a comedy show actors poke fun at miners, slam their feet, scream and smack cue signs on a table to wake up the crowd or scare them into being engaged.

SOUND: Sold my mothers locket. Awwwww. I know!

PLASKON: The actors make fun of themselves and the show. People like it.

AUDIENCE MEMBER: What did I think, I thought it was hilarious they did really well, for a small crowd they did really well.

PLASKON: Would you recommend it to other people?

AUDIENCE MEMBER: Ya it's funny it's funny. Here we go again.

PLASKON: Outside in the shadow of the Spring Mountains the actors shoot guns in a mock bank robbery while the sheriff's deputy uses the outhouse.

SOUND: Gun Shooting

PLASKON: A gun battle ensues, catching the crowd in cross-fire that blows holes in the buildings and watering tough that sprays the crowd with water. The comical atmosphere clashes with the image of the old west's gun toting, ranching and mining setting. The comedy is just one of the softer sides of the 128-acre Bonnie Springs ranch. For instance there's the zoo.

SOUND: Walking and Geese

CONRAD: I am back little girl, you didn't think I was coming back today.

Jimmy Conrad, general manager pets and hugs a purring bobcat in the zoo.

SOUND: Purring

CONRAD: You got coyotes, two wallabies, a llama, rabbits everywhere, raccoons, guinea pigs the worlds the deer, miniature goats. And the birds we have tons of birds you can probably get a lot of noise out off the birds.

SOUND: Birds

PLASKON: Most of the animals that are here are brought to us because people get them and think they can have them as household pets and then they realize shortly that they can do that. One of the Emus that we have was set loose in the desert and we had to go catch it.

SOUND: Background sound of geese.

PLASKON: He says he is used to the loud geese on the ranch these days, a far cry from Conrad's past. He came here two years ago as a food server after a divorce and managing a Best Western for 18 years in Pennsylvania. Today he gets up at 4:30 and unlike other jobs, there's really no instruction manual for a farm-style resort.

CONRAD: So you kind of throw out the book of specifications and you see, my first experience was with one of the horses had a heart attack and it was bleeding out of its nose and I was covered in blood.

PLASKON: He has lots of stories from cleaning pond scum to riding horses. Bonnie Springs hosts 8,000 visitors during weeks like Spring Break, or Memorial Day. Managers would like to host more conventions with the hall capable of holding 900 people. But things have been slowing down . . . even before 9-11. Bonnie Springs is on the fringes of trend called agri-tourism, where tourists experience the rural life on farms and ranches. It's a growing trend promoted by Nevada tourism officials. These types of businesses are tough to maintain, let alone grow.

CONRAD: People get a business, they think it's wonderful and they go home at night, animals don't do that, agriculture doesn't do that. If there is a problem at 1 o'clock in the morning I am out of bed at 1 o'clock in the morning, some nights I don't go to sleep, there is problem after problem after problem and I have to do one after the other.

PLASKON: In such a new and difficult industry, it's been historically hard to retain employees too, but Carlson says he's turned that around by not taking employees for granted and just treating them like human beings - something all too often forgotten typically in the service industry. The longest resident of Bonnie Springs is Bonnie herself. A former dancer and ice skater, she didn't even know how to saddle a horse when she came here in 1952 and hosted this bar without electricity.

BONNIE: The first twelve years it was mainly the dancers and the entertainers at the hotels. I don't know how they found the place. It was a dirt road Kerosene lamps. That little wood stove was my only heat in the bar.

PLASKON: The floor of the bar is made of concrete and wood she designed and poured herself. She constructed the solid wood tables herself in the 1960's and the stone fireplace too. Not much has changed here since.

BONNIE: The ranch is alright, I don't like town now because you used to know everybody there and everybody in town had a bet that we wouldn't get our electric when we opened the bar and we opened it because all the dancers were coming out after the third show and I would put on a big pot of coffee and a big pan of bus quits and my little Indian, buster Wilson was bourn next door and he found a bee hive in the back of the bar and he knew how to get it out so I had a wash-tub of bus quits and sage honey and then they would all help me brush the horses.

PLASKON: She reminisces about getting the business off the ground. You just can't stock a bar and get a license for 250 dollars anymore. Trying to draw more business, she's running an add in a Summerlin publication and plans another promoting Bonnie Springs as the way Nevada used to be, friendlier and unpaved. Meanwhile she spends here mornings feeding abandoned kittens from the city, running her wolves and inspecting fences to keep all the animals safe from the big mountain cougars that roam the outskirts of Las Vegas.

Ky Plaskon, News 88-9 KNPR

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