Thomas Franklin Barks, 82, a real-life cowboy and true original, rode off at dawn Dec. 17 in Casper.
He never passed on anything, namely any deal on a firearm, hunting season, a good drink, dancing with wild women, riding bulls, a good bet, a shiny new red truck or serving his country.
Tom was born Feb. 23, 1936, in his house in Olathe, Colo., to Velma “Grandma Great” Hamblin and Isaac “Jake” Barks, hard-working folks raising him and his other siblings, Truman, Clayton, Ruby, Mariellen and Evelyn. As he would repeatedly say, Tom grew up sleeping on the root cellar dirt floor wearing shirts made out of burlap sacks and lived without running water or electricity, having to share the cold bathtub water after all his other siblings. He was known to tell his grandchildren how tough his childhood was by saying he had to walk uphill both ways to school in the middle of a blizzard no matter the season – though they have yet to find these conditions to be true.
A professional hooky player throughout high school, Tom found himself at the Grand Junction, Colo., recruiters office in 1955 making (what he constantly would say) the best decision of his life – signing up for the U.S. Air Force. Tom would later admit he wanted to join the U.S. Navy, but the Navy fellow was out to coffee.
Thus began a 22-year-long career in law enforcement for the Air Force. Tom’s career took him around the world and gave him plenty of stories, like serving in President Eisenhower’s private security detail at the summer White House in Denver; stamping out criminal activity around Vietnam with his translator, who he nicknamed “VC”; and working investigations in Bitburg, Germany.
As a young airman, Tom met his wife of 54 years, Sandra, on a blind date after choosing between a brunette or a redhead. He chose the redhead. Together they raised three children, Kathleen, Thomas Franklin Jr. and William James “BJ,” and traveled the world as a family until his retirement in 1977.
In his retirement, Tom held several jobs that suited his personality. Always the smooth talker, Tom was an accomplished car salesman selling trucks to every Tom, Dick and Harry throughout southeastern Wyoming. Working the garden department at Ernst, Tom earned an honorary degree in horticulture, and was known to come home with a paycheck’s worth of plants more often than not. Tom’s last stint was at the Cheyenne VA hospital, working “KP” as he called it, and serving the older vets living in the nursing home.
Always true to his roots and preferring rural living, Tom and Sandra built a house off Happy Jack and spent their retirement years out in the country with their chickens; their trusty milk cow, Jennie; their dependable horse, Brandy; and numerous critters and varmints that Tom would take shots at with his .22.
Tom spent these golden years speeding down Happy Jack with the cruise control set to “rock and roll”; hunting deer and antelope off his back porch or the driver’s seat of his truck; cursing telemarketers and Democrats; charming waitresses and telling tall tales at the Bunkhouse; hoarding food in his numerous chest freezers; being herded by goats in his 80s; feeding barn cats; fishing at Granite; making scrapple; sweet-talking his way out of tickets; rolling two vehicles and accidentally shooting a hole in one; keeping Frontier Arms in business; drinking rum and Cokes into the night with his bride; responding to how he would like his steak done with, “just wipe it’s a-- and cut off its horns”; running the fireplace full-blaze during the summer; wearing pressed and starched Levi’s; never throwing away his raggedy yellowed Western shirt; shooting the breeze with everyone at the Commissary; rodeo nights during Frontier Days; and being the life of the party.
He leaves behind a perfectly dysfunctional family he was terribly proud to corral together for any reason to party: his daughter, Kathleen “should have been named Charlotte” and her husband, Stephen; and his sons, Thomas F. Jr. and B.J.
Tom also leaves behind four grandchildren, Porkchop (Nicole) and husband, Nick “Should have stayed in the military,” Fat A-- (Jacquie), Little T (Thomas F. III) and his wife, Casey, and Zeek (Lucas).
Tom leaves behind five great-grandchildren he named himself because their given names are too weird to remember, Goldilocks (Aidan), Half Cup (Emersen), Little One (Keiran) and Bubbles (Mazarine), along with Little T’s newest, Paige (Little Sweetie); along with many nieces, nephews in-laws and outlaws.
Honorable mentions include his beloved lady friend at T&C liquor store; the many understandably distraught local firearms dealers; all his guns that better not get sold off; the butchers and baggers at the Commissary; the Bunkhouse gang; all the stray barn cats that are still looking for his leftovers; the Republican Party for his dependable straight ticket vote; The NRA; a junk drawer filled with enough rubber bands to hold together a spaceship; and a lifetime’s worth of preference points left to the Wyoming Game and Fish.
Tom will be happily reunited with his wife, Sandra; “Putt Putt,” his faithful Subaru and makeshift refrigerator during the winter; Jenny, the milk cow; Brandy, the horse; two shoulders he lost to surgery; his older brother, Truman; his daughter-in-law, Sherril; brother-in-law, Verle; and his parents.
Services will be held at 10 a.m. Thursday at Wiederspahn-Radomsky Chapel, 1900 E. 19th St., Cheyenne.
While contributions to pay off his gambling debt would be appreciated, the family asks that donations be made to the American Legion Post 24 in Olathe, Colo., or any veterans organization. While Tom would prefer an Air Force organization, any veterans organization would do.
This is a paid obituary.