TREMONTON -- On Friday, Krys Oyler will hop off his horse and make a rare overland trek to Salt Lake City. The journey is an offbeat one in that it involves four wheels -- instead of Oyler's preferred four-legged mode.
Oyler is resorting to mechanized transport since the Salt Lake City International Airport hasn't a hitching post. It does have a jet pointed toward Philadelphia, where Oyler, wearing his fierce patriotism on his sleeve, will pose in the "Photo of the Century."The lifelong Tremonton resident was one of 100 Americans chosen to kick off Philadelphia's millennium celebration. Some 25,000 people with July 4 birthdays competed for the all-expenses-paid trip, writing essays and sending in photos of themselves and their corners of the nation.
"I owe it to this country to go back and see where it originated," Oyler wrote in his essay. Looking at his photo, the Philadelphians knew Mr. Utah when they saw him.
The City of Brotherly Love decided months ago it wanted to "own the Fourth of July lock, stock and barrel" and went into overdrive-planning mode. At the stroke of 7:04 a.m. on 7/4/99, plans call for a panoramic photograph of 100 July 4 babies from across the nation -- each born in a different year since 1900.
Oyler, vintage 1955, will grin alongside New York actress Signy Coleman (1960), Michigan farmer Ethel Mae Askew (1925) and the mother-daughter duo of Winifred Ratteray (New Jersey, 1903) and Joy Crenshaw (Boston, 1927), among others.
Next, Oyler will represent Utah as a grand marshal in Philadelphia's Independence Day parade. And he'll peek at a few of the icons of the making of a nation, such as the Declaration of Independence and the Liberty Bell.
Such an eventful trip is what it takes to lure Oyler away from his hometown near the Utah-Idaho border. He's scarcely gone outside Utah during the past 30 years. The rancher and general contractor went to Las Vegas once, and two decades ago he flew to Hawaii for his honeymoon. That was fine, but this man's paradise is his 1,000-acre ranch in northeastern Utah.
Oyler's idea of a perfect day involves rising at 5 a.m., heading out to the ranch and "chasing cows all day." Let the wind blow, let it rain -- Oyler is in his element "on a horse, moving cattle to another pasture, another mountain, another state."
A long coat, chaps, Levis, a long-sleeve work shirt, a woolly mustache, cowboy boots and hat keep him comfortable 365 days a year. The ensemble wins him best-costume prizes in parades all over Utah, but to him it's no costume. "This is how I dress," he said, blue eyes twinkling above ruddy cheeks.
Oyler doesn't need to change clothes when he joins Tremonton's Coldwater Gang to re-enact Old West train robberies. He and six "outlaws," two "sheriffs" and several "saloon girls" gallop in, rifles raised, to "kidnap" bankers and other business leaders who have previously agreed to make donations to local charity groups.
"They give in when they hear the first shots," said Oyler.
Arlene Oyler started the process of propelling her son from Tremonton to Philadelphia. She handed him a newspaper article about the call for Photo of the Century entries. Then she kept at him. She and Oyler's father have traveled to the Netherlands, Mexico and Canada; they've even driven the 8,000 miles to Alaska via the Yukon Territory.
"There's a lot of stuff to see in this old world. I've never been disappointed," Arlene said. "God didn't make anything ugly."
Arlene "still can't believe it" when she thinks about the July 4 trip. But now that she's persuaded her son to go, he's doing it right.
"I want to see the Empire State Building and the Mormon Temple in Washington, D.C.," among other East Coast highlights, Oyler said. "I'm bringing my boys Tannon and Krysterphoer, my Mom and Dad, my niece and my nephew. We're going to make it a party." The extended Oyler clan will roam the 13 colonies in a rental car.
After a week or so of urban swelter and gridlock, Tremonton will look pretty good, Oyler predicts. Although the area is getting big by Oyler's standards -- greater Tremonton's population is about 4,500 -- "it's still quiet, little and free of the problems the rest of the world has."
Oyler's great-grandparents, descendants of Danish and German pioneers, settled in neighboring East Garland around 1900. Oyler's parents and his two brothers were born in Tremonton.
"Look out there," said Arlene, walking in the direction of the Oyler ranch 10 miles west of town. "What more could you want -- except 10 degrees warmer and no wind?" She's used to Tremonton's gusts. But she won't mind feeling some of that East Coast heat come July.
Arlene relishes a change of scenery. "We need to see all phases of life," she said. "Philadelphia's not Tremonton, or even Salt Lake City."
For his part, Oyler is looking forward to a once-in-a-lifetime birthday celebration. Ordinarily, he doesn't acknowledge that July 4 is anything besides Independence Day.
The Fourth photo and parade are just the start of Philadelphia's millennial hoopla -- which will later include much ado about New Year's Eve. Does Oyler have big plans for the last night of the 20th century?
"I'll probably go out to my ranch," he said. "That's where I'm perfectly happy."