By Scott L. Miley
The Herald Bulletin
ANDERSON, Ind. —
One of the most memorabale gifts that Laura Gwaltney ever received from her husband Jim was a simple child’s lunch box.
The pail is shaped like a wagon from the Old West. On its side is a depiction of TV and movie cowboy Roy Rogers.
In smaller lettering, there’s the cattle brand of Rogers and wife Dale Evans. Fittingly, the lunch box is marked with the words “Chow Wagon.”
It was the first in her collection of antique items related to cowboys and western heroes.
“In 1987, my husband Jim bought me a Roy Rogers lunch box for my birthday. And then it just mushroomed from there. He didn’t know what he started,” said Laura.
The lunch box is somewhat of a centerpiece at the current exhibit of her memorabilia. Her appreciation for the stars of the 1930s to 1950s goes back to her childhood while growing up in Anderson.
“I’ve always liked the cowboys because my dad did.”
Of hundreds of pieces, ranging from movie posters to autographed photos, most feature Rogers (“King of the Cowboys”), Evans and their German Shepherd named Bullet and their famous Golden Palomino, Trigger.
After the initial fascination with the lunch box, the Gwaltneys began attending festivals including Gene Autry Days in Kenton, Ohio and the Roy Rogers Festival in Portsmouth, Ohio. The latter festival, home of a Roy Rogers and Dale Evans Museum, will celebrate its 30th year in July.
Laura Gwaltney retired in 2001 from Anderson Bank and then PNC Bank; her husband is retired from Delco-Remy.
Laura Gwaltney met the cowboy couple at a festival. “I was kind of apprehensive because you kind of put them on a pedestal and you’re fraid they won’t live up to your expectations, but they did.”
She also went to Roy and Dale’s home in Apple Valley, Calif., when it was auctioned following the couple’s death — Roy died in 1998 and Dale in 2001.
The Gwaltneys, who are the parents of three, also joined the Western Film Club, a group of fans who celebrate movie cowboys. They meet in Muncie.
As her collection grew, it took over a bedroom. “When my last son left home I could get ‘My Roy room’.”
The history center exhibit is being well attended by many who recall Roy and Dale. Also included in the display are pictures, posters, sheet music, albums, and comic books of other cowboys such as Hopalong Cassidy, Gene Autry, John Wayne and The Lone Ranger.
She added, “The nice thing about this exhibit is I’m hearing all kind of sories and when you mention Roy Rogers or Dale Evans it just brings a lot of good memories to people.”