Archive for Sunday, June 30, 2002

Nation’s ‘armpit’ smells opportunity

June 30, 2002


— Battle Mountain residents thought they took an unfair hit last year when a national magazine listed their rural northeast Nevada town as the nation's armpit. Now, many hope that story was opportunity knocking.

Reacting to the Washington Post Magazine article, the community is holding a "Festival in the Pit" with new events such as a deodorant toss replacing the old-fashion egg toss.

"You know, when you talk about armpits, you think it was an awful, horrible thing to be called," says Shar Peterson, executive director of the local chamber of commerce. "Armpits are stinky and sweaty. But it doesn't have to be something bad. We can springboard off this."

There were mixed feelings as the festival took shape. Peterson says some wanted more focus on the "armpit" theme while others wanted no references to the magazine article at all.

In the end, the "Festival in the Pit" planning took a middle road, with a mix of events favored by both factions.

For the "any publicity is better than none" crowd, there's the deodorant toss and the event's name. Miles away, down busy Interstate 80 that runs through Battle Mountain, there's a billboard that says, "Make Battle Mountain your next pit stop."

And for those who don't like the "pit" theme, there are some expected small-Nevada town festival favorites: a concert, a pie contest, Basque dancing, cowboy-shepherd poetry and a Rocky Mountain oyster cookoff. For the uninitiated, those "oysters" are fried sheep testicles.

"This is small-town America, the heart of America," says Peterson, adding that armpits "are just five inches from the heart" a line borrowed from the sympathetic headline on the humorous article written by Gene Weingarten.

Weingarten was invited to serve as grand marshal of the festival, which started this weekend and continues on the Fourth of July weekend.

"We haven't heard from him yet," Peterson says. "He asked if we could guarantee his safety. In this day and age, that's probably something to worry about."

Battle Mountain is an old mining town that dates to the 1860s and owes its name to violence. In 1857 a band of Shoshone Indians attacked either an emigrant party or a road-building crew in a nearby mountain range.

Located in a pancake-flat desert area 218 miles northeast of Reno roughly midway between the Nevada-California line to the west and the Nevada-Utah line to the east, Interstate 80 and its traffic is an economic mainstay for Battle Mountain. Mining also still drives the town's economy.

Businesses include a diner and a fast-food joint, motels, a couple of bars, a pharmacy, a beauty parlor, service station, a car wash and a legal brothel. In his article, Weingarten said corrugated aluminum and aluminum siding "seem to be the building material of choice."

Besides the new festival to give the town a new face, Battle Mountain's tiny business district was tidied up a bit, and barrels of flowers were placed here and there.

The town also was encouraged by a state Tourism Commission consultant, Roger Brooks, to incorporate the "armpit" designation into an "America's outback" campaign that would lure more tourists to town.

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