Subaru Nation

Subaru Nation

In Jackson Hole, it’s easier to count cars that are not Subies.

Subaru Nation

In Jackson Hole, it’s easier to count cars that are not Subies.


Subaru Nation
Jessie Watsabaugh has owned the 1991 Legacy wagon Olivia Bolivia Banana Fernando Cologne since 2010. Photo by Bradly J. Boner

THE YEAR WAS 1974. Around the country, everyone was going crazy for the Ford Pinto and the Plymouth Valiant. Here in Jackson Hole, we were getting our very first glimpse of a Subaru. Subaru ad campaigns at the time touted vinyl bucket seats that reclined to seventeen different positions and an electric rear-window defogger while saying, “It’s like a spirited woman yearning to be tamed.”

As racy as Subaru’s ads were, when “a Subaru rep came to Ray [Weeks] and wanted him to become a Subaru dealer, he was hesitant,” says his daughter-in-law, Lisa Murphy Weeks. “Nobody really knew what a Subaru was.”

The rep gave Weeks, who already had a car dealership in town, a Subaru, though, and told him to drive it. At the time, Ray, who died in 2001, and his wife, Coreen, lived up at Game Creek. “They could only access their house via a road that was little more than a horseback trail or a jeep road. It was very, very rough,” Murphy Weeks says. “The Subaru zipped up that and up the pass. Basically, Ray drove the sh– out of it.” According to Coreen, Ray called the Subaru rep and said, “This car was made for this town.” “That is how Subaru came to the valley,” says Murphy Weeks.

Today, they seem to own the valley’s roads. In 2013, Outbacks, Foresters, and Crosstreks made up 62 percent of all car registrations here. If you look at Jackson Hole’s Subaru market compared to those across the rest of the country, between July 2013 and July 2014 only two (Juneau, Alaska, and The Dalles, Oregon) had higher Subaru registrations than us. In 2014, Subaru estimated Teton Motors, the valley’s Subaru dealership, would sell twenty-two Foresters. It sold sixty-two. It also sold twice as many Outbacks as Subaru expected.

Many of us do seem to have special relationships with our Subies. Some name them. Others creatively paint them. Many hold onto them for decades. “I love my Subaru!” says Reagan Warsinske. “I may need to enter some sort of support group.” Perhaps sitting next to her in that group would be Amber Payne Lewis, who has “WRX” tattooed on the inside of her lower lip. Now twenty-three, Lewis has had a Subaru WRX since she was sixteen. What is it about these cars?

Subie stories

Olivia Bolivia Banana Fernando Cologne, 1991 multicolored Legacy, 200,140 miles; owner (since 2010), Jessie Watsabaugh

“Depending on who you talk to, I may have the ‘worst’ car in Jackson,” Watsabaugh says of her Subie, which, by her estimation, has “probably twenty layers of paint on it.” Watsabaugh has been the primary artist, “but every now and then I have friends over, and we bust out some paint.” What have they painted? Flowers, pirate art, the Teton Range, and the eyes of Watsabaugh’s cat, Albus. Oh, there’s finger painting, too.

Of the Subie’s inventive name, Banana Fernando comes from a dessert at one of Watsabaugh’s favorite Japanese restaurants in Salt Lake City. “The last name is an inside joke between me and two of my best friends,” she says. “A number of years ago we started referring to ourselves as the ‘Colognes.’ We’re a family. The car is included.”

Unnamed, white 2001 Outback, 228,300 miles; owner (since 2002), Reagan Warsinske

“I have never named my Subaru, but she’s always been good to me,” says Warsinske, a mother of two boys, ages ten and twelve. “We’ve been together for 220,000-plus miles. She has taken me on many moves cross-country from Utah, Wyoming, Wisconsin, Washington, and back to Wyoming,” she says.

“She doesn’t like it when my husband drives her—he pushes her,” Warsinske says. “For a while, every time he drove her, the check-engine light would come on,” she says. “Also, he hit a snowbank and cracked the bumper. When we lived in Wisconsin he hit a raccoon on the same spot of the bumper that we never had fixed. I baby her. I want her to last.” The family has hauled everything in their Outback, from their sons to Christmas trees, bikes, skis, fishing poles, and paddleboards. “She’s the only car my boys have ever known,” Warsinske says.

Snowball Subie, blue 2006 Tribeca, 141,000 miles; owner (since 2008), Jenny Karns

“I loved my first Subie [a silver 1984 wagon] and drove it till the bitter end,” says Karns, a lifelong valley resident. It was nearly twenty years old when it died. “One time I parked it on the Town Square. When I got back in, I went to put the key in the ignition and realized I was in the wrong vehicle!” she says. “I slinked out hoping nobody saw me and found mine a few doors down.”

When she went to sell her next Subaru, an Outback, and upgrade to the bigger Tribeca, the Outback was stolen. “This crazy guy had test-driven it and had a key made,” she says. “He drove it all over Yellowstone for a week, pretending to be a big-time wildlife photographer.”

A mother of three kids, Karns plans on driving Snowball as long as possible. “Between all my kids, all their gear and mine, it’s kind of like a clown car,” she says.