West left behind his unsold home, packed his wife and two kids into his Ford LTD and headed west.
Thousands of others have done the same, once again transforming this ''four-horse" town into a boom town for miners and their families - much as it was after 1849 Gold Rush.
In panning for jobs, the newcomers have struck gold in the High Desert of northeastern Nevada, where big mining corporations such as Newmont and American Barrick Resources Corp. are paying mine workers wages that are among the highest in the state. Newmont, the largest U.S. gold mine, now has 2,500 workers - five times the number five years ago.
Elko itself has swollen like a river after a storm, its population doubling to 18,360 in the last decade, most of the increase in the last five years.
And its tent camps and house trailers are fast giving way to housing developments.
"It's a classic case of good news-bad news," says John Dobra, an economics professor at the University of Nevada. "It's been terrific for the town in that there have been lots of jobs created. But here you take what's historically been a sleepy little rural western town that's always been complaining about the need for economic development and suddenly - bam - they have a lot more than they can handle."
Until recently, Elko's biggest challenge was handling the thousands of cowboys who converged on this outpost, two hours east of Winnemucca, Nev.,and four hours west of Salt Lake City, for four days every winter for the Cowboy Poetry Festival.
While the beneficiaries of the prosperity have been many - from casinos to construction crews to car dealers - some natives long for the days when it took five minutes to get across town.
"Whatever you do now," says Police Chief Gordon Fobes, "you've got to stand in line."
Along with the longer waits and larger traffic snarls has come a dramatic increase in crime.
"You used to be able to come here and lay your money down on the bar," says Dee Domingo, one of the few women sitting amid a sea of men clad in boots and hats at the Stockmen's bar. "You could go answer the phone and your money would still be here when you got back. Now, I don't even leave my coat."
From an eight-man department with one secretary 22 years ago, the Elko police force has swollen to 33 officers, 10 dispatchers and three secretaries.
Since March, when the police computer system started up, police have made 683 arrests. "We probably didn't do that much in the five years before," Fobes said.
"People living in tents and camp trailers were getting stir-crazy," Fobes said.
Until recently, no-vacancy signs lit the night, as miners doubled up in town accommodations that run the gamut from sleazy old gambling hotels to the Holiday Inn.
But thanks to the millions of dollars the mining companies have poured into housing, the ranches that sprawled for miles now have sprouted housing tracts.
Lorry Lipparelli, Elko city manager, says the wheels of the city's building-review process have been greased so plans now can be stamped "faster than their engineers can draw them."
While some tents are still pitched on Fifth Street, their inhabitants ''are there because they want to be," Fobes said, "not because they can't find a place to live."
Helping to fill the housing void is Newmont, which is donating the land for the houses of workers who stay at least six years.
In Herman West's case, Newmont will shell out the last dozen $570-a-month payments on the six-year mortgage on his motor home, and West will wind up with a 1.5-acre plot of land, too.
Mine starting wages of $31,000 have created a two-tier wage structure.
Even though two of her children collect handsome paychecks from the mines, Domingo says she has been hurt.
"I can't find workers for my horses," said Domingo, who raises "working cow horses" for cowboys and for show. "Everybody wants mine wages."
Elko has burgeoned before.
THE RUSH OF '49
Beginning in 1849, gold-seekers by the thousands rushed through Elko, en route to California. But a town grew from the sage brush when the Central Pacific Railroad laid track in 1868 with a major stop in Elko.
During the 1860s, gold and silver were discovered in the nearby mining camps of Forts Ruby and Halleck, Tuscarora and Bullion, and millions of
dollars of gold had been produced by the end of the decade.
By 1869, the town supported 148 businesses, including 45 saloons, and had about 5,000 people, according to historian Howard Hickson.
But Elko nearly went bust by 1881, when the mines were exhausted. The University of Nevada, which started in Elko, was moved to Reno in 1885 because Elko was "past its prime," Hickson wrote.
Although the town almost fell apart when the Henderson Bank went belly-up during the Depression, the legalization of gambling in 1932 gave Elko another life as a "tourist mecca," Hickson wrote, for people en route to the West Coast.
Much of that business slipped away when Interstate 80 was built in 1965. In that year, however, Newmont mined its first ounce of gold in a pit 35 miles away, north of Carlin.
While the recent growth surge has brought several new stores, West laments that there is little competition among merchants. The closest thing to a mall is a small strip shopping center anchored by a small J.C. Penney store.
For Fobes, though, the pace of the town is far too hectic.
Next month, when he turns 50 and retires, he plans to foresake Elko for Hagerman, Idaho, on the Snake River. The fishing and the hunting there are good, but most important, he said, "there are only 580 people."