A GHOST TOWN
by Eugene H. Halverson
|Winter Quarters Sawmill|
This was used until 1883 when the Denver and Rio Grand Railroad bought it. Utah Fuel Company a subsidiary of the D&RG took over the town and mine at this time. But it was still called the Pleasant Valley Mine. The trains now became longer and the cars were larger they now held 15 tons. By 1900 there were almost 2000 families living here. Christian Nelson, (a relative) was the Railmaster for the D&RG. His office was on the upper floor of the Wasatch Store.
Utah Fuel brought in experienced Chinese laborers to drive a new tunnel, which they did. But shortly after the white laborers took the law into their own hands. One day they herded the Chinese into a boxcar, locked the doors and started the car down the canyon. The boxcar somehow stayed on the tracks until it stopped. The Chinese never came back.
It was 10:20 AM, 1900 and it was Dewey Day in honor of Admiral George Dewey who had defeated the Spanish at Manila Harbor in the Philippines two years earlier. A blast went off that shook the whole town many thought it came from the celebration. A big celebration and dance had been planed for that evening at the Odd Fellows Hall at Scofield. But it was soon determined that the explosion came from the #4 Mine. It was what they called a coal dust explosion. A miner accidentally ignited a keg of black powder, which ignited the coal dust throughout the mine, which in turn ignited 23 other kegs of powder. 100 men in the #4 mine were killed by the force of the explosion and the intense heat. Carbon monoxide spread to the #1 mine killing 99 more men. 7 were injured. 103 men escaped the after-damp in the #1. Jack Wilson and his mule were blown 820 feet across the canyon, the mule was killed but he recovered. 199 men in all were killed with more than half of them burnt to a crisp. Some families lost two or three members. 150 were buried in the Scofield Cemetery the rest were sent to other towns for burial.
In those days a miner was given a 25-pound keg of powder for blasting. It was carried to his work place. A pick was used to punch a hole in one end. Two to three pounds of powder was then poured into a cartridge that made from an old newspaper. This was done with the light from their oil lamp burning on their cap and quite often with a lighted pipe or cigarette in their mouth. There was little or no ventilation either if there was it was furnace ventilation.
In time the burning parts of the mine was extinguished and reopened. It produced coal for another 28 years. There is still coal there but it is an inferior quality and too deep to profitably mine. The superintendent of the mine (Parmely) quickly blamed the Finns for the explosion but it was found later to be poor management. Both the Finns and the Cornish miners were superstitious sighting of ghosts, weird sounds and unexplainable sounds now plagued the mine. Many miners quit and moved.
|3rd -Niels, May, Ed|
2nd--Jennie, James, Ethel, Stena, Joseph
Nielson-1st James, Caroline, Martha
Our family came to Winter Quarters a year or two after the explosion. Tommy Hall was the first family member to be killed there. He was killed here in 1911. James Nielson (great grandfather) had his hand severely crushed in the mine. But being a part of the white Mormon community work was found for him. Other nationalities and religions were treated poorly.
Many of the houses were taken down to Scofield, some were sawed into and taken to Castle Gate and elsewhere. You could see the saw marks in Helen Nielson Houghton's home until it was refinished. This home was later moved to Helper in one piece when Castle Gate was dissolved. The schools, churches, saloons and other buildings were torn down. I have been told that the rock on some of walls of the Wasatch Store was even hauled away for other buildings in the area.
The site where Winter Quarters once stood is hard to find. You must leave the oiled road and drive up an old dirt road for about 3/4s of a mile to a locked gate with a "NO Trespassing" sign on it. Where about a half of a mile away you can see where two walls of the Wasatch Store still stands. The only signs of the town are walls and foundations of homes and buildings. Come there on a foggy day and see the two stone walls visible threw the fog and it will look to you as it did to me, like a Ghost Town, ghosts and all.
Was named for a unique rock formation that looks like a castle, as you approached this formation from either direction you had the impression that the Gods were opening or closing a way through the mountain just for you. Some idiot from the Utah Department of Transportation blew one side of the Castle off so we can now drive around the curve five miles faster.
The #1 Castle Gate mine opened in about 1886. It opened after the Denver & Rio Grande Railroad ran their tracks over the mountain from Springville. A mine producing high quality coal.
The first houses for their employees were old boxcars provided by the railroad. In time homes and buildings were built as more people came. By 1914 it was incorporated as a town. It was a Company Town. Utah Fuel/D&RG owned the ground and all the houses and buildings. The store was also called the Wasatch Store here too and you had to buy from it or lose your job.
|token in place of money and|
worthless anywhere else
Jobs were found for many of our family here at Castle Gate when Winter Quarters was shut down. Charles Houghton was given an out-side job when his thumb was cut off and reattached. Joe Nielson resumed his work in the Wasatch Store. Utah Fuel seemed like a good employer but history reveals a much darker side of the industrial revolution that was sweeping the country. Utah passed many laws to encourage new industries. Utah even to this day has never passed any law to ever restrict freedom of the mine owners to control its workers. Federal laws and the courts have been the only means that the miners have secured some degree of justice. Safety and wages ( the need for pay increase or to stop the companies from cutting pay) every so often has caused the miners to rebel and strike It has taken many bitter strikes and much suffering to force the companies and the State to recognize Unions. But Utah lawmakers has weakened the unions right to organize and strike in every way possible. That is why Utah mines are still so unsafe (4 times more dangerous in 1996) and the pay is much lower here than in other states.
|Castle Gate looking down to store|
race or religion in those days. When their husbands were locked in box-cars, pest houses or in jail the wives and daughters would march the streets and man the picket lines. The emigrant’s Old World customs, beliefs and religion caused them to be scorned both by the Mormons and the company.