Saturday, July 9, 2011



by Eugene H. Halverson

Winter Quarters Sawmill
The valley was called Pleasant Valley; a few early pioneers had built cabins along the valley floor and grazed their cattle here.  It was pleasant and peaceful until about 1875 when coal was discovered.  When reports of this reached the settlers of Fairview, Sanpete County a Welsh coal miner led a group of twelve men and one woman up and over the mountain into Carbon County.  They built a road, opened a small mine and began hauling coal to the settlements in Sanpete County.  Their camp was pitched in Lettle Gulch where the Wasatch Store now stands.   But Winter came early and they were stranded in the mountains that first winter.  They almost froze to death.  Because of this they named this camp "Winter Quarters".  Several groups of miners from Sanpete County soon established claims to these deposits.  The coal had to be hauled by horse and wagon over a 9300 foot mountain or down the natural course of the canyon to Soldier Summit and on down the Spanish Fork Canyon also by horse and wagon.  By 1877 hundreds of miners came and a town was built.  It became Utah's first commercial coal town.  Though the need for coal was great there was little profit to be made.  Wagons pulled by two and four horse teams came from Springville for the coal the round trip took four days and sold for $4.00 to $5.00 per ton.  There was now a great need to find a way to get a better way to market. 

Winter Quarters
A Mr. Milan Packard, a freighter and merchant from Springville could see the need for a railway to these newly discovered coal fields.  So, he sponsored and financed the building of a narrow gauge railroad from the Union Pacific tracks in Springville to Winter Quarters.  He was his own contractor and hired many sub-contractors.  It was a great undertaking for the amount of money that was available.  Merchandise was given from Mr. Packard's store as part of the men's pay.  Calico was the prized cotton material, store bought material used for clothing at that time.  So, many of the workers took calico as pay, so, it was called the "Calico Railroad."  But officially it was named the Utah and Pleasant Valley Railroad.  The trains pulled 12 five ton cars. 

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.  
Halls, Eva, Mary Ellen, James, John
Florence May, Thomas, Harry
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
Many of my wife’s family came to Carbon County to work in the mines.  The Nielson's were farmers from Richfield, Sevier County, Utah who came to Spring Glen in 1898 and later to Winter Quarters in 1902, the Hall's were coal miners from England who came to Winter Quarters in 1904 and the Houghton's also coal miners from England came to Castle Gate in about 1905 or 1906.

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. 

The Pleasant Valley ward of the LDS Church was started in about 1880 under the direction of the Sanpete Stake (later this became Carbon County), David Williams was its first Bishop.  Thomas J. Parmely was the Bishop from 1888 to about 1920.  And John L. Parry was the bishop until Winter Quarters ceased to exit, about seven years.  While some family members became quite religious and stayed with the Church others lost it when tempted by the many saloons and evils of the camps.   T.J. Parmely also served as superintendent of the Winter Quarters mine for twenty five-years.  (Joanne Houghton Hyatt's grandmother was a Parmely).
Winter Quarters

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. 

the rock gates seem to open and close
until UDOT dynamited the left gate 
 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. 
Store coins for wages

token in place of money and
worthless anywhere else
At 8:30 a.m. 8 March, 1923 there was another disaster, another explosion was felt.  The heavy iron doors of the #2 Mine was blown over the mountain.  It cost the lives of 173 miners and many were injured.  Exploding coal dust and methane gasses also caused this explosion.  Jack Thorpe, father of Jack Thorpe, mine inspector (relative on Hall family) was killed as he entered the mine.  His wife, Eva had a dream of this:  Eva dreamed about this ball of fire that shot many streamers of fire to all her neighbors.  When the last streamer of fire hit their house she screamed,  "Jack your going to burn," and he did.  The two worst mine disasters in Utah history were at the properties owned by Utah Fuel. 

Wasatch Store
Dominic said his grandfather’s life was saved from this explosion because,  “Grandfather was sent home because of what Grandfather said.”  Every day a worker was supposed to report for work but the foreman would only use so many, the rest were sent home.  When Grandfather was chosen to work that day he said,  Well, its about time.”  This made the foreman angry so Grandfather was sent home and the man who replaced him was killed. 
                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
                Oh, there were some grand battles, I can still remember the cars tipped over and fires in the streets to block the roads.  And of listening to the tales of the fights in the mountains with guns and blasting powder.  It all started when strikers would be fired and their families and all belongings were thrown out of their homes and into the streets.  Scabs would move into their homes and hundreds of gunmen were brought in from Colorado, Idaho and Montana to protect and escort the scabs to work.  Seeing their jobs taken would anger the old workers.  Fights would soon take place.  Eventually a striker would be shot, then scabs would be shot.  The State Militia would be called to establish martial law and sharpshooters would shoot at the strikers hiding in the hills.  I can still remember the metal tank on rails that protected the Company gunmen while they shot at the strikers.  And the intense hatred of the Bingham people who opposed these lawless company gunmen (hoodlums with no one to answer to).  Labor agents were sent to Yugoslavia, Greece, Turkey, Italy, Mexico and elsewhere for cheap labor.  The English were preferred because they were skilled miners.  Mormons and whites also done well because of the Church owned mines and control of government. My family came from Finland and took part in these strikes and suffered during these hard times. Then there were the minorities from Central Europe who were so abused by the companies were the first to join Unions.  Some even came as scabs and in time became strikers because of injustice.  There was no tolerance for 
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. 
                There is a lot of mining going on in Carbon County but they are using more machinery and fewer people.  We still have family members that are part of it.  Federal Laws and Unions have given them a safer job with a better life and a pension if they live long enough.  The people have learned to tolerate and enjoy each other.  They are no longer separated by racial or ethnic groups like they were in my day.  The diversity of its people makes Carbon County a most enjoyable place to go.  Its also getting harder to find a good

No comments:

Post a Comment