Saturday, July 16, 2011





Wilfred Houghton was born April 26, 1908, in Castle Gate, Carbon County, Utah, the son of Charles Houghton and Catherine Burrows Houghton.  He always went by the name of Bill or William although he thought his name was Wilford.  On his death my mother had to obtain a birth certificate and discovered his name was really Wilfred.  He was the seventh of 8 children.  The children were Agnes, Gladys, Sarah Ann, Elizabeth May, George Herbert, Charles Albert, Wilfred, and John Thomas.  The first five children all died in childhood.  Agnes apparently died of burns suffered when her nightgown caught fire.  I do not know the details of the others but they were dead before Charles and Catherine came to this country in 1907 (?). 

Uncle Charlie (Charles Arthur) says that he remembers going to Niagara Falls when they were enroute to Utah after arriving in this country.

I don't know much about his early childhood.  He lived with his parents and his two brothers in small houses in Castle Gate.  I have heard stories that the family of five and three boarders lived in a three room house.  He told me a few stories of his youth.  In 1924 an explosion in the coal mine at Castle Gate killed 173 men.  My father, not quite 16 at the time, worked with the undertakers preparing the bodies for burial.  He evidently witnessed the embalming process since the details he related have been corroborated from other accounts.  His job was to carry the waste out and dispose of it in privies.

He ran around with a crowd including, Andrew Wallace, his cousin, Robert Lambert, and my mother's cousin, Leo Nielson.  There are a few others that I do not recall.  He made a trip to California somewhere around 1928 With a few friends in a Model T Ford.  They evidently had many adventures.  He often told of using his belt to shim up a bearing in the desert between Bishop, California and Las Vegas, Nevada.

He and my mother ran away to Castle Dale, Emery County, Utah. on September 18, 1931 be married.  It was supposed to be a secret but he borrowed two dollars for the marriage license from the town barber, Steve Alfieres.  By the time the whole town knew about it.

He started working on the tipple(more correctly coal tip) at Castle Gate shortly after the explosion and after dropping out of high school in the tenth grade (or was it the ninth).  He worked there for the rest of his life.  While I was growing up he ran the dump where the coal cars were dumped into the tipple.  It was a dusty job, Very cold and windy in the Winter and hot in the summer.  The dust and his smoking combined to give him emphysema which afflicted him the last few months of his life My mother, Ellen Vernetta Nielsen, was born in Winter Quarters, carbon County, Utah, June 25, 1913, the daughter of Joseph Henry Nielson and Florence May Hall.  She was the second of six children.  The children were Veda May, Ellen Vernetta, Joseph Henry Jr., Ethel, Jack and John James. 

As with my father (does this run in the family?), she went by the wrong name during her entire life, being convinced of this finally by her birth certificate which she needed for Social Security when my father died.  Marie Gilbert, who had been my grandmother's best friend, kept telling my mother that her name was really Ellen, after her mother's mother, but that her English relatives added the h as in h'eggs.  Her mother died in 1924 when she was 11 years old.  The family had a rough time of it due to the father's alcoholic problem.  Grandpa Joe later married Jenny Gibson and although they were divorced his children remained very close to her for the remainder of her life. 

My mother had very happy memories of her childhood in Winter Quarters.  The entire town seemed to be one extended family.  The same was almost true in Castle Gate but there were more divisions there due party to the varied ethnic backgrounds of the people and mainly to the geography.  The town was divided naturally into three parts, the main part of town North of the tipple, Coke oven row (South of the tipple where there used to be coke ovens), and Willow Creek, spread out along Utah Highway 33 below the mine entrance. 

Mother dropped out of high-school in the eleventh or twelfth grade.  I don't know what she did tween then and when she married but Grandma Jenny ran the boarding house, so I suspect that she worked there. 

Some of my first recollections of family life are of the period when we lived in the "rows" in Castle Gate in a fairly small house.  It was originally a three room house, about 24 feet square with two rooms across the front and along room across the back of the house containing the kitchen.  The long room was later divided into two rooms to make a small bedroom.  There was no hot water and no bathroom.  A privy in the back yard provided refreshing experiences in the Winter.  We had no refrigerator.  During the Summer an orange crate covered with burlap and kept wet provided whatever cooling we needed. 

I can remember that Grandma Jenny bought me a new outfit for my birthday, it must have been about the sixth or seventh birthday, and the family was coming over for a party.  I was dressed in the new outfit and went out in the front yard.  The neighbor kids came over with a new kitten which I picked up.  The kitten was sick and had a diarrhea all down the front of my new outfit.  I think that is the basis for my general dislike of cats. 

This house in the rows was kitty-corner from the house of Grandpa and Grandma Houghton.  Grandpa died in 1937 of cancer of the throat.  I can remember that he used to sit on the front porch in his rocking chair.  He could not talk in the later stages of his illness which is all that I can recall.  I remember being held up to see him in his casket. 

This proximity had advantages and disadvantages.  I could nip over to grandma's house easily to get a cooky or whatever.  She used to make a cake with caraway seeds in it.  Whenever I see or smell caraway seeds, I can taste that cake.  The closeness also meant that she could nap me or my sisters for errands.  With no refrigeration in either house, we used to buy perishables as needed and this made frequent trips to the store.  She would send me at least once a day, often twice, to get 10 cents worth of hamburger, a loaf of bread, a can of condensed milk (it kept longer when opened than fresh milk), what ever. 

After grandma and grandpa Nielson's divorce and Uncle Jack and Uncle Jim went off to the Navy during World War II, our family moved in with grandpa Nielsen since he had a rather large house.  This was a welcome move, relatively speaking, since there were four of us kids by that time.  My brother and I slept in what had been the bathroom.  The house had originally been used by one of the higher-ups in the mining Company but when he moved out he took the bathroom with him.  Again we had a privy in the back yard although this one was further from the house behind the pigeon coop, thus less smelly in the Summer but a colder, longer trip in the winter. 

Grandpa Nielsen lived in two rooms in front of the house and we had the remaining five rooms.  My bedroom (and my brothers) was the passageway from the dining-living room to my sister's bedroom.  My brother and I slept in a three-quarter bed.  Later when my Uncle Jack came home from the Navy he slept with me and my brother Billy slept on the sofa.

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