Saturday, July 23, 2011


Castle Gate History
By Eugene Halverson

Castle 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. It is 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, you had to buy from it or lose your job.  At 8:30 a.m. 8 March, 1923 there was another disaster, another explosion was felt. The heavy iron doors of the #2 Mine were 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 of Hall family) was killed as he entered the mine. His wife, Eva had a dream of this: Eva dreamed about a ball of fire that shot many streamers to all her neighbors. When the last streamer of fire hit their house she screamed, "Jack you’re going to burn", and he did. The two worst mine disasters in Utah history were at the properties owned by Utah Fuel.
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 by which the miners have secured some degree of justice.
Safety and wages (the need for pay increase or to stop the companies from cutting pay) has caused the miners now and then 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 have 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.
Houghton Home my Jeep
Oh, there were some grand battles. I can still remember the cars tipped over and fires in the streets to block the roads and 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 hiding in the hills would shoot at the strikers. 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 to find cheap laborers. The English were preferred because they were skilled miners. Mormons and whites also did 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, that 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 into box-cars, pest houses or jail, the wives and daughters would march in 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. It's also getting harder to find a good family restaurant serving ethnic food.

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