The Wedge of the San Rafael

The Wedge of the San Rafael
Someone has to live here, in the middle of desert beauty. Might as well be the Kellys.

Saturday, January 29, 2011

Dewey Day in 1900

A little bidness first: I'm participating in an Authorpalooza next Saturday, February 5, at the Barnes and Noble in Sandy, Utah. This is at South Towne Center from 1-4 p.m. Apparently there will be 30 or 40 authors. My daughter Mary Ruth got really excited when she found out that the author of the Fablehaven books will be there. I asked the PR person at Cedar Fort if she could arrange for us to sit by him, because then we'd be mobbed!  H'mm. I'll bet it doesn't work that way.

Last week, we had Danny Price over for dinner. Danny turned 90 in December, and he's the nicest man. (We belong to the same ward in Wellington.) I had heard earlier that Danny joined the CCC when he was a young man of 16, living in Emery County, and I wanted to ask him some questions about it. We sat down after dinner to visit. I didn't take notes or have a recorder running, because I just wanted to get to know him better.

He worked with the soil/water conservation arm of CCC, farther west in the Utah deserts. Very interesting. It was just a free-ranging conversation. I've done a lot of interviewing, and have a good idea how to go about it. I know far better than to get locked into one agenda and not listen to whatever else surfaces, which might be far more interesting.

That turned out to be the case with Danny. He worked in the mines briefly, served in the Navy during WWII, but spent most of his working years as a surface supt. in the mining business. I got the feeling that Danny was a bit of a virtuoso with a bulldozer, and that kept him aboveground. Like many around here, Danny is of Welsh descent.

Then he said the magic words: Winter Quarters. Wow. The Winter Quarters mine was located in Pleasant Valley, about 45 minutes from where I live now. It was the Winter Quarters mine that blew up on May 1, 1900, leading to the deaths of 200 men and boys. Some know it as the Scofield Mine Disaster, named after the nearby coal camp (that's what mining towns were called). For years, that was the worst mine disaster in the U.S. In 1924, the Castlegate mine blew up, claiming the lives of 179 men and boys, the second worse disaster for years. You drive right by Castlegate on Highway 6, in Price Canyon.

Danny's grandfather owned a ranch in Pleasant Valley, and his own coal mine. Now, these were what I'd call "mom and pop" mines: just small mines providing for the family's coal needs, with some maybe shipped to market. Danny told me that mid morning on May 1, his father and grandfather were in the field. They heard an explosion. Danny's father made some remark about the miners starting early to celebrate Dewey Day. (The mines were to have closed at noon on May 1, for the celebration.)

His father said no, that was an explosion. They went toward the Winter Quarters mines (there were four shafts, two of which fatally connected), and ended up taking bodies out of the mines. They had to wait until the afterdamp settled (deadly combinations of carbon monoxide, carbon dioxide and nitrogen), and then they went to work.

Danny said his father told him that when they went into the mine where the afterdamp did the killing, they found that the miners had carefully laid down their tools and stacked them neatly, before trying to escape. "Dad told me that if they had just taken off running, they might have survived," Danny said.

Oof. The tragedy of that left no room for any inane comment on my part. But even then, I was thinking to myself, "I have come as close as is possible to a first-person interview with someone who was there that awful day."

Another thing that struck me was the expression, Dewey Day. Most recent accounts of the Scofield Mine Disaster mention the early closing on May 1 for May Day celebrations. No, it was Dewey Day. Until Danny mentioned that, I had forgotten, myself. That was the day to celebrate Admiral Dewey's May 1 victory in Manila Bay, during the Span Am War.

Thank you, Danny. Little details help make a good story better. I've learned so much from interviews. I've also learned that the smartest thing a writer or historian can do is just be quiet and listen.

It's always been easy for me to be quiet and listen. When I much younger, I had a definite stammer. I still do, but it's much easier to control. One consequence of this rather unimportant defect is that I have always been a better listener than a talker. It caused me some agony when I was kid, but now, I don't think I'd trade my particular defect for anyone else's. I've learned a lot by just listening. Funny to think I might actually be thankful for a stammer. I think I am.


  1. Just read about Mr.Price's words, stuck me in the heart, I can't even imagine what it felt like to be there first hand.

    I always remember a quote that has stuck with me through the years "“Listening is a magnetic and strange thing, a creative force. The friends who listen to us are the ones we move toward. When we are listened to, it creates us, makes us unfold and expand.”

  2. I hope you have an awesome time at the Authorpalooza!!

  3. What an interesting post. Do I detect a bit of sleuthing for a future book?

    Have fun at the Authorpalooza. If Ree Drummond is there, say hello - she is a very intereting person. Wish I lived closer to be there.