Karl Tangren
by Laura Haley
Contributing Writer
Jun 26, 2014 | 4147 views | 0 0 comments | 22 22 recommendations | email to a friend | print
After spending the better part of eight decades living in Moab, Karl Tangren has stories. A lot of them. Stories about camping in the cave up by the Big G on the cliff, about former Moab Mayor Tom Stocks washing dishes the night that Tangren opened the Branding Iron restaurant, or the time he drove his ex-wife to Fairbanks, Alaska, and left her there. In fact, Tangren has so many stories that every Saturday he boards a tour bus full of people and tells them his tales.

Tangren was born in a small house that once occupied the lot where the Love Muffin café now stands. He was one of 10 kids, and with his grandfather’s roots tracing back to the first settlers of Moab, Tangren said that at one point he was related to nearly 80 percent of the small town’s residents.

“Life was much simpler,” Tangren said. “We made our own recreation. Most everyone was poor. We didn’t have a lot, but we didn’t miss it.”

Tangren spent many of his days fishing, riding horses or going up on the mountain to get out of the heat.

“There were only a few people who had radios, and no one had a TV,” he said. “Every Friday night we’d go to somebody’s house who had a radio and listen to the Lone Ranger.”

He also spent a lot of time camping in the caves near the area where the Big G is painted on the cliffs north of town.

“You could dig up [Jerusalem] artichokes along the ditch bank,” he said. “Everyone had chickens, so you could collect eggs as you went along. I ate a lot of meals of boiled eggs and artichokes.”

Even when Tangren wasn’t camping up there, others often were. He said people in town could frequently see a fire burning in the mouth of the cave.

When Tangren was 10, his parents separated. His mom took the five youngest children, including Tangren, to live in Provo. For the next few years, Tangren would attend school in Provo, then return to Moab for the summer, where he found work wherever he could.

At 13-years-old, Tangren decided that Provo, with its population of 20,000, was too big.

“I caught a ride back to Moab,” he said. “I never did go back.”

By then, Tangren’s father had remarried, and the couple had opened Fern’s Café.

“It was a golden place in Moab,” Tangren said, adding that the café not only served food, but they had gas pumps, a bar and a motel in back. “They were always open, day and night.”

While working at the café as a cook, Tangren met a young waitress, Patsy Seacrest. The two were married in Aztec, New Mexico.

“Afterwards we had enough money to split a cheeseburger, then we drove back and went back to work,” he said.

In 1961, Tangren built the first Maverik gas station in town. He ran the station for a decade on nothing more than a handshake agreement.

A few years later, Tangren got his chance to take part in a movie being filmed locally, something he’d been trying to do for years.

“In order to work on a movie, you had to be part of the Teamster’s Union,” he said. “I’d been trying to join for years, but they wouldn’t let me.”

When the production crew of the film “Blue” wanted to lease an old army truck that Tangren owned, he was given the opportunity to drive the truck for the scenes. Unfortunately, Tangren was working at the mill doing uranium reduction at the time, and his superiors wouldn’t let him take the time off.

“I filmed for nine weeks, and I made more [money] in that time than I made in nine months working at the mill,” he said.

He decided after that that, aside from movie companies, he’d never work for anyone else again.

Tangren was passionate about bringing the film industry to Moab, and he joined the Moab Film Commission, a membership that he maintained for 51 years.

“The movie industry was the best industry to ever hit Moab,” he said. “They didn’t take nothing but pictures, and they left nothing but money.”

Tangren has worn several other hats in his life. He and his brother built the Caveman Ranch. He has guided both raft tours and off-road tours for Tag-A-Long Expeditions. He’s worked on several movies and owned and sold a successful restaurant. And he has raised cattle since he was thirteen.

“You look around this world, and this is the best place to live,” Tangren said. “I’ve never found a better place than these red rocks.”

Tangren and his third wife, Joylyn, still raise cattle, and he continues to tell his stories.

“I just tell ‘em like I feel ‘em,” he said. “I love this country, so I love telling people about it.”

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