Joseph John Gerstner was born Jan. 13, 1918 in St. Peter, Kan., and died Nov. 26, 2011 at his home in Moab, Utah.
Joes’s life spanned the most dangerous events in the world’s history and a period of great technological advancements. Joe’s work history reflected these events. One of his first big jobs was the water tunnel outside of Estes Park in the Big Thompson Canyon. It provided the water for the development of the eastern slope communities in Colorado. World War II was on the horizon and the war effort demanded a large supply of molybdenum. Jobs were offered and credit for army service was given to men that could endure high elevations and intense heat. Leadville, Colo. was the next job, until the National Park Service decided to enlarge Carlsbad Caverns so it could accommodate more visitors and Joe was hired as superintendent of the new elevator shaft.
After this project, he and Boyles Brothers Drilling came together. Joe worked for them for 30 years as a superintendent or foreman on major Boyles Brothers contracts. He moved to Monticello, Utah at the height of the uranium boom and was in charge of contracts with Union Carbide and United Nuclear. He drilled shafts in Salmon, Idaho, for cobalt exploration. He spent time in Grants, N.M. during the early days of uranium discovery and was superintendent of numerous shafts drilled for the major exploration companies in the area.
He was asked to do a job at Ambrosia Lake near Grants. The largest shaft in the world had been drilled but the company did not know how to collar it off. Joe was a troubleshooter and completed the job. There were problems in Missouri with a lead and zinc mine and Joe responded. The toxic wastes in Lake Erie were being removed and the Erie Canal had to be refurbished. The Alpana Huron Cement Company needed a more efficient method to extract the cement to meet the additional demand. Boyles Brother sent Joe.
The Cold War was heating up and the United States decided more atomic weapons were needed. Boyles Brothers got a contract in Indian Springs, Nev., on the atomic testing site. Joe was in charge of the project and they broke the North American shaft sinking record. It took many years to match the record.
At Fallon, Nev., they worked on another atomic bomb site. The shaft was drilled 1,300 feet down, 1,300 feet across and at an angle upward of 65 feet. The bomb was placed in the hole with the monitoring devices. Joe stood with the engineers of the project. When the bomb was detonated, the explosion lifted the ground throughout the area more than a foot. The monitor devices were never retrieved.
The entire family went to North and South Dakota for the next major project. Boyles Brothers drilled over 300 minute man missile shafts. They were 65 feet deep and 18 feet wide.
The family moved to Moab in 1969. The Rio Algom Mine in La Sal was being developed and Boyles Brothers had a contract. The family moved together and worked at the mine. Moab captured their hearts and they stayed.
Joe had retired from mining and he was starting to enjoy some of the things he had never had time to do. He loved flowers especially roses and to plant gardens with new and different seeds. But, when Moab started to grow, more water was needed. A mining engineer by the name of Sheely started a tunnel though the sandstone cliff to bring water to Spanish Valley, but it was never finished. When Grand County decided to complete the tunnel as the best way to obtain water, the entire Gerstner family responded. This was something they had done all over the United States and Moab was their chosen home. The tunnel wasn’t a tunnel when they first looked at it. A few rounds of dynamite had exploded, leaving about 80 feet of caved-in rock and 10 feet of open space. It took the family about four months to complete the project in 1973.
Mining was in Joe’s blood. He had lived in the gold rush country of California and gold fever was contagious. He had seven gold mines over a period of 10 years. Some were better than others. But the adventure was worth the hard work.
Joe learned how to work from necessity. He quit school in the eighth grade and worked for pennies an hour. He gave most of his earnings to his family because his father was seldom home. He was interested in everything and loved to learn. He was an avid reader and puzzle solver until the last few months before his death.
In 1937, he married his teenage love, Alma Pearl Winchester, in their hometown of Loveland, Colo. He has 18 and she was 17. On Aug. 4, 2005, Alma Pearl preceded him in death.
He is survived by his son, Douglas Gerstner, his daughters, Karen Egeland and Brenda Christensen, and his sons-in-law, Lars Egeland and Buster Christensen, all of Moab; his grandchildren, Doug Christensen (Moab), Kris Christensen (Monticello), Joey Egeland (Moab) and Tina Gerstner (Tucson, Ariz.); six great-grandchildren; three great-great-grandchildren; and his brothers, Fred Gerstner (Golden, Colo.), Ray Gerstner (Texas Creek, Colo.) and Shirley Hull (Reno, Nev.).
A funeral service was held Nov. 30 at 7 p.m. at Spanish Valley Mortuary in Moab. Condolences may be sent to the family at www.SpanishValleyMortuary.com.