My grandmother, Elise, had made a good go of the new Desert Moon businesses in Thompson Springs, Utah, between 1937 and 1945. After the untimely death of her husband, Clarence, at the young age of 37 she had worked her heart out operating and managing her new businesses.
These included the café, hotel, dance hall, tourist cabins and gas station. She worked long, hard hours every day with very little help other than her four youngsters when they were not in school, and a saucy waitress called Toots.
Grandma Elise married Allen Cadwell when he returned from World War II. He didn’t know much about business, but he knew a lot about horses, raising cattle, irrigating alfalfa, and putting up hay. She had just bought a wonderful spread of several hundred acres called the Hawkshurst Ranch. It was four miles above Collbran, Colorado, and Al Cadwell was just what she needed to make it a going concern.
I wonder if my dad, Lester, wasn’t just a little overwhelmed when Grandma handed him the keys to the Desert Moon businesses in Thompson Springs at the tender age of 18? Les had grown up in the business and knew what it took, but probably didn’t really realize the amount of responsibility that had just been unloaded on his shoulders. His older sister, Dawn, had been living in Boston and needed a break, so she came home to help out a bit, but never had intentions of sticking around.
I don’t have any good information about the first three or four years of my dad’s operation of the family businesses. Thinking back on it, he never mentioned much about those days for whatever reason. I know he bought a classy Packard sedan somewhere around 1947, but wrecked it when some farmer pulled in front of him from a side road near Grand Junction.
So, he bought a second Packard around 1949. Dad used to tell the story of driving to Grand Junction and racing the Packard against Gay Johnson, who preferred driving Cadillacs. Dad got infatuated with a gal named Jackie around 1948 or ’49 and ended up in a short-lived marriage. Whatever the case, he apparently kept the business afloat one way or the other while he completed the big job of growing up.
My mother was born Margie Marie to Len and Laura Stocks of Moab on June 29, 1932. Grandpa Len was the Grand County road supervisor and Grandma Laura was the best bread maker I ever knew. She was also a pretty darn good deer hunter, though she was only 4’ 11”.
My mother, Margie, grew up in Moab and did all the things that Moab kids did in those days. While working on the high school newspaper in 1950, she got a chance to go up the river and interview John Wayne while he was on the set of one of his big pictures, “Rio Grande.” We have a photo of the Duke in a cavalry uniform with his arm around Mom’s shoulder. She was always very proud of that.
My folks got married in Moab during the summer of 1952. My dad immediately moved Mom out to Thompson, as it was called at that time. She had a work ethic and it’s a good thing she did, because there was plenty to do. Before long she was running one shift at the café while Dad was running the other. The hotel and everything else required a lot of time and energy, as well, but with the help of some good local women like Lena Pene, Lillian (Nana) Miller, and Velda (Babe) Bittle, who helped clean and wait tables, they kept things running pretty smoothly.
The uranium boom went off with a hell of a bang about that time and things got crazy. My folks remodeled the dance hall and bar, which gave them even more to do. There was a lot of mining activity going on in the Yellow Cat district nearby, and those miners were frequent customers in the Cactus Cabaret Bar right behind the Desert Moon Café. The folks also added a small grocery store to the works in the northeast corner of the hotel’s main floor.
Along about July 15, 1953 the stork dropped me down the chimney of the Desert Moon Hotel. It seems like I should have landed in the big coal-fired steam boiler furnace down in the basement, but my first photograph doesn’t show me covered with coal dust, so apparently someone caught me before I hit bottom.
I was the firstborn, but did not enter this world an only child, because the folks had a young German shorthaired pointer named Saar who jumped right in and helped raise me.
A couple of good old boys named Luke Marley and Okie Witherspoon had been hanging around the Desert Moon, helping out here and there. Dad put them in his Willy’s Jeep with a grubstake and sent them off into the desert to search for some ore and stake some uranium claims in his name. I don’t think they ever found any ore, but they always brought the Jeep back into town loaded with dinosaur bone and petrified wood. Good stuff, too! So, dad opened a little rock shop next to his BAY gas station just west of the hotel, adding another business to the works.