A Page Out of the Book Cliffs: Aug. 29, 2019

Dear Readers,

I’m sorry that it’s been a month since my last article appeared in the T-I. I sent one in on time, but it apparently got lost in the shuffle somewhere. I thought it was left out of the last couple papers due to a lack of space, but finally realized that was not the case so I resubmitted it and you are finally seeing this. – AJ


Life and times were pretty darn busy in the 1950s around my home in Thompson, Utah at the base of the Book Cliffs.

The town was more vibrant then than now in many ways. It was how I hope it will be once again after we get a few more good folks who find out how nice it is to live here. Not only was there more going on, but there was more to see and do back then. The local schoolhouse was full of kids in the first through the eighth grades. The railroad section crew numbered several men and their equipment. The railroad itself was much more important to the livelihood of the town in those days. The associated buildings, warehouses, shearing corrals, ore dump load-outs, stockyards, water treatment plant and employee housing gave our little town some pizzazz and meaning. We had miners and stock growers, business folks, and Gandy dancers. It will never be like that here again, but I think it will be the same in a different way eventually.

Besides serving the freight needs of all of southeastern Utah, the train delivered the newspapers, our local mail, and much of our food. My folks were operating the Desert Moon Café, and much of the food they served came in on the train. If you wanted to sell beef steaks in your restaurant you didn’t get a box of frozen T-bones off a truck that made frequent stops. Instead, you got half a beef delivered by the train which you hung in your own walk-in cooler to carve up, cook, and serve as needed. Of course, even back then in the ‘50s, truck deliveries of just about everything were becoming more and more common and train deliveries were declining. I’m glad I remember the train days though. Somehow it was more meaningful and auspicious to boot.

I remember a wonderful young and pretty Native American girl who worked for my folks one year when I was about 4 or 5. Her name was Julie, I believe. I was in love with her, of that there can be no doubt. The Valley City Reservoir was still holding water in those days. It was a waterfowl mecca, being about a foot deep and two miles wide. There was a lot of feed and safety for ducks and geese because they could sit out in the middle of the big puddle doing ducky things while being well out of range of the best shotguns.

However, that big pond was such a draw to so many quackers that the other small ponds for 20 miles around always had ducks too. During duck season my dad and his bird dog loved to get away and out to the local ponds for some jump shooting. He would usually get back home just in time to go on shift at the café. Julie would retrieve his ducks from the milk crate on the front steps and get them ready for the oven. She could pick and clean a duck faster than anyone I’ve ever seen, and she seemed to enjoy it. I hope my dad put something extra in her little pay envelope each time, because a good duck picker is worth a mint. I know it was worth a lot to dad not to have to pick his own ducks, because for the rest of his days my brother and I got to pluck every damned duck the old man ever shot, along with our own.

It was all about our worldly training you know. Ha! He just hated dealing with all those pinfeathers himself.

My mother was always there for us. She was pretty and steady and loving. She worked hard, but always found time to spend with the four of us young-un’s she raised up in Thompson Springs at the Desert Moon. I was born in 1953. Brother Dana came along in 1955. Sister Laurie followed in 1956, and Marles, the least biggest, came along in 1958.

I bet my mom drug her Electrolux vacuum cleaner up and down both stairs in the Desert Moon Hotel at least once a day for the 40 years she lived there. The place was always spotless. Of course, we all had to help a bit, a bit more for my sisters I suppose.

During the uranium boom things got kind of saucy upon occasion. I’ll never forget the story of a time when my dad was running the Cactus Cabaret bar one night in the mid-fifties. Of course my folks wouldn’t let me hang out in the bar before or after bedtime because I was still a sweet young thing, but the way I’ve always heard it the story goes like this: The place was full of miners and a good time was well underway. One of the miners was a big ol’ Hoss Cartwright type of feller. He was kind of a nice guy all in all, and was not really trying to be belligerent to anyone in particular. He was just a little too drunk and was finding it a lot of fun to break up the bar furniture with feats of strength. After losing a chair and a light fixture, my old man warned the big guy to knock it off or else! (The nearest deputy was probably an hour out you know.) Well, Old big Hoss just ignored my much smaller bartender daddy and went on making kindling of things. Finally, out of frustration, my dad eased up behind that big tough son of a gun with a lead-filled Blackjack and whopped the guy on the back of the head with a wicked thwop! Well, that tough old boy didn’t collapse to the floor, he just turned around, grabbed my dad by his shirt front, lifted him off the floor, and calmly said, “Now mister, if you do that again I’m going to have to slap your face!”