I’m thinking I’ll continue with some more family stories of Thompson Springs in the 1950s. As mentioned in the last column, things were kind of spicy and dicey due to the influx of uranium miners and the assorted commotion they were causing out in the hills and when they came into town to wet their whistles.
Any old timer in Moab, Monticello, and other towns around probably knows what I’m talking about, but we’re pretty well fresh out of old-timers in my little burg at this point in time, so I guess it’s up to me to put it down for posterity.
Some things turned out for the better. With the influx of miners and their families our town got big enough to indulge in some activities that can only happen if there are enough residents to make it a reality. All of a sudden there were Halloween, Christmas, and Easter plays and parties at the schoolhouse. There were new kids for the local kids to play with and more grownups meant the ladies could get together at Stanley parties and so forth.
I remember when I was about 4 years old that our 10 spaces trailer park was full to capacity. The folks who lived in the trailer in space number one were our nearest neighbors, just across the lawn from the hotel. They were Mr. and Mrs. Bierschied and several of their kids. They moved to Moab a year or two later and are still well known in that locale. I can see in my mind’s eye the faces of many others who lived around here back then, but their names generally escape me now.
It was about that same time, 1957, when a memorable experience happened. I remember it like it was only 50-something years ago instead of 60-something. It was a summer evening and for some reason I was out in the parking lot between the hotel and the bar. Actually, I was playing in the back seat of my folk’s car, which was sitting in the parking lot. I think it was a 1952 Pontiac station wagon. I glanced up to see a guy stumbling out the door of the dance hall. He was yelling and cursing about something or other. He jumped in his old car, fired it up, threw it in reverse and peeled out backwards. He came to a screeching halt within a few yards as his rear bumper took out one of our gas pumps. Then he shifted into forward and screamed off down old highway 6&50, crossed the bridge, and was Crescent Junction-bound.
About that time my Dad piled into our car with his pistol in hand. I don’t think he even noticed me at first and I can’t remember if I said anything. I just know that we were roaring across the bridge in hot pursuit. I can remember standing on the floor in front of the backseat looking over the front seat and hanging on with big wide eyes all agog.
It’s six miles to C.J. along the old highway and we caught up to the bad guy in about four miles. Dad was blinking his headlights on and off and laying on the horn, but the gas pump killer was not having any of it. He continued to wring all the speed he could out of his old jalopy, which I think was something like a 1936 Chevy sedan, but he couldn’t outrun our Pontiac.
Pretty soon, I was astonished to see my dad stick his pistol out the window and start trying to shoot the other guy’s tires out. Dad was driving right-handed and shooting left-handed, which was unnatural for him. It didn’t matter that much because Dad was never a good pistol shot anyway.
I can remember those moments as clear as day, but for the life of me I can’t remember the ending to the story, and I also can’t figure out why I never asked about the stories ending years later while I had a chance. I know those errant bullets didn’t damage anyone or anything and did not result in a big flaming Hollywood car crash.
For whatever reason the story was just always about running 90 mph down the highway firing at the bad guy. Having a 4-year-old boy in the backseat during the chase didn’t seem to raise any eyebrows as far as I can remember, except probably Mom’s. Why heck, I wasn’t even strapped in a car seat … go figure.
My dad, Les, continued to sell gasoline in Thompson Springs until the early 1990s. There must have been 100 instances over the years of customers filling up and hitting the road without paying. Gas skips is what they’re called. Dad always called the cops, but he almost never waited for them if the perpetrator took off eastbound toward Colorado. The thieves almost always got across the border before a trooper could come from the Moab or Green River areas and catch up with them.
Clear up into the late 1980s, Dad was still grabbing his pistol and jumping in a Pontiac trying to chase those filling station fools down. One time he was running 120 mph past Rabbit Valley right behind the thieves while they were chucking quarts of oil out the back window at him. Then they blew their engine, pulled over, and Dad held his pistol on them till the law finally caught up. That was probably the last big chase.
The Utah Highway Patrol made it pretty damn clear that this vigilante stuff just had to stop, and it better never happen again. They had told him the same thing a few other times, but he just always reminded them that they had failed to catch the last couple of gas skips, so he was just going to go after them himself. I’m thinking Mom may have joined the cops in demanding the chases stop.
There are a couple other stories of such doings, but I’ll save them for some other time.