A Page Out of the Book Cliffs: Dec. 12, 2019

Page 58 – Nate Knight – Part 3

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AJ Rogers

I’ve been planning to try to cram the rest of my recollections about my uncle, Nate Knight, into this third part, but I know it won’t work. As mentioned in my last column, I have been getting a lot of help with the facts and the timeframes from Uncle Lee Stocks, who still resides in Moab and who spent a lot of time working with Nate in the years from 1945 until 1960. These brothers-in-law were always close and lived across the street from each other on 2nd North in Moab most of their lives.

Right after the war Nate made a deal with Puge Stocks, who had a sawmill on Two Mile in the La Sals. Puge was milling rough-cut lumber and Nate was trucking it to Grand Junction to sell. Nate figured out he could get more money for it if he bought a planer and smoothed the boards up before hauling them to the buyers.

However, he had heard a rumor that Puge might be selling the mill but Puge assured him that was not going to happen. Nate went ahead and bought the planer and Puge went ahead and sold the mill, so it all came to nothing. My uncles, Lee and Larry, had been working at the sawmill for a while, but when it was sold off they were left in the dust and never got all that was coming to them. Of course, there are always two sides to those kinds of stories and Puge was a well-respected man in these parts.

About then Nate and Lee and Larry got a contract to deliver mine timbers to the Sego Canyon Mine. They took a truck up into Beaver Basin on the La Sal mountain as well as four horses they rented from Vern Bliss in Castle Valley. They used the horses to drag the logs down to the truck. Lee said they cut them in 12-foot lengths for delivery. Each 12-footer was then cut into four-footers as the mine only needed four-foot lengths for timbering because the coal seam was only four feet thick in that particular mine. The men were working with picks and shovels on their knees all day. Wow! Who’d like to try that for a 10-hour shift?

Then the three brothers-in-law got a contract with Grand County to improve Pace Hill between the river and Castle Valley. At that time there was no cut at the top of the steep grade. The project involved putting a cut in the ridge, building a fill with the cut material, fixing a sharp curve and basically making it a little easier to traverse. The county had sent an engineer out with a transit and other survey equipment.

He had marked out the alignment for the needed improvements. Uncle Nate had gone to Mesa College for a year and learned some engineering, as well. He used a hand level to do his own survey and had a disagreement with the engineer about the best way to build the road. Uncle Nate said there would not be enough dirt to build the fill if they put the cut where the county engineer wanted it. They ended up doing it Nate’s way in the end.

Lee and Larry were drilling and blasting, and Nate was dozing. Norm Hetman also worked with them on that job. They had a small dump truck that they loaded by parking it under a dirt trap and pushing dirt into the trap with the dozer. I remember Grandma Laura Stocks telling the story of how her boys, Lee and Larry, would come home at night after a day drilling and blasting on the Pace Hill job. She said they had so much red dirt ground into their clothes she liked to never have gotten them clean!

After completing the initial dozing out of the Shafer Trail, which I detailed in the last column, Uncle Nate wasted no time moving his dozer down country to the top of the Flint Trail, which is nearCanyonlands National Park. He took his family with him and Uncle Lee went, as well. This would have been during the fall of 1953 and the job took about six weeks to complete. The project involved building a road from the top down into Elaterite Basin. It was a steep, rocky and “ledgy” situation.

In previous years there had been some oil exploration in the basin area. The cattlemen and others who’d been there first had noticed tar oozing out of the rocks in places; the word had gotten out, so someone decided to do some drilling and testing.

Uncle Lee said that when he and Nate moved in to begin the road building, they found where a cable tool drill rig had previously been lowered down into the basin. That must have been quite a feat. After the test drilling was completed, the rig had been left behind and was a good source of scrap iron if you could get it back to civilization.

There was a lot of drilling, blasting and dozing on the Flint Trail, just as there had been on the Shafer Trail. It must have seemed like a long way to anywhere living and working in that neck of the woods back in the ’50s. Anyone who drives the Flint Trail now would probably love to see Uncle Nate coming down the hill in his old D-7 dozer to smooth things up a bit. After nearly 70 years, erosion and no maintenance has left that road pretty challenging. I’m sure it’s plenty worse than it was the last time I tried it, and that was back in the mid 1980s. It was a booger then!

Nate and the Stocks boys got into mining pretty seriously in the 1950s. They worked together on some jobs and separately on others. Uncle Lee says he worked with Uncle Nate on two different uranium claims in La Sal Creek for a while and then went into the wilderness to mine in a place near the beautiful Red Canyon. The mine was called The Blue Lizard and was about five miles from the southeast arm of Good Hope Bay on Lake Powell. Of course, Lake Powell was not even there at the time.