A Page Out of the Book Cliffs, March 20, 2020

Page 64 — The Millers — Part 3

AJ Rogers

I wrote the following a few weeks ago:

Thank goodness for my long-term memories since the short-term variety are becoming a thing of the past way too often these days.

For instance, three days ago I began a series of stories about some folks who were near and dear to my heart back in my salad days. Deciding to continue the series this morning while the snow is falling through the foggy inversion became another short-term problem of sorts. I had to take a look at my files to remember who I was even writing about. Duh? Jeesh! It’s a sorry situation but a guy sometimes has to do things the long way if he’s going to get anything done at all. I guess you’ve just got to persevere to endeavor, or, endeavor to persevere if you prefer.

After a quick look-see I was reminded that I was telling you about my dear old friends and almost family members, the Millers, who lived just across the tracks from the Desert Moon Hotel and Café where I grew up in the little Book Cliffs town of Thompson, Utah.

Ted was the railroad foreman for about 30 years on our section of the D&RGW and his wife, Nana, was our local nurse, J-P, waitress, pie baker, and my other mother. I was explaining to you about how Ted would put up a Christmas tree that appeared to grow through the ceiling of his railroad foreman’s house, a perk of the job. Ted’s family lived in that nice old house for many years.

I loved those big old Miller Christmas trees back in the ’50s and ’60s. They had such a spread at the base, maybe 8” in diameter, so that you could almost believe it was a real little town built amongst all the white cotton snow beneath those piney lower limbs.

A model railroad train choo-chooed around the circular track ringing the little town. Snowmen were smiling at you and kids were skating on the mirror pond. All the houses and businesses were dressed in Christmas bunting and everything was serene and peaceful. It made you feel like Norman Rockwell lived there and so did you.

One Christmas, probably about 1966 or ’67 when I was about 13 or 14, we found a clay pigeon flinger under my family’s beautiful, but regulation-sized tree. It was kind of a cheapie hand-operated thing, but it was cool! There were a couple of boxes of clay pigeons and a shotgun shell reloading press, as well. I remember it was a dry ground Christmas and my brother, Dana, and I were excited to go try out the trap.

Luckily, we had some store-bought shells left over from the previous autumn’s duck and pheasant seasons. Old Ted Miller brought his 12-gauge over and joined us out back that cold morning. We boys probably missed more clay birds than we hit, but it was great fun. Our dad did some better as I remember.

For some reason old Ted would stick his bird finger all the way through the trigger guard and yank his gun to the right as he fired. His pigeons flew unmolested out into the greasewood most of the time. After a few shots the big knuckle of that third finger on his right hand was swollen up from the beating, but Ted didn’t seem to notice. He was having way too much fun. Why he fired his old Remington 870 pump that way is still a mystery, but it was probably just more proof that falling off boxcars onto your noggin a couple of times is not really all that good for you.

The Miller’s youngest son, Bruce, was around here more often than his older siblings during the years I remember best. He was seven years my senior, just finishing high school, and working for Pat Wimmer at the Crescent Junction gas station after school and in the summers. That was in the days when I was still just five foot and a little change.

Bruce had bought himself a broken down pickup and recruited me to help him rebuild the engine. She was a 1940 Ford half-ton little beauty. Well, not really. She had a cute shape, but her makeup was all patchy primer mixed with the original faded paint and a little rust. We got the okay to use Don Baldwin’s garage behind the Conoco station in Thompson. We removed the hood, unbolted motor mounts and things, then hoisted the little flathead V-8 out of the frame.

We set it on the concrete floor since there was no engine stand available. Before long we’d torn the whole thing down into a thousand pieces, or so it seemed to me. I don’t know if I was truly much help to my buddy, Bruce, but I certainly learned a lot from the experience. I know I got pretty good at the boring job of scraping old gaskets and washing parts.

After installing new bearings, rings, gaskets, and replacing a burned valve or three we slapped that little 80-something horsepower V-8 back together and bolted her back up to the transmission. I was always proud to ride along with my elbow out the right window of that little darling. She felt a little bit like my own, you know, even if her lipstick was smudged and her eyeliner was running.

A year or so later Bruce drove the 40 Ford home from SLC where he was attending classes at the U of U. It was Christmastime and he had a few days off. It was a very cold winter and all the little duck ponds around this area were frozen over.

The Valley City Reservoir was seven miles southwest of Thompson and still held water in those days. That big pond would fill right up when extra-large flash floods blasted from the Book Cliffs and roared down Thompson Wash. When completely full it was maybe two miles wide and two feet deep.

Bruce and I took the old Ford down there one bright sunny day between Christmas and New Years and found the ice thick and far-reaching. He pulled her out onto the bare slick and put the pedal to the metal. I believe we were doing 60 mph when Bruce cranked the wheel and buried the accelerator. That little pickup spun tight circles until we were plumb dizzy.

It was so dang much fun we just had to try it about 10 more times.