Wednesday, May 27, 2020

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    Local pioneer Lee Stocks to celebrate milestone

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    Affable, hard-working Moab native turns 90 on Friday, April 24

    Times were flush for Lee Stocks during the uranium boom. After working drill rigs and mining claims he was able to splurge on this deluxe Chrysler New Yorker. This clipping was published in the Times-Independent, 1953

    One of Moab’s favorite folk-historians is fit and hale as he stares down his ninth decade.

    Lee Stocks has a keen eye for Moab’s past with his sharp memory and ability to recall dates and numbers. He loves to regale his listeners with tales of pre-tourist Moab, especially events during the boom years of uranium.

    Lee Stocks and his twin Larry were born in Moab on April 24, 1930. His parents were Leonard Stocks and Laura Ames Stocks, who met while working at the Pace Ranch in Castle Valley. His grandfather was Angus Stocks, a stone mason who came to Moab in 1885, 11 years before Utah gained statehood.

    Lee graduated in 1948 from Grand County High School and with his brother Larry promptly joined the Navy and served just as the Korean conflict heated up.

    They came back to Moab in 1952. Lee was soon at work on the MGM oil rig on the Colorado River down from where the potash plant is now. From that job he was briefly traded out to the crew working on the Shafer Trail—a move that would allow welder Norm Hettman to tack the stricken oil rig’s superstructure back together. Lee helped his brother-in-law Nate Knight widen the old cow trail into a passable jeep and ore truck road with Nate’s army surplus D-7 Cat. Their work is what has helped establish the famous Shafer Trail that drops from the vast mesa that is home to Dead Horse Point and Island in the Sky to Highway 279—the road along the river and potash plant below.

    Larry and Lee Stocks reveal their automotive instincts in 1931 at the tender age of one. Photo courtesy of Lee Stocks

    Lee worked on various claims during the uranium boom, including one on La Sal Creek, and he helped the late Nate Knight build the Flint Trail in 1953. The Flint Trail, a nearly six-mile section of rough road, overlooks the remote Maze district of Canyonlands National Park. It is a jumbled and chaotic rock topography that surrounds what is known as the Orange Cliffs, and has been described as southern Utah’s version of the Star Trek Nebula cloud.

    Lee became a pilot of his own Piper Super Cub in 1956. In 1958 he learned the hard way that high-tension power lines cross the Colorado River where Kane Spring Boulevard meets the river. His Cub tangled with the overhead lines and the plane was thrown into the river. He spent the next year on crutches. And since that time, very visible balloon-like objects have been affixed to the power lines to let air-farers know of the wires below.

    In 1960 Lee went to work at the Atlas Uranium Mill as a warehouseman, and he later advanced to the position of office manager. In 1964 he was made office manager of the Atlas Mill at Mexican Hat. While residing there he met Eve Jaramillo and he married her in 1965. He was sent to manage the Atlas mill office in California in 1966. In two years he was back in the accounting office at Atlas in Moab until it closed in 1984.

    Eve Stocks, shown here on the set of the movie Blue (1968), was also at times a waitress in Mexican Hat and Moab. For the Burt Reynolds movie Fade In (also 1968) she actually portrayed a waitress at the old Arches Restaurant. When she handed the star his movie prop meal she said, “If you want a real Mexican dinner you’ll come to my house.” And he did, bringing his actor buddy Richardo Montalblán. Photo courtesy of Lee Stocks

    The closure of the mill precipitated a change of jobs and work occupation for Lee, as the Moab economy added more tourism to its mix. He worked several years for Bob Jones at Tag-a-long Tours. Then after working there he was the accountant for Moab Bit and Tool from 1992 to 2000. Not ready to retire, he went on to do bookkeeping for Tag-a-long Tours until 2005 when he completely retired.

    His wife Eve was a longtime employee of the National Park Service until she retired. She passed away in 2013. His brother Larry died in 2017.

    To this day Lee is an affable story teller about early Moab. In his home he is surrounded by local history books, and he has piles of old photos that he is carefully scanning into his computer. He loves to reminisce about old Moab. He lives quietly on a hillside overlooking the town that the Stocks family helped to settle more than a century ago.

    Although Lee’s big birthday is days away, no party is planned until the current viral pandemic subsides. Lee hasn’t seen anything like what is happening in the wake of COVID-19, but he’s not particularly worked up about it. When asked if he’d ever seen Moab be so closed down, he harkened back to 1984 when Moab’s uranium economy went bust. In comparison to now, he said Moab wasn’t just quiet, it was vacant as many people fled town for other work.

    Here’s to a happy birthday to Lee, and to happier days ahead for all of Moab. Thanks for the stories and for making history right here in Grand County.

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