Carbon County’s Post-War Attempts at Progression

Ronald G. Watt
The History of Carbon County

After World War II, Carbon County renewed its efforts to enlarge the airfield, constructing, with federal help and matching funds from state and county, a new runway and extending the other runways so larger planes could use the facility. In October 1948 construction crews finished the new runways and over 5,000 people attended the dedication ceremonies. An airshow sponsored by the Carbon County Commission featured planes from the U.S. Air Force, Castle Valley Flying Service, and Carbon-Emery Flying Service. The ceremony featured an airshow with parachute jumps over the field, speakers including gubernatorial candidate J. Bracken Lee, and a number of courtesy flights over Castle Valley.

A little over a year later it became necessary to widen the taxi strip to the hangars as a safety measure in handling large planes. By 1951 the county had opened an airport in East Carbon for a short time. For several years the county leased the Price airport to a manager, who received his compensation from fees obtained through airport business. For many years, E. L. “Buck” Davis promoted and ran the airport, also making sure that taxi drivers did not charge travelers exorbitant fees for the trip from the airport to Price, a distance of two miles.

After Davis retired, Richard Keppler took over. Soon the county was in the midst of an energy boom that placed unusual demands on the small airport, including use by corporate jets. Some local businessmen also began chartering flights and taking flying lessons. The Carbon-Emery Aviation Company purchased two new airplanes for charter and rental, hired a chief pilot and a flight instructor, and began a modest advertising campaign. Chief pilot Glen West commented that he never knew until he arrived at the airport each morning what he would be doing, whether it would be making routine flights to Salt Lake City or landing on a desert strip somewhere. Laird Peale, the flight instructor, had a class of thirty students which included miners, businessmen, and housewives. Trans West Airline wanted to expand its air services, including passenger service, to the Price airport. Keppler told the county commission that his facilities were too small and that he needed a commuter terminal. All of this activity stopped with the end of the energy boom, however, and the airport settled down into its former routine.

Following World War II, county officials had recognized the need to diversify the economy. Mechanization in mining required fewer coal miners and an effort was launched to attract new businesses and companies to the county. Price was the most successful city in bringing new jobs into the county. In 1968 the Pro-Carbon Development Company convinced Koret to establish a clothing factory south of Price. Businessmen and citizens of Carbon and Emery counties pledged more than $70,000 for the new plant. When the plant opened in August, ninety women were employed in the plant.

Price, being the county seat and the commercial center for the county, recently has added a number of new commercial establishments. On the west side of the community is the Castle Valley Hospital, a hotel, and a new shopping center anchored by City Market and K-Mart stores. Walmart and Smith’s Food and Drug Center anchor a new shopping center on the east side of the city. Because of Price’s location, the town has become the center for governmental agencies in Castle Valley. Besides the city and county offices located in Price, the city also contains federal and state offices. Twenty-five different state offices are housed in Price, including the District Four office of the Utah Department of Transportation, the Seventh District Court office, a Utah Highway Patrol office, the Price Communications Center, several offices of the Utah Human Services Department, and a few others. There are seven offices for the federal government, including the Manti–La Sal National Forest office and Bureau of Land Management and Mine Safety and Health Administration offices.

Helper has struggled economically since the shutdown of coal mines and the closure of the railroad facility in the 1970s. Nevertheless, Helper has expanded retail operations with the addition of the Castle Gate subdivision near the mouth of Spring Canyon. Martin, a small farming community to the north of Helper, also recently has been included. The community of Helper has also taken great pride in its mining and railroad heritage. In 1964 a group of citizens led by city attorney S. V. Litizette proposed to the Helper City Council that the city establish a museum for the purpose of attracting tourists. The city appropriated a room in the civic auditorium to be used for exhibits. From this small beginning came the present Western Mining and Railroad Museum. William Branson first took over running the small collection; however, within a short time, Fred Voll, who had retired after fifty years of working for the railroad, took over the project. Voll later commented, “I opened my big mouth and got the job, and here I am today.” Voll attracted artifact and photograph donations which represented both mining and railroading. In 1982 Frances Cunningham, president of the Carbon County Historical Society, stepped in to help, making regularly scheduled museum hours a top priority. By January 1985 the museum needed more space, whereupon the city council provided the Railroad Hotel, a three-story structure on Main Street, as a new home for the museum. After months of cleaning and renovating, officials moved the museum into the former hotel.

During the 1980s and 1990s Helper became interested in improving areas of the city. In 1988 city councilman Brian Matsuda proposed a Price River Park and Walkway. The project took a few years to develop, but in 1992 the Economic Development Corporation of Utah gave Helper City a grant for the walkway. By the end of November 1989 Ron Cooper informed Mayor Mike Dalpiaz and the city council that he had received the final grant from the Utah Parks and Recreation Department. Today the beautiful walkway along the Price River provides an example for other riverside communities.

East Carbon is an example of new life for an old coal camp. The people of Dragerton and Columbia had become discontented with the services provided by the county. These communities were more than twenty miles from the county seat, and their need for better services led to the incorporation of East Carbon City. A special election was held in July 1973, and residents of the two communities of Dragerton and Columbia voted to incorporate as East Carbon City, with Gordon Parker elected as the first mayor. In November 1973 John W. Galbreath and Company made an agreement that turned over to the new city $615,000 worth of assets which included a set of deeds, bills of sale, and quit-claim deeds for nearly 120 acres of land, the present water and sewer systems, $250,000 worth of water rights, equipment and vehicles, and a home for city offices and a fire station. A week later U. S. Steel donated an estimated 700 acres of land which included a large part of the city’s water supply. All of this helped establish the city on a firm financial foundation. East Carbon City was born just as an energy crisis developed throughout the world. Once again coal mining boomed to meet a new demand. By the early 1980s, however, the situation had reversed again, with the mines cutting back and people moving from the area.

In 1983 Kaiser coal mine shut down for awhile, and the community quickly felt the economic impact of it. Dale Andrews, mayor of East Carbon City, estimated the area jobless rate at fifty percent or more. The Kaiser coal mine in Sunnyside first slowed down, then stopped for ten months, before going into bankruptcy. Finally, Sunnyside Reclamation and Salvage secured the property through the bankruptcy court and reopened the mine. No one felt the reopening would be permanent, however; and a feeling of instability and economic insecurity prevailed. The mine was worked for another few years and finally closed.

Another possibility for economic growth was a garbage landfill which would seek business outside the state. This proposal, however, divided the East Carbon community. In the late 1980s discussion of an East Carbon Development Corporation and the establishment of a solid-waste disposal site began. The site would be a large landfill for solid, nontoxic wastes, located just within the city limits. The proposal had the backing of the county commission and the city council. Emma Kuykendall, one of the county commissioners, reasoned, “If Utah can accommodate the need without damage to the environment, then bring on the garbage.”

In 1991 a group from East Carbon became concerned about potential environmental hazards from the landfill and organized the Citizens’s Awareness Now (CAN) group. Those favoring the landfill continued to state the economic benefit to the area while CAN focused on environmental concerns. Arvetta Satterfield accurately assessed the situation: “There are two groups, pro and con about the dump. Both groups have the best interest of the city at heart.” Another resident commented, “We love East Carbon City. It is our home. It’s a nice place to raise our four children…We are against building a solid waste dump in East Carbon. This facility is too close to our city. It will contain asbestos and caustic kiln dust, which eats, burns and destroys tissue.”

The East Carbon Development Corporation (ECDC) held public meetings to discuss the landfill. Officials stated that the landfill would be an excellent facility that would exceed the current Department of Health regulations and recently published EPA guidelines. In 1992 the ECDC landfill became a reality. The ECDC continued to assure residents that no hazardous or radioactive material would be placed in the landfill, but CAN members were skeptical. A small amount of radioactive material was discovered in some material sent from Northwest Pipeline Corporation. ECDC officials reassured everyone that this was not purposeful and promised that they would do everything possible not to have it happen again. There was a movement to turn the dump over to the county, but East Carbon city officials reminded citizens that the city then would lose to Carbon County the fifty cents per ton tippage fees. Citizens of the town voted to continue the landfill within the city limits on a referendum on the issue in 1994. Tippage fees provided added revenue that could be spent for improvements in the city.

In 1950 the population of East Carbon was about 5,500 people. By 1970 it had fallen to 2,199, and it continued to decrease by the year 1990 to 1,609. Without some type of new industry the area of East Carbon would have slowly died. Only the future will tell whether the landfill will solve that problem.