Coal Production Amid the Wars

Ronald G. Watt
History of Carbon County

On 11 November 1918 the world war came to an end. Local coal production dropped from 6.0 million tons in 1920 to 4.7 million tons in 1923; but this was not enough to discourage the opening of other mines in Spring Canyon, Columbia, Gordon Creek Canyon, and Price Canyon. In 1920 the Mutual Coal Company started a mine at the farthest end of Spring Canyon. This mine had three seams with a combined width of twenty-nine feet. In 1922, because of the continued need for good coking coal, Columbia Steel Company developed the Columbia Mine, which was located a few miles south of Sunnyside. This mine was later purchased by U. S. Steel Corporation. In 1922, Columbia Steel, needing rail transportation to its properties just south of Sunnyside, incorporated the Carbon County Railway, which had the same name as the Denver and Rio Grande Western’s railway that ran to Sunnyside in 1900. The new line connected with the D&RGW’s line at what would become Dragerton. Maple Creek Mine, owned by Greek-Americans, opened in 1926, with Emanuel Fragekakes (Mike Francis) organizing it using limited capital. The coal was reached through an 800-foot rock tunnel. In 1931 fire destroyed the wooden tipple, forcing the company to build a new tipple.

In 1920 A. E. Gibson, superintendent of the Spring Canyon Coal Mine, obtained an analysis of the coal in the Gordon Creek district, and in the spring of 1922 he discovered a nine-foot vein. Gibson leased 1,480 acres and interested Donald E. Jenkins and J. Tracy Wootton in developing this area. Together they organized the Consumers Mutual Coal Company, later named the Blue Blaze Company. Jenkins, the largest stockholder, became president; Gibson, vice-president; and Wootton, secretary and treasurer. In 1925 the new company started to build a railroad line to the properties; it was not completed until the following year. The coal camp was at first named Gibson but later was renamed Consumers. In the mid-1920s the controlling stockholder in the company was a Mr. Raddits. Later, Terry McGowan acquired the mine and was superintendent until the Blue Blaze Company was discontinued.

The National Coal Mine was another coal mine located in the Gordon Creek district. A man named Williamson first purchased the land, but he met with little success in his prospecting. Fred Sweet later purchased the land and incorporated the property into the National Coal Company development in the 1920s. William Sweet, Fred’s brother, secured a lease on land near National Coal Company land; there the Sweets Mine was later located. In 1924 the Utah Railroad agreed to build a railroad to the Sweets and National mines, provided each mine operator would contribute his share of the expense. In 1921 the National Coal Railway had begun constructing a railroad up Gordon Creek to the National, Consumers, and Sweets mines. After completing the line, the National Coal Railway sold its stock in 1925 to the Utah Railway, thus consolidating all the smaller lines on the west side of the valley into one railroad. In 1926 the Denver and Rio Grande Western built a new railroad line to Kenilworth from Helper, thereby eliminating the steep grades and sharp curves of the older Kenilworth and Helper line which ran through Spring Glen.

The other mine in Price Canyon, the New Peerless, only operated from 1930 to 1931. Robert Howard supervised the mine operation. New Peerless had a tipple that handled 2,000 tons a day and spanned the highway; however, the mine had several problems. The coal seam was about 2,000 feet below the portal entry. Water in the mine needed to be pumped to the surface, and in March 1930 a gas explosion killed five men. New Peerless also began its operations as the industry started on a downward trend in the production of coal.

Coal production continued to drop until 1934, when it reached 2.1 million tons. In 1921 the selling price per ton was $3.35, but it declined thereafter until the 1930s when it was a little more than $2.00 per ton. The 1922 strike and the decline of other industries such as sugar refineries which used coal reduced the demand for area coal. Beet sugar production had expanded during World War I, with coal fueling the sugar refineries. After the war, however, European sugar entered the American market, causing a decline in American refineries. In May 1920 the price of sugar reached 23.57 cents a pound; but by December 1921 the price had fallen to 1.81 cents a pound. The need for coal in the sugar industry plummeted. Railroads and even homes turned to oil, natural gas, and even electricity as fuel sources.

The 1930s saw the slowing down and even closing of some of the county’s coal mines. At Sunnyside Utah Fuel closed down the coke oven operation in 1927; by 1933 the mine employed only forty-six men. The first mine in the county, Winter Quarters, which had been fully operational since the late 1870s, closed in 1928; the Maple Creek Company, always lacking capital, closed in 1937. In 1938 Mutual closed down, but the Panther Mine continued its operation until the late 1930s. The Sweets Mine closed for a few years after 1937 but reopened during World War II. National continued mining coal until the late 1940s. Sunnyside Mine, which had been the area’s largest coalmine, employing several hundred workers with more than 2,000 people living in the community, declined drastically until only about 400 people remained during the Depression. Standard Coal Company did not meet its payroll in January 1939; consequently, the miner’s union stepped in and worked out an agreement for the company to pay the men fifty percent of the back pay immediately and fifty percent in the future. In 1939 Blue Blaze Coal Mine went into receivership due to delinquent back taxes in the amount of $16,000.

In 1939, to counteract this slowing down of the mines, Carbon County began a statewide marketing campaign termed “Build Utah—Burn Coal” led by businessmen and governmental workers in Carbon County. At first the group tried to pass a bill in the state legislature to put an excise tax on all natural gas, but, by a vote of thirteen to ten, the bill failed to pass the state senate. The group then concentrated on educating the Utah population about the economic benefits of burning coal.

Some mines did not transport coal to Utah and national markets, instead supplying only a local market. These were called wagon or truck mines. The Arronco Coal Mine, situated in Cordingly Canyon not far from Kenilworth, was just such a mine; but it had been closed for several years until about 1939 when John Arronco took it over. Wayne, Orson, and Golden Day and Mike Golden owned and operated the Day Mine. Located in Spring Canyon, this wagon mine opened in 1942 and closed in 1957. In 1916 the John G. and George Diamanti families leased property in Hardscrabble Canyon from Helper Coal Company. During the 1930s John Diamanti and his sons Steve, Jim, and Chris secured a lease and formed the Hardscrabble Coal Company. After World War II this wagon mine continued to expand, and when the Carbon Fuel Company which operated the Rains Mine in Spring Canyon disbanded the Diamantis took over the name of Carbon Fuel Company.

World War II changed the economic slowdown in the mines. Production boomed once again, and some coal mines that had closed reopened. Statewide the production of coal reached over seven million tons in 1944. Carbon County mines accounted for approximately 90 percent of the state’s coal production. When Kaiser Steel Corporation expanded its steel mill in Fontana, California, it leased Sunnyside No. 2 Mine, later purchasing the mine. In order to benefit from the good coking-quality coal on the east side of Carbon County, Geneva Steel Company opened up a mine just south of the county line at Horse Canyon for its new plant in Utah Valley. Geneva established the community of Dragerton in Carbon County for workers at Horse Canyon. In 1943 the Defense Plant Corporation added a six-mile extension to the Carbon County Railroad line to service the new mine at Horse Canyon.

The boom years of the war carried over into the postwar period, and a few small mines were able to profit from the high production levels. William Shield had worked Soldier’s Canyon Mine mostly by himself until 1945 when he sold his lease to Andrew Marinoni. Marinoni then profited considerably from the economic prosperity immediately following the war.