Oral Histories

David Baker



Q: So you just took his place?

A: Yes, but he was making a dollar an day more. I was getting 5 dollars a day and my dinner, which was pretty good in those days. Not too bad. And when spring came and that old boy quit, Old man Skakle said, “Can you irrigate?” And I said, “Hell, yeah, I can irrigate. My dad taught me to irrigate when I was a kid.” He said, “I’ll give you a try if you want to take over the water.”

Q: Did he give you a raise?

A: Gave me a dollar a day more. So I got 6 dollars a day that summer, and my dinner. I lived right here up on the corner. We rented a house up here.

Q: Is it still there?

A: Oh, yes, right next to where the Dairy Freeze used to be on the corner. But you don’t remember that. You weren’t here. It was a little house right up there. The Housing Authority had it leased for awhile, you remember that? Across the street south from the one they are rebuilding now.

Q: That little store-like building?

A: Yes, that used to be a Dairy Freeze. Of course, it wasn’t there when we lived up there. There is another old shack just east of it. We rented it that summer for 50 bucks a month. I walked from there every damn day out to that ranch and back of an evening. But I was glad to have a job. It was a good ranch job. He was a different kind of a guy to work for. He was kind of a moody old boy – Jim Skakle. His brother was president of Great Lakes Carbon Corporation. His daughter, Ethel Skakle married Bobby Kennedy. I never did see the Kennedys there but their sons came out there. This one that they did put in the penitentiary, he was a grandson. There were two of the boys that came out there before I got hooked up with the place to spend the summer with Jim, their uncle. I worked down there that summer and when fall came, right after Labor Day, he came to me and said, “I’d like to have you go to work for me by the month.” I said okay. He said he’d give me $170 a month and get me on company benefits. I said, “No, I want $175.” We argued for a little bit and then he said, “All right, I’ll give you $175.” And he furnished me a house out there. They had a little house behind the big 2-story house. They’re all connected now, I think.

Q: Shirley was with you?

A: Oh yes, at the time we had a baby; we had 2 boys.

Q: How many kids did you have?

A: Three. We raised three.

Q: Did you ever work in the mines?

A: No, no. Well, not much.

Q: Was the town getting pretty busy then?

A: No there wasn’t much going on while I was working out at that ranch. They’d bring in a movie once in awhile and there wasn’t much doing in uranium. I can remember I had to milk an old milk cow. These guys, the Dulls, were hauling ore of Polar Mesa and that’s the only mine I knew was going back then. They went to work real early in the morning they hauled ore up there all winter and all summer. They were working for the Lyle Brothers, mining up there. In the winter, they’d get in there before it would thaw out or anything. When I’d be out there that evening milking that old cow, they’d come back hauling that ore across the river bridge and go to Thompson. They were unloading all of it out at Thompson.

Q: That was before the uranium reduction mill?

A: Oh, yes, a long time before that started. All that ore went to Rifle, Colorado, to the mill up there. I milked a cow out by the road, and they’d come by every evening, next day they’d go get another load of ore. In 1953, they shut the ranch down. They told me they hated to lay me off, but they were going to put the place up for sale. Jim was going to Chicago for a back operation and his wife was going to San Francisco to live with her sister.

Q: The Skakles who owned it then?

A: Yes. They said, “You can live out there at the ranch and we won’t charge any rent or anything. Just watch the place so somebody would be there at night and milk the old cow. You can have all the milk you want and eggs.” They had some chickens there. So I went looking for a job. About that time the uranium boom was just getting started, so I went to work for a couple guys from Missouri, I think. Went down in Mineral Canyon, they had a little prospect going there. I did go down there and muck for about a week or ten days They didn’t drift very far back in the hill. I rode down with them, so that didn’t amount to much. So then I heard all about Steen’s big operation, but I didn’t know exactly where it was, I knew about where it was at. One day we loaded up the kids and Shirley and went out there looking for a job. Bob Barrett was the superintendent of the mine out there. He was just a bean farmer from over in Dove Creek in those days. I’d never met the guy. I went and hit him up for a job. He says, “Are you a miner?” I said, “No.” And he said, “ Well, we’re mining ore out here, if you’re not a miner, you’ve come to a pretty poor place looking for a job.” He kidded around and I said “I more or less came out here looking for a truck driving job.” He says, “We don’t have any trucks, we contract all of our hauling. We don’t have anything open on that.” He thought for a little while and he said, “ We have a survey crew going here, you might hit him up for a job. When he comes in this evening, I’ll tell him that you’re looking for a job.” He’s down there in Williams Trailer Court, so you go down there this evening and talk to him. So I did. And he said, “Yeah, I can use another man on the survey crew.” So I went out there probably about the first part of October, maybe a little earlier. I worked about a month on the survey crew, learned something about it. Then things had kind of taken off in the boom; a lot of staking claims. We were living out there at the Ranch House and this old boy that I was riding to work with everyday, he came out on Monday morning to pick me up. He said he didn’t know if I wanted to come to work out there or not – it was kind of raining a little, too. I was making a dollar seventy-five an hour working on the survey crew, about the best I’d ever made on a job, and get dinner – a big banquet every day. I said, “What’s the deal? Sure I want to go to work.” He said, “The engineer and I quit out there, we’re not going to work for Steen anymore. We’ll keep working on his mine, but the surveying has ended pretty much.” But the guy I was riding with and the surveyor went out on a Sunday and they staked 25 claims near there. He says, “If you want to go out there and put up the back corners on those claims today, we’ll pay you the same money as we’ve been getting on the Steen’s job.” So we went and put the back corners up but they hadn’t recorded the claims yet. By the time we got the corners staked in they decided to cut me in on the claims. I didn’t know if that was good or bad because I’d heard so much about guys fooling around in uranium claims. A lot of them didn’t make much money on it. They didn’t have any money to pay me anyway, so they put me in as a payday. So things got to be pretty tight because we didn’t have any income coming in. So they put the claims up for sale about the middle of December. We heard that H. B. Hunt had come in from Texas, the multi-millionaire, and he had an office set up on Main Street. He sent a guy in to run his office, to buy claims, to get involved in the uranium business. So we went down there, his name was John Wilcox. He was pretty tough to deal with. I didn’t have much to say about it because I didn’t know much about mining and such. But this guy I rode back and forth to work with, he was quite a talker. Finally told him what we had. In the meantime we’d staked a lot more claims, too. “Well,” he said, “I’ll give 25 dollars a claim and we held a ten percent royalty on them. It ended up just before Christmas I got around $1200. Each one of us got $1200 on the claims from the Hunt Oil Company. That’s the most money I’d ever seen in one bunch.

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