Oral Histories

John William (Jack) West


Jack West

Business was good and, at that point or maybe a couple of weeks later, about the middle of March, I arranged with the company to make me officially the bulk plant person, the wholesale distributor. We got out from under that deal with I. Sander but by then Sander had ordered a couple of trucks. When this thing blew up, they were available; a couple of Ford trucks, one with a 2,000 gallon tank, and one with a 1,500. So I was immediately into business.

The sad part of all of this, including our move down here, was the fact that Mother was pregnant when we moved down. While I was here, I got a call at the end of about the first month here, I’ve forgotten the exact date. But I got a call, and she had started hemorrhaging and they had taken her to the hospital. Prior to my even arriving back in town, they had done a C-section on her and removed the baby. It was the only way they could save her from bleeding to death. It would have been a boy. She was about five months pregnant when they did this. That kind of put a damper on things for a while. But she recovered rapidly, thank the Lord. She did real well, and was in good shape physically when we moved into the home, thank the Lord, she helped, had a lot of work to do. So, that was the worst part of the whole deal.

During the time I was here, those two and a half months before we moved down, I went home every weekend. I was back in Provo, and even during that winter, boy, between January and February, I went home through some blizzards. But, it was too bad about that.

Taking over the bulk plant was quite a venture because Charlie Steen had discovered his big uranium claim in ‘52. By the time we got here, the town had gone from about 1,200 people up to about 10,000, the town and the valley. Everyone was here to make a buck. A big part of them were miners and prospectors. Of course, McDougald actually got the bulk of the business. The company didn’t think he could. They thought Standard Oil was too big. But we still had plenty to do. We started out with a lot of deliveries out to the mines, small mines, promoters, and a lot of the trips were just spectacular. It was better than being a tourist. We had trips into Lisbon Valley, that’s out where Charlie’s discovery was. We did a lot of trips into the La Sals and a lot of them were on roads that were just practically trails with those big trucks. We had some rough going. The road up the river at that time hadn’t been really gravelled or graded, and when we first came, just above the river bridge in the high water during spring, we had to go through water at least a foot deep to get up towards Castle Valley and up to those areas when we had to make deliveries up there. One of the main areas up there was up to Polar Mesa. About that time, they were working on Castle Valley road, because I delivered the diesel and gasoline to the contractors there. But, it was really rough. Then from the head of Castle Valley, it was just a dirt road on up into Polar Mesa. I don’t know how the equipment hung together. It was so rough, those roads.

But I remember one trip especially. It was in the winter, it was in January and I was taking the load up to Polar Mesa. Bill was working for me then. Bill Nick had come down and was working for me and, for some reason, I was going up and doing it. He was doing something else. I went early in the morning so it would be frozen and I got just off the head of Castle Valley onto the old road and spun out. It was covered with ice. Of course, that big truck had big duels on. We had twin double chains to go over that whole mess. That was a major job to install those. But, as soon as I spun out, I knew I had to put ‘em on. I got learn them out, got under the truck and the first thing I did under there, before I even got the chains straightened out, was cut my head on a bracket that was holding the fender, and the blood was starting to run down the side of my head into my eyes. I didn’t have anything, not even a clean rag to wipe it off with, which was ridiculous, but I got it under control and fought through that mess, got those on. Well, each chain would weigh 50-60 pounds, and you know how hard it is to untangle chains and get ‘em on. But I did it and made the trip. I had to leave them on all the way up to Polar Mesa and back, got up on the top, and the snow was about 4 feet deep. They had created the road with their own little graders to get to the different mining locations. But that was the type of adventure we went through to get these deliveries made. Then as part of that same rough deal, we had to make some deliveries through La Sal, up into some mining and logging country. Boy, those were rough, but we made it.

One time, one of the guys drove up to where Pugh Stocks was doing some contouring for the Forest Service, up behind the La Sals. He got up there to the delivery, but got stuck. He just couldn’t get out. Pugh hooked onto him with his big tractor and they had no sympathy for equipment, those Stocks guys. He had a big Cat and various equipment up there. By the time Dale Swanson got back, the front bumper had been torn completely off and all banged up. But he made it and we got the bumper back on, got things organized. That’s the type of deliveries we had to make. Then, during this process, while this same boom was on, they were down working on the potash. The potash had been blocked out and they started working on the mill down there. It was for the drillers before that, Pennsylvania Drilling came in to help block out the potash and I had to make deliveries to them. There was a road down the river on the other side, but to go that twenty miles it would take over two hours. It was so tough. Sometimes it was out just to where you couldn’t even get down through there. There was water up over in some spots. It was just across the talus so we would have to go over clear on out on Big Flat and down Shafer Trail and then come into Pennsylvania Drilling from that side. Boy, those were some rough trips. Those big truck around Shafer Trail, you had to back up two or three times to make it. One particular trip that I can think of at the moment, Bill made it and Jim was along with him and it was wet and slippery. I guess it was both directions. Bill had Jim get out and walk because if the truck went over the side, Bill was hoping he could jump quick enough to save himself. But we had a lot of that.

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