Oral Histories

Mitch Williams

b. 1916

Mitch Williams

After a while, the bus, airlines and Western Union wanted us to parcel out freight, sell tickets and be a Western Union office. We just grew and grew!

We decided to tap the European market to attract European tourists. I went to Germany to attend the fair of tour companies from allover the world -it was huge!

We were invited as a western rep, which was a very prestigious invitation! Eventually we got other to participate (not from Moab, but up North). They wanted us to promote the travel council. Mary didn’t speak German, but they spoke a little English. If she spoke very, very slowly, they could understand her. I never could go, but John went when he got older. There were people from all over -Italy, Ireland, etc. They all knew who Tag Along Tours was. It increased sales like we had hoped it would.

A guy from Japan was trying to get to Moab. He got to Phoenix, but couldn’t get from Phoenix to Moab, so we had to find a route to get him to Moab on a bus. If people were stranded in Grand Junction, we’d get them raced down to catch up with the trip. There were always lots of challenges!

Mary and I finally got old and I got sick. I had already had cancer and surgery in Grand Junction. I didn’t like my voice, but it eventually came back and I worked in the office. Then the cancer came back and I couldn’t work. Mary had to run it all herself, but it was too big a job, so we decided to sell it. It sold very fast to an American Mary met over in Germany.

We lived in Salt Lake City when we had to during my illness, then back to Moab -back and forth. The doctors were trying to save my vocal chords and larynx, but the cancer got too bad and I had to have them removed.

I had a friend named Earl Schaffer who became a fire fighter on a big steam engine called the “Challenger”. They had 2 drivers, one on each side of the engine. Those engines were huge! The front wheels would slide out enough to follow the tracks and make the sharp mountain curves. Then they went to diesels. Earl called me up and said, “If you’re going to drive this train, you better get here as quick as you can!” Mary was at the office and I had the housekeeper drive me down. The train was moving slowly, but I climbed up and jumped on. They sat me in the engineer seat and told me to hold it at 30 mph through the tunnel, which was 1 1/2 miles long. The pot ash railroad ran from the main line to the pot ash plant. I ran it clear up to the yard 7 miles! I had great pictures, but couldn’t find them. Earl was a really good guy and we liked each other very much. One of the greatest experiences of my life was running that train!

“Swanny” Kerby was a classmate of mine. He got the nickname “Swanny” because he sang “Swanny River Moon so much. Swanny was a cowboy all his life and his family was very poor. His dad had also been a cowboy and didn’t have much money, but somehow they made it through. He bought a piece of property in Moab. One end was swampy, but they used the other end for cowboy stuff. He donated the land and they built seats so people could watch the cowboys practice their rodeo stuff. Swanny got into the business of bucking broncos and bulls. He bought more land up north to put the horses and cattle on. He had prize Brahma bulls (rough buckers) and he could demand premium price for their use in rodeos. His wife grew up on a cattle ranch. He’s probably a rich man now. The City renamed the park from City Park to Swanny Park. I was tickled to death that they renamed it because Swanny had donated the land.

We started a school newspaper when I was a freshman. There was a contest to name it. A girl put in the name “The Sage”. It had a double meaning 1) wise man and 2) sagebrush. I was made the joke editor. I didn’t know if I was the joke or if I was supposed to put jokes in. I’d find jokes to fit the local scene and put ’em in. I put in one story about how Swanny Kerby ran seven head of cattle down the river and back again. People laughed their heads off. Swanny wanted to know how I knew he had seven head of cattle. I told him that I just picked a number .

Swanny and I went down to brand his yearling calves. We rode on trails where the highway now goes to the potash plant. It was very remote back then. We went up on the rim of Bootleg Ridge and saw Corona Arch. I took pictures. Swanny stood in the entrance to a cave we found and I took a picture. I still have it and it turned out really good.

We went to Williams’ Bottom where Dad had a ranch between 1900 and 1910. Michael Kelsey (a writer) wrote guide books and didn’t know how to write about Williams’ Bottom. He put a wonderful picture of my father in one of his books and ended up writing a wonderful book about the area. My father because an excellent boatman navigating through Williams’ Bottom.

When Swanny and I came back, we went over the top of what is now called Poison Spider Mesa. The trail we used to get up there is just about the place where the Colorado River leaves Moab valley (The Portal) at the beginning of the Grand Canyon. It was called the “Narrow Trail” and it is narrow! It would scare you to death! We got off our horses and led them along. It was too dangerous and scary to ride with the cliffs. We traveled quite a few miles to get back to the river bottom and then, only less than a mile from Williams’ Bottom, we followed the river to the bridge and crossed the bridge into Moab. It was very wild country and I admire those old time cowboys so much! I had uncles and other relatives who were cowboys. I used to spend time at Uncle Lee Larsen’s place (my mother’s brother) and Uncle Roy Larsen who also went up to La Sal. Uncle Lee was there before Uncle Roy came over to Moab in about 1897 -1898 and they brought Albert Beech with them. They came from Molen, Utah six miles east of Ferron, Utah. Many of Mom’s relatives lived in Ferron, Utah.

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