Oral Histories

Rolly Thompson

b.1930

Rolly Thompson

Q: Did you try the mining itself?

A: No, I would just get a job with somebody else. Hire on and work through the winter. Down in the mines it didn’t matter what time of year it was.

Q: Where were the mines located?

A: Most of the ones I worked at were at Four Corners.

Q: Down in the Four Corners area of the state?

A: Right outside here they called it Four Corners. Four Corners Mining Company. I don’t know if they had mines down there or not but I never was down there. They just had mines down below Moab.

Q: You didn’t have to travel very far?

A: No, I worked right here close.

Q: How many years did you do that?

A: I think it was two winters that I worked in that. Got hurt both times. I didn’t go back after that. I worked for the missile base until they closed her down.

Q: How many people from Green River do you think worked there?

A: I would say it was a big percentage that worked out there except for a few uranium miners. I think the majority worked at the missile base.

Q: Did they bring in people from outside to do certain jobs?

A: There were quite a few people that they brought in, but I couldn’t tell you the amount. Most of them commuted from Moab or Price. There was no housing here. Some of them got trailers and brought them in, but most of them commuted back and forth.

Q: Where was the base located?

A: Right across the river on the Elgin side. Those metal buildings over there. That was the containment area. That was the first, where the maintenance was. Then they took over the old uranium mill. I don’t know whether the same company still has it or not. I worked there for six months before they closed it down. Then they built other buildings, storage buildings, and second stage assembly buildings and stuff like that. If you drive out there, there are quite a few buildings out in that area.

Q: You worked in electric and refrigeration?

A: In the maintenance over electrical refrigeration.

Q: What did your job consist of? What did you actually do?

A: Well, that type of work was everywhere. They called in if they had a refrigeration unit go bad. We had sites all over. We had sites as far as Mt. Taylor, New Mexico, that we maintained from this area. We’d have to travel and do what needed to be done. A lot of times they were ready to fire and one of the units would go down. Maybe a relay would go down and you’d have to sit there with a screw driver and hold it in and keep that refrigeration unit going until they fired that shot.

Q: While they were firing the missile?

A: Yes, to make sure it didn’t go down.

Q: How many fellows were on your crew?

A: Generally, I was over most of the maintenance, but there were probably about six guys directly under me.

Q: What was the goal? Why were they shooting missiles?

A: I guess it’s alright to talk about that. Before they got the shuttle, the Athena went up into orbit and came back down in from Green River to White Sands. It went out into orbit and then re-entry. That’s how they tested all the stuff that they needed for re-entry until they got the first space shuttle up there.

Q: Was everything out of here the Athena rockets?

A: Well, they had Athena and they had Athena-H that they shot from here. They had re-done a bigger missile, I don’t know why. Then they took it and went overseas somewhere. I never did try to follow it then. The Athena part was for re-entry stuff. A lot of the army and air force got data off from it too, to help them, but the reasoning for it was testing re-entry equipment.

Q: There were no bomb capabilities?

A: No, no, no, it was not a military vehicle at all. We also had a Pershing here; in fact, we built Pershing sites all over. They’ve got one here alongside the Athena base launch area. We had one in Wingate, New Mexico; and another I can’t think of right now.

Q: But none of these were a military or munitions type of thing?

A: The Pershing was definitely a training missile for the army. It was a short-range missile. And they would bring German people in and train them. They would bring a whole crew in. What we did for them, was to set up. We would set up their tents or their trailers or whatever they had and get them going and they would just bring people in. They would use them, they’d go back out, and then bring another bunch in, fire two or three missiles and then go back out. It was strictly training.

Q: Were there ever any accidents or major mistakes?

A: I understand that there was – it wasn’t an Athena – one Pershing went bad and lit somewhere in Colorado – in somebody’s field. That didn’t create too much excitement, but then they lost one that went into New Mexico. I guess they had one heck of a time. They had to even take trucks and barrels in there and everyplace it hit the ground they had to scoop it up and put in barrels and haul out of there. They thought it was contaminated, but it wasn’t.

Q: This carried no radiation or danger?

A: No, they were not warheads, they were dummies. Just for training, for timing and that kind of stuff. It came to when they were firing and in their countdown; if they got counted down to a certain point they could not shut it off. They would have to run out with an axe and cut the cable. When they cut the cable, they had a flapper on the bottom of the missile that would flap down over the top of the discharge. One of them in Blanding did that and you would think about blowing up a big balloon and turn it loose. That’s the way it went. It went this way and bounced and that way and bounced and then this way and, boy I’m telling you, everybody was….. you’d think that bunker wasn’t big enough for everybody as everybody would run for that bunker. It was just like we turned a big balloon loose.

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