“Chasing the Uranium Dream–Moab in 1955, Remembered”…by Brett Huelen

EDITOR’S NOTE:  While researching the internet about former Grand County Sheriff Hector Bowman, Mr. Brett Huelen ran across The Zephyr  website. Brett and I exchanged several emails and I knew I needed to share some of his wonderful tales. Here are Brett Huelen’s recollections of Moab and southeast Utah, in a different time and a different world…JS

Hanksville general store.

Hanksville general store.

We moved to Moab in 1955–chasing the uranium dream with a brand new 1955 Dodge Power Wagon, pulling a 24′ Boles Aero travel trailer and a 1951 Willys CJ3 with a little military jeep trailer.  We initially prospected in the Circle Cliffs area where my Mother discovered a small deposit of carnitite.  She was using a Geiger Counter or scintillator and watched the needle practically bend in two when it pegged out! 

We moved off the desert in the fall of 1955 when my brother Jeff and I were forced to begin school.  We initially lived in the old P&W trailer park adjacent to the Apache Motel.  My father Bradley also worked as a real estate broker in town and owned the old one-horse Maverik gas station.  As I recall he later sold it to Carl and Patsy Tangren. 

The petrified log which had a high concentration of carnotite.  You can barely see it at top center of photo indicated by faint arrow.  Located in the Capitol Reefs area.

The petrified log which had a high concentration of carnotite. You can barely see it at top center of photo indicated by faint arrow. Located in the Capitol Reefs area.

My brother was working at Arches National Monument, for Bates Wilson, and was dating Bates’ daughter Cindy.  As I grew up I worked at many of the surrounding ranches in Castle Valley (for the McCormicks and Shumways), Fisher Valley (D.L. Taylor had just gotten out of the Army) and lastly on the Dugout Ranch for the Redds until such a time I began to realize that the rear-end of a shapely young girl was enormously more attractive than the same aforementioned part of a cow. 

Henceforth I decided to pursue other interests!  I graduated with honors from Grand County High School in 1967.  Okay that’s a bit of a stretch, actually I was honored to have made it through the 12 years with a solid C+ average! 

Unfortunately with my budding driving career challenged frequently by the local Moab police department and the State Patrol, I was encouraged by Judge Crist to seek employment in the United States Army.  I presented my draft notice to Judge Crist and he was gracious enough to return my drivers license as I left town in 1968. 

Dad, me and Jeff at the claim eating breakfast.  I remember eating cereal out of those little cereal boxes.  You used to open it up and pour in the milk.  Looks like we actually had the privilege of using a bowl this time.  To this day I still don't care for powdered milk.

Dad, me and Jeff at the claim eating breakfast. I remember eating cereal out of those little cereal boxes. You used to open it up and pour in the milk. Looks like we actually had the privilege of using a bowl this time. To this day I still don’t care for powdered milk.

Shortly before this happened, a friend and I decided to go to the Grand View Drive-In to watch a double feature presentation.  We had persuaded an older (over 21) friend of ours to buy a couple of cases of long neck (3.2) Coors Beer for us, which we proceeded to dedicate our best effort to polishing off before the end of the second movie.  We were somewhat conscious at the end of the movies and decided to drive around a bit to sober up. 

My brother Jeff and my sleeping arrangement at the claim with our 1951 Willys CJ3.

My brother Jeff and my sleeping arrangement at the claim with our 1951 Willys CJ3.

At that time I had an old 1960 Oldsmobile and after rolling down all the windows we took off down the river, passing Mountain View Subdivision.  Somewhere after that I ran off the left side of the road, overcorrected and launched off the right side of the road like….wait for it….a rocket!  Perhaps in a likeness to the cherished Oldsmobile?  I recall in extremely slow motion the jarring, crashing, engine over-revving and drifting out over my buddies lap as I was ejected out the passenger window space. 

Luckily neither one of us was injured seriously and we made it back to town, showered and, after calling another friend, we went to the Westerner Grill to drink coffee, sober up, and have some of their great chili. 

PQ-HUELEN

We knew that Sheriff Bowman always stopped there for coffee and had rehearsed a somewhat believable story of being run off the road by an nondescript vehicle.  When Heck came in I screwed up the courage to approach him and tell him what by now we had all come to believe!  We all piled into his cruiser and drove out to the scene.  After a short look Heck asked if we had been drinking and of course we vigorously denied it.  Heck turned around and looked at me, asked me if I had learned my lesson, to which I replied, “I sure have Sheriff Bowman”.  He said he wasn’t going to cite me and my fine would be whatever it cost to have the vehicle towed.  I sold the car back to Van’s body shop for the cost of the tow, which curiously enough was who I bought the car from in the first place.  Van couldn’t believe what had happened to his prized Olds.

My mother Barbara (with Geiger counter in hand) when she discovered the uranium deposit with Jeff and I.

My mother Barbara (with Geiger counter in hand) when she discovered the uranium deposit with Jeff and I.

I recall when the two fuel tankers caught fire and burned to the ground in front of the old Phillips 66 Bulk Plant.  We lived on the top of the hill directly behind the plant.  Dad always got quite a kick joking about the fact that we were higher in elevation than Charlie Steen’s house. 

I still  remember Tex McClatchy, who began the jet boat cruises on the Colorado.  Tex was one of my teachers in Junior High School on Center Street.  I later worked for Tex and generally helped around the landing and with whatever maintenance on his boats he would allow me to do.  As I recall, his smaller boats were running single 389 Pontiac engines, the next larger ones were running twin 327 Chevrolets and the big boat boasted three 409 Chevrolets. 

What a thrill it was for me when he would let me “man the helm” on the cruises down river.  I can’t think of a better place to grow up than in Moab back in those days.  I will always cherish that time in my life and the experiences I had.  Dark Canyon Lake was always a favorite place.  I used to hang out at Musselmans Rock Shop and museum quite a bit.  Still remember the Potash mine explosion at the Texas Gulf Sulphur Company in August 1963.  We sat outside our house and watched all the emergency vehicles running back and forth that night. 

My brother Jeff and my sleeping arrangement at the claim with our 1951 Willys CJ3.

Downtown Moab circa 1955.  I believe that is Dads' 1955 Oldsmobile making the turn.

Downtown Moab circa 1955. I believe that is Dads’ 1955 Oldsmobile making the turn.

Mother worked for awhile at the Uranium Mill as a receptionist in the leaner times.  I returned once in 1987 when I first came out of Alaska.  It was in July and I recall hustling to try and hurry to get the power connected so I could turn the AC on in our trailer. We stayed at the RV park across from the Dairy Queen.  After a short walk around town that evening, after it cooled down, it didn’t take long to see how much had changed. 

At daylight we were back on the road again and haven’t looked back.  I do want to make one more trip and show my new wife where I grew up.  I know that Castle Valley is now overrun with ranchettes and a far cry from what it used to be.  It looks as though Fisher Valley remains undisturbed and that is a good thing. 

  Dad with a load of ore in the Power Wagon before he drove over to the AEC collection site.  I don't recall exactly where that was at but remember we had to cross over on a ferry.

Dad with a load of ore in the Power Wagon before he drove over to the AEC collection site. I don’t recall exactly where that was at but remember we had to cross over on a ferry.

When I worked for the Taylors, D.L. had me out there with a little Ford tractor trying to dig irrigation ditches in the sagebrush.  I never seemed to be able to get it through his head that water generally wouldn’t run uphill.  Being a teenager might have had a little to do with that assumption and mindset.  I proceeded to get the Ford stuck in a mud bog, walked back to the ranch and fired up his brand new air conditioned John Deere, got that stuck as well and finally D.L. had to come out with a bulldozer to extricate both of them. 

We parted ways shortly afterward and I went to work for the Redds, where it seemed they had a better understanding of irrigation!  I always check in on the Moab website from time to time simply to reminisce.  After living so many years in Alaska and now in the Northwest I could no longer take the desert heat but I still have a soft spot for the red rocks.  It amuses me that four-wheeling has become a sport over there.  We did all of that as a matter of necessity back in the day.

A little south of town where we "squatted" until we were forced to move into town because of the cold weather.

A little south of town where we “squatted” until we were forced to move into town because of the cold weather.

We had some “mining” operations over near Hanksville..  I recall we had stopped there on the way and filled up our water tanks and bags.  Dad picked up a little gray kitten for us we promptly named Hank. My brother Jeff and I were teetering back and forth on a rock out near our claim and we didn’t realize that Hank had come over to keep us company and crawled beneath the rock and we crushed the poor little thing. 

Dad had built an outhouse out of pinion boughs so Mother could have a little privacy.  One afternoon she had gone in there and seconds later came screaming out the door.  A fairly good sized rattlesnake had crawled in there to escape the summer heat.  Dad killed the snake with a shovel and henceforth Mother always entered the outhouse with great trepidation. 

When Mother found the petrified log loaded with carnitite Dad drove back into town to buy some supplies.  They were hoping there was a forest of buried trees loaded with uranium but as things turned out it was only one huge tree.  Dad mined it all by hand, built an ore chute from 2×12’s to get it down the hill so he could load it into the Power Wagon and military Jeep trailer, then we hauled it over to a ferry and crossed the river to an AEC collection site and sold it. 

We relocated into P&W Trailer Park adjacent to the old Apache Motel.  We didn't even know what trailer trash was!  Later on we moved onto a small lot across the street from the old Westerner Grill.  I used to pick asparagus along the irrigation ditches and bring home for Mother to eat.  I could look across the field and see Musselman's Rock Shop from our trailer.

We relocated into P&W Trailer Park adjacent to the old Apache Motel. We didn’t even know what trailer trash was! Later on we moved onto a small lot across the street from the old Westerner Grill. I used to pick asparagus along the irrigation ditches and bring home for Mother to eat. I could look across the field and see Musselman’s Rock Shop from our trailer.

Another fellow I remember from back then went by the name of Lloyd Smith.  He was truly the old cowboy out at Dugout Ranch and kind of took me under his wing and taught me a lot.  It used to amuse me that we would ride up to the top of a hill to look for strays and Lloyd would take his glasses off to see better.  At the time it didn’t make much sense to me but now that I’m about what his age must have been I understand all too well! 

The Hanksville US Post Office.

The Hanksville US Post Office.

Another short story….My friend Eddie Harvey’s grandfather,  Fred Newman,  owned a small ranch/farm down on La Sal Creek.  Eddie and I would go down there often during the summer months to help out especially during the haying season.  Fred was fairly old at that time and worked at the Cash In Silver Mine as a watchman. 

We used to go down there and prowl around looking for anything interesting.  It was pretty scary going back into the mine and full of who knows what.  Our imaginations were running wide open.  One time on the way down there, we were driving Fred’s old flat hood Jeep pickup.  It was an honest-to-goodness rattle trap and, sometime during its hard life, someone had installed a Ford flathead V8 in it.  The brakes were pretty much nonexistent and any failing brackets had long ago been replaced by the time honored tradition of baling wire (something which has become a rarity). 

As an exception to the baling wire farm rule, the steering column was secured to the lower dash panel with what looked like old tennis shoe strings.  That was fine with us as long as it could be driven and we were off to the mine. 

Our prospecting outfit on the way to Moab!  A brand new 1955 Dodge C3PW Power Wagon pulling a new 24' Boles Aero travel trailer.  Dad had them mount a water tank on top to increase our water capacity.  Behind that is our 1951 Willys CJ3 pulling a military jeep trailer with a 300 gallon water tank.  The first night out of California Dad pulled off the highway onto what appeared to be firm sand.  He buried the Dodge to the axles in the morning trying to get out.  Then hitched the Jeep to the front end and buried that as well.  Finally got the Jeep out, disconnected the Boles and buried a "dead man" 12x12 timber in order to get the Power Wagon out.  Not sure how he got the trailer back out, must have winched it over to firmer ground and reattached it.

Our prospecting outfit on the way to Moab! A brand new 1955 Dodge C3PW Power Wagon pulling a new 24′ Boles Aero travel trailer. Dad had them mount a water tank on top to increase our water capacity. Behind that is our 1951 Willys CJ3 pulling a military jeep trailer with a 300 gallon water tank. The first night out of California Dad pulled off the highway onto what appeared to be firm sand. He buried the Dodge to the axles in the morning trying to get out. Then hitched the Jeep to the front end and buried that as well. Finally got the Jeep out, disconnected the Boles and buried a “dead man” 12×12 timber in order to get the Power Wagon out. Not sure how he got the trailer back out, must have winched it over to firmer ground and reattached it.

Since the old jalopy had very low gearing, brakes weren’t really all that essential.  After we got to the bottom of the canyon I was probably going a little faster than I should have and drifted off to the left a bit too far and started down towards the creek.  It was about 10 or 15 feet down the grade.  I reached over to try and engage the four wheel drive levers to stay on the road and at that moment the shoe strings broke and I wound up with the steering wheel in my lap and over we went, rolling upside down coming to rest in the creek. 

We were unhurt but afraid of what old Fred might do to us.  We hiked back to the ranch and drove a little Ford tractor back to the Jeep and tried to roll the Jeep back over onto its wheels.  We didn’t have enough weight on the front of the tractor so I had Eddie sit on the hood.  You should have seen the look on Eddie’s face as I turned the tractor into a mechanical bucking bull.  After a few unsuccessful tries with the Ford and Eddie’s unending screaming, we went back to the ranch for a bigger tractor but couldn’t get it started. 

My Dad showed up a short time later to take me home and I left Eddie to deal with it.  His granddad managed to roll the Jeep over, poured some oil in her and she fired right up and they drove it out of there slightly worse for wear.  I always thought it simply added a little more character, as those old Jeeps were built pretty tough.  I wouldn’t doubt that old Jeep is still down on that farm today.  The Newman’s were a good old time family and I became very close to them as I grew up.

 Our setup over in the Capitol Reefs after they "hit paydirt".

Our setup over in the Capitol Reefs after they “hit paydirt”.


Anyhow I had a wonderful time growing up in Moab, many great memories including filming the block buster movie Blue.  Actually it was simply a buster and fizzled at the box office.  I have a VHS tape of it just for nostalgic reasons.  I got to meet most of the stars and recall botching an action closeup that Yakima Canutt was directing.  After screwing up the scene twice, I found new work with their kitchen staff.  Perhaps that is why I excelled as a KP after I was drafted?  The Army must have seen a real pro at work and made extensive use of my skill during basic training. 
I still miss the old red rock country.  I spent a little over 20 years in the Army retiring in 1989, then another 21 years working on the Trans Alaska Pipeline retiring yet again in 2010.  I now live in Olympia, Washington and have returned to the old roots and am raising horses.  I guess I have come full circle. 
 

A picture of the Hulen's.  I'm the little guy in the middle.

A picture of the Hulen’s. I’m the little guy in the middle.

 

Brett Huelen moved to Moab in 1955 as a six year old.  He attended Helen M. Knight, and  Grand County Junior and Senior High Schools, graduating in 1967.  Brett worked on Ray Shumway’s ranch in Castle Valley, Taylor Ranch in Fisher Valley, and the Dugout Ranch for the Redd Family.  He was drafted into the US Army in 1968 and retired in 1989.  He returned to Alaska and worked another 21 years on the Trans Alaska Pipeline working at Pump Station #9 and lived in Delta Junction, Alaska.  Retired again in 2010, he relocated to Olympia, WA, where he currently resides with his wife Christine.

To read the PDF version of this article, click here and here.

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5 comments for ““Chasing the Uranium Dream–Moab in 1955, Remembered”…by Brett Huelen

  1. verla
    December 11, 2013 at 4:53 pm

    Really enjoyed your Moab story
    I have lived here forever my dad finally mining on Polar Mesa
    Along with his dad bro
    WE Lile and Sons later Lile Bros …mining and hauling own uranium
    Later HD Lile mining
    Couldn’t find a better place to live

  2. dave koshiol
    December 12, 2013 at 8:43 pm

    I was in class of 66 and lived there in64 and 65. Loved it there and have many exiting stories to tell. Went back once an want to go again.

  3. Charles Hudson
    December 15, 2013 at 8:22 am

    I remember my father spending long hours when i was a child.not in the 55 tho. it was in the 60’s . He was one of the few that found the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow. it was called the lisbon mine
    my dad was Jim L Hudson

  4. Jean
    January 6, 2014 at 10:04 pm

    Loved reading your article. My daughter was born in Moab. I remember the old goat man that lived by the river[Colorado]. His name was Jack Holly he had a one room house and raised goats and they were always in his house. . There was a man that had a jeep and lived up the la Sal mountains out of Moab, he had a dog named King that rode everywhere with him. We use to go to Buckeye lake in the La Sal mountains but it dried up. We picked Pine nuts and went to all the back roads. There was an old timer who live on the La Sal mountain and he made scrabble it is a fried cornmeal and kept his beer in the creek as the water was always cold. We always took pictures of the aspen trees in the fall as the bright yellow leaves and white bark was beautiful. Went on the raft on the river down to Anderson’s bottom. There is a cave tunnel, always thought it was a mine tunnel high on the cliff down the river road , we use to climb all the way up the high cliff and not tell anyone because we were not suppose to be there, it was dangerous when I stop and think about it. We hiked all over the Arches when there was no “stupid” laws and can’t do this or that”.I remember when the oil tanks exploded and the potash mine also. I remember Ray and Ethyl Scoville and castle valley. I remember going deer hunting, the meat was always so good, but after seeing the deer and their beautiful eyes I could not do it anymore, always say a prayer when shooting an animal for food, give thanks for it. Moab is a beautiful place go sit among the red rocks[hills] away from people and there will be peace there. Go to the ghost towns out of Moab. Taste the sage salt brush and pick the wild tea. I believe God took his time and painted the red rocks and the arches and the sand and water of Moab.

  5. bruce montgomery
    December 20, 2014 at 1:44 pm

    brett……just ran across this. Really great stuff about my relatives. Look forward to talking to you guys and seeing you sometime.

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