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Front Page » February 8, 2011 » Carbon County News » 1943: Thefts, death, mayhem, fire and the legislature
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1943: Thefts, death, mayhem, fire and the legislature

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Editor's Note: This is one of a series of articles about the history of the Sun Advocate and the county it covers as a newspaper. These articles are being prepared in commemoration of the 120th anniversary of the newspaper's birth in 2011.

While 1943 rolled on, so did the news of Carbon County.

In early March a series of burglaries took place in the county with two different groups of people breaking into at least three businesses at the time.

One break in took place at the Price Theater in downtown Price on March 4 of that year. The thieves, who were arrested not long after the burglary, took over $400 in money and savings bonds/stamps after prying the safe in a second story office out of the wall and breaking through the bottom of it to obtain the loot. When apprehended the burglars, who had entered the building through a back door, admitted to their crime.

Break ins later in the week also took place at Carbon College (where criminals got no money) and a gas station. The thieves from the first robbery had already been apprehended and authorities knew that it couldn't be the same team of people, no matter how similar the crimes were.

That week also brought the story of a sailor who had returned on furlough from the Pacific war where the ship he was on was shot out from beneath him and 1200 other crew members in the battle of Rennel Island.

William Howard Campbell had been serving on the USS Chicago, a heavy Northhampton class cruiser that had been in San Francisco for repairs and restoration after seeing action in and around Australia and Guadalcanal in 1942. Back in the Guadalcanal area she was escorting a convoy on the night of Jan. 29 when Japanese aircraft attacked the group. Two Japanese planes, that came out of the night spotted Campbell's warship as it was illuminated by other planes that lay in the water burning after having been shot down. The Chicago was hit twice by torpedoes, and this caused some major flooding and a large amount of power loss on the ship. The crew corrected the list with some quick work and she was taken under tow by the USS Louisville (another cruiser of the same class). The next morning the fleet tugboat Navaho took over from the Louisville but by afternoon another Japanese attack was taking place. It was then that the death blow to the ship came and it was sunk with four more torpedoes. Survivors included Campbell and 1048 of his compatriots who went into the water. The ship had lost 56 enlisted men and six officers in the action.

"Mr. Campbell, fireman first class, stands tall and tanned in his uniform," stated the Sun Advocate. "His eyes were serious and experienced after four years in the service, and particularly aft this recent encounter."

The paper also noted "that the experience was of such a nature that he did not want to go through a similar one."

The burglaries noted earlier in the spring were nothing compared to another that took place in May however. On May 10, burglars broke into a Carbon County School bus garage that was located in the coal camp of Royal. Less than a year old, the bus parked there became more of a victim than just of a robbery when the thieves either accidentally or on purpose ignited a tipped-over gasoline can in the structure. The fire burned hot, and the bus was almost totally destroyed. Only one spare tire remained that was usable when the fire was out.

The fire was particularly bad because of the times: production of vehicles in the country had by that time entirely turned to making military machines and no more civilian equipment was being made. New cars and trucks for public consumption would not roll off assembly lines until 1946. The bus was irreplaceable. But only a couple of weeks later it was announced that the bus would be rebuilt with parts that had been found because of this very situation.

It was an example of a time to do with what you had and that included shoes too.

In mid-May shoe rationing was tightened up. It had been in place for some time, but because of the lack of leather and pure rubber, restrictions on buying shoes became greater than in the first year and a half of the war.

Death was also another known factor in the county as car accidents and one tragic farm accident took lives. The farm accident occurred when Floyd Gerber, 15, of Wellington, turned a wagon pulled by a team of horses onto a farm road and as he crossed the bridge there a wheel of the wagon slipped off a bridge which threw him from the wagon and into the team of horses. This spooked the horses which ran down the road. A brother to Gerber stopped the horses but by that time the young boy was dead.

Like now, the Utah State Legislature also met in the winter-spring. Today people often complain about the legislature and their message laws, so-called silly resolutions and their antics concerning everything from education to the press. It was no different 70 years ago. One introduced bill sought to remove property rights from certain groups of people (this was aimed at those of Japanese ancestry) and another was designed to take away the protection of many labor laws from minorities. While the political divisions between the parties was not as great as it is today (even though the Democrats dominated the legislature then) each time the news media took on the legislature there was a great gnashing of teeth.

At one point one of the Salt Lake newspapers editorially challenged the Republican senators with a "log rolling" deal in connection with the governor. The said senators spent a half an hour on the floor of the senate deriding the paper for its stand.

And there were also bills introduced that even pop up today, only to be defeated then and now. One in that session proposed by senators from Wayne, Juab and Salt Lake counties was to legalize horse racing and parimutuel betting in Utah. Nearly the same bill had been defeated in the session in 1941.

Obviously, as we all know today, that never passed, nor have a multitude of similar betting bills introduced in the last 70 years either.

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