Growing up in Castle Gate: For Mike Martinez, the small town offered big experiences. Now it's gone and part of history
Growing up in a small town can be a big difference from growing up in a big city. For one the population is smaller, there may be fewer businesses and the thought on the surface is that there may not be much to do. But for Mike Martinez, a former resident of Castle Gate, he appreciated all of the little things that a small town like Castle Gate had to offer.
Born in 1957 in Price, Martinez lived for the first 17 years of his life in Castle Gate. Throughout that time he can look back and remember the moments that helped make the experience of living in the small town one of the best parts about his life. He grew up in a family with four brothers and two sisters.
As he has gotten older, Martinez said he has grown to understand how all of the people who lived in the area played an important role in his life.
While he grew up and lived in Castle Gate for 17 years, Martinez for the first time shared his story and his experiences of growing up in the small town. The Carbon County Historical Society meets once a month and tries to arrange to have a guest speaker talk to the group about a topic. In Martinez's case, it was looking back and reminiscing about growing up in Castle Gate.
"This was my first time doing anything like this before," he explained of being a guest speaker. "But everything I said was the truth."
Ileen Gibbons, president Carbon County Historical Society, said the group is searching for more stories for Castle Gate and other towns for the group's historical journal, which is produced once a year.
"We're trying to get as many stories for the journal as possible," Gibbons said. "Everyone who comes to the meetings loves hearing about what people went through back in that time."
Listening to Martinez speak and seeing the people in the crowd interact and share their own stories of their experiences is exactly what the monthly meetings are all about, Gibbons said.
"It triggers a lot of memories from growing up," she said about the guest speakers.
While he grew up and had a unique experience himself, Martinez said he finds it interesting to hear about the stories of others. When he received the call from Gibbons about being a guest speaker for the historical society, Martinez said there was no way he could turn down the opportunity to share his story.
"I couldn't say no to sharing my story," Martinez explained. "It's kind of exciting sharing your story with others."
Gibbons said the Carbon County Historical Society wants to preserve the stories of people, such as Martinez, from the county in the journal before they fade with time.
"We want to get them down in writing before they're gone," she explained.
One of the experiences he remembers most was a train derailment that occurred many years ago. Martinez said he was about 8 to 10 years old when a train carrying watermelons, melons, cantaloupes and other fruit derailed near the town. He and his friends saw what was going on and went over to check things out. When they arrived at the scene, Martinez saw all of the fruit sprawled all throughout the area. So they decided to test out the fruit, Martinez said, as he remembers fishing pieces of melon from the river to eat.
Because he lived in a small town, Martinez and his friends had to come up with things to do. Long before the days of laptop computers, cell phones, video games and other modern electronic devices, Martinez and his friends spent time climbing around the hills, playing in coal piles, having snowball fights and many others.
He remembers watching friends climb onto the top of the church and launching snowballs at people passing by. To avoid being seen, the kids would run over to the other side of the roof and wait until the people walked away. It was just one of the things he and his friends would do to help pass the time.
Another activity Martinez and his friends would do was hitching rides with the trains going by near the town. Playing on and around moving trains is something Martinez said he would never advocate for the youth today because of the dangers they faced and the trouble they could get into. But nevertheless it was one of the things he and his friends did. In one particular instance, Martinez said one of his friends was on a train as it started to pick up stream heading out of the area. His friend had to jump off and was luckily escaped serious injury as they had to run away from the area to avoid getting caught. In another instance, one friend hitched a ride with a train and was taken on a trip a lot longer than he probably imagined, Martinez said.
"He had to call his parents from Grand Junction, Colo., and ask them to come pick him up," he laughed.
Like many other families, Martinez said his family dealt with some hardships while living in Castle Gate. His father dealt with some health issues and was out of work.
"There were some tough times," Martinez said.
But while there many challenges that were experienced over the years, the residents of Castle Gate helped each other out when it was most needed. One year during the Christmas holiday Martinez said his family was unable to have a Christmas celebration. While the situation looked grim, some residents of the town came together and helped the family make a Christmas celebration possible for Martinez and his family.
Watching residents in the town come together and help out his family was one of the moments that showed why living in Castle Gate was one of the best experiences of his life, Martinez said.
"Over the years I have realized how lucky I was to grow up with those people," Martinez said.
Today Martinez serves as the Chief Probation Officer at the Seventh District Juvenile Court. Before that he spent 20 years working as a deputy with the Carbon County Sheriff's Department.
On the job he comes across a lot of youth in the community who for various reasons end up going through the juvenile court system. In his conversations with them, one of the constant answers he hears from juveniles is that there is nothing to do here in the area. Martinez can only scoff at the response as he remembers how he and his friends had to work hard to find things to do.
"The kids today are not as creative as we were at the same age," Martinez said.
Gibbons, who has been involved with the historical society for 15 years including 10 as president, said the group is planning on taking a field trip to Castle Gate in August. It's just another way the group works hard to remember what life was like in earlier times and how the people and places have changed over time.
"We love the old history," she said.
The time spent living in Castle Gate will live on with him for the rest of his life, Martinez said. If everyone in Castle Gate never left and the town didn't close down, Martinez said he could still see himself living there with his family.
"If Castle Gate was still around, I'd want to live there," he said.