1964: Inferno destroys Helper Central, river of flames in Price
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 1891.
The year started off with charges by the United Mine Workers of America that the Utah State Industrial Commission was at least partially at fault for the death of nine men in a mine explosion that took place at the Carbon Fuels Mine in Hardscrabble Canyon in the middle of December, 1963. Early in the year the UMWA started to point to a bad inspection record that led to the disaster. At the time the state had just released a report on the mess, and said that the explosion took place because of methane gas that was present in the mine when a cutting machine sent sparks into the air setting off the blast. In late January, Utah Gov. George Clyde replied to the criticism he had seen by saying such charges were "unqualifiably false."
In early February, the Green River Missile Base fired the first rocket (called "Loki") of many to come. The base which had been recently completed would test rockets for numerous years with the intention of them impacting at the White Sands Missile Base in New Mexico. At the time 77 launches were planned over the next 18 months. But the Athena program of launches didn't always go well as was evidenced by the first firing of that kind of missile the next week. The missile, launched from Green River, impacted somewhere in the New Mexico desert after its perfect takeoff. This halted the program temporarily. Another missile try also failed after some corrections had been made later in the spring. Finally in July a third Athena launched from Green River made it the 450 miles to White Sands right on target.
In March, Carbon College announced that it was cutting its football program because of high costs related to a relatively small number of from the program. Students were told that if they had football scholarships for the following year, those scholarships would be honored, but that the school would play no intercollegiate football.
Another mine disaster hit in June when a rock fall from the top of a mine ceiling killed two at Kaiser's No. 1 Sunnyside Mine. Killed in the cave-in were Leland Huntsman, Castle Dale and Morris Marzon, Price. Rescue efforts for the two men were curtailed initially when a bounce hit just before rescue crews started to dig into the rubble. One other man, Phil Pero, Price, was nearby but was not seriously injured. A week later three other men were injured in another bounce in the same mine when they were covered by rubble only 50 feet from where the earlier deaths occurred. They were buried for more than two hours.
In July construction was started on a relay tower to bring the signal of the University of Utah's television station, KUED, to people in Carbon County. The tower was constructed on Ford Ridge, northwest of Price. The cost of bringing public television to the area was planned to be shared by three counties (Carbon, Duchesne and Uintah).
The end of July also brought "Al" the Allosaurus to completion in the Carbon College Prehistoric Museum. "Al" was prepared at BYU and brought by truck to the museum for assembly earlier in the summer. The event of the Allosaurus' coming out party was also reported with photos in Life Magazine and was recorded by researchers in the Encyclopedia Britannica.
August brought a huge fire in Helper that burned down the Helper Central Elementary School. The fire was discovered early in the morning on Aug. 24 and by sunrise only three exterior walls of the building were still standing. The roof fell in only a half an hour after the Helper Fire Department got to the scene and by which time the Price Fire Department had also arrived. The school, originally built in 1910, was undergoing some extensive remodeling inside in preparation for the start of school in September. The project was nearly completed. The building was a total loss at a cost of about $300,000. The fire had definitely started in the attic, but a recent remodel on the electrical system pretty much ruled out an electrical cause. A police check a half hour before the fire was discovered showed that all doors were closed, but as the fire was progressing it was discovered that a cellar door was open. This had happened after the police check. Immediately the district started to decide where students would be "farmed" out until a new building could be completed. Later in the year the board proposed a bond election for $2.5 million to not only build a new school in Helper, but also a new elementary school in Price and to finance the eventual construction of what is today Mont Harmon Junior High to replace the old Price Junior High.
In October the ground was broken for a rebuilding of the old road through Price Canyon. Over the years the old Highway 6-50 had taken its toll on may eastern Utah residents. It's high and windy turns were often the cause of accidents particularly when traffic was heavy or the weather was bad. The contractor to do the work was the H-E Lowdermilk Company of Englewood, Colo. At the time it was projected that the road would be closed for two years, until sometime in 1966. The Willow Creek Canyon Road (then known as U-33) was going to be used as the by-pass to Emma Park where people could go around the construction. Before the construction began $500,000 was spent to improve U-33 and the Emma Park Road so it could be used as the detour.
A fire of a different type hit Price in November. A tanker truck with 8,700 gallons of condensate drip gas traveling west on Main Street began to burn. At the time it was believed that somehow when the truck driver began to brake coming down the hill into Price just above 400 East, a line for the tanks broke and flowed the condensate into the brakes that were being applied. Immediately the truck broke into flames. The driver, Kent Cahoon of Bountiful jumped out of the truck and ran to Cook's Velvet Freeze to warn the people standing there ordering food and the employees in the building. An employee of the drive-in, Elsey Williams, ran next door to the house occupied by Crystal Guymon and warned her and some visitors about the fire that was erupting. Ms. Guymon was confined to a wheel chair and the three people there helped her out of the house as the fire reached the front door of the residence. The condensate ran down the street in the gutter with flames flowing all the way to 400 East. The fire was so hot that fire fighters had a hard time even approaching the fire to fight it. Total damage to the truck and structures was estimated to be at about $65,000.
Finally at the end of the year, Governor George Clyde approved the construction of a Job Corps Camp about two mile south of Price. Part of President Lyndon Johnson's War on Poverty, the Job Corps was established to train underprivileged boys, age 16 to 21. Camps were built across the nation during those years, with youth from many urban centers were sent to those camps in various areas, usually not in relation to where they were from.