The Marbles of Life
When Eldon Miller was 16 years old he got a job at the old town of Royal working as a "handyman's helper." Each morning on his way to work his father would drop him off about an hour before Eldon needed to start work. He spent that hour walking up and down the road, looking at the scenery and watching the cars go by on Highway 6-50.
"I saw a lot of out-of-state license plates going by and I decided then that I wanted to see a lot of those places," he said in a recent interview.
And he has.
Miller has led a varied life. From being a "nipper" in the coal operation in Hiawatha, to being a Master Sargeant in the U.S. Army (in which he served twice) and then an elementary school teacher in Little Rock, Calif. he has seen many of those places and more.
Born in Sandy while his mother was visiting her mother on a reprieve from a life in California, Miller, who is known locally for his work on collecting and substantiating the history of Carbon County, came into the world a curious soul. And his early life never left him in one place very long, so his curiousity grew.
"I never finished one year of school living in one place as a kid," he said. "My father used our place in Clawson as a base and then he would get a job somewhere else and we would move there for a few months."
Seemingly it was not the best scenario for a boy. Yet he can't imagine ever having better parents than Dutch and Julia Emmaline Miller. Dutch followed the coal contracts to make a living and even took jobs in places like Wyoming and northern Utah to try other things. But the family always seemed to gravitate back to coal country.
"I lived in Standardville, Helper, Price, Clawson, Castle Gate, Hiawatha, Wellington, Sunnydale, Alpine and Rock Springs, Wyo. as a child," he said. "And in some of those places I lived there two or three seperate times."
Marbles came into his life as a young boy and with that, and boxing as games and sports, he found something that would stick with him for the rest of his life.
"Boys in those days would find their marbles gone because their fathers would take them and lose them in a game just like the kids did," he said. "I'd get marbles and then my dad would lose them."
Miller said he always had calluses on his knuckles and on his knees from kneeling to shoot marbles. He also said he learned an important lesson in school despite the fact his attendance at any one building was short term.
"You learned to never count your marbles in class because you could lose them just as easily to the teacher as you had to your dad," he said.
Boxing became a sport he participated in because there was little else to do. And it didn't hurt that in the old days of Carbon County his father, Dutch, had been a sparing partner of the great Jack Dempsey who often trained in the area.
"We were down by the confectionary in Spring Canyon one day and they put some gloves on us and we started to box," he states. "There was no ring or anything. I remember I got the tar kicked out of me by a girl one time. She was a bit older than me."
Compared to today, what coal miners' kids had was not much. Going to school he would wear gym shoes with holes in them, overalls and most of the time he hardly combed his hair. He did say his face, at least the front of it was always clean though.
"But behind my ears and down my neck were not," he stated. "Not until my mother got ahold of me and then it got clean."
Once he got past elementary school things started to change. Of all the places he lived he loved Hiawatha the most and those years there at that age were some of the best times.
"It didn't matter where you came from or what your national origin was, in that town everyone was family," he said.
When his father wanted him to go back to Clawson for the summer of his 15th year he instead decided to take a job at the Hiawatha boarding house in the kitchen where he learned to be a fry cook.
"I remember I worked for Harold Gates, who was a great guy," he said. "But in my room at the boarding house he had the lamp by my bed rigged up to wake me very early in the morning and he'd turn that on and tell be to get up and go to work."
He spent the ninth grade at Price Junior High and as he became 16 that wanderlust in him struck again and again. He convinced his mother to sign a document that swore he was 17 and soon he found himself in the U.S. Army and bound for Fort Ord, Calif. for basic training.
"I joined the Army because one of my friends said that when you put that uniform on the women just flock to you," he said. "They didn't."
Part way through basic training he got appenticitis and was in the hospital for 15 days. Then they sent him home on a three day pass. Soon he was back at basic, but had missed so much that they made him go through the entire thing again. Then it was off to Korea, but his time there was before the war started in 1950.
"We were working hard to teach the people about democracy," said Miller. "Then they sent me to Japan to fill out my enlistment."
Miller came out of the Army in the summer of 1949 and headed right back to Hiawatha. He found a job through Tom Jackson, the mine superintendent.
"He had known me as a kid and sent me $5 for Christmas while I was in the Army, That was a lot of money then," he stated.
Miller worked at the mine on the Material Gang until March of 1951. Again the lure of a uniform caught his eye. But this time he was going to be more than a company clerk, he was going to be a paratrooper.
"I thought going into the airborne would impress girls," he said. "All it did was give me the biggest scare of my life."
Once trained, to qualify for the extra pay of being airborne he had to make a jump at least every three months. The first five jumps were never much of a problem but then something happened that put his heart in his throat.
"A good friend of mine, a sergeant, jumped out of a plane got wrapped up in his chute and fell to his death," he said. "I was scheduled to make my sixth jump the next week and after hearing about that all I could imagine was it happening to me."
He agonized over the upcoming event until he almost made himself sick. Then he prayed and asked for guidance about the situation.
"It's funny but the minute I did that, I stopped being scared," said Miller reverently. "The jump went off well and in fact the rest of the jumps I did (11 in total) went well."
Soon he found himself applying for recruiting duty and with his office skills he had acquired in his first tour of the Army, they made him the head of a departmental recruiting station in Raliegh, N.C. He spent two years there with pleasant memories of that placid city. That was except one.
"There was a hurricane coming up the coast and I had been assigned by the Army to stay in place and report how the storm was progressing as it passed through Raleigh," he said. "My office was by the state capitol building and they had these big trees that lined both sides of the road leading up to it. I was going to park my car on that road but decided not to. The next morning when it got light we looked out and every one of those trees were in the street. My car wouldn't have survived."
He got out of the Army in 1955 and went, again, back to Hiawatha. It was then that he met Carole Gordon, his boss at the mine's daughter and they were married.
He then went to work at the Kaiser Mine in Sunnyside where as a rope rider he unhooked cars from a tow cable. It was during that time that his first son Ben was born.
That year he also decide to reap the benefits of his military experience and join the local unit of the National Guard in Price. Soon an opening came there for a full time man to be the Administrative Supply Assistant and he took that job. Meantime he had been going to school at Carbon College as well. He eventually went to Officers Candidate School and became a Second Leiutenant.
It was about this time when his daughter Kathy was born.
He finished college at Carbon and then went to Southern Utah Teachers College in Cedar City (now Southern Utah University) and finished his bachelors degree in elementary education. During that time his daughter Laurie came along.
"While I wanted to stay in Utah, a California teaching position tempted me away," said Miller."In Utah a starting teacher only made $3,200 a year. In California they offered me $5,400."
The family of five drove to Little Rock, Calif. and got there late in the evening. They slept in the car that night behind a service station. When they woke up in the morning, Miller started to drive toward the home he had secured for them to live in while he was working there.
"Carole said 'We can't live here. I don't want to live here,' when she saw what surrounded the town," said Miller.
It was in the desolate Antelope Valley southeast of Lancaster. There were no trees at all. Considering she came from what seemed to many to be a desolate place (the eastern Utah desert) it took Miller back. He calmed her down.
"We'll only stay two years to get my teaching career off the ground," he said he told her.
Thirty-two years and two more kids later (Tim and Julia Jean) Eldon and Carole finally moved back to Carbon County.
While in California Miller taught everything from third grade to sixth grade and finally took on special education classes.
"I loved it and I loved the kids," he said.
For the next five years health problems plagued Carole; everything from asthma to heart problems. Then one day in 1995 while working for Americorp in Green River and at a luncheon that was being held there his boss came to him and told him that Carole had been rushed to the hospital because of an asthma attack, but that her heart had given out just before she reached Castleview Hospital.
"As I drove back to Carbon County I went through all the phases a grieving person goes through, from anger to grief," he said. "By the time I got back I found myself in mode of comforting others."
Within that next year one of his sons got a divorce and moved back home with Miller. He encouraged him to go to church functions to meet another woman and Miller would go with him.
"I was the one that found someone else and got married instead," said Miller.
There he became aquainted with Arlean Crawford another single senior whom he has slightly known during his days attending Carbon College. They were married in 1996.
Today Miller is known for his work with the Carbon County Historical Society and his dedication to the Boy Scouts. He has been working as a scout master or in some other capacity for 56 years. Presently he is the Troop 472 committee chairman and a district commissioner for the organization.
He also has a huge bottle of marbles he found in a second hand shop years ago in Las Vegas when coming back to Utah to visit during summer breaks. He said he spied it and saw a lot of marbles in the jar that looked like the ones his dad lost for him when he was a kid. He bought it even though the guy wanted a lot of money for it.
"It just goes to prove that I never lost all my marbles because I found them again," said Miller in his normal humorous way.