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Front Page » July 17, 2003 » Carbon Senior Scene » Mr. Columbia: Pressett recalls historic community
Published 4,463 days ago

Mr. Columbia: Pressett recalls historic community

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the Columbia TipplE operated near East Carbon by U.S. Steel coal mines for 44 years.

Carbon county was built by many powerful men but few have the historical background and impeccable memory of the early mining operations like Jack Pressett. He recently spoke to the Carbon County Historical Society about coal camp highlights from the Columbia mine near East Carbon.

Jack's story goes back 80 years, born in Sunnyside in 1923 and between him and two of his brothers they spent a combined 115 years of employment with U.S. Steel coal mine subsidiaries at Columbia. He began working as a pump man for the mine, pumping water into the town of Columbia right out of high school. Besides a three-year stint in the Marines, Jack was employed continuously for Columbia mine over half of his life, retiring when the mine closed in 1985.

This is only part of his incredible story. Jack is writer, a teacher and a dedicated historian. His notes, photographs, newspaper clippings and records of the history of Columbia and its successful mining operation is impressive. Numerous scrapbooks and articles trace the growth, track the progress and record the workers through a colorful period of Carbon County history. In the height of its mining operation Columbia employed over 1,000 men in the early 1950's.

The greatest and most important part of the story of Columbia is how it came into being as a productive coal mine operation. This involoves a man by the name of L.F. Rains, founder and developer of Columbia and the basic steel industry in Utah. Pressett has handwritten notes from Rains tracing his steps from the very beginning.

Rains was an engineer and considered an expert in coal mining operations. According to Pressett's accounts, Rains was traveling by rail from Denver to Wyoming and began talking to the president of a Salt Lake City bank. The Utahn talked endlessly about the coal deposits in Carbon county and suggested that Rains investigate the potential in Utah. While in Wyoming, Rains befriended a mine manager named T.C. Harvey who indicated an interest in the project should it amount to anything.

That was the beginning of Columbia. Rains realized that Utah not only had vast natural resources but was strategically positioned to become a steel producing state. Rain's plans included an iron and steel-making facility in Springville and Provo with supporting facilities built in Cedar City. Plans also include the limestone and dolomite facility in Payson. All these raw products would be smeltered into iron and pig iron which would be shipped to Los Angeles, Calif. and San Francisco, Calif. for making steel products and structures.

Plans fell into place as Rains and his newly formed Utah Fuel Company was instrumental in getting a railroad spur from the top of the main line to Columbia. He also created Carbon County Railroad, a subsidiary railroad of U. S. Steel.

Water was a major issue. He worked extensively with the Van Wagoner family to secure water for his community and also made a deal with a goat man named Nick Galanis. Pressett was well aware of the water situation because it was his first job out of high school as a pump man and guard, working under Bill Lines.

By this time Mr. Harvey from Wyoming was working at Sunnyside and was hired by Columbia to take over the development of the underground mine, town site, and all necessary facilities for a highly productive coal mine. He began hiring in December of 1924.

It is interesting to note that Harvey was the first superintendent and his grandson, Joe Harvey was the last superintendent when the mine was closed in 1985. Joe's son is currently president of Continental Coal Company in Pittsburgh, Pa.

Lucille and Jack Presset at home in Price, him wearing his hardhat from the Columbia mine days and she holding one of the newer lights that were used in the Columbia mining operation.

In Pressett's presentation to the historical society he pointed out several points that made Columbia a unique community and mine. It was one of the first mining communities that had running water and indoor plumbing as early as 1923. The claim was that at one point Columbia was the most modern mining community in the States.

The second characteristic was common to Carbon county mines and that was the selection of hard working immigrants to work the mines. Top employees were picked from a group of immigrants from Japan, Austria, Greece, Italy, Mexico, Wales and Ireland. According to Pressett, "it made an integrated community with almost all the majority cultures of the world."

These people lived in tents and tar papered homes to start with and, "they were destined to be company orientated traders at the company store which was operated by F. Anselmo and Louis Veltri," recalls Pressett.

People were paid script that could only be used at the company store. The community planned, by the company was to be built in a short order, they were to be modern homes with indoor plumbing and central heating.

The community of Columbia grew and developed, "as all American communities did with great community spirit and a good school system," states Pressett. "If I were to give you some of the highlights of the character of the community I would say that these foreign workers were extremely interested in their children having a better life than they had with far fewer hardships and more and more education."

He told the historical group that, they really believed that education was the means to a greater and better future.

As a result there were a very high percentage of Columbia students that attained a high academic background and went to college and became excellent citizens.

Amongst the Columbia group are doctors, lawyers, engineers and dentists.

Growing vegetables

One of T. C. Harvey's philosophies was that if miners worked in the coal mines for eight hours a day, they missed the necessary sunshine that is neccesary for a sufficient amount of vitamin "D" in the body.

Harvey was the first superintentent at Columbia and he encouraged all his coal miners to have fresh vegetables in order to get the necessary vitamins and good value to maintain a good healthy body and not miss work because of illness.

"This was an interesting philosophy and proved to be a very effective means of keeping people healthy, thus a good strong vigorous work force," says Pressett.

Columbia was not a very good place to have gardens. Pressett pointed out that the primary surface was rocks and lots of them. Therefore anyone deciding to have a garden had to bring in topsoil from under cedar trees located in the flats. "This was often done by taking powder boxes and every member of the family filled one box and carried it on his or her back up to their homesite," explained Pressett.

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July 17, 2003
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