|A photo of the Utacarbon reportedly taken in the late 1930's when Union Oil owned the ship. It was scrapped in 1947.|
On a Sunday afternoon in April 1919, a drive was started to select a name for a United States Navy ship that would spread the story of Carbon County around the world for the 27 years.
World War I had ended six months earlier. But the U.S. was still in a ship building frenzy, still thinking of the future defense of the country and the residual political fallout of having fought in a world war was still evident.
The honor of naming a ship had been earned by the citizens of the county because more war bonds had been sold in Carbon than in any area of comparable size in the multi-state 12th federal reserve district during the Fourth Liberty Bond Drive. When that happened, the government gave the locality the right to choose a name for a new Naval vessel.
The money that put Carbon into the position was sizable at the time, especially for a county that was often considered poor in contrast to others in the district.
During the five bond drives conducted while the U.S. was engaged in the war, Carbon nearly doubled the "quota" of $187,000 dollars and raised more money than almost all Utah counties.
In fact, The Sun newspaper trumpeted at the time that "Carbon had saved the state of Utah from embarrassment."
Carbon's performance won the right to name the vessel being built in the Alameda shipyard in northern California. Presumably, the drive would conclude with a moniker affiliating the future oil tanker with the landlocked county in the middle of the western desert.
In the weeks preceding the meeting, officials announced that any Carbon resident could submit a name to the local "council of defense" and the entry would be considered for the honor.
Council president A.W. Horsley and secretary R.W. Crockett were named to the committee conducting the ship naming contest. A number of rules were set down, including the U.S. War Department edict that no ship could be named after an individual.
The council meeting produced many suggestions and, for the next couple of months, people submitted entries. The council eventually decided on Utacarbon, a name submitted by Mrs. C.H. Stevenson.
The decision came in June and the county was buzzing with what was going on as the date for launching the ship approached in late July. Articles in The News-Advocate and The Sun chronicled the upcoming event with differing approaches.
The Sun covered the story in a positive way, building up to the big day of launch. The News-Advocate put much less in the paper and, once the launch was completed, claimed Utah Gov. Simon Bamberger and his friends had stolen the limelight from the county.
Margaret Horsley was selected by the council to christen the ship as it slid into San Francisco Bay. Local representatives traveling to the launch included defense council members, county commissioners, mayors and citizens. As part of a statewide celebration, Utah officials also planned to be in attendance for the christening.
It was eventually decided to use Colton spring water to launch the vessel. A silver service with the inscription, "As Utah served in the world war, so may this serve with the Utacarbon," was to be presented to the ships's captain.
On July 2, two special train cars of dignitaries and citizens were to leave Salt Lake for the West Coast. California Gov. William Stephens proclaimed July 31 as "Utah Day" and the mayors of Oakland, Alameda and San Francisco planned to be in attendance.
The train left the station July 28 with many more passengers than expected. At shortly after 3 p.m. on July 31, Horsley christened Utacarbon. Some papers reported that Horsley broke champagne or wine on the bow and Bamberger broke the water on the ship's iron. Another account said she used the water while the ship's sailors broke a bottle of wine. Regardless, Utacarbon started a quarter century voyage taking the ship to the far reaches of the world.
As reported in the San Francisco Chronicle on Aug. 1, the ship was dedicated to Utah and Carbon County by William Day, vice governor of the federal reserve bank, and Gov. Bamberger accepted the honor.
A week later, motion pictures of the launching showed up in Carbon County. A large crowd gathered Aug. 12 at the Eko Theatre to see the show. The 150-foot roll of film cost $20 to be shipped from New York and Utah Fuel Company made the arrangements to secure the footage. In the end, the county paid for the costs.
The film went to Sunnyside the next day, then to Castle Gate, Spring Canyon and Helper.
Records about Utacarbon are not clear from the time the ship was launched until the 1930s.
The vessel was eventually sold to Union Oil Company and records about Utacarbon started to show up in the maritime records. The ship was used on routes between the continents in the western hemisphere.
In 1941, Utacarbon was requested for use in the Atlantic Ocean to transport fuel to Great Britain, who at the time was losing thousands of tons of shipping to Nazi submarines. The government had decided to let Union Oil keep and operate the ship, when the Japanese struck at Pearl Harbor. The government reversed the decision and told Union Oil to transfer the ship to the Pacific for use by the U.S. Navy.
By the time the ship was in shape, Hitler's army had driven into the Soviet Union and was threatening to crush the eastern front. Concerned that the Russians might not be able to hold up their end of the war, the U.S. started sending equipment and supplies to the Soviets, including the Utacarbon. After joining the Russian Navy, the ship was renamed the SS Varlaan Avanson and kept the moniker for nearly three years.
In March 1945, the Russians returned the vessel to the U.S. and the ship was taken to San Francisco, then onto Stockton. But the toll on Utacarbon had been heavy. Ice had caused more than $200,000 in damage and the ship was in general bad repair. It would have taken almost a half a million dollars to repair the vessel at a time when the war against Japan was just about over and the Navy would have been scrapping fully maintained units.
From 1945 until 1947, there is no paper trail on the Utacarbon. A letter dated Dec. 30, 1947 from the American Bureau of Shipping, indicates the ship was sold for scrap to Pinto Island Metals Company of Mobile, Ala.
The ship is a unique piece of Carbon County history. While Utah has had several ships named after it and some of the state's cities have too, Carbon is the only county to have earned that distinction.