A narrow band of blacktop was all that kept eastern Utah connected closely with the Wasatch Front during much of the winter and spring of 1984. Continual slide incidents with rocks covering Highway 6 happened regularly that year, as the newly cut road over Billy's Mountain was settling in. At one point the connection with the Utah County metropolitan area was cut for 10 days due to a large slide.
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. The article is being written from front page stories that appeared during each year in commemoration of the 120th anniversary of the newspaper's birth in 1891.
As in all years, news from one year often spills into the next. The case of 1984 was no exception.
With the reopening Highway 6 from Spanish Fork to Carbon County ( a roadblock which was caused by the the Thistle Slide in the spring of 1983), the new year began with a bang. The first day of the new year showed 5,200 vehicles passing over the new Billy's Mountain. The average count for that time of year at the time was 3,800.
Obviously, many people were taking the route to see the new section of the road and to enjoy the fact that it now only took an hour to reach the metropolitan areas of Utah County compared to two hours-plus on the route through Duchesne. Surprisingly there was some mixed reaction about the road opening later than was scheduled. Originally it ws to open Dec. 1, 1983, but a rock slide set the schedule back.
Some local merchants expressed the view that the later opening was good for their business because many more people stayed in the local area to do Christmas shopping. They said that shoppers might have gone over the mountain if the road had reopened before Christmas. All in all, however, everyone looked forward to the shorter trip and the fact tourism would be positively affected from then on.
However, in the second week of January, another rock slide closed the road again. The road was open then closed again by a number of slides throughout the winter and spring, which were attributed to the freeze-thaw cycles that were going on in the new cut over the mountain. In mid-March one slide closed the road completely for 12 days.
William Cossaboom, who had been fired toward the end of 1983 from his position as Price City Police Chief was still in limbo about the charges against him at the first of the year. A secret investigation into the handling of money and other aspects of the department by the Carbon County Attorney's office had led to the dismissal. In early January his preliminary hearing on charges of misusing public funds was continued. But the trial never went anywhere. In March, Judge John Ruggeri of the Eleventh District Court ruled that the charges against Cossaboom should be dismissed.
In late January Jonas Daniel Paul Sutton plead guilty to the murder of Betty Joell Kellum, whose body had been
found by a railroad worker in the Gordon Creek area the fall before. At first Sutton had pleaded guilty or guilty by means of insanity, but due to a plea ( moving the charges from first degree murder to second degree murder) he signed a document in which he admitted guilt. He also waived a two day waiting period for sentencing and sentenced immediately to five years to life in the Utah State Prison by Seventh District Court Judge Boyd Bunnell.
In early May nine people barely escaped a fire at the Union Gospel Mission in Helper. The fire started about 11 p.m. on May 7 while everyone was asleep. The fire was contained about 1 a.m. by the Helper Fire Department. The fleeing residents included one who had been a paratrooper in World War II. He jumped the 20 feet from a nearby window to the ground, while others used a fire escape ladder. The missions pet dog was also rescued by a cook at the facility. Reportedly the cause was faulty electrical wiring in the back of the building.
A Carbonville man who was helping remove articles from a home threatened by a mudslide in Clear Creek was killed in mid-May when the impending slide let go and buried him and his brother-in-law. The entire incident reportedly only took a few seconds as part of the mountain with mud and rocks came down on them with a whoosh, and a sound much like a jet airplane makes. Iver Joel Koski, who was 70 at the time was killed in the slide. Another man, Frank Helsten, was talking with Koski when the slide came down. He was able to run perpendicular to the slide was was able to get away. The incident happened early in the afternoon, but Koski's body was not found for some time because it was buried in mud that was the consistency of pudding. The slide ran right through the house, knocking it off its foundation and flooded into an old dormitory building across the street.
In late June a group of laid-off miners from East Carbon picked up shovels once again, but this time they did it to learn to be wildland fire fighters. The U.S. Forest Service did the training for the 30 men, and within a few days 20 of them were on the fire lines in southern Utah helping fire a forest fire. The men even had a name for their group, the "East Carbon Diggers."
In August a small single engine aircraft crashed on Highway 6 near the top of Price Canyon when a plane two men were in couldn't gain enough altitude and they tried to land on the road. The plane hit a truck carrying firewood with its wing and flipped over on the side of a hill after the collision. Both occupants of the plane were injured, but not seriously. The driver of the truck and two occupants were not injured, but the truck had a scrape on it as a result of the wing hitting it.
A reclamation project in Kenilworth brought Gov. Scott Matheson to town in September. The reclamation was to take down old mine buildings, old electrical systems, and a tipple that had two of its legs off. When removed part of the area was turned into a baseball field, and that is where Matheson was when he threw out the first ball for a little league game there on Sept. 11. The reclamation was done through the Abandoned Mine Reclamation Project and up to that time was the biggest that had been achieved, with a cost of $750,000. The last coal to be hauled out of the mountain on that side was taken out in 1963 after over 60 years of production, with many boom and bust cycles.
As 1984 wore on, as usual mines in the area would make the news, either for production numbers, for layoffs or for strikes. But by the end of the year, 1984 would be remembered for something much more ominous, much more sad:
The disaster at the Wilberg Mine.