Richard "Kido" Ariotti looks at a 1951 photo of the men he worked with at the shop at the Castle Gate Mine.
We were nearing the end of the time I could spend interviewing him that day when he asked me "Are you tired?"
I probably exhibited a sheepish grin when he asked because I was more worried about him being tired than myself.
At 95, Richard "Kido" Ariotti has a mind as sharp as the proverbial tack when it comes to things he has seen and done in his life. For two and a half hours he told me about his times, and the times of others he knew.
Most importantly, once a story was started, it got finished regardless of what else came up in the room. He was on track to be sure that I knew all the details about what he was telling me.
Presently residing with his son in Spring Glen, Ariotti has lived an interesting life because of what he has seen and experienced. Some of his stories about Castle Gate and Helper, where he has lived most of his life were downright funny; others brought tears to my eyes.
"Castle Gate was the best place in the world to live," he told me of the town that vanished 40 years ago, the industrial complex torn down and the houses moved away. "Where I lived they called it the foreign legion because we had every nationality there."
He went on to tell about the legion that lived in the mouth of Willow Creek Canyon; Greeks, Italians, Germans, Austrians, Chinese, Japanese and others.
"I grew up there and as kids were always doing something," he said.
While in later years he would move to Helper with his wife Roberta, some of his early years were spent there too. In fact his young life could have easily ended in that railroad town as well.
"My grandpa opened a tavern there on Main Street and there had been a fire in some buildings behind the tavern, " he said. "The rock walls were still standing (but they were unstable). One of those walls almost fell on me, but Jennie Borla got in the way to stop them from hitting me. She got hurt, but I was fine."
When he was five the coal strike of 1922 took place. That's an early time to remember, but he still recalls a lot of what it was like.
"If you lived in town and were on strike the company kicked you out of the house," he said. "We left there and had to move south of Price."
At the time the trip to Price was not like it is today. There was a road and it had just been paved, but it wound through the countryside.
"It was very small," he said. "And it wasn't straight. It wound from Helper up to Spring Glen's Main Street, through Blue Cut and then through Carbonville. There were a lot of farms in Carbonville. There was this great big silo where the bowling alley (on Carbonville Road) is today. It was owned by a family named Paulos."
Coming into Price there were no overpasses, not even the oldest one that goes under the tracks. The road just crossed the tracks.
During the strike he remembers that everyone helped each other. They moved to a place near Four Mile Hill south of Price. The property was owned by the Fassio family.
"It was really a house out in the toolies," he said. "It had a dirt roof and no running water. We used kerosene lamps to light it."
Water came in the form of barrels on a skid that they took into Carbonville, near where Howa's Lumber is now located to get water.
Food was scarce because no money came in during the strike. But rabbits were abundant, so they ate a lot of rabbit stew.
"I remember the rabbits would run in their holes and they would put a long piece of barb wire down the hole to force the rabbits out. And then wham we would have them," he stated.
Farmers were working the fields during the summer of the strike and little Kido became one of their favorites. Loose hay was loaded onto a "slip" and he would ride on the slip as they picked up the hay.
"All the farmers in the area helped each other," he said. "They invited me to have a meal with them one day and it was the first time I had ever had white gravy. It was good."
He also got himself in a little trouble at one point because he saw the traps the farmers used to catch rabbits (jaw traps) and as he played with them he thought they didn't work. They had been sprung. Then he found one that had not been sprung and got a painful surprise.
When the strike ended the family move back to Castle Gate. There they raised a couple of cows that provided milk for them and some of the neighbors. He would take the milk around to the houses and pick up the empty glass bottles and leave them full ones on their tables. One day he was delivering and a woman at one of the houses yelled at him not to come in; she was taking a bath in a tin tub in the kitchen.
The family also made wine from grapes.
"We would put the grapes in a big wooden barrel and then there were boots that were worn as it was stomped," he said.
One time after the wine had been drawn off the barrel, the cows got into the barrel and ate the remains (mostly skins) of the grapes. By this time the mess in the bottom was very fermented.
"The cows got drunk and we couldn't get them to stand up for a whole day," he said. "And for two days after that the milk was pink, so we couldn't sell it."
Kido also has memories of 1924, when he was seven. Those memories are burned into his mind, memories of March 8 of that year when the Castle Gate Mine exploded.
Henry Etzel was married to Kido's sister and he had had an argument with the boss at the mine that morning and was considering quiting. He had not gone in the mine, but instead had come to Kido's families house to talk. He was just about to leave to go get his tools out of the mine (the miners supplied their own tools at the time) when a big boom rocked the kitchen table. Then a second blast came. Then a third, and then everything went dark as smoke and dust poured out of the mine.
"There was a funny smell and people were running up the street toward the mine," he said. "Some of the women were fainting."
Etzel had been saved by not going in the mine that day. He went to the mine to try to help, but there wasn't much that could be done for some time. He sent word to his wife that he was okay, but she wouldn't believe it until she actually saw him herself.
Kido remembers the death that happened at that time and also some of the death that happened afterward.
"The rescuers put on their masks and oxygen and went into the mine tied to together with a rope (so they wouldn't get separated)," he said. "One man's nose piece came off in the mine and he died from the gas right away."
The bodies of the dead (171 of them) were brought to the towns amusement hall. He remembers that some were misidentified because of their condition.
"They also had trouble getting enough caskets to bury them all," he said.
As Kido grew older he found that his world was a great place to have fun. In winter there were big sleigh hills and rides, with large fires built from coal that they found or was given to them by passing truck drivers. He also said that trapping, hunting and fishing were big parts of their lives as well.
And of course there was the the experimentation with things he knew he should not do. The wine vat became his nemisis one time when he and his friends drank wine from the bottom of it, wine that was almost like vinegar. He was sick, very sick for a few days. It was the same with cigarettes. He got sick. But life was still wonderful.
"I would rather live my same life over than be a part of the younger generation today," he said. "We had a lot of fun and there were big holidays."
In his later teenage years, Kido went to work as a boney picker (one who picks the rock out of the coal as it goes by on a conveyor) at Castle Gate Mine. Little by little he moved up. Soon he became a greaser (one who lubricates the machines).
"Being a greaseman on the line was dangerous," he said. "You had to do it while the machines were running.
Later he got the job of keeping the chutes on the crusher clear so the coal could flow.
"One time I almost slipped into the chute. I was lucky it was full of coal," he stated.
Not long after that he became a mechanics helper in the shop. He was never an underground worker other than the fix and repair things that needed to stay in the mine.
He found he had a real penchant for mechanical things; but even more he loved electrical devices. Soon he found himself in the electrical shop as an armiture winder.
"At the time the armiture winder and the blacksmiths had the highs pay grade," he said. "I was so happy with the job. I loved what I did."
He said the man that helped him get to that job was James McDonald, the head electrician.,
"He took a liking to me and showed me a lot," said Kido.
After 40 and one half years at the mine, Kido retired.
Through much of his life he never really knew his father. His dad left the family and went back to Italy around the time of the 1922 strike. He never saw him again until his dad returned to the United States in 1948. During World War II the family didn't know much about his condition, because Italy was one of the Axis powers and there was no correspondence. Then as the Americans were liberating Italy, his father got an American soldier to write a letter to the family that he was okay.
Kido was also known as as the "Fix It Man." His mechanical and electrical skills were used many times to help neighbors and others. At one point he and some others climbed the mountain north of Willow Creek and put up a tower to receive television signals from Salt Lake. They then laid cable down the mountain so that people in Castle Gate could watch television.
For years his house in Castle Gate had a shed by it that was dubbed "Kido's Shack" where he did repair work and other work for people. After the houses were moved from Castle Gate and he moved to the Castle Gate Subdivision, he had a part of his basement named the same thing.
That afternoon Kido could have gone on and on. He had many more stories to tell, but I didn't have time to get them down. When I got up from the interview I realized he was right, I was tired. His stories had filled my mind with events long passed, and I wondered if I could do his stories justice in a short article in the newspaper.
It was the stories of a lifetime.