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5 : Bonanza At Big Indian

Raye Ringholz Utah State University Press ePub

A YEAR WAS ENOUGH. A year when every rasp of the saw, each thwack of the hammer drove the dream of uranium deeper. All the time that he worked as a carpenter in Tucson, Charlie thought of nothing but his twelve claims at Big Indian. He tortured himself with newspaper articles and stories in mining magazines.

“More uranium was mined in the Colorado Plateau in 1951 than in any previous year.”

“In November 1950, 145 claims were staked; February 1951 tallied 600.”

“J.W. Gramlich received the first AEC bonus payment of $9,672 for 2,763 pounds of uranium oxide in .20 percent ore from his Morning Star and Evening Star claims on Lion Creek.”1

By April 30, 1952, Charlie Steen could postpone his quest no longer. Selling the trailerhouse for $350, he stuffed the family belongings into a two-wheeled cart hitched to the back of the jeep. Excess baggage rode under a tarp on top of the vehicle.

The Steens said goodbye to Tucson and headed back to the Colorado Plateau. Their destination this time was Cisco, Utah, a desolate whistlestop for the D.&R.G. Railroad located a couple of hours west of Grand Junction.

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2 : The European Experience

Raye Ringholz Utah State University Press ePub

IT WASN’T LONG AFTER THE TRAIN pulled out of “the Mile High City” of Denver, that Duncan Holaday understood why the Denver & Rio Grande Western route to Salt Lake City, Utah, was known as “The Scenic Line of the World.” Half an hour’s ride from the metropolis, the miles and miles of flat plains seemed to roll into infinity as the Panoramic climbed 2,000 feet onto the eastern shoulder of the Rocky Mountains. A few minutes more, and the view closed in upon them. The long train wound deep into canyons studded with frosted evergreens, drifted snow and mountains that looked like fluted peaks of meringue.

Then suddenly, as if cut off from the world, there was nothing but darkness. The locomotive roared through the Moffat Tunnel, four thousand feet beneath the Continental Divide from which North America’s eastern and western river systems made their separate ways. The sensation of speed was heightened as blackness whirled outside the window. Then again, before Holaday’s eyes could readjust to the glare and sparkling snow, the engine burst from the western portal of the tunnel to start its long descent into the valley of the Upper Colorado River.

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12 : The Bubble Bursts

Raye Ringholz Utah State University Press ePub

The names were appealing. Absaraka. Aladdin. Apache. Arrow. Atomic. Black Jack. Jolly Jack. Lucky Strike. King Midas. Newspaper readers followed daily listings of uranium stocks and figured on all of the money they could have made if they had had the nerve to buy. Many stocks went up thirty—even sixty—times the offering price in days. Soon the temptation to gamble a few bucks was irresistible. Those who had lagged behind took the plunge.

And it seemed they were in good company. The big boys were getting into the picture. How could you go wrong when Atlas, United States Vanadium and Vanadium Corporation of America, Anaconda, Homestake Mining Company, National Lead, Vitro, Kerr-McGee Oil Industries, Climax Molybdenum—to say nothing of the Santa Fe Railroad and New Jersey Zinc Company—had succumbed to the uranium frenzy? Your ordinary working guy couldn’t get out there and dig the stuff himself. But he could have the fun of fantasizing about the millions he might make on a ten-dollar investment.

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10 : The Colossus of Cash

Raye Ringholz Utah State University Press ePub

IN THE CANYONLANDS of southeastern Utah there is a rock formation they call “Jacob’s Chair.” The gigantic sandstone throne commands a broad expanse of ruddy desert interrupted by deep, jagged cracks and phallic pinnacles. Some mighty being might rest in this solitary seat of honor to view the wonders he has created. Jacob’s Chair was Floyd Odlum’s favorite geologic structure in this land he so admired.

“That chair’s too big for me,” he would say when flying over the broken landscape,”and I’m not sure I’d be worthy of sitting in such a big one. But I hope someday I’ll deserve an honorary chair in this interesting and important place.”1

An honorary chair was not out of the question for Odlum in 1954. Already he was known throughout the world as “Fifty Percent Odlum” or “The Colossus of Cash.”

The sixty-two-year-old business magnate had come a long way from his boyhood days in Union City, Michigan. There, as the son of a Methodist minister, he had to work his way through school. He picked fruit and berries. He dug ditches. He stacked lumber in a sawmill. He was even a jockey on an ostrich at the race track.

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1 : The Siren Call

Raye Ringholz Utah State University Press ePub

CHARLIE DIDN’T QUITE KNOW how to tell M.L. There she was, her body all swelled up with a baby due in a couple of weeks. Their cramped rear apartment already teemed with three high-decibel kids under four years of age, crawling all over each other and on the few rickety pieces of furniture. There was barely enough money coming in to stock the fridge. Charlie felt guilty as hell but he knew he had to say that he was heading for the Colorado Plateau in a few days.

M.L. understood. It wasn’t unexpected. He had read the article to her, and said it was the only way out. Life with Charlie Steen had never been dull.

It was the winter of 1949. Houston, Texas. Charlie was twenty-eight years old. He was working as a carpenter—adding a bathroom here, remodeling a kitchen there—a job he tolerated out of necessity.

His real love was geology. That was his training. He had a B.A. in geology from the Texas School of Mines and Metallurgy in El Paso. He had started a promising career as a geologist with the Standard Oil Company of Indiana. They even gave him a fifty dollar raise after his first six weeks. He spent two years with them doing field work, locating potential oil deposits. It was in the field that he was at his best.

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