20 Chapters
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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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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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19 : Compassionate Compensation

Raye Ringholz Utah State University Press ePub

The marks on the map were within a two block area of her home in St. George. Irma Thomas made a dot for every friend or neighbor who had contracted a radiation-induced disease or died. By the late 1970s there were twenty victims, fourteen deaths.. Wilford—cancer. His wife—stomach cancer. Carl—throat cancer. The boy across the street— leukemia. Irma’s sister—breast cancer. Her sister-in-law, Hattie Nelson— dead at the age of forty-seven from a brain tumor.

From all outward signs, Irma was a typical Mormon housewife. She and her husband, Hyrum, manager of the local J.C. Penney store, lived in a Victorian-style home on Tabernacle Street, “with a gorgeous garden and the sweetest grapes in back.”1 A mother who often made elaborate costumes for her seven children, Irma was also an accomplished potter whose artwork was collected in America and abroad.

Irma was not afraid to speak her mind. She read voraciously and kept upto-date on local and world affairs. When fallout clouds started drifting over St. George she launched into a one-woman crusade by stacking the dining-room table with books, articles, scientific journals—everything she could find about atom bombs—and then peppering local newspapers with letters to the editor lambasting nuclear activities. Her super-patriotic neighbors eyed her actions with suspicion, even insinuating that she was a Communist.

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16 : A Widow Fights Back

Raye Ringholz Utah State University Press ePub

Tex Garner didn’t know he had less than twenty-four hours to live.1 It had been one week since the doctor, talking of “cancer” and “one to fifteen years,” dismissed him from St. Mary’s Hospital in Grand Junction and sent him home to Moab. Tex was a bit tired, but there wasn’t much pain in his lungs and the scar from his liver biopsy was fading already. He thought he was making good progress. In no time, he’d be pitching a few innings and showing the kids how he could walk on his hands all around the front yard. The old Garner optimism was returning.

“Fifteen years?” he would say, negating the possibility of anything less. “Let’s see. I’m forty-seven now. Sixty-two is not a bad age to die.”

It was a pleasant time of year. The September sunshine was taking on a bit of crisp and the leaves were just beginning to blend with the red and gold cliffs surrounding Moab. Tex had been underground in the uranium mines for so many years that he had almost forgotten the brilliance of fall—summer’s last gasp before the brown chill of winter. He spent his days resting under the peach trees that shaded the red and white mobile home on Cliffview Drive, below the mansion where Charlie Steen had lived before he moved to Reno. Sometimes Tex would pick a plump fruit and watch the RVs filing along the highway leading into town. Fall brought out hordes of retirees who had postponed their wanderings until vacationing families returned their kids to school. It would be less crowded, then, at Arches National Monument, Deadhorse Point, and other geologic wonderlands where tourists flocked after mining roads in uranium country had opened up the backlands.

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7 : Dirty Harry

Raye Ringholz Utah State University Press ePub

ANY APPREHENSION DR. ARTHUR BRUHN’S geology students had was relieved by the letter from the Nevada Test Site. For two years the youngsters had felt the earth shake and seen the pinkish clouds drifting over St. George after the nuclear detonations but the idea of getting close enough to actually see an explosion, even from a distance, was disconcerting. It was reassuring to initial the letter as indication that they had read the words affirming that there was “absolutely no danger” and the AEC welcomed Dr. Bruhn and his students “in furthering their education.”1

Arthur Bruhn’s method of teaching “all of the ologies” at Dixie Junior College was far from dull. Affectionately nicknamed “high pockets” for his high-riding trousers, he enlivened his classes with hand-made displays, slide presentations and even poetry. He worked with students on committees, took photographs for the yearbook, produced a school movie covering all of the year’s activities, and made a tradition of closing the dances with everyone holding hands and singing “Just For Now,” his favorite song written by fellow instructor Mrs. DiFiore.

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