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Stories from Members
Ralph Keele

Slick Rock Hill

In mid 1960 we moved to Moab Utah, from Orem Utah. I had been laid off from my job at Geneva Steele.

My brother Roy was working for Petroleum Geophysical, a Seismograph Company. He was a driller on one of their drill rigs. His helper had quit and he was in need of a driller's helper. He called me and asked if I wanted to work with him, and I accepted his offer. Grandpa Rowley helped us move to Moab, we gave him $30.00 to pay for gas, which was all the money we had at the time. I remember borrowing money from Roy to get us by until payday. This was not the first time Roy and I had worked together on the Seismograph and Drill Rigs.

In 1957 I was working for Western Geophysical Company and Roy was working for H.L. Gaither Drilling Company. They had two drills that Western had hired to drill the shot holes. Roy ran one drill and Hoot ran the other drill. We all stayed in a trailer camp between Green River and Hanksville Utah. A few months later I went to work for H. L. Gaither working with Roy as his drill helper. In 1958 Roy got his draft call. He was sent to Korea for two years. In 1960 when he got out of the army, he got a job with Petroleum Geophysical, and shortly after that, he called me to come work as his helper again. That was the reason we moved to Moab in 1960.

We lived most of the next twelve years in Moab, except when we had moved to Colorado or Green River for six months or so. But we always ended up back in Moab.

This story is about my brother Roy and me working together on the drill rigs. In mid October we moved to Nucla, Colorado, a small town about 60 miles east of La Salle Utah.

We were having a hard time paying all the bills on the wages we were making. Just $1.25 as I remember. And I was working 10 to 12 hours a day and usually six days a week. Roy moved in with us and paid us what he was paying to rent a room, plus some extra for food, a total of $60.00 a month. That really helped out. During the next several months we worked around the area, within fifty miles of Nucla. One of the areas we worked in was Slick Rock, Colorado, about fifty miles south of Nucla. Slick Rock was appropriately named. It was all a sand stone hill, not many trees or plant life, just a big slick rock. There was a Uranium mill there that processed the ore from several small mines in the area. There were a few houses and a trading post, about 25 people worked at the mill, so they had an ambulance there for emergencies. The nearest hospital was in Cortez, Colorado, about 45 miles from Slick Rock.

The uranium mill sat at the bottom of the canyon, and to the east was desert. To the west the road climbed up out of the canyon. The road was paved but had several switchbacks. It was a steep grade and the switchbacks were 180 degree U-turns. When we had to go down the hill in the big drill rig, Roy would put the transmission in low gear and he would go down slow. At each switchback they had to cut and blast the sandstone out to make the road. At some switchbacks the rock wall was ten feet high, and others, two or three feet high.

We were working on the flats west of Slick Rock hill. As we finished work that day, we were told to move the drills back east of Slick Rock. They needed some shot holes drilled there in the next few days. We loaded all of our equipment onto the drill and started for the new location. Roy was driving the drill rig. I was following in the pick up. We had made several trips up and down that hill over the past few weeks with out incident, but our luck would run out this day.

As Roy came around the turn at the top of the hill, he shifted down to a lower gear. When he let the clutch out, he heard a loud pop. He shifted to another gear, still nothing. The drill rig was rolling free and picking up speed. He kept trying to get it into a gear, but to no avail. By this time the truck was going quite fast. Roy applied the brakes, they would slow him down a little, but the truck wouldn't stop. In a short distance the brakes were hot, and were smoking and had no affect at all. By this time the drill truck was going very fast. And one hundred yards ahead was the first switchback. I thought Roy was going way to fast, but when I seen smoke coming from under the drill truck I knew he was in trouble. I couldn't imagine what was wrong, and I was saying to my self, "Roy slow down, Roy slow down." But the drill kept going faster and faster. I kept saying, "Roy the switchbacks. Slow down!" But of course he couldn't hear me. He had a big decision to make and not much time to make it. The rock wall at the switch back was less than fifty yards away. If he hit that wall head on, he would probably have died from the impact. If he tried to make the turn, it would roll over and he could have been killed. I saw Roy step onto the running board, he hesitated a few seconds, looked back at me and then he jumped when the truck was about twenty yards from the rock wall. At this switch back, the rock wall was only two to three feet high. As Roy hit the ground he rolled like a log, right up to the rock wall. The drill hit the wall and jumped it and continued up the hill fifty feet and hit a cedar tree. It stopped for a few seconds then started rolling back down the hill, right at Roy lying at the bottom. He looked up and saw the drill rolling towards him. He was trying to crawl out of the way, but his legs wouldn‘t work. He was clawing at the ground with his hands but he wasn't moving. I was terrified, I thought my brother was going to get crushed right before my eyes and there was nothing I could do to stop the truck. When the drill was about ten feet from dropping onto Roy, it stopped, like a giant hand had grabbed it and stopped its momentum. By that time I was there, jumped out of the pick up and ran over to Roy, he was still clawing at the ground, trying to pull himself out of the way. I grabbed him by the arms and pulled him far enough so that if the drill did started rolling again, he wouldn't be in the way. He kept saying, " The drill, the drill, it's going to crush me." I finally convinced him he was out of the way. I could see the relief on his face. But then the severe pain in his back started. Some people stopped to help; they gave me some blankets and tried to comfort Roy. I asked them to call the police and have them send an ambulance. They told me there was ambulance down at the mill and they would tell them to come up. They were there in less than ten minutes. We put him on the stretcher and into the ambulance. The driver said he would take him to Cortez.

I couldn't keep up with the ambulance, so when I got to the hospital they had him in a wheel chair and was going to the ex-ray lab. They told him to stand up so he could get on the ex-ray table. He stood up and immediately passed out. I caught him before he hit the floor. After everything was done, they said Roy had two crushed vertebra in his back and would need surgery. He stayed there over night and the next day they sent him to Salt Lake. Dr. Lamb did the surgery. They kept him in the hospital several weeks, and then let him come back to Price, where he was from. He couldn't work for a whole year.

Now we had only one drill rig and we ran it twenty four hours a day. They made me driller on one shift, and Rudy was the driller on the other shift. A few weeks later they fired Roy, saying the accident was his fault. I didn't like that very well, because I knew it wasn't his fault. Later they found out that the loud pop Roy had heard was the rear Axle breaking on the drill truck. But they still left him fired.

I worked for the company a year or two more, until they sent me to Wyoming. I didn't like it there, so I quit and came back to Moab to work for H. L. Gaither Drilling Company again.


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