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Ralph Keele

Night of the Missile

From 1960 through mid 1970’s there was a Missile base at Green River, Utah. The base was a test facility for Rocket Engines and Missiles. The Government would launch the Missiles from Green River, and they would land or impact at the White Sands Missile range near Alamogordo, New Mexico. The launches would occur three or four times a year. They were Intercontinental Ballistic Missiles that were two stage Missiles. It was approximately 500 miles, (as the crow flies), from Green River to White Sands.

When a Missile was launched they would evocate people in the area where the Missile passed over. And I think the reason they chose Green River to launch from, was because the area between there and White Sands was so sparsely populated. And that meant less people to evacuate.

They usually launched the Missiles in the day time, but occasionally they would launch one at night. They were very secretive about the time of launch. I remember hearing a loud sonic boom at times and thought it may have come from the Missile, but I had never seen one in the sky. Usually you would hear about the Launch on the T.V. or read about it in the paper a few days later.

We were living in Moab, Utah at this time and I was working for Homestake Mining Company at the North Alice Uranium mine, just a few miles south of LaSalle, Utah. The North Alice Mine was an incline mine, meaning that the drift that went into the mine was on a 20% incline, with rail tracks on it. There was a hoist at the surface that would lower the empty ore cars down into the mine where they would be loaded, then pull them back to the surface to be dumped. There were side tunnels off the main incline, at different levels. For example, the first working place would be 100 South and on the other side it would be called 100 North and so on down the incline. The incline was over 2000 feet long and the vertical depth of the mine at the bottom was about 700 feet. Two men would work at each working area and there were approximately 20 men per shift and two shifts per day, including everyone from the bosses, to the hoist man, motor man, rope rider, surveyor, and mechanics. That would make about 50 men there, working 5 days a week. The miners worked on a production bonus pay scale, the more ore you produced the more you earned above your base wage. Your take home pay was not always the same each payday. So if you had a bad half you would have to cut back on some things for the family. If you had two bad halves in a row, you would really be hurting. But thankfully that didn’t happen to often.

My working area was 100 South, and my partner was (Smoky). Elmer Fowler was his given name but every one called him Smoky, because he smoked a pipe. I enjoyed working with Smoky, he was a few years older than I and he was a hard worker and knew a lot about hard rock mining.

Smoky had married a widow lady that had three young children and they lived a short distance from the mine in a ranch house they rented. One day our family went out to spend the day with them. Their house was an older house, but it was sufficient for their family, and it had one unusual feature about it, in the basement. It had a wall with a hidden door in it. He called it the “Meat Room.” It had dirt floors and walls and it stayed cool in there all year round.

I asked Smoky, “Why does it have to have a hidden door?”

He answered, “So no can find it.”

Who would want to find it?”

The game warden.” He replied.

Oh, I see, so you have meat in there that you don’t want him to see. What kind of meat?”

Mutton, you know… Mutton.”

Mutton, that’s just lamb, isn’t it?”

Yea, Rocky mountain lamb.”

There’s a difference?” I asked.

Oh yes, these lambs have brown hide and antelers.”

Oh, I see. They are ………….”

Yeah, they are Mutton!”

Oh, Okay.”

Smoky had a lot of mouths to feed and he couldn’t afford to buy beef all the time. And I came to find out later they ate (Mutton) most of the time.

It was mid October and deer hunting season. I loved going deer hunting. And I was excited for opening morning to come. Smoky had asked me to come hunt with him, and I accepted. I was at his house early Saturday morning on opening day; we went to one of his favorite spots to hunt. We hunted all day and never got a deer. The next morning I was back again and we hunted a different area, and had no luck again. So we decided we would hunt again the next weekend. The next Saturday, Smoky took his older step son, who was 10 or 11, with us. Which was ok but he let the boy carry a 22 riffle. We were making a deer drive along a canyon and there were deer running ahead of us. And about the time the deer were coming to a clearing in the trees where I could get a shot of them, the boy started shooting his 22 riffle. That scared the deer and they turned and went back into the trees and then up over the ridge, too far away to shoot at them. I wondered what the boy was shooting at. When we meet a while later I found out the boy had been shooting at a rabbit. That made me angry. Smoky knew I was mad, he chewed the boy out for scaring the deer away and then took his bullets away. We didn’t see any deer the rest of the day. I went back to hunt with him the next day, but we had no luck. The next day was Monday and there was two more days left of deer season, so Smoky asked me if I wanted to hunt after work Monday. I said ok, and I would drive by myself, so we could hunt after work. We hunted until dark that day, but were unable to shoot any deer.

We decided to hunt after work the next day and that was the last day of deer season.

Let’s go down in Lisbon Valley, we’ll see a buck down there.” Smoky said,

Ok, sounds good to me.” I replied.

We hunted until dark but didn’t see any deer. I was really disappointed; I really wanted some deer meat. This would be the first year since I started hunting that I hadn’t shot a deer. We were driving back up Lisbon Valley when he got an idea.

You want to spot light one?” Smoky said.

I don’t know, I’ve never done that before, what if we get caught?”

We won’t get caught, the Game Warden is probably home and in bed.”

Are you sure?” I inquired.

Sure, I’m sure.” He laughed.

Well, if you think it’s ok.”

It’s ok, I do it all the time, to keep Mutton in the meat room.” He giggled. “You run the spot light and I’ll do the shooting.”

Ok, “I replied.

Smoky drove slowly up the road and I shinned the light at the tall sage brush, about 50 yards from the road. Then we seen the reflection of there eyes.

Stop.” I shouted, “Over there, do you see them?”

Yeah, I’ll get out and look through my scope at them.” He said.

Smoky laid his rifle over the truck hood and looked a long time at the deer.

See any?” I whispered.

Yeah, but they’re does. Shine more to the left.”

Looking through the scope you could see the deer real good, but all I could see was their eye reflection.

More to the left.” Smoky whispered.

I shinned the light further left.

Bang, bang, “He’s down.”

Ok.” I said nervously.

Turn the truck off and the lights out and get the flashlight. We’ll go find him.”

It was very dark and there was no moon that night. We made our way to the place that Smoky thought the deer was when he shot.

I think he was right here.” He said.

See any blood?” I asked.

No, not yet, but I am sure I hit him.”

Maybe he doubled back.” I said.

I know I hit him, I seem him fall.”

We were both really busy look for blood or hair, and any sign of the deer.

All of a sudden the sky lit up. I mean it really lit up. It was as bright as the noon day sun. Then a few seconds later a very loud “Boom.”

What the devil was that?” Smoky asked.

It must be the game warden, he’s caught us.”

I looked at Smoky, his eyes were as big as silver dollars, and he didn’t say a word.

What are we going to do?” I cried.

Not a word from Smoky. Then the light started fading and fading and then went out, it was pitch dark again.

Smoky.” I yelled.

Gulp, yeah.”

What are we going to do now?”

I don’t think I hit that deer,” he replied. ” let’s get out of here.”

We went back to the truck, hopped in and headed for Smokey’s house, in a big hurry. In the ten minute drive it took to get there, neither of us spoke.

Come on in.” He said.

No, I better get home, I have to come back to work in the morning.”

All the way home I was trying to figure out where the bright light and the Boom came from. When I got home, I just told my wife we didn’t get a deer. The next day at work, we talked about it and we had no idea where the lights and the sound had come from. When I got home from work that day, after dinner I was watching the news on TV. The news caster said they had launched a missile the night before. And he went on to tell all about it, the time of launch and when it got to White Sands.

Wait a minute”. I thought, “That was Tuesday night, and that was about the time we were looking for that deer.”

I started laughing, really laughing. My wife yelled from the kitchen.

What’s so funny?” She asked.

Come in here, I want to tell you something.”

As I told her the story and explained to her about the light and the Boom, and that we didn’t know what it was, but now I realized it was the second stage of the Missile going off, that had lit up the sky and made the Boom. We both got a good laugh from that. And I promised her I would never go spot lighting with Smoky ever again.

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