The high mountain
in extreme northwestern Carbon County, became known as Winter Quarters
because John Nelson and Abram Taylor wintered there in 1875 to hold the
claim they had filed.
Two years later a group
of men from Sanpete County came over the mountain to begin the town and
continually work the mine. They intended to leave before winter, but an
early snowstorm trapped the men. When their supplies ran out in February
1878, they the walked out to the north, eventually reaching the town of
Tucker (now a
and rest stop) in Spanish Fork Canyon.
When the great tonnage of
coal in the mountain was known, more people began moving into the
burgeoning town. As more and more coal was mined, the need for a railroad
became apparent. Some of the residents got together and bought out a dry
goods firm in the east and paid railroad workers with clothing and
That old railroad bed is
now a dirt road leading from the Tucker rest area on US-6 up the mountain
onto what is known today as Skyline Drive and then down into Pleasant
Valley. The railroad became known as the Calico Line.
May Day, 1900, started out with a clear sun
shinning up the valley into the town as 303 miners headed up to the mine
portal. This mine was considered one of the safest in the country and had
been inspected by Gomer Thomas, state mine inspector, on March 8.
But at 10:15 a.m. everyone in the mountain
town felt the ground shake. Some people thought someone had fired off an
explosion to celebrate Dewey Day. Soon, the horrible truth spread through
the town like wildfire. A giant explosion had occurred in the mine.
Mothers and daughters were seen hurrying
toward the mine portal, "faces blanched with fear, hoping against hope
that their loved ones in some way had escaped. Soon the realization came
that the miners were caught – caught like rats in a trap with no chance of
escape,” reported Charles Madsen in his account of the disaster.
When rescue and
recovery teams were finally able to enter the horizontal shafts, they
found "men piled in heaps, burned beyond recognition. The bodies were
removed as fast as possible and the school, the church and other
available buildings were requisitioned as morgues.
When the accounting
was done, 104 had escaped, seven of them seriously injured, and 199
killed in the mine blast. The town was 28 years from being a total
When Pleasant Valley Coal Company opened
mines at Castle Gate, far below Pleasant Valley, it spelled the end of
the long-haul operations at Winter Quarters. Production decreased
steadily and in 1928 the mine was closed and the town abandoned.
For many years the
buildings stood mute in that mountain valley: windows boarded shut, roof
shingles slowly slipping and walls rotting into dust. The school no longer
heard the sounds of children laughing and there was no need for a janitor
to clean the spring-time mud from the floors.
Eventually the buildings
collapsed or were torn down by scavengers and today only grass-covered
foundations remain of what was
coal camp. No industrial sounds in the quiet valley today, only a bubbling
stream and the clicking of mule deer hooves on the rocks. But is that all
Speculation over the
years about buried gold has frequently come into conversations about the
There is no question
about the miners being paid in gold and silver coins. Just three years
had robbed the Pleasant Valley payroll when the money arrived by train.
Their loot was $7,000 in gold double eagles. They dropped $700 in silver.