Rocky Mountain Memoirs

Title: Rocky Mountain Memoirs
Author: Wallace R. Hansen
Publication: The Outcrop, August 2004, p. 14

Editors’ Note: We received this article in response to Donna Anderson’s President’s Column titled “Beer, Bait, Beans…and Gas: Microcosm of Land-Use Issues” that was published in the June issue The Outcrop. We encourage other long-time RMAG members with memories that they would like to share to submit their stories for publication.

A lot of very old memories welled up when I read Donna Anderson’s President’s Column in the June 2004 issue of The Outcrop. Growing up in Salt Lake City, and while still in grade school, I had begun to collect fossils from the many formations in the nearby Wasatch Mountains, and by the early 1930s I had already decided to become a geologist. Spending parts of two summer vacations in the Green River Basin at the Walter Yose ranch near Big Piney, reinforced that notion. Possibly some RMAG members remember the Yoses—prominent local citizens of the basin and genial hosts. My chief chore on the ranch was feeding the chickens and slopping a pet pig named “Martha,” who later became pork chops and bacon. In those days the Yose property was known as “Midway Ranch,” operated by Walter C. Yose, Sr. The ranch was settled by Walter Jr.’s grandparents, and it had been an early pioneer stage stop halfway between Big Piney and nowhere. When I was there, the oil business was already thriving in the Green River Basin. The “town” of La Barge in the 1930’s was called “Tulsa,” with visions of becoming a big second to its Oklahoma namesake. An already-productive field nearby was called “Calpet,” an obvious contraction of “California Petroleum,” later the California Company.

Yose Ranch was just opposite the mouth of Dry Piney Draw, up which the Yoses ran cattle en route to the summer range in the mountains, and it was my good fortune to be along on one of those memorable summer drives. At a shack at the mouth of the draw, a lone operator had a derrick and cable tools that he cranked up occasionally to drill a few feet more of rock. This was in the height of the Great Depression, and I never learned if he drilled a successful well.

Walter Jr. and I made many one-day forays on foot and horseback exploring the nearby sage-covered mesas and hinterland, and as school kids we were thrilled to find some beautifully preserved “high-spired fossil shells” (goniobasis) in a bed of limestone and other gastropods (viviparus) inside oncolites, in what had to be a Green River tongue in the Wasatch Formation. Of course, we didn’t know that at the time. We also happened onto some well-preserved mammal teeth and bones.

The Yoses also had a ranch down along La Barge Creek, and I once went there with Walter and his dad to attend to some chores where, despite great swarms of horseflies, we found neat little pentacrinus columnals (in the Twin Creek Formation) that looked like tiny starfish, and at that time I was sure they were.

Then, en route back to Midway Ranch, Walter Sr. stopped off, as he sometimes did, at the local bar in Tulsa for a swig of liquid emoluments and a bit of gossip, while Walter Jr. and I waited in the truck. U.S. Highway 189 in those days was unpaved dirt, and the truck’s windows were well coated with old dried mud and dust from many miles of travel. Sure that Mr. Yose would be pleasantly surprised, I carefully cleaned it all off, anticipating at least a nod of approval, but when he climbed back aboard and started down the road, looking left and thinking the window was rolled down, he spat a big chaw of tobacco juice all over my clean glass.