Tuesday, July 5, 2016

Mining Tradition

Yearly chuckwagon breakfast celebrates Bingham Canyon spirit

Posted By on July 5, 2016, 5:56 PM

While Salt Lake City sweated through Independence Day, the small town of Copperton, up in the south west corner of the Salt Lake Valley, enjoyed the perfect summer breeze. 

Around 700 people gathered in Copperton Park—once a showpiece garden with its own dedicated staff, owned by former Bingham Canyon mine owner, Utah Copper—for the 7 a.m. start chuckwagon breakfast, a tradition inherited in the 1960s from the long-gone but not forgotten Bingham City, say old-timers.  

I last attended Copperton's July 4th breakfast 10 years ago. Back then, I brought my family, and afterwards wrote a Best of Utah waxing lyrical about this perfect slice of Americana which yet seemed to have already seen its best days, and was waning in the shadows not only of the trees that populate the park, but also of its former glories.

This year I came alone, concluding a journey that I've pursued these last months of trying to understand what the death of Utah's ultimate ghost town, Bingham Canyon, meant to those who are still with us to tell the tale.  I told the story in the June 28 issue, titled Mining Memories

I walked around the park, watched children take part in short sprint-races, whether running or jumping in sacks. A woman announced each race on top of an old fire engine, while family members cheered along their  little ones.
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This year former students of Bingham High School, which stood for years in Copperton before being torn down in 2002, unveiled a memorial to their beloved alma mater. I talked to the driving forces behind the memorial fund, Bill Nicholls and Maynard John Berg, who gave me a sneak preview of the memorial.
It's topped by a capstone, donated by local sports hero and retired miner Johnny Susaeta. 

click to enlarge Maynard John Berg and Bill Nicholls unveil the memorial to their beloved Bingham High.
  • Maynard John Berg and Bill Nicholls unveil the memorial to their beloved Bingham High.

I spent a late May afternoon with Johnny, listening to his stories of growing up in Bingham. One stuck in my mind, and that was about his father, when Johnny was 2, going up above an avalanche to warn those digging for survivors in Highland Boy, if he felt the snow was threatening to roll down on them. Forty people died that day.

Johnny talked about going to war with his friends, and how much death he had seen in the Pacific theater of World War II. His wartime recollections reminded me of those who had their family roots in Bingham Canyon, gone to fight for their country, and not returned. Like three young men from the hamlet of Dinkeyville in Copperfield who died in Vietnam in 1967. I wrote about them in a story called, The Things We Carry

I talked to Jake Larsen, the new president of the Bingham Lions Club, a charity that has long played a significant role in funding scholarships, internships in Washington D.C., services and entertainment for the Copperton community, including Sub-for-Santa and groceries for those in need in the community. 

That money came from a gift shop at the mine's visiting center that was closed after  the massive 2013 Manefray earth slide.

Rio Tinto has no plans to reopen the visitor's center, spokesman Kyle Bennett told me, and it's up to the club to decide whether they reopen the gift shop. 
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On Independence Day, the gift shop was open, its toy trucks, postcards and precious stones on display in a small porta-cabin. Copperton resident Doug Green was running it when I dropped in and he said that when people stop at the Credit Union to ask about a gift shop, somebody would call him and he would go and open it for the visitors.  Typically, they open the gift shop for holidays, such as the Saturday before Easter and Christmas.

"We've been talking to upper management, but it's not going anywhere right now," Larsen says, regarding the club's seemingly forlorn hope to reopen by the mine.

Larsen didn't grow up in Copperton, but would go up there with friends from high school, "sluffing," or playing truant. Twelve years ago, after watching a PBS special, he went up to the small collection of streets gathered around the park "looking for a home. People were waving at me," he recalls, and he knew he had found what he sought.  

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