Feature | Sidebar: Dinkeyville 

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Just over 100 years ago, my grandfather joined thousands of other Greek immigrants seeking their portion of the American Dream by digging for ore in the copper mines of Bingham Canyon in the Oquirrh Mountains. Open-pit mining operations had begun just a few years prior, and “The Hill,” the mineral-laden mountain that would later become an inverted pit was still standing. Throughout Bingham Canyon were large immigrant communities, over 40 nations represented in all.

The French settled Frogtown, where the city of Bingham began. Heading up the canyon, one passed homes of people mostly representing the British Isles. At Carr Fork at the base of The Hill where the canyon split into two forks, many Scandanavians and central Europeans lived. If you forked to the right, you entered Highland Boy where the Italians, Basques, Serbs and Croats built homes on the perilous mountainside. Some American Indian families settled there, too.

Traveling to the left brought you to Copperfield. As the mine grew, a long section of town was consumed by the mine and a 1 1/4 mile-long vehicular tunnel was dug to connect Carr Fork with the rest of Copperfield. That portion of Bingham Canyon thus became even more distinct. Copperfield developed its own strong identity, its denizens living within subsections like Greektown, Jap Camp, Midas, Terrace Heights, Telegraph and Dinkeyville.

Dinkeyville was all but glued to the steep slopes. Its name derived from the small Dinkey steam engines that were originally used to navigate the tight terrain of the high Oquirrh’s. Getting to Dinkeyville was difficult since numerous gullies gathered runoff that gouged the only road upward. Otherwise, one walked. “I had to climb and climb and climb stairs,” recalls Donna Cintron, of the old-fashioned wooden stairs the copper company had constructed for families and workers.

Former residents of Dinkeyville all agree that this particular piece of Bingham Canyon was taken from heaven itself. Wildlife was everywhere. Greenery abounded, and in the springtime, the hills were lush with wildflowers. The winters, harsh as they were, provided some of the best sledding in Bingham Canyon. It was into these environs that many Mexican-American families settled, the vast majority coming up from New Mexico. Besides Donna Cintron, the Martinez and Gonzales families lived there also.

They joined the Vasquez, Valdez, Leyba, Montoya, Contreras, Espinosa and Romero families taking root in Dinkeyville. Most Dinkeyville men worked in the drill and blast department (D&B) of the Kennecott copper mine. They wore the distinctive round, red hard hats of the D&B. That department was full of Greeks decades prior, they too, considered expendable fodder, since drilling and blasting was among the most dangerous jobs at the mine. My dad was a boss and general foreman in the D&B. I’m sure all of Dinkeyville’s families knew my dad as most worked for him. In return, I knew most of them.

So it was that when I first heard the story several years ago of LeRoy Tafoya, Jimmy Martinez and Tom Gonzales, I knew I’d want to run it in this paper someday. This 40-year anniversary seemed appropriate. However, I quickly realized I couldn’t be the author, as it was just too personal on every level. I spoke to my good friend Doogie Gonzales, Tom’s oldest brother. Doogie was a boss like my dad and a great family ally for decades. But it hurt Doogie to bring it up. Norbert Martinez (who later founded Mama Maria’s Tortilla Factory) graduated from Bingham High School with my brother Gary. I have long been friends with Tony and Albert Martinez, plus their cousins Gene Martinez and Eloy Romero. Jose (Joe) Cintron and I graduated together from Bingham. My brother Sam knew Jimmy.

My connection to each via strong bonds and childhood memories—like selling ore—ultimately would not allow me to ask the personal questions needed to build this story. I found myself crying, not taking notes. To complicate it all, two of my brothers and two cousins, also Copperfield sons, fought in Vietnam and returned safely. The “what if” scenarios became painful. The story needed an outsider to tell it.

I chose Stephen Dark, a foreigner himself, a native Brit. I hope you agree that he did a wonderful job. And I would be remiss not to mention the everlasting love and affection the people of Bingham Canyon have for each other to this day. They are all truly the best. It’s so sad we lost three of the very best among us.

Read Private Eye | Kids With Guns
Read this week’s Feature Story, The Things We Carry

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