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HISTORIC HAPPENINGS November 2011

Uranium Connection Goes Full Circle At Crescent Junction
by Vicki Barker


From Indian relics and rock art to the north to the Big Indian mine south in San Juan County, the town of Crescent Junction touts a lot of history for its size.

Original Building 1947

Current residents and workers there note the irony in Crescent Junction being the nearest town to a huge repository for tons of radioactive waste from processed uranium they once dug up.

It is also where mining and milling equipment for the Big Indian uranium plant arrived by train for transport to Lisbon Valley in the early days of the Atomic Era.

Rod Asay, who has lived at the junction with his wife Lani (Leeanne) since the late ‘80s, said his first job when he arrived in southeastern Utah was at the Atlas Minerals Corp. uranium mill in Moab. Processed ore and other contaminants from Atlas are now shipped out to a site about a mile from Crescent Jct. for storage.

“Now, it’s all coming back,” Asay said. “You can see it. It looks like a bunch of train cars and a tent and a pile of dirt. They’re hauling it up here on the rail…over a little hill from here.”

Original Building in foreground circa 1956

The hazardous material is carried to Crescent on a rail spur that has served a potash fertilizer plant at the end of Highway 279 since the 1960s. Radiological contamination at the Atlas site is monitored and the U.S. Department of Energy provided residents near the disposal area with testing equipment to ensure their properties and air remain clear and safe, Asay said.

DOE’s decision in 2005 to relocate the mill tailings pile away from the Colorado River in Moab resulted in Lani Asay serving on an ongoing steering committee as representative for Crescent Jct. and Thompson Springs as the project proceeds. She grew up in Crescent Jct. and brought her new husband to the homestead 33 years ago. Not much has changed since then, except the original 320 acres owned by three ancestors is now claimed by 27 people.

Al Lange making his famous pie.

“We’re into the sixth generation now,” she said.“My one great-aunt sold to my dad the6/10nths of an acre where I live now.” Her place is among five parcels that were passed on to her mother, Bette Wimmer (married to Al Lange) and Bette’s siblings Pat, Ed and Bobbe.

Pat Wimmer in front of original building

Living in a town that barely boasts more than a gas station and mini-mart. “It’s wonderful,” she said. “I have no neighbors. I have no noise. When you’ve grown up in an area like that, it’s not hard.”

Kerry Lange, co-owner of Desert West Office Supply, agrees. Among sites of interest they explored were ancient Indian rock-art panels and a summer solstice marker created by the Indians to track the seasons. They found the desert and Book Cliffs range endlessly fun.

“We didn’t know any different, so it was cool. We were never bored.” Kerry remembers growing up with his siblings -- Lani, Robyn and Keven -- in “a little place behind the gas station where the fuel tanks are now.” The house was made of railroad ties and a section of another house that they hauled in.

Another structure west of the house, built in 1952 behind the original station, the kids referred to as the “bomb shed.” Kerry said it was made of big, long wooden boxes that were used to freight bombs by rail during World War II.

Ed Wimmer in Army tent they all lived in
while constructing original buildings.

Al Lange, who served as justice of the peace in northern Grand County, re-introduced the idea of a freighting link from Crescent Jct. 40 miles south to Moab and beyond, about the time of the Uranium Boom, Kerry said. His great-grandfather had freighted to Thompson and other places in one of the first 4-wheel-drive vehicles seen in this area -- what Kerry described as “a big, ugly, skinny-tired 4-wheel-drive vehicle.”

Ed and Erma Wimmer

“He moved the Big Indian copper thing to Lisbon Valley. It said Big Indian on it.”

The Langes, along with the family of Pat and Geraldine (Taylor) Wimmer, claimed the longest-lasting residency at Crescent Jct., a town that Lani Asay said was named for the shape of the old narrow-gauge railroad tracks as they wound toward the Book Cliffs range and then turned toward Green River.

Kerry and Lani’s parents and grandparents on the Wimmer side, Ed and Irma, built the original gas station in 1947, earning a penny per gallon from Utah Oil Co. The station later pumped gas for American Oil, and then Amoco (which Kerry said were all run by the same corporation). Then in the ’80s, the station was supplied by Shell Oil, and in the late ’80s, it became a Sinclair station. That’s when the big green dinosaur mural was painted on the west-facing exterior wall.

Lani was the last of the family to work at the gas station, until the family decided it was unsafe for her and another woman, Donna Galindo, to be the only ones there. “I sold my last drop of gas December 28th, 2003, at 2:30 in the afternoon,” she said, “And I walked away.”

About five years ago, the family sold the business to Joe Downard and family, who named it Papa Joe’s. Joe’s mother, Mary, said business was good when construction of the mill tailings repository was underway. Recently, lay-offs on the project affected business, but Mrs. Downard said plans to open a Crescent Jct. café are still in the works.


 
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