Bob Robertson's Boyhood Memories of Thompson Springs, Utah
Some say, “History repeats itself”. In Thompson Springs, Utah, it simply vanishes.
Exiting Interstate I-70 at “Thompson”, as the locals call it, is like entering a time warp. Approaching the town on a desolate two-lane road, it feels like you are entering Thompson in the 1890's. In those days “Old Man Thompson” still ran the lumber mill. These days, there are no more trees to fell. There are no more “Thompson's” listed in the phone book. No more steam trains linger at the railroad depot, taking on passengers, coal or water. The nearest passenger station is now miles away, at Green River.
In the past ten years, I have written nine blog articles that mention Thompson or Thompson Springs. I physically revisit the place every year or two. For some reason, Thompson, as a place resonates with me. In 2018, I heard from Mr. Bob Robertson, who was once a resident of Thompson. Since then, Bob has shared with me many details about the history of “Thompson”, as many call the place. Therefore, the rest of this article is in the words of Bob Robertson and his mother, Dorothy (known as Tods).
“Your blog prompted many memories and thoughts about the area I’d like to share, so bear with me as an old man reflects (while he is still able)!
Thompson Springs began its life in 1883 as a station stop on the D&RGW Railroad. A post office was established in 1890, under the name “Thompson’s," named after E.W. Thompson, who lived near the springs and operated a saw mill, to the north, near the Book Cliffs. The town became a community center for the small number of farmers and ranchers who lived in the inhospitable region, and it was a prominent shipping point for cattle that ran in the Book Cliffs area.
The town gained importance with the development of coal mines in Sego Canyon, a few miles north of town. Entrepreneurs built a railroad there in 1911 to connect the mines with the Denver & Rio Grande Western railroad at Thompson. The spur line operated until about 1950.
One added aspect of interest is the actual community of Sego, where the mines were functioning through the 1940s. I remember as a kid in school in Moab, there was a carload of kids driven from Sego to Moab daily to go to school. Education was Grand County's responsibility, until the mines closed around 1948 or 1949. The internet tells of how the community included specific ethnic groups, housed in separate locations in the canyon, which was typical of the times. There was a Japanese section, different European sections, etc. There is very little indication of old home sites now, but there is a cemetery.
It was much like Bingham Canyon Mine in northern Utah, where my wife was born in 1940. Her dad and his brother worked in the mine there during the Second World War, but the uncle was an accountant and her dad drove heavy machinery. Therefore, they had to live in different locations within the canyon.
Construction of Interstate I-70, two miles south of Thompson, drew traffic away from the town, since the former Old Cisco Highway (US-6 & US-50) was no longer maintained. In 1997, the passenger train station closed and moved to Green River, twenty-five miles to the west. The loss of railroad passenger service led to further economic hardship for Thompson Springs.
My Dad (Maury Robertson) ran a gas station in Thompson Springs, beginning in 1935. He lived in a tent with Mom and sister Maurine until they moved the abandoned small one-room Valley City schoolhouse to Thompson, which became their bedroom on their house next to the service station.
I was born in 1937. Later, my Mom made the following comments for my own son about my arrival: “Dear Dan, Your Dad was born when we lived in Thompson. We hadn’t planned to have more children, for Maury was afraid there would be problems of health because of Maurine (Bob’s sister). In addition, we were very poor and living conditions were bad in Thompson. During pregnancy, I got big & miserable with hay fever & also the gnats landed & mixed with my hay fever drink. At that time, Maury had the hired man drive me to Moab two weeks early. The nights in Moab were so hot I about melted – the nights on the desert in Thompson were cool.
When Bob was born, my Dad (Cap Maxwell) drove out to Thompson to tell Maury & he was so tickled with a boy that he told the truth. Maury thought it was a girl all the way to Moab, for he did not think Dad would tell the truth. Cap was a great tease. We argued about what to name the boy. I wanted Vincent Clark & Maury wanted Jim after his father. We already had one Jim in the family. Maurine came to the hospital & said let us name him Bobby & so that was it.
He had a rough upbringing with the hired men that we had at the station in Thompson. Collin Loveridge used to throw him in the air so high I’d nearly flip & Albert Brown, who was a big “roughy” used to get him up in the morning & feed him & let me sleep in. When Bob would not eat his toast for me Albert said, “Oh, I put sugar & Jelly on it, he likes it.”
My Uncle Curt (Dad's brother and business partner in Moab tacked that old schoolhouse onto a storefront that old Doc Williams bought. It became living quarters for my folks, moving Mom & Dad and sister Maurine out of the tent. That was where I got my start. The two-pump service station has the name labeled on the front "Robertson Service," It’s kind of hard to make out in the picture. The brand was Utoco (Utah Oil Co.). Dad also drove the gas truck servicing the towns in the area, Cisco, Moab, Monticello, Blanding, and Bluff).”
Since I-70 became the main east/west route across Utah, lost are locations and memories of road trips from Moab to Grand Junction, Colorado or Price, Utah. Crescent Junction became the first stop after the interstate opened. Then as kids, going west, there was the thrill of the cold-water geyser at Woodside. Traveling east, after Thompson came Cisco, Harley Dome, and then Fruita.
Valley City was home to enough people at some point to warrant a small schoolhouse (that became our home in Thompson Springs, as mentioned earlier). This is where we would drive from Moab in the winter to ice skate on the Valley City reservoir. It was not much of a spot for skating, but to us kids, it was great.
Sis (Maurine Robertson), who was born with a congenital heart defect, died in 1953, during my sophomore year in high school. She had lived twenty-three good years and had brought much joy and happiness to all who knew her. Two years earlier, she had been crowned Rodeo Queen and received much deserved recognition for the beautiful person she was.”
In 1955, Bob Robertson went on to graduate from Grand County High School in Moab. In 1961, after earning a BS Electrical Engineering at the University Of Utah, he joined the “U.S. Space Program” before it even had a name. After active military time at White Sands Proving Ground, New Mexico and Redstone Arsenal, Alabama, Bob launched a distinguished career in electronics and engineering.
While working for such premier corporations as Intel, Fairchild, AC Spark Plug, Astrodata, Standard Microsystems, Mini-circuits and Motorola, Bob and his family lived in Singapore, Indonesia and Russia. After a later stint teaching at Great Basin College, in Elko, Nevada, Bob moved to Boise, Idaho, where he retired working for Micron Technology. He and his wife (grandparents of twenty-two) now live comfortably in northern Idaho.
Although he has not visited Thompson recently, Bob Robertson's recollections of bygone locations and events in the old ranching and railroad town are as sharp as ever. Thank you, Bob Robertson for sharing your personal history with us all.
This is Part 2 of the Thompson Springs Story. To read Part 1, “Thompson Springs, Utah - From Boom Town to Ghost Town”, please click “Here”. To read Part 3, "Sego Canyon - Land of the Ancients", please click "Here".