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About Utah: At Utah's smallest town, they're heading into nice-quiet

Published: Sunday, Nov. 3 2013 9:50 p.m. MST

SCOFIELD, Carbon County — Any day now, if he hasn’t done it already, Jim Levanger is going to lock up the cash register here at the Snack & Pack at the entrance to town, walk to the front door, swivel the sign that says OPEN to CLOSED, and call it a year.

Some folks work 6 to 6, some 9 to 5, and some May to October. The later would include Jim and his wife, Carol, owners and proprietors of the only business in Scofield, Utah’s smallest town.

Of the state’s 243 incorporated municipalities, no place is smaller than Scofield, with a population, according to the 2010 census, of 24 (second smallest is Ophir in Tooele County, almost double at 38 people).

Located at 7,800 feet above sea level just around the corner from Scofield Reservoir in the heart of some of Utah’s prettiest mountains, the town of Scofield is hopping enough in the summertime, when some 600 vacation cabins in the valley fill up and the lake isn’t frozen and as many as 800 people show up for the visitors ward on Sunday at the LDS Church. Different story in the winter, when humans vanish like chlorophyll, leaving only the aforementioned 24 diehards.

A number that Jim, by the way, takes issue with.

“Twenty four?” he says. “I’d be hard put to come up with 24.” He thinks for a minute.

“I can only come up with 21.”

Questioned on this — how could the U.S. Census Bureau possibly be wrong? — Jim responds with, “I can do you a census in less than two minutes,” and then he does:

“Let’s see, there’s Sam, Barbara, Joy, Debra, Jim, Carol, Frank, Frank’s girlfriend, Paul, Mary, Woody, Ann, Kim, Mike, Bill, Beryl, Charlie, Jeannie, Grant, Judy and Melba.”

That, he states with confidence, is the lineup that will start the six-month offseason, and also hopefully finish it.

“It gets cold here,” says Jim, “any day, find out the coldest spot in the country, take minus 2 and you’ve got Scofield.”

He and Carol, Jim says, almost moved out the second winter they were in town, in 1991-92. “The daytime high was minus 18,” he swears, “and it got to minus 47 for a couple of weeks. Only one car in town would start. That almost run me out. I thought it was normal but it wasn’t, thank the good Lord.”

A little cold weather is a small price to pay, chips in longtime resident Joy Podbevsek, 77, a frequent visitor to the Snack & Pack when it’s open. “People think I’m crazy, but I’d rather live here in winter than summer.”

Scofield has two seasons, she’ll tell you: “noisy-busy and nice-quiet.”

They’re heading into nice-quiet.

Everybody in town is retired except Jim, Carol and Debra. All the year-rounders are grownups, at least chronologically. They come for the solitude but some don’t stay. “There’s a culture shock you have to get over,” says Jim. “We’ve had quite a few people move in and then move out the next year.“

Jim and Carol moved here from Cedar City 23 years ago to “live in the mountains.” “I never cared much for crowded,” says Jim, “I’m not much on city.”

He motions in the direction of the populated Wasatch Front, beyond the mountain peaks, two hours away. “To me, Utah County, Salt Lake County, it’s like a big red ant hill you stirred up with a stick. Everybody's mad. I always say if I lived there I’d be mad too.”

Scofield hasn’t always been small. A century ago, in 1910, the population was 746. That’s when the coal mines were humming and people didn’t commute from Price or Sanpete County or Utah County. Today, just one area mine, the Skyline, is up and running, and most of its 300 employees drive in and drive out. They cruise through Scofield doing 40.

It was near Scofield that the worst mining tragedy in Utah history occurred in 1900, when 199 men lost their lives in a cave-in at the Winter Quarters mine. And Scofield is the hometown of the most decorated journalist in Utah history. Robert Mullins, who won a Pulitzer Prize writing for the Deseret News in 1962, was born here.

But that was then and this is now. Joy, who has been here for 58 years, doesn’t remember Bob Mullins. To her, he’s just another person who used to live here and now doesn’t.

Most of the town left, she says, when the school closed in 1966 and they started busing the kids to Helper. Sooner or later, the kids and their parents all moved to Helper too.

Now it’s just the hearty grownups.

“It’s laid-back up here, no question,” says Jim. “You get used to it, you really do. You improvise. If you want something for dinner and it’s not there you go, 'Well that’s not what I’m having for dinner.' It’s not like you can run to Wal-Mart.”

Or the Snack & Pack, for that matter, starting this week.

Lee Benson's About Utah column runs Mondays. Email: benson@deseretnews.com

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