You've got problems folks;
Right here in Brigham City;
Problems with a capital P,
and that rhymes with T;
And that stands for Thiokol.The early morning sun shines brightly. And so does this town's optimism.
Although a double dose of bad news received by Morton Thiokol recently is ample reason for gloom and doom, people here remain confident in both themselves and their rocket-building neighbor, Morton Thiokol Inc., 25 miles away in the remote western desert.
Along Brigham City's Main Street, from Bert's Cafe to Burt's Barbershop, the mood remains upbeat. People are genuinely concerned about NASA's plans to build the next generation of space shuttle boosters outside of Utah and Air Force cutbacks in the Midget man missile program, but most of those in this modest-sized northern Utah community are taking the bad news in stride.
"Any reaction is based on very broad experience. We're not unaware of Morton Thiokol's cyclical history. . . ," explained Mayor Peter C. Knudson, noting the company's ups and downs since arriving in the 1950s.
"I don't think we've lost sight of the fact that government contracts come and government contracts go. There were other space programs prior to the shuttle Mercury, Gemini and Apollo and I suppose other new generations of the shuttle will follow.
"Brigham City has weathered a lot of storms in the past and will weather others in the future," Knudson said confidently.
In fact, after spending two years in a fishbowl following the Challenger disaster, some Brighamites don't think setbacks suffered by Morton Thiokol the past week even merit storm status.
"It's just a temporary thing. It's just one step backward, and for awhile everyone will hold their breath, but it will go on," said Valerie Felt, manager for Cache Mortgage's Brigham City branch. Based on Morton Thiokol's strong track rec-ord, she's confident the company can pull another rabbit out of the hat.
Such unwavering faith in the company's resiliency is nearly universally shared.
"I think it'll blow over," predicted Bert Olsen, proprietor of Bert's Cafe, a cozy little diner whose overhead sign testifies of its staying power: "Since 1930."
Olsen said it'll be at least seven years before NASA's new booster plant is on line. Before then, something will probably happen to keep Morton Thiokol alive and kicking.
Brian Burt, who operates Burt's Barbershop, which in keeping pace with the 1980s is now a four-chair hair salon, believes most people like Morton Thiokol's long-range chances.
"People around here, knowing there's a certain amount of time left on Thiokol's contact with NASA, feel they'll pull through," he said. "Thiokol has a lot of money and resources, and they're not going to just give up."
Few lives in this community of more than 16,000 people aren't somehow touched by Morton Thiokol. Many of the company's more than 7,000 employees reside in Brigham City or in close proximity, so nearly everyone has a close relative or friend working for the company.
The result is a citizenry surprisingly well-versed on matters pertaining to the rocket giant. While facts sometimes get muddled, most people can usually speak to issues involving the company with some degree of authority.
So they were dumbfounded to learn NASA wants to forsake Morton Thiokol and northern Utah, and they quickly dismiss the space agency's plans out of hand.
Olsen said he finds it unbelievable that Congress is willing to spend huge amounts of money to build a new shuttle booster plant elsewhere.
"There's a lot of time and money that's been invested at Thiokol, and it seems silly to duplicate it," added Burt. "Anyone in Washington should be able to see that they (NASA's officials) have a pretty good deal out at Thiokol."
Knudson said the general rejection of NASA's proposal is almost like a conditioned response. Even he questions the agency's ability and resolve to build the new $1 billion booster facility it wants. Beneath the calm, rational exterior, however, people are worried about the future.
"Since the shuttle tragedy two years ago, people around here had started thinking, what if . . . what if there isn't a Morton Thiokol one day? People adjusted their lifestyles accordingly. They're still in that mode," Knudson said. "It's not like they're living in a state of paranoia, but they are cautious, conservative and have started preparing for change."
Michael Iverson has been through it all before. Shortly after he hired on at Morton Thiokol in late 1985, he was a victim of layoffs when the company was forced to temporarily curtail its shuttle booster operations following the Challenger accident.
"I'm scared to death," said Iverson, who stopped in at Burt's to have a little taken off the top. "I've got a good job, but it's being threatened because NASA wants a new plant."
Iverson, an O-ring specialist in Morton Thiokol's Space Division, said many Morton Thiokol employees are confused and frustrated by NASA's sudden flip-flop. "Things were pretty secure, and then Challenger happened, and it's like NASA turned on us."
He said before Challenger, NASA used to rave about Morton Thiokol's state-of-the-art facilities. Now NASA says those same facilities are outmoded. In his mind, the only thing that's changed is NASA.
"I respect Morton Thiokol. They haven't done anything wrong. NASA ordered it (the failed Challenger booster), and we built it to their specs. I think it's just a case of NASA wanting something and going for it," Iverson said.
Another employee, who asked not to be identified, thinks Morton Thiokol is a victim of politics. He said upper management has been much too trusting of NASA.
"After Challenger, they (Morton Thiokol) played the good soldier shouldering most of the blame for the accident. I think in the back of their minds they were thinking NASA was going to give them a pat on the back and a few `atta boys.' What they got instead for their trouble was a swift kick in the butt."
Someone can walk into Mims, a popular watering hole at the crossroads to Morton Thiokol, any Friday after 4 p.m. and literally see dozens of the company's security badges clearly showing it to be one of the employees' favorite after-work haunts.
Surprisingly, owner Boyd Baker said his Morton Thiokol clientele hasn't mentioned too much about the company's recent woes, although he personally thinks NASA's about-face has the strong odor of politics.
"Sure it's a political thing. A lot of money is involved out there (at Thiokol). It would be quite a thing to gain and quite a thing to lose," he said.
Box Elder County Commissioners Frank O. Nishiguchi and James J. White agree that the shuttle program would be quite a loss, and they shudder at the thought of subtracting 2,000 to 3,000 jobs from the local economy. Both point out, however, that the problem transcends just Brigham City and Box Elder County affecting Cache County, Weber County, parts of southern Idaho and anywhere else Morton Thiokol draws its employees from.
Nishiguchi, shaking his head, said it doesn't make sense to him for Morton Thiokol to have worked so hard to recover from the Challenger tragedy only to have this kind of bombshell dropped on it now.
Ditto White. "I've thought this through and though my mind, but I just don't know what to do. It's one of the most frustrating things I've ever dealt with."
Knudson believes Utah's first line of defense is its congressional delegation. "They're committed to the program, and there's no question they're going to support us."
But what if NASA remains unconvinced? What then?
Knudson said he feels a lot more secure knowing there's still a lot of work to be done on the current contract. "It's not like they're going to turn off the lights tomorrow," he said.