KENILWORTH, Carbon County Growing up in this town, you got used to the sound of the trains, said Ronald Jewkes. "Just like you got used to the coal dust," added Evelyn Wilmonen.
Growing up in this town, you knew everyone, said Jewkes. "We didn't even go by house numbers." Or street names.
You picked up your mail at the post office, explained Wilmonen, who used to be the postmistress. For decades, mail arrived with only the simplest of addresses, just the name of the person and the name of the town Kenilworth, Utah.
Kenilworth was a company town. But Kenilworth is different from most mine-owned towns, because Kenilworth is still here.
Heber Stowell might be said to be the founder of Kenilworth. He's the one who discovered the coal, in 1904, in the mountains about 10 miles east of Helper. By 1908, Independent Coal and Coke Co. owned the mine and had built a railroad and began building houses for the miners, who had been living in tents. By 1910, the town had a post office, restaurant, hotel, store, school and 500 people.
In those days nearly all the miners were immigrants. The Japanese miners were mostly single, living in a boarding house. Many of those who came from Greece or Italy were married, and their wives could be seen baking bread out of doors, in huge stone ovens.
By 1920 there were 800 residents. The company added a new section to the town. Some homes had two rooms, shotgun style, but most were four-room bungalows. Company managers lived high on the hill in what was called "Silk Stocking Row."
In the 1930s the company added a third tipple to sort the coal, and it was the largest tipple in the United States. The population of Kenilworth peaked in 1947 at more than 1,100. Today, there are about 100 families living in Kenilworth.
As for Ronald Jewkes, he was born here in 1927, delivered by the company doctor who would later deliver Jewkes' four children. His parents had met in Kenilworth, where his mother worked at the hospital and his father was a clerk at the Kenilworth Mercantile. Since he retired, Jewkes has become the unofficial town historian.
Evelyn Wilmonen came to Kenilworth in 1946, early in her marriage. Her husband and his cousin were both miners. She came reluctantly, intending to return as soon as possible to her hometown in Montana.
One of Wilmonen's early memories of the town is of a young Ron Jewkes delivering ice for her icebox. By that time, Jewkes' father, Cal, was running the Kenilworth store as well as several other company stores in nearby coal towns.
Recently, on a warm fall morning, Jewkes and Wilmonen stood in front of the vacant store and talked about the boom years. They remembered the dances in the recreation hall and the free movies on Thursday afternoons. For a dime, they recalled, you could see a different movie on Sunday. The mining company also ran a confectionery shop, an ice-cream parlor, a barbershop and, for a time, even a beer parlor. The company built a hospital and a baseball field and horseshoe pitching courts.
The company had rules for people who lived on its property, Wilmonen said. The children had curfews and had to bring their bikes in off the streets at night. The children knew that to break the rules might jeopardize their fathers' jobs.
Still, the miners and their families did not feel totally powerless. Wilmonen talked about national labor leader John L. Lewis with great reverence. The unions came to Carbon County about 25 years before she did. Still, every miner knows the history, that before the unions miners had to buy their own dynamite and were paid by the ton, with mine managers doing the weighing. Also, before the unions, miners were paid in script, a kind of company money that could only be used at the company store.
The coming of the unions is chronicled in a display in the mining museum in Helper. Upstairs, in the corner of one display are some letters, written in the early 1930s. The letters are from an address on Exchange Place in Salt Lake City. The owner of one of the mines wrote to his mine manager, telling him, in racist terms, not to hire any more Japanese workers. "Don't hire any Greeks, either," he wrote, "unless they were with us in the last strike."
Jewkes is well aware of patriarchal nature of a company town. "The owners really had the miners over a barrel," he says. But as a boy, he was too busy being happy to give it much thought. Of Kenilworth, he says, "It's been my whole life."
Some of his fondest memories are of sports. In elementary school, he was the town marble champ. Later, he played on the mine's baseball team. After high school, he went to in college in Price, where he played basketball. He intended to become a coach.
But then, after his freshman year, his dad asked him to help in the store. It was 1947. Droves of men were home from the war, yet no one wanted to work in the store, not with the wages you could earn on the tipple.
Jewkes' dad told him that when things leveled off he could go back to college. But the busy years kept on. By the time the store closed, in the 1960s, Jewkes' father had retired and he was the manager. At that point, Jewkes got a job delivering milk, a job that allowed him to stay in Kenilworth and raise his children where he'd been raised.
These days a row of modern mailboxes stands across from the abandoned store. As Jewkes and Wilmonen sat on the store's steps, reminiscing, an occasional car drove up to the boxes. Otherwise, the street was empty. No one jogged by. No one walked a dog.
Mines began to close in Carbon County in the 1960s. Companies consolidated. Then the Kenilworth owners allowed people to buy their homes for around $600. Eventually, people were allowed to buy their land as well. Finally, recalled Jewkes, everyone felt safe. The residents called a town meeting, sold stock and formed their own utility company to keep the water and the power flowing.
These days there are some younger people in the town families, too, like Evelyn's son Paul Wilmonen and his wife and kids. The second generation of Wilmonens live here because Paul loved his childhood so much. He loved the games of kick the can, the tiny elementary school, the closeness. One Christmas, Paul recalled, all the kids in town got pogo sticks.
When he grew up, Paul became a miner. For a time he lived and worked in Grand Junction, Colo. But he moved back. "I've been to different places," Paul said, "and I like them. But me, I want to be home."
As for Deborah Brenske, she recently moved to Kenilworth from Arkansas, having spent years searching for just the right town. She traded green scenery for a view of buttes and cliffs. Brenske spent the summer, contentedly, fixing up her house but now wants to find a job in Price. "I need more human contact."
Ask 13-year-old Wendi Turner, who has lived in Kenilworth for six years, and she'll agree, "there's not really that much to do." But then she'll talk about riding her bike and hiking in the hills and playing with her cousins, who live down the street.
In the old days there was so much noise from the trains and tipple, said Jewkes, that he doesn't remember ever seeing a deer when he was a boy. But now he sees deer all the time. In winter, they walk along the streets of Kenilworth.
Here's another little irony about life in Kenilworth. During the mine layoffs in the 1960s, Wilmonen's husband got a job in Montana. And then, after years of longing, when it came time to move from Kenilworth, Wilmonen found she didn't want to go. She just about fell apart at the thought, she says. Her husband was already in Montana, working, and she made him come home.
E-MAIL: [email protected]