Ophir, Tooele County To get elected as mayor of Utah's smallest town, at least three things are required, says Walt Shubert, the man who should know.
1. You need to raise about $10 in campaign funds.
2. You need to know how to whittle and spit.
3. You need a pulse.
Walt is grateful that he's aced all three, especially the pulse bit. There are still a lot of things he'd like to accomplish as mayor of Ophir, Pop. 9.
With the former Tooele County mining town hosting its annual Octoberfest this Saturday in the town park, Walt, 71, thought it would be a good time to let people in on one of Utah's best-kept little secrets.
"Ophir is one of the better places in the state for families to visit," he says during a Free Lunch break at his restored miners' cabin in the Oquirrh Mountains. "We might be small in population, but we're big on history. You won't find a better place to take a trip back in time."
It wasn't always that way. Eight years ago, many of Ophir's old miners' shacks were tumbling down, rotting from years of neglect. "I knew if we didn't act fast, we were going to lose our history," says Walt.
Calling together Ophir's full-time and part-time residents, he laid out the town's dilemma and put together a committee. Led by town historians Sharon Sinclair and John Skinner, the group rallied to get property owners' permission to move their old structures to a hillside above Ophir's Main (and only) Street.
From there, volunteers patched up the ramshackle homes and turned them into 19th-century replicas of the buildings that filled Ophir when it was a boomtown of 6,000 people. So far, they've restored several houses, a train car museum, a shoe store, a post office and a blacksmith shop, with plans in the works for renovating a one-room schoolhouse.
Although Walt grew up 21 miles away in Tooele, he spent many happy winter afternoons with friends in Ophir, sledding down the narrow canyon road. "I always liked the stillness of the place, the quietness," he says.
Thirty years ago, he and his wife, Betty, bought an old cabin in the ghost town of Mercur and moved it to a small patch of property they owned in Ophir. Walt enjoys pointing out that his renovated shack has seven front porches, "one for each time the previous owners had a child. They'd turn the porch into a bedroom, then build a new porch," he says.
When he was written in as mayor 20 years ago, he was put in charge of an $8,000 budget and garbage collection. "We all take turns with snow removal," he says.
"Probably my biggest challenge, even with nine people, is keeping everybody happy."
Walt and his neighbors are relieved that Ophir is simply too small to support new growth. Property is rarely put up for sale, with the newest residents Tooele County Deputy Sheriff Aaron Bird and his family moving in more than a year ago.
The town has one store Minnie's Ophir Gopher run by Betty Shubert in memory of Minnie Jackson, a longtime resident who tended a candy counter for decades before her death eight years ago. But don't expect to find the store open if you venture up state Route 73 for a soda pop."Betty opens the store pretty much when she feels like it," says Walt. "That's how we do things in Ophir."
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