Our Towns

Thornton Wilder became famous for writing, among other things, a play about common folks in a small town. He named his play, “Our Town.” If we all had his talent we could find the same charm, drama, and oddities in our own towns large or small. In my town of Payson Utah and surrounding cities and villages the oddball history tidbits would include; drunken cows, vegetable headed people, the voice of God, and monsters from space chasing screaming boys in the night.

Sugar beets were a big cash crop in the old days, but not profitable enough to build a sugar factory for every little town. So the sugar company built a big processing plant on the outskirts of Spanish Fork about five miles northeast of my town. They then buried pipes leading to juicing centers in the surrounding towns. They pumped the sugar water to the plant to be made into sweet white granules. This worked well until one of the lines sprung a leak. It happened to be under a cow corral. The sugar water leaked to the surface, and fermented in the warm sun.

The cows loved it. But one day the farmer came out and found his dairy herd smiling and staggering. Some stories say they were leaning against the pole fence singing “Sweet Adeline” in barbershop harmony, but that may be an exaggeration. The Carnation Company used to have printed on their labels, “Milk from contented cows.” I’m thinking that’s not what they had in mind.

The first settlers to the town five miles south of us were grateful to a Native American who warned them about an impending attack from others on the warpath. The settlers prepared themselves in time for the battle. The hostile elements seeing the armed farmers decided against fighting, and peace was restored. The settlers wanted to honor their benefactor by naming the town after him, but they couldn’t quite bring themselves to it. The friendly Indian’s name was Squash Head. They did the next best thing and named the town after his brother Santaquin.

It was an outlying village in my day, one where people might have paraphrased the Bible and asked, “Can any good thing come out of Nazareth (Santaquin)? How about a voice commanding enough to represent the Almighty himself?

The great Cecil B. DeMille was directing the crown jewel of his career. To use Hollywood vernacular, a spectacular, colossal, astounding, epic motion picture extravaganza The Ten Commandments. The pinnacle point is Moses on Mount Sinai. Next time you see the movie, listen to the rumbling, thundering voice emanating from heaven as the commandments are etched by fire into the stone tablets in front of Moses. You are hearing the voice of Delos Jewkes from Santaquin Utah. Delos made his way to Hollywood, and made a comfortable career there with his fine bass voice. Among other things, he would hire out to notable singers giving recitals. Delos would wait in the wings, and when the singer came to a note lower than his register, he would lip sinc, and Delos would hit the note from backstage. He didn’t get to share the applause, but he got part of the payout.

Every little town likes to be known as “Home of the World’s Greatest…” something or other. I’m suggesting early Payson settlers missed an opportunity to be known as “Home of the World’s Driest Reservoir.” It wasn’t planned that way. It just worked out, or rather leaked out that way. They dug a hole high enough in the foothills above the city that they could water the fields and town. They may have even planned on a future pressure system. Citizens cheered as they filled the reservoir. Next morning not so much cheering. The bottom of the project was a sand and gravel sieve that sucked the little lake dry. No water, but I’m guessing some pressure on the city fathers who forgot to check out that little detail.

And the monsters chasing children? Stay tuned for the next exciting drama.