Sunday, April 06, 2014

Recollections of Max Leonard From the Early Years in Peerless and Price

I was born in Peerless, a small mining town in Carbon County, Utah on December 21, 1922. I was the seventh of nine children born to Zoe Ellen (Powell) and Leopold Leonard. My parents had moved from Price to Peerless, about 10 miles away, in 1920, in order for my father to assume his new position as a tipple and weigh boss at the mine. They rented our house in Price while they were living in Peerless. Peerless was the first of several coal mining towns located in a small box canyon that was about nine miles long and that was known as Spring Canyon. These towns were connected by a narrow dirt road and a railroad that was used for hauling out the coal that was mined near each town. Peerless was made up of just about fourteen houses that were laid out on each side of the canyon. At the entrance to the canyon was the large tipple where the coal was loaded on to the railroad car after being hauled up the road from the mines.

The coal miners homes where made of wood. They had large balconies on one side and wooden steps on the other side. These homes lacked such essential amenities as bathrooms and running water for bathing, cooking and dish washing. Water had to be hand carried from a communal water hydrant that had to be hand pumped. We didn't have an indoor toilet. Facilities consisted of a small wooden structure placed over a hold in the ground. It was called an outhouse. That was because it was out back some distance from the main house. With these inconveniences to contend with bathing was a once a week ritual. It was usually done on Saturday night. Toileting was never a nocturnal activity unless there was an emergency. It was dark and cold out back and you never knew what you might encounter as we lived in a remote canyon where it wasn’t unusual to see wild animals.

Children outside the school in Peerless. Max is on the right at the front with his hands on the girl's shoulders and his brother Emmet is behind him.

Due to its small size Peerless had a one room school house that accommodated children in grades 1 – 4. Older children were taken by bus to Raines or Price for their schooling. A small post office provided mail service. The nearest grocery store was in Helper about two to three miles away. My Recollections of life in Peerless is rather limited due to my young age at the time I lived there and due to the passage of 75 years since leaving. A number of incidents in my life while living there, however, are indelibly etched in my memory. One was the Christmas of 1925, when I was three years old. I received a large tricycle. It had a sturdy frame, balloon tires and a beautiful leather seat. It was a thing of beauty in my eyes. I rode my tricycle everyday over the rockiest and most hilly terrain one could imagine. The canyon where Peerless was located had few flat spots and no pavement. No child could have enjoyed a tricycle more than I enjoyed this one. However, my enjoyment ended soon. I will never forget that Christmas morning when mother and dad told me to look in the closet for my present. There stood the toy that gave me so much pleasure for a year or more.

Another fond memory I have of my early years in Peerless was walking to the post office with my older brother Stanley to pick up the mail. The post office was about an eighth of a mile from our house along the road to Helper. To a three year old it seemed a long distance and a great adventure. On a number of occasions we picked up several large package which I couldn't wait to open because they were from my oldest brother, Lee, who was living in California. When we got home mother let me opened the packages and there were presents for all of us. My brother’s generosity during those and later years will always be remembered by me with warm affection and love for him. Meeting my dad as he came off of the tipple and walking with him to the bath house where he bathed before going home and having him carry me on his shoulders to our house was another experience I will never forget.

Probably my most unforgettable experience and the one that had the greatest impact upon my life happened while living in Peerless. It was when I contracted polio. I was four years old at the time. My left leg was parallelized from the hip on down. I was unable to walk, let alone ride my beloved tricycle ever again. It happened on the day my father was going on a tour through Uintah and Duchene counties with his orchestra. Mother had told my brother Clair to wake me up and get me ready to go with them. Clair woke me up and when I stood up to get out of bed my left leg buckled under me and I fell down. He helped me up and I tried to stand on my left leg again but it just hung here lifeless. Clair told mother and she rushed in to see what was wrong. When she saw how serious the situation was she told my father that he would have to cancel his tour. Dad told mother we could have doctors on our route examine me to determine what was wrong. He finally convinced mother that we should all go. In each town along the way that had a doctor dad and mother stopped and had me checked. I remember to this day some of the diagnosis. One doctor said that I had rheumatism and another thought that I appendicitis. Neither was correct. It wasn't until we returned to Peerless and had our family doctor check me out that we got a correct diagnosis. He referred me to Dr. Heather at the St. Marks Hospital in Salt Lake City for treatment.

From the inception of the polio my leg was racked with pain. It hurt whenever anyone touched or moved it. Dr. Heather had my leg put in a plaster cast that completely immobilized it. We later found out that this was the worst thing that you could do. What needed to be done was to massage and exercise the leg to try and restore strength in the muscles. This was what a neighbor of ours in Price did for her boy, without consulting a doctor, when he got polio about the same time as I did. He regained almost total muscular control of his leg. When mother realized that doctor’s mistake it was too late. The months of inactivity my leg experienced in the cast had caused the muscles to atrophy and become useless. Nevertheless dad tried for years to restore the use of my leg muscles by massaging and exercising every morning and evening, but it was no use. Mother never got over this mistake by Dr. Heather.

After the doctor took the cast off my left was put in a leg brace that held it rigid so that I could walk. Without the brace my leg just dangled. I had no muscle control from the hip down to my toes. From the age of four to about the age of 12 I wore this brace. Because my left leg didn't grow as fast as my right leg it gradually became shorter. This meant that I needed a build up in the sole of my shoe so that both legs were the same length so that I could walk more easily. Between the ages of eight and twelve I had several operations to stiffen my knee, ankle and foot so that I could walk without the brace. I was in the hospital each time for about 3 months. These operations were eventually successful and I began walking without the brace. My left shoe had a sole that was about two to three inches thick to compensate for the lack of length in my left leg. I lived with this type of shoe until I was about seventeen years old. At that time I decided to have a build up put inside of my shoe instead of on the sole to reduce the amount of attention and stares and comments from people who saw my large sole and limp. This attention was not always kind and I wanted to avoid it as best I could.

When I was about five or six years old we moved back to our home in Price. It had an indoor bath and toilet and plenty of bedrooms, and conveniences that we didn't have in Peerless, like running water. At the age of six I started first grade in the Southside School. It had four grades and four classrooms. This was a luxury compared to the one room school that my older brothers went to in Peerless. I thoroughly enjoyed those four years. I was a very good student, excelling in all subjects and enjoying the companionship of my fellow students.

Upon completing the fourth grade I went to the Harding School. It was about three quarters of a mile from where we lived. I spent the next four years at this school completing grades 5 through 8. It was a large school being the only school in Price at those grades. The competition was greater in this school. It was a big change from the small school that I had attended nearer to my home. Nevertheless, I enjoyed my four years there. I enjoyed studying and excelled in history, geography, math and civics. While I enjoyed art classes I wasn't a natural artist. I did love reading. One of the things I liked doing was to stop at the city library on the way home from school and spend an hour there reading the national geographic magazines and other interesting periodicals that I found. I’d then select a good book and read it on the way home. If I had two pennies I would stop by the candy store and buy a square of milk chocolate to eat on the way home while reading. Because of the polio in my leg I limped as I walked. This was noticed by some of the boys and resulted in some rude remarks which I didn't take to, which led to a number of altercations. I wouldn't give in and I never lost a fight. Many of them were stopped by teachers or parents who didn't like seeing me being picked on. I won a number of them with my opponent running away crying or bleeding from his nose. That made them think twice about being a bully and picking on someone who had a disadvantage.

I grew up during the great depression that lasted from 1929 until the U.S. entered World War II in 1941. I was just 7 went it started. Even though times were difficult for my mother and dad my brothers and two sisters never went hungry or lacked the necessities of life. Dad worked hard, sometimes working at three jobs at the same time. He didn't earn a lot but mother’s good money management made a comfortable life possible. Dad worked during the day for the city, sometimes not regularly, and at night he sold tailor made suits by appointment. On the weekend evenings he led his orchestra that played for dances in Price and nearby mining towns. Dad also had several acres of land that he farmed. He grew a great variety of vegetables and had about eight fruit trees, including apricots, peaches, pears, plums, apples. We canned the fruit and stored it in the dry storage shed so that we had something during the winter months. Dad and mother raised pigs and chickens, so that we had some meat, and my brother Stan raised rabbits and several sheep. During the fishing and hunting seasons dad would go away for a few days and come back with great quantities of fish and one or two deer which we stored in a frozen food locker. Sometimes I’d go with him and camp out on a bed of sticks on the ground with just a blanket to cover me. We’d cook fish on a small camp fire. His favorite place was Joe’s Valley in the mountains about 50 miles away.

Dad and mother were very hardworking parents, especially mother who made sure that her children learned the value of work. When we weren't in school mother had all of her children doing chores. We cleaned the house, helped with clothes washing and ironing and weeded the vegetable garden. Our weekends, especially our Saturdays, were dedicated to these household tasks. There was many a Saturday when I wanted leave the chores behind and to play basketball, or football. I saw my cousins and friends playing, but I rarely got to join them. My brothers and I worked until as late as five o’clock in the evening doing the chores while mother supervised us with the oversight of an army barracks inspector. On Sundays we went to church in the mornings until noon time. Then we came home and did more chores until dinner time. After dinner we had some time to do what we wanted until it was time for evening church services which went from 7:30 until 9:00 at night. We went to the LDS church every Sunday and mother was a devote member who valued the teachings and discipline that we got.

After finishing at the Harding School I attended Carbon County High School, which was for grades 9 – 12. The school was located at the top of Carbon Avenue, the street that we lived on. It was about a mile from out home and I walked this distance four times a day because I came home for lunch. It was good exercise for me even thought I didn't have much time for lunch because our break was just one hour. I enjoyed Carbon High School. There were more activities to take part in or watch such as football, basketball, and track. I couldn't take part in the sports programs but I did participate in the extracurricular activities such as the glee club, the singing groups and the school orchestra, thanks to the training that I got from my father.

After graduation from Carbon High School in 1940 I attended Carbon Jr. College on a two year music scholarship. During my first year at college I was elected as the Freshman Class President. I served a year in this role and enjoyed the challenge of leading the class and helping to make the school experience better for everyone. I was very active in all of the school activities with the exception of sports. I participated in school plays, choral groups and the school orchestra. I even wrote the school song with words by George Platis who was the Sophomore President. My grades were good and I felt very pleased with my first year in college.

Shortly after beginning my second year at Carbon College Pearl Harbor was attacked by the Japanese on 7 December, 1941. Many of my friends signed up for one of the branches of the armed forces and others were soon drafted in to the military services. Because the polio left my left leg paralyzed I was classified as 4F and was unable to join the military forces. This was very disappointing for me because I wanted to be with my friends and to serve my country. During my two years at Carbon Jr. College I lived at home on South Carbon Avenue. My father still led his orchestra that played at the mining camps in the area and he gave me a job playing piano. Dad had a master degree in music and he taught each of us to play one or more instruments. The income provided me with money for clothing an a little entertainment. Mother and dad gave me free room and meals for which I was most grateful.

During the summer months I got work with the State Road Department along with my dad. We were painting the yellow stripes on the state highways. We drove from Price to Moab (1) and from Price to Soldiers Summit which went north through Price Canyon. My dad operated the flow of paint to the road while I guided the truck trying my best to keep the yellow stripe straight on the road. Driving was difficult as I couldn't bend my knee and I had to maneuver my hips to work the pedals. It was hot and the sun was bright, which made it harder. Sometimes the temperatures got to well over 100 F. The heat was the worst on the stretches from Price to Moab which was a dry desert. During the day it didn't seem so bad. I was young and used to it. We felt the heat more at night when we were trying to sleep in the hotels at Crescent Junction and Moab. This was before air conditioning and there wasn't a breeze. It was hot all night long. Somehow dad and I survived and I look back on those days working together as a good experience.

For more information on the mining towns, see Spring Canyon Coal MinesThe White Lady of Spring Canyon, and The Peerless Coal Mines.

Note: (1) This was long before Moab was a resort area and it was remote and not much of a town.

An autobiography of Max G. Leonard hand written in 2003 by him and typed by Michael Leonard. Part 1 covering the early years in Peerless from 1922 up until graduating from Carbon Jr. College in Price in 1941.

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