Installment #3 – “My Old Man:” The Uranium King – Charlie Steen strikes it rich and fight his partners to han on to the Mi Vida Mine – by Mark Steen (Canyon Country Zephyr – June/July 2002)

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A few days after the Denver Post published its closely worded story about my father’s Big Indian uranium discovery, Moab’s Times-Independent ran an article based on the same announcement that Dad had given to the Denver newspaper. Although the Times-Independent article actually contained more details about the high-grade nature of the uranium mineralization contained in the discovery drill core, not a single person among the newspaper’s readership expressed any interest in helping Dad develop his prospect.

None of the area’s long-time uranium prospectors and miners were convinced that Charlie Steen had really found a uranium bonanza. Folks laughed when they heard that someone from Texas was claiming to have discovered a million dollars worth of uranium in a mining district that everyone knew the experts had already examined and written off as a loser.

In early September, Dad received a letter postmarked Casper, Wyoming from William T. Hudson, his former boss at the Chicago Bridge and Iron Company’s Houston, Texas office. Bill Hudson had overseen the college loans that my father worked off during the summers and had written to congratulate him after reading the Denver Post article.

AT LONG LAST! Charlie tries on a new pair of boots.

Dad immediately telephoned Bill Hudson and explained the situation. He told Hudson that McCormick’s interest was available for $15,000 and that he needed at least another $35,000 to prove up the ore deposit. Hudson, a family man, told my father that he couldn’t risk more than $5,000. But he was still associated with Dan O’Laurie, another of Dad’s old bosses at Chicago Bridge and Iron. Hudson approached the thrifty O’Laurie about raising the necessary money. A day later Dan O’Laurie flew down from Casper to size up the proposition.

After he saw the drill core samples and verified the chemical analysis results, O’Laurie caught some of Charlie Steen’s enthusiasm for his uranium prospect. He put up $15,000 and agreed to loan the venture another $30,000. Hudson came across with his $5,000 and Bob Barrett chipped in another $4,500. Dan O’Laurie and Bill Hudson bought out Bill McCormick and his cautious silent partner while my father considered his options.

Instead of spending all of the remaining capital drilling more holes to block out the ore body, Dad decided to gamble all of the money to sink a shaft down to the uranium indicated by his single discovery drill hole on the Mi Vida claim. It was bad geology but good economics, because if they had drilled more exploratory holes they would have been out of money; but a shaft would enable them to begin production immediately.

A small crew of miners was hired and a head frame and hoist house were constructed along with a bunkhouse and cook shack. On October 4, 1952, a six-by-eight foot shaft was started thirty feet southeast of the discovery drill hole. While my father examined and recorded the geology, Bob Barrett oversaw the shaft sinking, and my grandmother, Rosalie Shumaker, did the cooking. Dan O’Laurie moved to Moab and handled the finances, and Bill Hudson anxiously awaited the results in Wyoming. My mother and brothers and I continued to live in Cisco where our friends, the Cowgers and the Seeleys helped Mom get along during Dad’s absences.

Two weeks later, my father drove into Moab and introduced himself to Mitch Melich, the only lawyer in town. He wanted to form a closely held corporation and he wanted to name it the Utex Exploration Company after the two states of Utah and Texas. Melich agreed to incorporate the company and come on board as corporate counsel in exchange for a small percentage of Utex stock.

In retrospect, it was a good thing that Moab didn’t offer Charlie Steen a large selection of attorneys to choose from, because Mitch Melich brought a lot of experience and ability to Utex. Melich had grown up in the copper mining town of Bingham Canyon, Utah. He had worked for Kennecott as a young man during the summers in order to pay his way through college. More importantly, he was married to Ed Snyder’s daughter. Snyder had been involved in mining for decades, and he had many years of experience in metallurgy and mineral processing as president of the Combined Metals Reduction Company.

Mitch Melich and Charlie Steen liked one another immediately. Melich became my father’s closest ally in the many negotiations and mining deals that followed this initial meeting.
The Utex Exploration Company was formed on October 24th, with Dan O’Laurie as president; William T. Hudson vice-president; Robert M. Barrett vice-president in charge of mining operations; Charles A. Steen chief geologist and secretary-treasurer; and Rosalie Shumaker as assistant secretary-treasurer. Dan O’Laurie’s closest friend, Allan P. Darby, was later appointed assistant to the president. My father and his mother retained 51 percent of the corporation’s 50,000 shares in exchange for Dad’s contribution of 12 of his mining claims.

Because the soft sedimentary rock formations had to be timbered and the waste rock hand mucked and hoisted to the surface in a quarter ton ore bucket, the shaft sinking progressed very slowly. Finally, at a depth of 68 feet, the miners blasted into the Mi Vida ore horizon. My father and his mother and their partners gathered around the slowly growing ore pile at the base of the head frame and handled and examined the heavy uranium ore as it was brought to the surface in the ore bucket.

For the original source of this article, click here: http://www.canyoncountryzephyr.com/oldzephyr/june-july2002/steen-part3.htm

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