Chasing Charlie Steen & the Dream of Uranium Riche$ — by Brett Hulen (ZX#42)

EDITOR’S NOTE: Years ago, while researching the internet about former Grand County Sheriff Hector Bowman, Mr. Bret Hulen ran across The Zephyr website. Bret and I exchanged several emails and I knew I needed to share some of his wonderful tales. Here are Bret Hulen’s recollections of Moab and southeast Utah, in a different time and a different world.

Since this was first published, Brett and I have continued to correspond. Now, in addition to the original story, I have added one more Brett anecdotes about Life in Moab and his friendship with Karl Tangren. And finally I have worked to improve the quality and resolution of the photos that Brett sent me.

Thanks Brett…you’re a great story-teller— JS

PS…all photos are courtesy of Brett Hulen, except where noted.


We moved to Moab in 1955 chasing the uranium dream with a brand new 1955 Dodge Power Wagon pulling a 24′ Boles Aero travel trailer, and a 1951 Willys CJ3 with a little military jeep trailer. We initially prospected in the Circle Cliffs area where my Mother discovered a small deposit of carnotite. She was using a Geiger Counter or scintillator and watched the needle practically bend in two when it pegged out!


We moved in off the desert in the fall of 1955 when my brother Jeff and I were forced to begin school. We initially lived in the old P&W trailer park adjacent to the Apache Motel. My father Bradley also worked as a real estate broker in town and owned the old one horse Maverik gas station. As I recall he later sold it to Karl and Patsy Tangren.


My brother was working at Arches National Monument, for Bates Wilson, and was dating his daughter Cindy. As I grew up I worked at many of the surrounding ranches in Castle Valley (for the McCormicks and Shumways), Fisher Valley (D.L. Taylor had just gotten out of the Army) and lastly on the Dugout Ranch for the Redds until such a time I began to realize that the rear-end of a shapely young girl was enormously more attractive than the same afore mentioned part of a cow.


Henceforth I decided to pursue other interests! I graduated with honors from Grand County High School in 1967. Okay that’s a bit of a stretch, actually I was honored to have made it through the 12 years with a solid C+ average!

Unfortunately with my budding driving career being challenged frequently by the local Moab police department and the State Patrol I was encouraged by Judge Crist to seek employment in the United States Army. I presented my draft notice to Judge Crist and he was gracious enough to return my drivers license as I left town in 1968.

Shortly before this happened a friend and I decided to go to the Grand View Drive Inn to watch a double feature presentation. We had persuaded an older (over 21) friend of ours to buy a couple of cases of long neck (3.2) Coors Beer for us which we proceeded to dedicate our best effort at polishing off before the end of the second movie. We were somewhat conscious at the end of the movies and decided to drive around a bit to sober up.

At that time I had an old 1960 Oldsmobile and after rolling down all the windows we took off down the river passing Mountain View Subdivision. Somewhere after that I ran off the left side of the road, overcorrected and launched off the right side of the road like….wait for it….a rocket! Perhaps in a likeness to the cherished Oldsmobile? I recall in extremely slow motion the jarring, crashing, engine over revving and drifting out over my buddies lap as I was ejected out the passenger window space.


Luckily neither one of us was injured seriously and we made it back to town, showered and after calling another friend we went to the Westerner Grill to drink coffee, sober up, and have some of their great chili.


We knew that Sheriff Bowman always stopped there for coffee and had rehearsed a somewhat believable story of being run off the road by an undescribed vehicle. When Heck came in I screwed up the courage to approach him and tell him what by now we had all come to believe! We all piled into his cruiser and drove out to the scene. After a short look Heck asked if we had been drinking and of course we vigorously denied it. Heck turned around and looked at me, asked me if I had learned my lesson to which I replied, “I sure have Sheriff Bowman”. He said he wasn’t going to cite me and my fine would be whatever it cost to have the vehicle towed. I sold the car back to Van’s body shop for the cost of the tow which curiously enough was who I bought the car from in the first place. Van couldn’t believe what had happened to his prized Olds.

I recall when the two fuel tankers caught fire and burned to the ground in front of the old Phillips 66 Bulk Plant. We lived on the top of the hill directly behind the plant. Dad always got quite a kick joking about the fact that we were higher in elevation than Charlie Steen’s house.

I still remember Tex McClatchy who began the jet boat cruises on the Colorado. Tex was one of my teachers in Junior High School on Center Street. I later worked for Tex and generally helped around the landing and with whatever maintenance on his boats he would allow me to do. As I recall his smaller boats were running single 389 Pontiac engines, the next larger ones were running twin 327 Chevrolets and the big boat boasted three 409 Chevrolets.


What a thrill it was for me when he would let me “man the helm” on the cruises down river. I can’t think of a better place to grow up than in Moab back in those days. I will always cherish that time in my life and the experiences I had. Dark Canyon Lake was always a favorite place. I used to hang out at Musselmans Rock Shop and museum quite a bit. Still remember the tragedy at TGS. We sat outside our house and watched all the emergency vehicles running back and forth that night.

Mother worked for awhile at the Uranium Mill as a receptionist in the leaner times. I returned once in 1987 when I first came out of Alaska. It was in July and I recall hustling to try and hurry to get the power connected so I could turn the AC on in our trailer, we stayed at the RV park across from the Dairy Queen. After a short walk around town that evening after it cooled down it didn’t take long to see how much had changed.

At daylight we were back on the road again and haven’t looked back. I do want to make one more trip and show my new wife where I grew up. I know that Castle Valley is now overrun with ranchettes and a far cry from what it used to be. It looks as though Fisher Valley remains undisturbed and that is a good thing.

When I worked for the Taylors, D.L. had me out there with a little Ford tractor trying to dig irrigation ditches in the sagebrush. I never seemed to be able to get it through his head that water generally wouldn’t run uphill. Being a teenager might have had a little to do with that assumption and mindset. I proceeded to get the Ford stuck in a mud bog, walked back to the ranch and fired up his brand new air conditioned John Deere, got that stuck as well and finally D.L. had to come out with a bulldozer to extricate both of them.

We parted ways shortly afterward and I went to work for the Redds where it seemed they had a better understanding of irrigation! I always check in on the Moab website from time to time simply to reminisce. After living so many years in Alaska and now in the Northwest I could no longer take the desert heat but I still have a soft spot for the red rocks. It amuses me that four wheeling has become a sport over there. We did all of that as a matter of necessity back in the day.



We had some “mining” operations over near Hanksville.. I recall we had stopped there on the way and filled up our water tanks and bags. Dad picked up a little gray kitten for us we promptly named Hank. My brother Jeff and I were teetering back and forth on a rock out near our claim and we didn’t realize that Hank had come over to keep us company and crawled beneath the rock and we crushed the poor little thing.


Dad had built an outhouse out of pinion boughs so Mother could have a little privacy. One afternoon she had gone in there and seconds later came screaming out the door. A fairly good sized rattlesnake had crawled in there to escape the summer heat. Dad killed the snake with a shovel and henceforth Mother always entered the outhouse with great trepidation.

When Mother found the petrified log loaded with carnitite Dad drove back into town to buy some supplies. They were hoping there was a forest of buried trees loaded with uranium but as things turned out it was only one huge tree. Dad mined it all by hand, built an ore chute from 2×12’s to get it down the hill so he could load it into the Power Wagon and military Jeep trailer, then we hauled it over to a ferry and crossed the river to an AEC collection site and sold it.


Another fellow I remember from back then went by the name of Lloyd Smith. He was truly the old cowboy out at Dugout Ranch and kind of took me under his wing and taught me a lot. It used to amuse me that we would ride up to the top of a hill to look for strays and Lloyd would take his glasses off to see better. At the time it didn’t make much sense to me but now that I’m about what his age must have been I understand all too well!

Another short story….My friend Eddie Harvey’s grandfather, Fred Newman, owned a small ranch/farm down on La Sal Creek. Eddie and I would go down there often during the summer months to help out especially during the haying season. Fred was fairly old at that time and worked at the Cash In Silver Mine as a watchman.

We used to go down there and prowl around looking for anything interesting. It was pretty scary going back into the mine and full of who knows what. Our imaginations were running wide open. One time on the way down there, we were driving Fred’s old flat hood Jeep pickup. It was an honest to goodness rattle trap and sometime during its hard life, someone had installed a Ford flathead V8 in it. The brakes were pretty much nonexistent and any failing brackets had long ago been replaced by the time honored tradition of baling wire (something which has become a rarity).


As an exception to the baling wire farm rule the steering column was secured to the lower dash panel with what looked like old tennis shoe strings. That was fine with us as long as it could be driven and we were off to the mine.

Since the old jalopy had very low gearing, brakes weren’t really all that essential. After we got to the bottom of the canyon I was probably going a little faster than I should have and drifted off to the left a bit too far and started down towards the creek. It was about 10 or 15 feet down the grade. I reached over to try and engage the four wheel drive levers to stay on the road and at that moment the shoe strings broke and I wound up with the steering wheel in my lap and over we went, rolling upside down coming to rest in the creek.

We were unhurt but afraid of what old Fred might do to us. We hiked back to the ranch and drove a little Ford tractor back to the Jeep and tried to roll the Jeep back over onto its wheels. We didn’t have enough weight on the front of the tractor so I had Eddie sit on the hood. You should have seen the look on Eddie’s face as I turned the tractor into a mechanical bucking bull. After a few unsuccessful tries with the Ford and Eddie’s unending screaming, we went back to the ranch for a bigger tractor but couldn’t get it started.

My Dad showed up a short time later to take me home and I left Eddie to deal with it. His granddad managed to roll the Jeep over, poured some oil in her and she fired right up and they drove it out of there slightly worse for wear. I always thought it simply added a little more character as those old Jeeps were built pretty tough. I wouldn’t doubt that old Jeep is still down on that farm today. The Newman’s were a good old time family and I became very close to them as I grew up.


Anyhow I had a wonderful time growing up in Moab, many great memories including filming the block buster movie Blue. Actually it was simply a buster and fizzled at the box office. I have a VHS tape of it just for nostalgic reasons. I got to meet most of the stars and recall botching an action closeup that Yakima Canutt was directing. After screwing the scene up twice I found new work with their kitchen staff. Perhaps that is why I excelled as a KP after I was drafted? The Army must have seen a real pro at work and made extensive use of my skill during basic training.

I still miss the old red rock country. I spent a little over 20 years in the Army retiring in 1989, then another 21 years working on the Trans Alaska Pipeline retiring yet again in 2010. I now live in Olympia, Washington and have returned to the old roots and am raising horses. I guess I have come full circle.


On Brett’s  Friendship with Karl Tangren, and a note he sent to him via The Zephyr (click here for Karl’s story and his recent 91st birthday))


Karl is like a second dad to me and my wife and I think the world of him and Joy Lynn.  I do have to bring to light one mistake in your story.  My Mother and Dad operated the little two pump gas station which later morphed into what it has become today.  Mother came up with the name Maverik because  it was an independent unbranded station.  Hence the name Maverik or unbranded calf. 

When I stopped in there a few years ago for gas I asked those kids if they knew how the name came about.  They proceeded to tell me they watched a training video for new hires and in it they learned the name came from the old TV series Maverik.  Nothing could be farther from the truth.  When Karl bought the lease from my dad in 1959 the sign Maverik was already there although much smaller and it was just a simple gas station.  Karl traded a Massey Ferguson tractor to Dad as part payment and I used to go out and play on it when Dad was at work.  Dad had that same handshake agreement with the gas supplier and that was with Reuel Call who owned Caribou Four Corners Oil Company out of Afton, Wy.  Dad and Reuel remained lifelong friends.  I remember when I first met Karl and his first wife Patsy as a very young boy.  Great memories of growing up in Moab.  God bless you Karl, Christine and I wish you a wonderful birthday!  P.S.  I bought a box of 20 birthday cards so you’re going to have to hang in there until you’re 111 years young!