by Rex Eldon Nelson (from an article that appeared in “The Good Old Days”
In 1907, I worked as a bridge carpenter for the Utah Uinta Railroad. This was a narrow
gauge railroad that ran forty miles up into the Uinta Mountains to the mining town of Dragon. The
railroad hauled gilsinite from Dragon, down the mountain, to a loading platform for the Rio Grande
Railroad. The Rio Grande ran from Denver to Salt Lake City.
We rode on the Rio Grande Railroad to the base of the Uinta Mountains. There we
transferred to the Uinta Railroad's only passenger car for the forty-mile trip up the mountain to
Dragon. That final leg of the trip seemed the longest to Nettie and me, as we were excited to get a
look at our new hometown.
Our home was a tent house. That was the only kind of house that Dragon had. The floor
and about the first four feet of the walls were wood planks. The tops of the walls and the roof were
canvas. Over the whole house was a fly, like an awning, that sheltered us from the worst of the
We had two rooms: a sleeping room and a living room. We had a big cook stove that
doubled as a heater. The town had a central well and each house a water barrel. Every night after
work, I hauled water from the well to our barrel so that Nettie would have plenty of water the next
day. That house certainly wasn't much, but Nettie had a way of making a house into a home. We
didn't have much then, but we were young and we were happy.
Dragon wasn't a very big place. Including both the railroad and mine workers and their
families, the population couldn't have numbered more than 200. The town, however, boasted a
beer parlor, a general store, and a hotel. The hotel was the biggest building in town; it was a two
story all-wood structure. The hotel had a restaurant and the office for the only doctor for miles
around. If Dragon hadn't had a doctor I wouldn't be telling this story today.
As a bridge carpenter for Uinta, I worked with the crew that constructed the railroad
bridges over gullies, rivers, and marshes. We also built the wooden bulkheads that held the earth
back when the track sliced through a hill.
One morning we, on the bridge crew, traveled about six miles out of Dragon to work on a
bulkhead. We went by hand cart on the railroad tracks. That day my job was to strip bark from the
logs with an adz. You don't see anyone using an adz anymore; power tools do the work instead.
An adz looks like a hoe with a long slender, sharp blade. It is a dangerous tool if handled
incorrectly. In fact, we called the adz, a shin-hoe, which seems a better name to me.
I straddled a log and got to work. I pulled the shin-hoe toward me, skinning off the bark of
the tree. I must have gotten careless, because suddenly the adz sheared off a knot hole and came
toward me out of control. The blade buried itself in the inside of my leg, close to the knee. When I
pulled out the blade, blood spurted from the gash in my leg.
One of the men working close to me saw that I was hurt pretty bad and he hollered for the
others. Someone tried to press the wound closed, but the bleeding wouldn't stop. Someone else
said that they had better get me to the doc . . . fast. They hoisted me up and carried me to the
hand cart. They didn't waste any time getting that cart started. I got dizzy and fainted and don't
remember much about the trip, but I was told later that the hand cart literally flew along those
I vaguely remember being carried into the doctor's office, but I passed out before he
stitched me up. I slept in that office all day. When I woke up, the doctor told me that a few more
minutes and I would had lost too much blood to recover. He said that I was lucky the men had
acted so fast. The doc added that it was a good thing, also, that I was so young and stubborn.
It was awhile before I was strong enough to return to my job. I still have that scar where,
over 70 years ago, I had that argument with the shin-hoe . . . .
Nettie and I stayed two years in Dragon, and when the railroad didn't need us anymore, we
moved with our two boys to Oregon.