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Coal and a Utah clan are intertwined, now tragically

The Allreds play and work together, many in the mines, where one of their own is missing and now feared dead.

August 21, 2007|Nicholas Riccardi | Times Staff Writer

cleveland, utah -- If this region is known for anything, it's coal and Allreds.

The mineral made life in this high desert basin economically viable. And the Allreds settled the land and took the coal out of the ground.

Now the two are joined in tragedy. One member of the vast Allred clan has been trapped at the bottom of the collapsed Crandall Canyon Mine for 15 days. Mining officials say it's likely he and five other missing miners will never be found.

Another Allred died in the attempt to rescue him. A third is the safety supervisor at the mine, helping direct the effort to find the lost workers, and several others were trying to dig the men out.

Despite the grim situation, the Allreds have no qualms about the path they've chosen. They say it has allowed them to stay together for generations and preserve a way of life increasingly rare in a West filled with anonymous subdivisions and boutique ranches.

"This is a wonderful place to live," said Bodee Allred, 34, pointing out landmarks from the back porch of his parents' farmhouse. "My grandmother was born on that mountain. My grandparents lived in that cabin. . . . Just look at the view. It's wonderful out here."

Bodee Allred's branch of the family is particularly intertwined with the tragedy. He is the safety supervisor. The crew of trapped miners includes his cousin Kerry. They reported to his brother Benny, another supervisor at the mine. Another brother supervises work at the tower on the mine site.

Bodee and his brothers all live near his parents and assorted aunts and uncles on a long stretch of rural blacktop outside this tiny town. Their ranches stare out at a panorama of pink-tinged buttes, sagebrush and mountains. They raise their children together, work together and play together. They have known every one of their neighbors for almost their entire lives.

"If it wasn't for the coal mines," said their mother, Dixie, "they wouldn't be able to stay right here."

It wasn't coal that initially drew the Allreds to this arid land. It was Brigham Young.

In the late 19th century, Young, then head of the Mormon Church, called upon Mormons who had trekked west and founded Salt Lake City to colonize the vast basin to the southeast. Three Allred brothers heeded the order. They staked claims in the rugged Nine Mile Mountains, which form the northeastern rim of the broad Castle Valley.

Their descendants spread out across the valley. The area is rich in coal, but Young initially asked Mormons to stay away from the mines. Greek and Swedish immigrants flocked to the area to work underground, and the Mormons eventually began mining as well.

Bodee said the clan now numbered several hundred in this sparsely populated area where Emery and Carbon counties meet.

Some members of the family say they've traced ancestors to mines as early as 1912. But most Allreds preferred to remain farmers and ranchers through the first half of the 20th century, only going underground to help supplement their incomes, said Bill Allred, Bodee's father.

That changed with Bill's generation. In the early 1960s, he started a 40-year career underground. "Farming got a little tougher," he said, sitting on his back porch wearing a cowboy hat, work shirt and a white bandanna tied around his neck. "Most of my generation had to get a job."

Coal mining enabled Bill to hang onto his farm and run a bucking arena on his property. His own father had a string of bulls and horses he would take to various rodeos, and Bill's sons grew up riding rodeo. Two of his living room walls are covered with photos from their rides, including one of eldest son Benny in a neck brace riding a bronco.

Bodee, the youngest son, went to college in Idaho on a full scholarship for his rodeo accomplishments. He studied deaf education and met his wife, Dawn. He thought about teaching and getting a master's degree, but the draw of the mines and the good money -- pay can start in the six figures -- lured him back to Utah.

Bodee had worked in the mines during his summers in college, and he knew the life and risks -- he had been a pallbearer at the funeral when one of his best friends died in a mine accident. But he fell in love with the work.

"People don't understand," he said. "A lot of them think you're a coal miner because there's nothing else you can be. . . . I went to college for four years. I chose the coal industry."

For Bodee, part of the thrill was the intellectual challenge and the wide range of assignments -- from being a grunt mining coal seams to managing teams and figuring out the best and safest approaches to the task.

He also was surrounded by family. "I'm related to so many people at that mine, it's as if we're having a family reunion every day."

Two of his brothers worked at Crandall Canyon, as did several cousins, including Kerry Allred, a short, ebullient man nicknamed "Flash" for the speed with which he drove the shuttle car hauling coal underground.

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