July 5, 2011
Over time, I’ve come to the conclusion that if local author, historian, and yarn-spinner Gary Kimball chose to write a book about the cultural evolution of the "potgut" ground squirrels of Park City, it would be a flat-out page-turner. No doubt he’d have burrowed until he had gotten to know the fat and sassy little buggers on a first-name basis.
He’d have learned how they spent their leisure time and what and where their favorite haunts were and the successive entrepreneurs and proprietors who built and ran the joints in the first place. Not to mention what socially significant phenomenon first brought the different clans of their tribe to inhabit these specific gulches and draws and who their forefathers irritated for fun before humans arrived on the scene.
You don’t see potguts all that much anymore. They’ve gone missing or, at least, into hiding — which would qualify them perfectly as future subject matter for one of Gary’s historical and humorous excursions into Park City’s past such as "Of Moths and Miners" from 2006 and, especially, last year’s "Saloons of Old Park City A History."
I usually acquire Gary’s books not long after their publishing date, deposit them somewhere within my "currently reading" stack, and wish them the best. Lately, however, I’ve been trying to rehab from my old habit of having a half-dozen books or so going at the same time and, for the most part, have been successful.
A couple of weeks back I stopped in at Ken Sanders Rare Books clutching both a gift certificate and the friend who gave it to me. Gary’s latest had the honor of being the sole title on my wish list. As soon as I darkened the door, however, a displayed copy of "The Autobiography of Mark Twain Vol. 1" reached out and jerked my chain. So I got them both.
Now the Twain book isn’t all that much bigger than a Kenworth and its typeface not much smaller than a "quark," so I figure it’ll be a quick read. Right! Indeed, for one who, out of prudence, stopped buying green bananas years ago, it was a somewhat questionable purchase. Looks great on the shelf, however.
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So it was an easy call to start with Gary’s history of old Park City saloons. Now, this is in my wheelhouse. In fact, if the truth be told, I spent quite a bit of time in the very same research facilities as did Mr. Kimball oftentimes upon an adjacent barstool.
However, with his Park City saloon-timeline for this book covering the years 1874 through 1960, only those still in operation when I arrived in 1970 were blessed with my patronage. Admittedly, however, wherever we lived, members of my family were a target demographic for such establishments.
For most of my adult life, I’ve been a saloon kind of guy. It’s always been about the ambiance: low lights, deep shadows, some "red-eye" and cold beer to knock back the trail dust, a barkeep possessing both knowledge and wisdom, clientele with at least a modicum of civility and humility, and nonstop music that belonged in such a place but set at a volume level low enough that subtle verbal innuendos wouldn’t go unnoticed.
I would have fit perfectly down at the end of the bar in any number of Park City joints that Gary’s book brings to light. I would have had one issue with the space-time, however: they didn’t allow womenfolk in their saloons. They even passed a local ordinance against it. In a mining camp where furniture stores sold caskets and undertakers sold skis, logic often didn’t get a seat at the table.
Of course, as opposed to more recent times, the men of that era wanted it that way. It was a business decision, just as attracting those of a female persuasion is today.
As one who has always considered himself somewhat historically astute, especially about the saloon culture of Park City during the past 40 years, I discovered I hadn’t a clue about the old days before I read "Saloons of Old Park City." By diving deep within the archives of both The Park Record and his own memories, Gary Kimball has once again presented his beloved town with a labor of love.
And it’s not just the fabulous joints that once lined Main Street but the equally compelling characters, some of whom ambush or lynch or start fights or stop bullets between drinks whatever the occasion calls for. It’s a western yarn penned by a western wit! If you haven’t read it yet, order a double. You can knock it back before last call.
Jay Meehan is a culture junkie and an observer, participant, and chronicler of the Park City and Wasatch County social scenes for the past 40 years.