Rich Martinez, the ‘Ol Miner,’ dies at 82
His license plate said it all: ‘PC LEGND’
The Park Record
Rich Martinez, a veteran of about five decades in Park City mining and the patriarch of an extended family of 115 members, died in Francis, Utah, on Tuesday, March 28. He was 82.
Rich is probably best known in Park City for his role in the annual mucking and drilling competition at City Park. He organized the competition for many years and gave the play-by-play, explaining the intricacies of mining to neophytes watching from the bleachers on Miners Day.
But in an earlier era he owned it. Consider: In a 23-year span from 1957 through 1979, The Park Record carried the results of the Labor Day mucking and drilling contest 19 times. In those 19 articles, Rich is listed as the winner of the jackleg drilling contest 12 times and as either the second- or third-place finisher five times. In 1975 he didn’t make the top three in drilling but won the mucking contest. Only in 1978 is his name missing from the top three in both categories.
Rich was not shy about staking his claim to a place in Park City history. His most recent license plate announced: “PC LEGND.” Over the years his and his wife’s plates included other classics such as “OL’ MINER” and “9 KIDS.”
He was a dedicated family man who doted on his wife, Leona, his children and their spouses, grandchildren and their spouses, great-grandchildren and one great-great grandchild. He and Leona bought each one a Christmas present even after their offspring reached triple digits.
He was a gifted storyteller who loved a good joke, even if he was the punch line. His high-pitched laugh punctuated most conversations.
Rich was a man of contradictions. He grew up in a tempestuous household but was a gentle man who recalled getting into only one fight in his life. He graduated from high school when Park City mining was in free fall but managed to make mining his career. He was a devout Mormon who never drank or smoked, but in the 1970s he owned and operated The Cozy, one of Park City’s iconic watering holes. He was a Park City native but never resented the wave of newcomers who changed the character of his town.
“Oh, I love the town. I love the town,” he said in a 2009 interview. “I’m probably one of the few old-timers that loved what’s happening to Park City.”
On Daly Avenue he was known as the owner of the ostentatious purple house. He took delight in festooning the exterior with gaudy ornaments at certain times of the year.
“Not only for Christmas, but Halloween and spring,” he said with a twinkle. “And probably most people think, ‘What kind of a clown lives here?’ Well, they just have to look at the house – purple house, you know – and they’re already thinking that.”
Richard Martinez was born on Jan. 28, 1935, in the house his parents were renting on Daly Avenue, better known in those days as Empire Canyon. He was delivered by Rose Smith, the midwife who lived next door.
Rich used to joke that his mother, Mabel, always wanted a girl. “My mother, in her life, has never got anything she really liked, including me,” he once said. “I remember, when I was just a little a kid, I used to get a doll and I used to get dishes – these little tin dishes.”
His mother finally got her wish on Jan. 4, 1938: a little girl, Deanna. But she lived only nine days. Rich said she had some kind of obstruction and couldn’t swallow. Except for that nine-day period, he was an only child.
In this rough-and-tumble mining town, Rich’s father, Alfonzo (Fonce), was known as one of the toughest guys around.
“My dad was never a guy that I ever seen in my lifetime go looking for a fight, but he would never back down from one either,” Rich said. “My dad had a reputation and he had to defend it every Saturday night.”
Fonce was a miner until early onset arthritis forced him to find other work. Later he worked as a bartender in many Park City establishments, including The Cozy.
Growing up in the 1940s, Rich played with the children of other miners, exploring the detritus of abandoned mining operations, hunting for rabbits, playing basketball, and going to movies at the Egyptian Theatre when two bits would get you a ticket, popcorn and a drink. On many Friday evenings he would strap his guns and his fishing poles on the handlebars of his bike and ride to his grandparents’ house – his mother’s parents – in Heber.
Rich attended the Marsac School (now City Hall) and Park City High School (now home of the Park City Library). When he was in the seventh grade he landed a job working for $35 a month for Bill Mawhinney, who owned the car dealership and service station across Park Avenue from the high school. At 16 he bought his first car, a ’36 Chevy, for $50.
By the time he was a junior, Rich was a starter on the high school basketball and football teams.
Among Rich’s classmates was a petite blonde, Leona Hall. He said they had their first date in fifth grade, started dating steadily in the seventh grade and got married on July 3, 1953, about two months after graduating from high school.
By that time he had a job with the New Park Mine but his total net worth was only $40. “And the thing about it was, this forty bucks was not only to get us through our honeymoon, but we had to live on it ’til we got another check, too, from the mine,” he said.
With a car borrowed from Leona’s brother, he said, they headed north, spending their wedding night in a $4 motel in Montpelier, Idaho. He said they managed to return two days later with enough money to last until his next paycheck.
Rich and Leona wasted no time in starting a family. “I think in four years we had four kids born,” he said.
The first two were girls, Deanna and Jana Rae. Then came two boys, Rick and Clark. Not long after that, as Leona recalled in an interview, they had a third boy, Crae, and then another girl, Robyn.
“My mother said, ‘Now, Leona, you’ve got three girls and you’ve got three boys and there are no other kind. If you’re looking for another kind, you aren’t goin’ to get it.’ … And then I told her we were goin’ to have another.”
Actually, they had three more: Cori Ann, Trent and Holly.
Rich described the scene at the evening meal this way: “We had a table set up in the kitchen for 11 of us and we always had to feed more kids than that, because the kids would bring kids home,” he said.
To reach an even dozen at the dinner table, they later hosted Margie King, a Navajo girl, for about three or four years. Rich recalled telling his boss, Bob Birkbeck, about Margie coming to live with them.
“He just shook his head. ‘You’ve got to be the craziest guy on earth,’ he said. ‘You’ve got nine kids and you’re going to take another one?’”
Meanwhile, Rich was making a living running a jackleg drill deep underground. His first workplace, the New Park Mine, was a sweatshop in the truest sense of the word, with geothermal water heating the workings to 90 degrees Fahrenheit.
“You would come out of there at night and you were just like a wet washrag – you were wrung right out,” he said.
When the New Park shut down in 1956, laying off about 150 miners, including Rich, he tracked down the superintendent of United Park City Mines (UPCM), who was looking for a few good men, and managed to convince him that he was one of them.
“I was a guy that was six foot four, 240 pounds, and was a guy that I knew would impress anybody, if they were hiring,” he said.
He went to work in the Ontario Mine, primarily “running drift” for new ore bodies around the No. 5 shaft. He said he worked without a respirator or proper hearing protection.
“That’s primarily why I can’t hear today. I can hear the low sounds, but I can’t hear the high sounds,” he said in 2009.
At the end of the 1950s, Rich left the mines to take a job in Salt Lake City with a company that specialized in building metal structures.
“I didn’t know nothing about welding or cutting or anything like that,” he said “And I learned that down at Chicago Bridge and Iron.”
About two years later, Rich was among a group of workers laid off at Chicago Bridge. But his new skills served him well when it came to finding another job.
“I came back up to Park City and they had an opening for a welder up in the Judge shop. And I put in an application for that and I got it.”
The Judge Machine Shop was located in Empire Canyon, not far from Rich’s house on Daly Avenue, which had been built by his grandfather in 1923. Although the nearby Judge Mill had been dismantled in the early 1940s, UPCM had continued to use the machine shop to repair and fabricate equipment for various local mines.
In the short period that Rich worked in Salt Lake City, his sleepy hometown had begun a major transformation. In 1961 UPCM had formed a new recreation company to develop 10,000 acres of surface property for skiing and other sports. And in 1962 the company landed a $1.23 million federal loan to help finance the construction of a new resort.
Although the contract to build the resort’s 144-car gondola went to a European company, most of the other equipment was manufactured by Utah companies including UPCM itself. Rich said he spent much of his time between 1962 and 1964 building and repairing parts for what became known as Treasure Mountains.
“We built the C1 and C2 chairlifts while I was there. They were strictly built right in the Judge Shop and then installed up on the mountain. And we bent all the chairs and done all that stuff for ’em.”
Rich was involved in repairing or constructing several other significant projects around Park City.
“Through my lifetime, everything that I’ve done, I was never afraid to try something new… It got to the point where I could visualize in my mind anything I wanted to build,” he said.
One of the most technical jobs was reconstructing an air compressor flywheel that had to be cut in half to fit through tunnels leading into the Ontario Mine. Engineers told Rich he would not be able to put it back together to create a perfect sphere. However, he managed to weld it back together within 1/3,000th of an inch of a perfect sphere, and it continued to function until UPCM closed.
Another example of Rich’s handiwork is still in use in City Park.
“The superintendent of the mine … came to me … and he said, ‘Rich, can you design us an ore car and make a grill out of it?’”
Rich said he and his co-workers modified two five-ton ore cars “so they could have a fire in the middle of them and cook on the top of them. … They still use them on the Fourth of July and Labor Day or whenever they want. We built those right up in the Judge Shop.”
When Bob Birkbeck retired as foreman of the machine shop, UPCM named Rich to replace him. The machine shop eventually moved into a new building at the Ontario Mine.
For about two decades, in addition to his full-time job at the mine, Rich drove around Park City twice a day delivering the Salt Lake daily newspapers – the morning Salt Lake Tribune and the evening Deseret News – to local subscribers.
That job not only put him in the business of spreading the news. It also put him in a position to gather news, though not the kind that made the paper. When it came to knowing what was going on in Park City, he was almost up there with the telephone switchboard operator.
“It got to where, you know, I knew everybody in town,” he said. “And deliverin’ the newspapers, I’d go to their houses monthly and collect for the newspaper. So I’d get to talk to a lot of ’em.”
Like most Park City businessmen of the time, Rich had to struggle to balance his books.
“I’d keep their papers goin’ even though they didn’t have any money and couldn’t pay the paper bill. I’d keep the thing goin’ for months. And some of them caught their bills back up, and some of them didn’t,” he said.
As if that wasn’t enough, in 1966 Rich applied for a midterm vacancy on the city council and was appointed by Mayor Tom Sullivan.
In those days, he said, the city ran on a shoestring. He produced a copy of the 1967 budget showing that city revenues that year were $92,876 and the police department’s total expenditures were $25,649.
Rich’s knowledge of the mines made him irreplaceable, since the tunnels were the source of much of the town’s drinking water. He was also willing to take on jobs that no one else was willing to do, such as volunteering to serve as dog catcher because the city had no money to hire anyone. He was reelected to the council several times and served a total of 16 years.
In 1972 Rich took on yet another challenge when he and his father bought The Cozy from longtime owner Hugh Steele. By this time the ski resort had been running for almost 10 years, but many of the old-time miners were still wary of the longhaired newcomers, especially in places such as The Cozy that they regarded as their own turf.
“When me and my dad went in there … our attitude was, ‘Hey, if you want to come in and have a beer and behave yourself, fine, come on,’” he said.
Rich said he quickly learned that running a bar came with its share of hassles.
“To run a business you’ve got to stick with it and see where everything’s goin’. And that’s what was happenin’ with me. I wasn’t knowin’ where everything was goin’.”
By the late 1970s, owning a bar was starting to wear on both Rich and his father. About that time, he said, he was approached by Jack Dozier, then the principal at Park City High School, whose name is now attached to the school’s football field.
Dozier moonlighted as a developer and had visions of creating a place in Park City for his sister, Sue Haygood, who was a master chef.
“And he knew that I owned The Cozy,” Rich said. “He said, ‘Why don’t we open up a restaurant? Why don’t we tear The Cozy down and open up a restaurant?’”
One weekend in May 1979, Rich borrowed a Caterpillar 950 loader from the mine and turned the wood-frame building into matchsticks.
“Our theory was to get it down, get it cleaned up and get a new building sitting there before anybody even knew about it,” he said. “The plan was to have the new building in place by Christmas.”
But people noticed. There was an outcry among everyone from beer drinkers to preservationists.
“You can go back through some of the Park Records,” he said. “One writer there wrote that they could hear the old miners groanin’ and screamin’ when they tore The Cozy Tavern down.” When a subcontractor set up wooden forms to pour concrete footings for the new building, demonstrators set fire to them.
Nevertheless, with the help of Rich’s nine kids, the partners forged ahead with their new restaurant, The Carbide Lamp. They decorated it with old maps, discarded drills, small ore cars and other items rescued from the mines. From a company in Denver, Rich bought carbide lamps – which the miners used to wear on their helmets – and converted them into table lamps. The restaurant opened in December 1979.
However, it wasn’t long before Dozier announced that he wanted out of the restaurant business and sold his share to Rich. Like The Cozy before it, The Carbide Lamp turned out to be more of a headache than a money-maker.
“And we finally just shut it down and sold it. We knew we couldn’t run it. It was too much of a job for us to run.”
After acquiring The Carbide Lamp, the new owner changed the name but continued to run it as a restaurant for a while, Rich said. Since then the building has housed several different retail businesses.
“So that’s about the extent of The Carbide Lamp,” he said. “It was a big venture for me, you know. When you’re young, you think you can tackle the world, but when you get older you learn, ‘What the hell did I get in that for?’
“But when you get through to the end of your life you realize that, well, if I wasn’t in that, I wouldn’t be where I am now, or vice versa. There’s things that happen in your life that change your paths, where you end up, what you do and where you go.
“So it was a good experience. It’s a few stories that I’ve got that I wouldn’t have had if I hadn’t have done it.”
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The Park City post of the American Legion has canceled an annual Memorial Day ceremony normally held at the Park City Cemetery, citing the efforts to curb the spread of the novel coronavirus.