Mission 66 – Back When the Government Used to Work

Capitol Reef National Park

Adus F. Dorsey II

      It was a particularly hot day at Capitol Reef (Fruita) in the summer of 1959. Tinkling rivulets of irrigation water were the only ones that dared do any sort of work in the blazing hot sun of the “Fruita” orchards. Everyone else in Fruita, with their chores all done early, were lethargically lounging around in any patch of shade they could find. At most all they could dream of was an ice cold glass of lemonade, but anything with ice in it was only a day dream and like their farmhouse dogs, their tongues were hanging out, way out. 

     “Kaiser Kreuger” (William Kreuger) was particularly agitated on this summer day and thirsty. The drinking water that had been hauled down from Thurber, in the one truck that could still climb ‘Fruita hill’ was running low and tasted like it had been poured over a hot horseshoe.

     Charles Kelly wasn’t in a good mood either. His wife Harriet had used up the last of the precious “up county” drinking water for a #3 tub, decadent bath on the back porch while he was out sneaking through the bushes to make certain Cass Mulford wasn’t taking more than his share of water out of Sand Creek, and it was only “Wednesday, for Suzie’s Sake!”

     When Charlie saw Harriet in a bath towel he smiled for a second, but immediately the corner of his lips began to drooped at the edges when he realized he would soon find himself standing stark naked, bathing in the Fremont River, in his work boots, at five o’clock in the afternoon because he had an important meeting with “Kaiser Kreuger” and the “Mormons”, at six.  

     The “Mission 66” program had been in full swing since 1956, it was a United States National Park Service ten-year program that was intended to dramatically expand Park Service visitor services by 1966, in time for the 50th anniversary of the establishment of the Park Service.

      During the 1940’s and 50’s the park service came up under increasing scrutiny for lack of attention to visitor related services. While Mission 66 involved a variety of infrastructure projects such as roads, utilities and employee housing, the most visible components were the interpretational facilities, or visitor center. Visitor centers were often the first point of contact between the Park Service and visitors, and the Park Service put considerable emphasis on the appropriate orientation and learning opportunities that visitor centers could provide.

     Reminiscent of the recent obtuse actions of Texas Senator Ted Cruz to shut down or de-fund everything in sight, an essay by Bernard DeVoto in Harper’s Magazine proposed that the national parks should be closed until they were funded appropriately. The outlandish idea of closing parks tugged as tightly on the park services ear as teacher catching a prankster in the act of stuffing paper in Fruita’s one room schoolhouse stove pipe.

     In 1955, Park Service Director Conrad Wirth proposed a decade-long program of capital improvement, to be funded as a single program by Congress. The expressed aim was to complete the upgrades in time for the Park Service’s 50th anniversary in 1966. While Mission 66 is most frequently associated with physical improvements, it also funded a number of continuing programs. The Historic American Buildings Survey, which had been inactive since 1941, was re-funded. The former Historic Sites Survey was reorganized into National Historic Landmarks and National Register of Historic Places programs in 1960, under Mission 66 funding.

     At Capitol Reef monies from the Mission 66 program were used to purchase private properties along the Fremont River in preparation for the re-routing of State Highway 24. A viable attempt to by-pass the often unpredictable road conditions in Capitol Gorge. 

     Other Mission 66 program monies were appropriated to build a visitors center, and perform a detailed water use survey. About 16,000 persons visited the monument in 1957. Water was stored in two storage tanks near the superintendent’s residence for both household and campground use. In connection with plans formulated under the Mission 66 program, the Park Service estimated that the peak demand for all purposes except irrigation would be about 30,000 gpd (gallons per day) in 1966, and, if sufficient storage facilities are provided, a water supply of about 50 gpm (gallons per minute) should be satisfactory.  

     The water survey determined there were only two feasible sources of water for the headquarters area at Capitol Reef National Monument which were the Fremont River and a yet to be drilled well that would rest between 1,500 and 2,700 feet deep to obtain water from the Coconino sandstone. Because no wells in this area tap the Coconino sandstone, neither the yield nor the quality of the water from such a well could be predicted accurately. However, it was estimated that the Coconino sandstone was capable of yielding about 50 gpm of water of relatively good quality to a well drilled in the Fruita vicinity. This idea would make Kaiser Krueger happy, but still not easy to get along with.  

     At Capitol Reef, a 53-site campground at Fruita, staff rental housing, and a new visitor center were built, the latter opening in 1966.Visitation climbed dramatically after the paved, all-weather road was built through the Fremont River canyon near Fruita and the old Capitol Gorge road closed. 146,598 persons visited the park in 1967. The monument staff was also growing.

     It was nearing 5:30 when Charles Kelly trudged back up the path to the house from his river bath with water squishing in between his toes inside his wet work boots. Harriet saw him coming, clumsily wrapped only in a towel, she smiled and blushed a little as she watched him come through the back gate still dripping wet.  

     The Mission 66 meeting with “Mormons” and Kaiser Krueger had been weighing heavy on Charles mind all week, he would be glad to get it over with.

     The meeting in Fruita’s one room schoolhouse started promptly at six, Charles Kelly was like that. Charles laid out the plans for the purchase of the property along the Fremont River, most in attendance were not all that happy about it. Kelly also reminded everyone that his tenure at Capitol Reef would soon be coming to an close, Kaiser Krueger grunted approvingly and under his breath said “it would be a good Christmas when he did.”

     Harriet’s face seemed to glow when Charlie came through the door at 7:30; she was tenderly putting the flame from a wooden match to a handmade candle on the supper table. The vision of his wonderful wife wearing only a bath towel was instantly retrieved in Charlie’s mind and it was as if the Mission 66 meeting had never happened.

References; Capitol Reef Cultural Landscape Report, Water-Supply Possibilities at Capitol Reef National Monument, Utah By I. WENDELL MARINE, and the sometimes wacky imagination of the author.


Adus F. Dorsey II
Torrey, Utah

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