4.30.2005

South Cache Boxing Club

Cache Valley Magazine — May/June 2005

All around him, the world is bustling.

From the interstate a couple hundred feet east of the Salt Lake City gym he is in to just feet away, where his father is nervously pacing from the seat where a beer is resting back over to the side of the calm son, Cris Arrieta is tranquil in a sea of movement.

Small children run between heavy punching bags, and climb on a metal support like a jungle gym. A row of men with silver hair sitting ringside talk and laugh with everyone who walks by. R and B music plays over a scratchy P.A. system as a crowd gathers in metal folding chairs, the banners near the ceiling scream with Budweiser ads, and then the crowd itself starts screaming "let's go!" to start the show they've each paid $10 to see.

And Cris, a 106-pound, 14-year old from Hyrum with medium-length brown hair and quiet, almost sleepy eyes, sits and soaks it in. Tonight, a Saturday evening at the Salt Lake City Fight Coliseum, Cris will enter a boxing ring for his first officially sanctioned fight. It's a bout against a fighter from Las Vegas, who is in town with a team that has traveled to take on boys from all over Utah in a border challenge. Cris and his friend Francisco Guizar, also 14, are representing the South Cache Boxing Club from Hyrum, a fledging group that started last spring with six fighters and has grown enough to have the two invited to the Utah vs. Las Vegas event.

Cris says he's "a little nervous." Francisco, a veteran of five fights in the past few months, is way past that.

"I just get anxious to get in the ring," says Francisco, who keeps his hair buzzed low and bounces around in baggy sweats and a gray sweatshirt as he warms up.

Francisco paces back and forth, corrals his little sister when she runs off, and shadow boxes as he waits to lace up the gloves. When another teenage member of the club approaches the two, Cris's eyes are still locked on the ring, where eight halogen lights glow over the red canvas.

"Estas listo?", meaning "Are you ready?", asks Erick Chiang, 15, a chattering teenager with spiked hair and two sparkly earrings who is, personality wise, in the exact opposite corner of the ring from Cris.

"Yea," Cris answers under his breath, stands and walks away to have his hands taped by coach Mario Pena in preparation for the bout.

"He's so calm," says Erick, shaking his head.
———
Before Cris and Francisco step into the Salt Lake City ring that is surrounded by hundreds of spectators, they will have spent months in a small sheet metal garage on the south end of Hyrum. So the story should go back to that makeshift gym as well, where Mario Pena has been training the lithe 14-year-olds for nights just like the March evening where Cris learned to fight before hundreds of spectators.

The story even goes even further away than southern Cache Valley, since, in a way, the club also began when Pena learned to box as a teenager in Aculpuloco, Mexico. Not quite talented enough to survive as a professional like his brother, Sabino, Pena gave up his fighting dreams. He married, had four children, and settled in Hyrum. And then, at age 31, decided he would do something for his Latino community.

So he arranged for use of the garage, a tiny room with a cement floor, sheet metal walls with exposed rafters and a flannel sheet for a door. In exchange for its use, he trains the property owner's 10- and 8-year old sons. Pena gathered up what boxing equipment he could find, and now, four heavy bags and a red double-end bag strung on a cord hang for fighters to punch; a large drum in a corner is covered by carpet for sit-ups; and a small propane heater hums on one wall. And he recruited a growing number of boys who fill the room more than the sparse equipment ever will, all the way from 8-year-old Mariano Chavez to men in their late teens and early twenties.

Practice starts with a run for half of the dozen or so boys who showed up on a chilly Monday night in March. The group breaks into two at the outset, one taking a forty minute training run while the other goes through three-minute punching drills — the same time a round in a sanctioned bout lasts — under the watchful eye and encouraging voice of Pena that switches from Spanish to English.

"C'mon, otro tiempo," Pena says to the boys who practice in near silence — other than heavy breathing — when each three minute frenzy ends. A few switch places at heavy bags, and another takes his turn in the open area of the garage with Pena, who spars and coaches the fighters through the session like a dance instructor wearing a thick black torso protector.

"Left, right, left, right, dodge dodge, body body," he says as his students hit him again and again.

Pena has ten licensed fighters on the team, but others are practicing and working towards the goal of getting into the ring. They are kids like Tonio Mondragon, a 16-year-old who joined the team in February after moved to Hyrum from California. Tonio has fought before, obvious from the way he hisses when his lightning blows land on the heavy bag. They are kids like Hector Lopez and Agustine Melchor, teenagers that, although still slight and baby faced, say they want to be champions of what can be a rough sport. And they are also kids that aren't at practice tonight, like a 16-year-old South Cache fighter that was awarded the Silver Gloves Boxer of the Year award last December, but has since been suspended because of legal trouble.

In fact, that's the only time Pena refuses boys the generosity that they respect him for so much. With temptations to join a gang, participate in a feud brewing in the Hispanic community, or find trouble elsewhere surrounding these boys, Pena has one goal that outranks winning boxing matches.

"I'm trying to keep these kids away from the street. That's my point," says Pena. "I can teach you to fight, but you can't fight in the street. My only condition."

The need for his alternative hit home recently. Cris's older brother Oscar, who did not box with South Cache but was very supportive of Cris and Ivan, another Arrieta brother in the South Cache club, was shot and killed after a dispute with two other Hispanic men. It was rumored Oscar Arrieta had gang associations, or may have simply been part of a feud in the Hispanic community between immigrants from different Latin American countries.

Mario points out that his team has kids from Hyrum to Smithfield, who have immigrated or have parents from Mexico, Guatemala, California, and America. He said the incident involving Oscar Arrieta, who was in the front row at Cris's inaugural fight in Salt Lake City, just makes his boxing mission that much more important.

"What happened is something we have to learn from, we have to stop this," says Pena.

"Mario's a good man. He wants us to go far," says Erick, who works as assistant trainer for Pena while he gets ready to start boxing again. "If he didn't want us to, he wouldn't be buying equipment and letting us use it for free. And giving us all that advice."
———
Cris is calm again, but now it's a different kind of peaceful.

His forehead, still in red headgear, is resting on the top rope of the ring in the Fight Coliseum. Pena is softly speaking in his ear, still coaching even though the bell has rung to signal a second-round TKO. The large cheering section from Hyrum, which takes up nearly all the folding chairs on the south side of the ring, has quieted, but they soon get the noise going again as Francisco steps to the ring.

Francisco lasts three rounds, but like Cris, is simply worn down by a stronger and better-conditioned fighter. They lose to the Torres brothers of Las Vegas, both of whom had an advantage over the friends from Hyrum in terms of experience, height and reach. You can only wonder what kind of advantage there was in equipment, but the odds are the Vegas boys never run in 30-degree weather or do sit-ups on a rusty drum covered by used carpet.

Adam Kubuki is seated at ringside to watch Francisco's bout. Kubuki's match has been canceled, so he roots for his friend instead of prepare for a fight.

"He's good. He's got heart. I was his second fight, and I beat him," says Kubuki, a shaggy haired kid with pale skin and an athletic build, wearing a sweatshirt of his Summit County boxing club. "But he's a good fighter. He has a future in boxing, I think."

As long as his coach is there for him, at least. Pena says he's been offered a job coaching at a bigger gym, like the facility in Park City where Kubuki trains with three coaches, 25 other teammates, a locker and a weight room. But he isn't leaving Hyrum.

"I want to finish what I started," says Pena. "They (other fighters) got a better place, or gym, but we compete. I trust these kids. It feels great to teach them. I want them to be a champion someday. Like Oscar, or Chavez."

He means Oscar de la Hoya or Julio Cesar Chavez, famous Latino boxers that Pena encourages his boys to learn about. Especially one boy, a 10-year-old also named Julio Cesar Chavez who Pena calls a future champ because of his name. And only his name, since the young Julio has a record of just 1-1 so far.

"He'll be good someday, but he's got a lot of things to learn," says Pena.

Fortunately, like the six others who are gathered in the gym when the coach makes his good-natured crack, Julio is well on his way.

Apartment Boom

The Herald Journal — 4.17.05

Free April and May rent. Month to month contracts available. Free movie tickets or discounted rent if you sign up now.

Browse the classified or on-line apartment listings, and it's a buyer's market right now in Logan. Deals abound, options exist like never before, and construction sites on the northwest and northeast sections of town and Utah State University indicate selection is expanding. In fact, the very nature of what is available has drastically changed in the past few years, as large complexes and community style projects may be taking over from basement or attic apartments as the preferred choice for transient residents.

While the evolving market may provide more choice for rental customers, it could also present a challenge for landlords and potentially impact the real estate market itself. The proliferation of giant apartment complexes — for example, the Maple Valley Apartments at 400 West and 1500 North that will be the largest complex, with nearly 175 units, when completed — have drawn tenants away from smaller four-plex buildings or rental homes. However, any perceived "glut" has yet to impact the development market, and more apartments and condos are planned for the far north end of town — not to mention a 500-bed facility at USU scheduled to open in fall 2006 — that could increase a rental vacancy rate that some interviewed estimated to currently be above 10 percent.

"We're being told by some of the landlords that we're getting built out," said Jay Nielsen, community development director for Logan city. "The units that people want to live in get the highest priority, and those that are overpriced or of marginal quality suffer."

Even if the vacancy rate was currently at normal, prices would indicate that apartment managers are facing a tighter market as well, as many newspaper ads indicate decreased rates that dip under $350 per person, or the average cost of a single tenant would pay in one of the newer shared units. If the trend continues, especially with summer around the corner when a majority of students leave town, the days ahead could be even leaner for some landlords until the rental population catches up with the supply.

"All of these new units will be competition," said one apartment manager who asked not to be named because of business concerns. "The supply is going to be set, and the demand will not be there."

Driving the current market is a combination of factors, according to landlords and tenants interviewed by The Herald Journal. Some accuse out of area money of inflating the market with the large complexes — at least two large scale developments were built by Salt Lake City firms — while others said it's a feeling of entitlement among renters that creates the need for "luxury" living.

"If any apartment wants to be successful, the biggest thing is service," said Germain Costa, property manager at Oak Meadows Apartments, a five-building, 132-unit facility built in 2001.

Costa called Oak Meadows revolutionary in the local market because of the amenities offered to renters, including a clubhouse, workout room and swimming pool in addition to community events for tenants like a garage sale, water aerobics and babysitting services. He said a waiting list for apartments — which range from 1,000 to 1,300 square feet and two bathrooms in each — has been common since the opening, and other developers have approached him for ideas on how to build the community style complexes. Now, the area is becoming home to similar projects, like Maple Valley — which has a clubhouse with a jacuzzi and fitness room planned as well — and a large community of condominiums that cater to a need for more than just a bed and bathroom.

Larry Nichols had been a renter in other communities he's lived in, like Phoenix, but hasn't ever experienced the frills that come from his current situation at Oak Meadows.

"Everything is really accessible, and really good quality as well," said Nichols as he shot billiards with a neighbor in the clubhouse along 1500 West.

He said he regularly uses the pool, basketball court and grassy areas at Oak Meadows — perks not always available in a traditional apartment.

"They just expect more," said Joe Needham, who rents several properties in Logan and confirmed that homes divided up into apartments have been increasingly difficult to lease out.

But Needham, unlike some other local landlords who declined to speak on the record, said the market change could ultimately benefit Logan neighborhoods. Needham, also a Logan Municipal Councilman, said the migration from old style rentals to newer complexes in areas designated by the city for multi-family development could mean that areas that were shifted to rental over the past 50 years — like the Island or Adams neighborhoods — could return to single family homes if renters chose to go elsewhere.

"With a lot of better apartments, and more units, it's causing a change to the rental market of Logan," said Needham, who is also in the process of converting one of his rentals back into a single-family home. "I see it as a good thing. Eventually our neighborhoods will go back to what they were."

Approximately 54 percent of of Logan's housing market is rental, according to the city's Community Development Department. Nielsen said that the city doesn't monitor the amount of apartments approved to control the market, and any project that meets city standards is welcomed. He said a flooded rental market may simply be cyclical, and while it may impact landlords now, a growing community like Logan should eventually catch up to the supply as population grows.

Like Needham, he agreed that ultimately the explosion of rental property, especially those built in the new community style, could ultimately be a benefit.

"When demand for higher quality units goes up, the market responds," said Nielsen. "If in fact there were enough higher end, you'll see (dilapidated rentals) go away, and see people try to get in line with the market demand."

Until then, keep an eye out for those deals.

4.16.2005

Councilman's Card Pulled

The Herald Journal — 3.20.05

A Logan Municipal Councilman spent more than $6,000 with a city credit card over seven months during 2004 and 2005, according to records obtained by The Herald Journal, until the card was revoked in February. Steven Taylor, a councilman since January 2004, paid back all expenses charged on a Wells Fargo card and said the personal spending — that ranged from meals to gas to gifts — was the result of "miscommunication."

The spending came during a period when city officials say they were scrutinizing credit card purchases following a scandal over inappropriate use of public funds in the Salt Lake County government last summer, and Thursday the city finance department issued a memo outlining a new financial policy that restricts credit card spending. But Taylor said he was never given any guidelines as to credit card use when the card was issued to him when he took office, and wasn't asked to stop using the card until late December.

"I thought it was okay. It wasn't an issue," said Taylor, who did not use the card for the first five months he had it.

He added that he began using the card after traveling on city business to a solid waste conference in Arizona, where, Taylor said, he paid all his own expenses.

"I started using it after that trip," said Taylor. "And nobody said anything."

Taylor reimbursed all purchases promptly after credit card statements were received, said Finance Director Richard Anderson. Purchases included meals at local fast food restaurants, groceries, gas, and cell phone payments. Bills ranged over $1,500 in one month and $1,400 in another, when Taylor put a gift purchases from a local jewelry store of over $320 on the card. Taylor said the purchases were made out of convenience because he carried the city card more often than his personal credit card, and always intended to reimburse the city for all expenses.

"I didn't think it was inappropriate ... at no time was there any intention of not paying it," said Taylor.

City officials confirmed that the spending was voluntarily reimbursed each month, and revoking the card was the only disciplinary action imposed. A spokesman with the Utah Attorney General's Office said any misuse of funds is dealt with on a local level before the state office gets involved, and did not issue an opinion on the legality of Taylor's spending.

"It's something that was inadvertent," said City Attorney Kymber Housley. "I don't think there was any intent to not pay it back."

Housley confirmed that he spoke with Taylor in late December or early January regarding the purchases, and again in mid-February, when he asked Taylor to turn in his city credit card. The final purchase on the card was a $19 payment to Smith's on Feb. 13.

The only other charges to Municipal Council credit cards during 2004 and 2005 were from Councilwoman Tami Pyfer. Records show that Pyfer spent $210 to register the council for a Utah League of Cities and Towns conference in September, $34 on gas that Pyfer said was for the council to travel to the conference, and another $17 gas station charge in February.

Other councilmembers will be allowed to keep city issued credit cards, but the financial policy released Thursday asks that any others in city government turn in cards that are not essential, said Anderson. The policy states that credit cards, held by any employee other than a department head, may only be used for purchases associated with city approved travel, training expenses, and emergencies. There are currently around 60 credit cards issued by the city, and Anderson said he expects that number to fall as cards are turned in through the coming weeks.

"We've been looking at our credit card policy since last summer, when Salt Lake County had all their problems," said Mayor Doug Thompson. "We felt like a more formal policy would be appropriate, so that guidelines were written down, and clear."

Other councilmembers said a clearer policy will be helpful in the future, and welcomed the change.

"It's long overdue," said Pyfer. "We have brought up some of these issues during budget sessions in the past, and its been pushed aside as immaterial."

All In — Poker is big with Cache Valley's next generation

Cache Valley Magazine — March/April 2005


Across from each other at a card table in the basement of a North Logan home, Aaron DeTienne and Cory Boehme sit waiting. The two Logan High School seniors check their cell phones every few minutes, humor DeTienne's younger sister, and lean back in their folding chairs so the front legs come off the carpet, without a hint of impatience to get started on the evening's plan.

It's ten o'clock on a Sunday night, and there isn't a book in sight.

"If people don't have anything to do," says classmate Paul Doucette, 17, when he shows up and settles into a chair between the two, "it's poker."

So stacks of chips are passed out, another player arrives, cards get dealt, and it becomes obvious that to these guys, more often than not it's poker regardless of what else there is to do.

Doucette, DeTienne and Boehme play weekly now, but proudly admit they were on a nightly schedule last fall. They've played outdoors when the weather was nice; they've bet macaroni and Cheerios when they didn't have cash; they've even dealt impromptu hands over lunch at Beto's and Fredrico's Pizza. What's one more late night on a day before school when you're 17?

The explosion in popularity over the past few years of Texas Hold 'Em poker nationwide has caught on in Cache Valley; and as with most trends, the youth of Cache Valley have anteed up to the table as well. Boys, or girls, college or high school, for free or for lunch money, there's probably a game out there. Locally, you could say, the video game generation has a new hobby.

"It's actually becoming very popular at USU," says Nate Dutson, 22, a returned Mormon missionary who now plays a low-stakes biweekly (and sometimes more often than that, he admits) game with a group that varies between five and 15 guys.

Start asking, and games aren't hard to find. Texas Hold 'Em tournaments with a $1 buy-in were widespread on the Logan High football team last fall, neighbors in university apartment complexes like Kampus Korner or Old Farm know which apartments host poker nights, and everyone seems to have a story of a friend who is hooked playing on-line. There isn't even a stereotypical player anymore.

"We just got stuck on it," said Jessica Farrer, a 20-year-old USU student who learned Hold 'Em last month with six other girls. "It's something new. Better than studying."

Matt Coulter was hooked last August. Although he says his play is down recently, buddies still describe Coulter as a poker "fiend" and the "instigator" of many late-night poker sessions. It may not have been his intention to get the Hold 'Em habit started among friends — Coulter originally taught his buddies the game "pitch" — but the social pressure of a fad gaining momentum took over.

"There were tons of people into Hold 'Em," said Coulter, 22. "There were more people willing to play."

When Coulter and friends were at their peak last fall, some nights his small off-campus apartment would have enough players to support two tables. Fellow players admit there have been all-night sessions. A ledger that Coulter kept to track winnings and losses — regulars pay up or collect at the end of the month — had over a dozen names. And Coulter quickly offers to introduce you to a handful of other groups at USU with similar stories.

"It's huge on campus," says Coulter, and mentions a recent Mardi Gras event on campus where students couldn't even sit down at a Hold 'Em table because of it's popularity — and that was a game where chips were free. "It's more than just gambling, it's like a sport."

At the teenaged game in North Logan, the television in a corner is turned off. Surprisingly so, it turns out, because the four amateurs admit that the Travel Channel's World Poker Tour, Bravo's Celebrity Poker Showdown, or ESPN's World Series of Poker programs are, in fact, where learned Hold 'Em from less than a year ago.

"TV, that's what got it started," says Aaron Detienne, the 17-year-old host tonight, and admittedly the kid with the least luck in the group of six or seven that has been playing regularly the past few months.

On the surface, however, the boys have little in common with their card shark heroes. There's little semblance of a poker face at the table — "I can't bluff," Detienne admits, and Boehme often announces his hand before the bets get started. House rules don't allow blinds or limits, $2 gets you back in the game, and cell phone calls are handled simultaneously with betting rounds. And Chris Moneymaker's mom never shows up at his table to see how everything is going.

But these amateurs, despite pots that never go higher than $20 due to a lack of cash — or jobs to fix that problem, some lament — have picked up plenty from the television programs, gaming web sites and media that hype the current craze.

"It's kind of the image," says Coulter of the Hold 'Em craze, mentioning that even trendy clothier American Eagle now uses poker themes in clothing lines. "Even when you read Sports Illustrated, they'll have ads of people in Vegas. I can kind of see it as a trend now, whether that's good or bad."

In a small Logan apartment on a chilly Wednesday in February, five 22-year-olds have gathered for another round of Hold 'Em. B.B. King is playing on the stereo, dirty dishes are left in the sink behind the kitchen table, and folding chairs take up nearly all of a black and white linoleum floor. Although the game's regularity has waned since fall semester — "This semester we're all broke," says one player — the enthusiasm hasn't.

Marcus Pratt has been up since 5 a.m., has six chapters of Spanish to read, and has already bought back into the $5 game after being drained of chips in the first half hour by his friends. It's 11 p.m.

Another player mentions he has a 7:30 a.m. class, one guy has to take his girlfriend home, but none have moved in the past hour — and it isn't time to change that.

"This is my sixth or seventh time," says Dave Bethers, who joined the game late but, not surprisingly, buys back in after he's out of chips to push the game on. "But it's kind of addicting, you know?"

Nearing midnight, the 22-year-old with five stacks of red, white, green and blue chips is bullying bets around to finish off the game. They might all be bluffs, but it's working as he slowly drains the last two players at the table of the $5 they started with a few hours ago.

"I gotta start studying soon," he says, resigned even as he fingers his row of chips. "Don't we all?" says another, who has stayed up just to watch how the action plays out, and the laughter continues, and the light stays on.

2.12.2005

Thrill Merchants

The Herald Journal — 1.31.05

LAS VEGAS — A chilly wind blew across the Nevada desert as the sun rose over the mountains east of Las Vegas. High above an uncharacteristically quiet Strip, a dozen men in blue jump suits anchored safety cords from their midsections to the side of the Stratosphere Tower. Their white helmets poked out from under a ledge as an 88-foot long skycrane helicopter slowly rose from a parking lot below to hover just above the nearly 1,000-foot-high ledge, dangling a 12,300-pound piece of neon green painted steel just yards above their heads.

Janos Lakatos directed traffic behind the white helmets, talking on a radio to the helicopter pilot as the piece of steel — the base for a ride built in Logan called "Insanity" — listed in the 30 mph gusts. The men in blue jump suits grabbed tethers hanging from the helicopters cargo, but even the grip of 12 men couldn't subdue the swinging piece of metal, and the red Sikorsky helicopter eventually backed off with its heavy load.

Lakatos, a founder of Interactive Rides, hopped on his cell phone, side by side with fellow founder Clay Slade as the two negotiated another attempt. Two hours later, Las Vegas Strip below was still shut down and the helicopter made another lift, but the desert wind — even calmed down to around 12 mph — once again preempted the day's plans.

"It's still too gusty, that's what the biggest problem is," said Lakatos, taking off his blue helmet and shaking his head at the setback as the installation crew retreated into the Stratosphere to peel out of their jump suits and return to earth.
———
The first impression of Cache Valley during the descent from Wellsville Canyon is one of calm — quiet fields, not a skyscraper in sight, the soft glow of the Logan Temple the brightest light on the horizon. It's far from the neon lights of Las Vegas, literally and figuratively. But the success of two local companies has meant that visits to the top of Vegas — as well as locales in California, Argentina, and Italy — have a distinct Cache Valley feel.

Interactive Rides and S&S Worldwide, Inc. may be headquartered near each other on the west side of Cache Valley, but those few miles are far from the closest the two industry leaders get. They compete atop the Stratosphere Tower, where the "Insanity" ride will go alongside Interactive's "XScream" and the "Big Shot" tower ride made by S&S. Both have built multi-million dollar rides at major U.S. parks like Knott's Berry Farm in California and Paramount's Kings Dominion in Virginia. At a trade show in Europe the last weekend of January, they set up displays across a conference room from each other, two of only nine U.S. companies among the 245 participants. In fact, listings on most industry websites acknowledge less than a dozen major manufacturers of thrill rides across the country — including the two from Cache Valley.

"A lot of people come from all over the world, and always ask, 'Why here?'" said Stan Checketts, CEO of S&S Worldwide, Inc., the ten-year-old North Logan-based producer that has built roller-coasters and rides across the world.

Checketts doesn't have an exact answer to the question. He even admits it's fairly unique that S&S has enjoyed such success in a far corner of Utah, isolated from a major airport to transport employees and product around the globe. But there are certain circumstances that have fostered the local industry and make the thrill ride phenomenon a bit more understandable.

Cache Valley has experienced subcontractors who understand the tightly regulated specifications both companies adhere to; there is a valuable pool of engineering knowledge to draw from — including a strong engineering department at Utah State University; and a legacy of building extreme rides was started years ago by Arrow Dynamics of Clearfield, which one Interactive employee called "the grandfather in the industry."

"In fact, it's quite natural," said Lakatos, a Hungarian native who began his career in the roller coaster business with S&S after leaving an industrial manufacturing business in Salt Lake City. "If you are in a trade, you will start a business in a trade that people already know."

The trade Lakatos talked about was one he learned at S&S, where he worked with Slade and Checketts in the early days of the company. S&S was founded in 1994, when it built the Space Shot, a vertical tower ride that went to Mexico City. That first vertical ride was powered by a compressed air technology S&S pioneered and Checketts still incorporates into rides like the Powder Keg ride at Silver Dollar City in Branson, Miss. which is scheduled to open in March. The company grew through the 90s, building edgy rides like the Turbo Drop, Screaming Squirrel, and Sky Sling in places such as Japan, England, the Middle East and across the U.S. With the eccentric Checketts at the head of S&S — for example, he would climb to the top of every tower ride S&S built for years — the company eventually gained the attention of magazines like Rolling Stone and Wired with its creations.

Lakatos and Slade left to found Interactive Rides in 2000, and were soon followed by several S&S engineers and staff members. The ride manufacturing business was added to an automation engineering business that Slade, Clay Carter and Val Potter had started a few years earlier, and the team set it sights on "high profile" jobs like the Stratosphere installation, said Lakatos. The 30-employee company still does engineering consulting and automated manufacturing in addition to creating rides, but according to Lakatos, the passion for all involved remains focused on the rides.

"It's kind of like a high-thrill sport," said Lakatos, the project manager for the Insanity installation. "These two rides are our diamonds. There is not one other amusement ride manufacturer that can claim this job."

The company history that led to so much fun for both has a bit of an edge, however. When asked about the competition with each other, both Checketts and Slade decline to speak about that aspect of the business. Slade and Lakatos don't elaborate much on why they began their own company other than for a new opportunity, and Checketts chose not to talk about the relationship nor a past lawsuit between the two. Both companies, rather, said they want to focus on their own projects than watch the competition, and both said innovation is what keeps them at the top of the roller-coaster world.

"I always think we're the creators and not the imitators," said Checketts during an interview at the S&S offices this week. "Too many will wait and see if Stan builds it, then they copy it."

"We have to come up with new concepts to test the market," said Val Potter, vice-president of sales at Interactive. "We bring something to the industry because we have new and unique ideas."

Those statements are backed up by roller-coaster enthusiasts, who are well-acquainted with both company reputations. On industry websites and trade magazines, upcoming projects are rumored and gossiped, and the two companies are critiqued alongside European competitors with decades of experience building rides.

"What I like about the rides coming from S&S Power and Interactive Rides is they are unique," said Duane Marden, who runs the website Roller Coaster Database. "There is a lot of copying in this business. These two companies produce unique products, which I respect."

On www.thrillnetwork.com, a website that tracks the amusement ride industry, there are forums dedicated to rides S & S and Interactive have built, including specific threads on upcoming attractions like the Powder Keg and Insanity. There are ongoing debates about a recent lawsuit filed against Interactive by a Pennsylvania theme park (with a majority of opinion on the side of the manufacturer, incidentally), comments from hard-core thrill seekers that range from promises to visit the Stratosphere's newest attraction to fawning posts that call Checketts a "genius." On one thread about the world's best manufacturers, both local shops are mentioned right up with their European competition.

"You guys totally forgot about one of the biggest uprising companies out," wrote a poster called Eastcoastn7. "Yeah that's right, I'm talking about S&S Power. ... Also, Interactive rides has a few nice ideas, it's too bad not that many people have purchased any of their rides. Seems like the Stratosphere tower is the only place interested in their work."
———
Lakatos, Slade, and other Interactive officials on the observation deck of the Stratosphere earlier this week may have been disappointed following the missed opportunity. The timeframe had closed on the project — Las Vegas Boulevard and the Stratosphere Casino, both of which had closed for the project, had to be reopened in the late morning — but the enthusiasm of a group of men that get giddy like teenagers when they talk about thrill rides couldn't wane for too long. Lakatos was busy calling for a weather report for the coming days, and other Interactive officials began to work through the red tape to set up another attempt. The project is scheduled to happen again next Tuesday, and Insanity is scheduled to be swing riders 64 feet off the edge of the Stratosphere Tower at up to 40 mph, looking straight down.

"The goal is to keep the business, keep it healthy. We're going to be here," said Lakatos.

There's also no doubt where Checketts will be as his roller-coast empire expands — "I wouldn't move out of Cache Valley no matter what," he said. Completion of a local park along U.S. Highway 89-91 is nearing, S&S acquired Arrow assets after it folded and recently purchased a wooden roller-coaster company in Ohio called Custom Coasters as well, and a recent unofficial survey by Checketts on ridership for the 100 towers S&S has built in 27 countries reminded him why he still does it.

"We've thrilled over 300 million people," Checketts said. "To me, that is interesting. That's quite an accomplishment for people from a little farm town."

1.29.2005

A Family Tradition

Cache Valley Magazine - January/February 2005

Ask Jack Keller to talk about himself, and he tells a story about someone else.

Not a family member, although Jack's wife, children and grandchildren comprise one of the most involved families in the community. Not about a friend, although after forty-four years in Logan, he no doubt has many. Instead, he tells about an anonymous man walking down a road out of a small village.

Leaving town, the man passes a traveler. The traveler heading into town asks, "What's the village like that I'm going to?", because he has never been there before. The man asks about the traveler's former village, and the traveler complains about how awful it was. "Well, it's going to be awful in that village too," the man says, and continues to walk away from home. Then another man walking towards the village stops him. The second traveler also asks what the village will be like, and the man responds with the same question as he asked the first. "I come from a great place," says the second traveler. "The people were wonderful, and everything was good." "Oh," the man says, and smiles. "I think you're going to love that village."

Keller laughs a little at the finish of the story, and a twinkle in his eye tells you he's told it before. "See, it's really about what you make of it," says Keller. "That's what we said. Where you are is what you make of it. It's up to you."
———
Four the past four decades, Jack Keller's family has been in Logan; and the growing resume three generations of Kellers have produced shows what they have made of that time.

One or more family members have had a hand in everything from leadership at the Stokes Nature Center to local drives for the United Way. There are Keller fingerprints on an environmental club at Logan High School, the Cache Community Connections group that unites valley churches, the Whittier Center, a ten-year old alternative gift market and now a local Ten Thousand Villages store. Involvement has ranged far from northern Utah, to a Peace Corps outpost in west Africa, a group of women in Guatemala who started their own business, and now farmers in India looking for a better way to irrigate crops.

Last fall, those efforts were recognized with a citizen activist award that was presented to the entire family — including Jack and his wife Sally; their son Jeff and his son Ian; another son, Andy, and daughter-in-law Lauren Keller; and their daughter Judith and her husband Nelson Cronyn.

"The name 'Keller' kept resurfacing in every discussion of community service," said Cindy Roberts, an organizer of the Bioneers Conference were the award was given. "The values of stewardship have passed down through the (Keller) family."

But the Keller impact on Cache Valley since Jack and Sally moved to Logan with their two young sons in 1960 can't be measured in public accolades or charitable donations they politely decline to elaborate on.

It's measured in fondly-remembered relationships with "mentors" like Al and Alice Stokes. Or by the dozens of international university students that spent holidays in the Keller home over the years. The best way to understand where this family comes from might be a very simple explanation — and one that a few Kellers said had never occurred to them before they were asked the question "why?"

"The reality is, it's just bloody fun," says Jeff, 46, the second of Jack and Sally's three children during an evening interview in the empty Ten Thousand Villages store in Logan. "It's fun. When its all said and done, it's just a kick in the pants."
———

December found Kellers spread far from Logan, and each other — Jack in India, Sally with Judith, Nelson, and their three children in Africa, Jeff in Taiwan and Ian in Portland, Ore., where he's a freshman at Reed College. Although the family is quick to cooperate, learns from each other and obviously shares a close bond, the independence those travels suggest has also been characteristic of their various involvements.

Jack travels alone on many of the trips he takes as part of International Development Enterprises, an organization that engineers irrigation technology in developing countries. Judith and Nelson moved away from their family over a decade ago, and reopened a Peace Corps office in the West African country of Chad last year, where Nelson now serves as director. Sally recently brought a Ten Thousand Villages store to Logan to sell hand-made goods from around the world and send the proceeds directly back to the individual artisans. Though she accepts help from Jeff and Andy with the shop, there's no question who is in charge when a shift needs to be filled at the last minute, the books need to be balanced late in the evening, or extra product needs to be taken home for storage.

"We all see ourselves as doing our own thing," says Andy, 49, who joined his father with IDE, to use his expertise as an irrigation systems engineer in other countries. "While we're proud to be part of the family, we're happy with our contributions in our own right. I would do IDE whether dad was involved or not."

"It's not like a family that's got a project," says Jack. "Everybody is all over the place, doing whatever comes to their mind."

Perhaps the individuality doesn't surprise Jack because it was he, by leaving on business a day after arriving in Grenada, Miss. with Sally and six-month old Andy fifty years ago, who unintentionally planted that seed.

"That sort of started a pattern of what our marriage was going to be like," said Sally, 72. "He was out working, doing things, and it was my responsibility to be active in the community, to be a good citizen."

It was the role her father had played when Sally was growing up, and a role Jack was familiar with after watching his mother fight for integration in Memphis, Tenn. before the civil right's movement took hold. When the young family moved to Logan the attitude was fostered by needs in the community, and subtly passed to the next generation.

Andy, Jeff and Judith grew up without a television set, and voted against the purchase each time their parents offered the choice. Judith was used to sitting through planning commission meetings and knew the names of Logan city commissioners before she entered preschool. Each Halloween, the kids would be sent door to door a few days early, but not to get a jump on candy.

"My parents pushed me out the door to trick or treat for UNICEF. And I could hardly say the word, and couldn't even remember diphtheria, or these other things," said Jeff. "But I'm trick or treating for UNICEF, and we'd do this before Halloween, and people would slam the door and say, 'It's not Halloween yet.' I'd go around and do that every day after school for a week."

Not surprisingly, the next generation of Kellers has picked up the same spirit. Two years ago, Ian and cousins Malayna and Erika collected 50 soccer balls and brought them to children in Burkina Faso. Jeff's daughter Maria used Halloween as a platform for her political views this fall, five years before she'll be eligible to vote. When Ian and friends took notice of Cache Valley's poor air quality last winter, the environmental club they started — called LEAF — organized a "Green Thursday" event to reward Logan High School students for carpooling. Now, he's thinking about careers in think tanks or developing countries — and knows exactly where that idea comes from. "Taking aspects of the lives of my relatives helps me dream up my own life," said Ian.

But the dream isn't just of a cooperative, productive family. A bit reluctant to speak about themselves at times, the Kellers enthusiastically open up when asked about improving local air quality, giving to third-world countries, and taking care of resources both locally and worldwide. "It's a love for humanity, a caring for humanity," says Andy during an interview at his Logan home that sits right next door to his parents. "Providing for the poorest of the poor."

Like the people in Chad, a country that went through so much unrest in the late 1990s that the Peace Corps office had to be closed. Judith and Nelson, both Utah State University grads, moved from Burkina Faso to Chad in April 2003 to restart the program, and live in a climate where Judith describes poverty as "in your face" every day. Jack and Andy also work in African countries like Ethiopia, Niger, and Zambia through the IDE, and work with farmers to increase their earnings past the $1 per day that is typical. Earlier this spring, Jack even postponed a hip replacement surgery to finish a trip through Zambia, where he needed cortisone shots to stay on his feet.

"It's not easy to do, and he puts himself through considerable discomfort to do what he does. He doesn't ever acknowledge what it's like to do what he does," said Andy. "He didn't let that stop him from doing what was helpful."
———
That Jack still works at age 76 isn't remarkable. That he could still work at 57 was.

Body-surfing off the coast of Morocco in June 1985, Jack crashed and broke his neck. He was rushed back to the United States, fitted with a halo he wore for seven months and left scars on his forehead that are still visible today.

After the halo was set, the doctor held his thumb and forefinger an inch apart and said: "You came this close to being dead, or paralyzed." Jack, the son of a man who, as Jeff remembers, was optimistic "to annoyance," had a simply reply. "I also," said Jack, "came that close to not doing any of it at all."

Just like bodysurfing, there aren't many opportunities the Kellers have let pass. From Lauren's leadership with the Citizens to Protect Logan Canyon group and the Stokes Nature Center to Jeff's leadership in the Quality Utah Air Committee to Judith turning a visit from a Peace Corps recruiter her junior year of college into a life-changing decision, opportunities have always been jumped at rather than waited on.

"I've never felt that there was an issue of whether or not to be involved, but rather what to be involved in," said Judith via email from Chad.

"I guess when you get down to it, it's not much written and not much said," said Jack, a peaceful man that looks in your eye when he speaks to you, stares at his wife when she speaks, and looks at the ground when others speak about him. "It's just people that live a certain way. Its not very in your face, and not very obvious. And we don't even think about it."

Jeff definitely wasn't thinking about it last winter, when, as he remembers, he was frustrated with life in Logan. Bothered by the poor air quality in town during the winter inversion, and frustrated because he perceived that few people cared about making a difference in the local problem, he remembered a simple lesson his mother had taught him years before. He decided to get involved, and has watched people from bureaucrats to elementary school students somehow pick up an old piece of family advice: "The Keller family tradition, as well as my mom's side of the family," said Jeff, "is, It's up to you."

Cleaner skies ahead?

The Herald Journal - 11.7.04
Part 2 of a 3 part series

It was a significant meeting for the Logan Municipal Council on Jan. 7. Three members made legislative debuts in Council Chambers; important issues like garbage fees, fiber-optic communications and a redevelopment project were on the agenda; and a large crowd showed up on a cold winter night.

During discussion of a wind power purchase, Mayor Doug Thompson interrupted with an announcement -- perhaps ironic considering the "clean" source of energy being discussed, perhaps prophetic considering the reverberations the warning would have over the next two months.

"We'll very likely be at the yellow burn limit by tomorrow morning," Thompson told the council, referring to his recent check of the Bear River Health Department's wood-burning advisory, which is based on particulate air pollution levels.

The next day, Thompson was proven correct, as the level of PM 2.5 -- or particulate matter less than 2.5 microns in size -- surpassed 42 in Logan, prompting a yellow burn advisory.

The caution light didn't last long, though, as pollution levels were in the red by the end of the week. Measurements continued to climb, and PM 2.5 levels exceeded 130 micrograms per cubic meter at one point as a layer of gray smog settled over Cache Valley for the next few weeks.

"By the time we got into yellow, it was too late," Thompson said during an interview in his office last week.

It was too late to stop the red burn classification, a public relations "black eye," increasingly hazy skies and the threat of "nonattainment" status under the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's air quality standards.

But a widespread community reaction was just beginning.

Street department workers and police officers curtailed driving, fast food restaurants like McDonald's closed drive-thru lanes, and teachers kept students indoors during recess. High school students barricaded parking lots to encourage carpooling, local mechanics tested vehicle emissions for free, and bus ridership in the Logan Transit District reached 5,000 passengers a week for three weeks.

"People were trying," Thompson said of the response. "The thing is, they have to start thinking about what they'll do during these inversions now."

And many are.

"Green Thursdays" are planned at Logan High School; the Logan City Police Department's "Smoking Vehicles" citation program has been expanded; and Sunday carpooling efforts are planned at local churches.

Meanwhile, the Bear River Board of Health has considered lowering the pollution level at which "yellow" or "red" warnings are triggered to start burn restrictions before PM 2.5 gets out of hand. And local forecasters have prepared programs to predict winter inversions and warn the community when severe pollution episodes may be on the way.

One of the most widely talked about pollution-control measures -- a mandatory vehicle emissions inspection and maintenance program -- isn't likely for now. A recently formed task force made up of elected officials and Health Department staff is considering a similar, non-mandatory program, but it's also months away, meaning education is the best bet for reducing emissions this winter.

"Everybody who drives a car, truck or other type of vehicle is part of the problem," said Grant Koford, an environmental health scientist at the Health Department. "We all have to be part of the solution. That's a mindset we all need to understand."

Rather than requiring all vehicle owners to pay for emissions tests and potentially associated repairs, a "Green Sticker Program" has been discussed and could be in place by next fall. The program would require permits -- most likely green window stickers -- for people to drive vehicles on yellow and red burn days. The stickers would be granted based on emissions tests, and the goal would be to keep vehicles that produce large amounts of pollution off the road when air quality declines.

"There would be a particular population in our community that would feel the brunt of mandatory (emissions testing)," said Cache County Executive Lynn Lemon, who's also a member of the Board of Health.

Lemon said requiring emissions tests would burden lower-income families more likely to drive older, nonconforming cars that need pricey repairs. He said the committee has discussed providing waivers to families that can't afford to pay for repairs if they have no other transportation option during red burn days, such as residents outside of LTD or Cache Valley Transit District range.

But results from another study show that the simplest solution is for people to just drive less. Although it has been proven that heavy-duty diesels and poorly maintained vehicles produce more pollution than those that run on unleaded gas, Koford said a recent vehicle-count study showed the majority on the road don't fall into the former category. He said that 90 percent of vehicle emissions are produced by gasoline engines, and thus even those that would pass emissions tests need to be part of the solution.

"If people can cut driving in half during inversion times, that would be better than an emissions program," said Koford. "We're educating the public on reducing the miles they travel during an inversion."

While it isn't easy to get people to change their driving habits, Koford and others agree, Logan city, Cache County and local businesses are encouraging employees to carpool or take the bus to and from work.

"Our goal is to encourage people to take the bus once a week," said Todd Beutler, operations manager for the LTD, adding that average bus ridership takes at least 35 cars off the road each hour. "If everybody would ride once a week, that would make a difference."

The Logan City Police Department said more than 200 vehicles have been cited under "Smoking Vehicle" guidelines since January 2003 for producing visible emissions. Owners are given "fix-it tickets" requiring them to get their exhaust systems repaired. The success of the program, in which officers are trained on what types of smoke contain pollutants, has convinced the Cache County Sheriff's Office to consider joining.

Campaigns are planned at elementary schools, and fourth-grade students will now learn about air pollution in conjunction with a unit on recycling. Participation in Logan High School's Logan Environmental Action Force (LEAF) spiked this fall. The organization has a public relations campaign scheduled, and it will close the school's parking lot on certain days to students who don't carpool. It also recently conducted a survey to find out what pollution-reduction measures student drivers would favor.

"For high school students, pollution and environment issues aren't a big deal," said Michelle Kang, a 17-year-old Logan High senior and LEAF member. "They're going to be careless about it, and we're trying to make them aware of things they can do."

The grassroots Quality Utah Air Commission that was formed by local residents last winter has continued to meet and brainstorm ways citizens can protect air quality through behavioral changes and education. Others are promoting hybrid cars or alternative fuel sources like natural gas that produce fewer emissions. And research is planned to pinpoint more accurately what causes PM 2.5 locally and identify more specifically which cars and trucks are in need of emissions repairs.

Perhaps most importantly, though, discussion and cooperation have been generated among friends and neighbors who call Cache Valley home.

"Public health is public health," said Koford. "We're all involved."

The other guys

The Herald Journal - 10.10.04

The woman who answered the door at a brick Center Street rambler just east of Main in Smithfield looked like the type of voter he wanted to meet -- short hair, well dressed, a bit past middle age and listed as "undeclared" on registration rolls.

On the porch, Steve Thompson introduced himself and said he was going door to door campaigning. He told her he was running for the 1st District Congressional seat, and then -- perhaps optimistically, perhaps a bit tongue in cheek -- he added with a smile, "as a Democrat, and that's a good thing around here."

The woman, holding her screen door open with one arm, shot a confused look at Thompson. Then, patiently, as if correcting a misinformed child, she responded, "Oh, I don't think so."

Thompson received better reactions during an afternoon of canvassing Smithfield homes -- a man a few doors down told him, "You're actually a Democrat, and I appreciate that" -- but Thompson said there have also been worse. Like the time a long-haired, bearded man in Ogden threw campaign material back in Thompson's face after hearing the word "Democrat" and said sternly, according to Thompson, "That's all I need to know."

Unfortunately for most Cache County Democratic candidates, the latter response is more common, whether voiced or not. And the facts back that statement up.

The only local Democrat currently in office is Brian Chambers of the Cache County Council (other Democrats hold nonpartisan elected offices). And a state legislator from the party hasn't been elected since Frank Prante represented District 4 from 1987 until 1990.

Republican candidates talk about competitive races and compliment their opponents in interviews. However, several admitted they don't need to spend time fund-raising or campaigning in a community where one-third of the more than 61,000 registered voters are registered Republicans and less than 3,000 are Democrats. Underlying attitudes toward Democrats have taken the form of vandalism to John Kerry signs this fall and people throwing candy back at the Cache Democrats' float during local parades.

"It was grown people, too," said Cache Democrats Chairman Reid Pearce, "not just kids."

Pearce said Cache Valley wasn't always this way. When he was a young man in Cornish, the town was home to a healthy mix of Democrats, Republicans and others in the middle of the spectrum.

"It didn't seem to be such a sin to be a Democrat," Pearce said, reflecting on the evolution to an overwhelming Republican majority in Cache County and Utah. "There's been a tremendous amount of pressure on the Republican people to exclude Democrats. It's not like you can be a Democrat as you once could."

Several longtime Democrats said party members live with stereotypes. They're presumed to be pro-choicers, tax-and-spend liberals, non-Mormons or out-of-towners. However prevalent or true those stereotypes may be, Democratic candidates say they're unfair.

"I think it's fun being a Democrat in Cache County," said Matt Everett, a Logan resident and current candidate for Senate District 25. "You know, just because I'm a Democrat doesn't mean I believe everything in the national party's platform."

Personal explanations of policy like Everett's are generally the only way for Democrats to gain footholds in partisan races. Since perceived party platforms and local stereotypes don't allow for easy answers from Democrats, supporters said it's up to the party to promote candidates who are moderate and mainstream.

"The Democratic values are really seamlessly woven into the predominant culture of the state," said Gina Wickwar, an active Cache Valley Democrat for nearly 20 years. "We're starting to do (express) that; we're making inroads."

Wickwar said the most important issues to the local party are things like working wages, children's safety, education and environmental stewardship. She said the challenge for Utah Democrats, whom she termed a "special breed" because of the conservative culture in the state, is to push those issues and candidates' personalities to the fore.

"The success that we have had are because the people are beyond party labels," said Wickwar, citing the success of candidates like Chambers, a lifelong Smithfield resident and longtime educator at Sky View High School and Cedar Ridge Middle School. "They've seen the Democratic candidate as a real person."

But the fact is, success stories are few.

Some local Democratic candidates joined races simply to have a name opposite the Republican on the ballot. Several entered only after being asked by state party representatives just before the filing deadline. Thompson said fund-raising for his race against Rob Bishop has been tougher than for a nonpartisan city council race -- he has been elected twice in Logan -- because Democratic money must be spread among more candidates, and some donors chose not to give because names would be publicly affiliated with the party on disclosure forms.

"You might say there's a little fear factor," Pearce said of locals going on record as Democrats.

However, most who run for office do so proudly.

River Heights Mayor Vic Jensen was a late entry to the race for Utah House of Representatives District 5. He wants to follow in his father's footsteps as a "staunch Democrat" and member of the Legislature, and he said a Democrat can win in Cache County.

"He has before," said Jensen, referring to former representative Cecil Jorgensen, who was elected in 1963 and, like Jensen, was a former Cache Valley teacher.

The genesis of Jensen's campaign came from the same place many local Democrats are hanging their hopes this fall -- gubernatorial candidate Scott Matheson Jr.

Matheson, who invited Jensen to run, was mentioned often in interviews when Democrats were asked about the future of the party locally. Despite the fact that there are Democrats in nearly every local race, Matheson, the son of a former Utah governor, has been pegged as the most likely candidate to win over undecided or unaffiliated voters in Cache County.

"He's so Utah," said one local supporter.

But in Cache County, where the Democratic vote total usually hovers below 30 percent, gathering more votes for the party is just one part of a bigger goal.

"I think the big thing is for people to have an open mind," said Pearce. "Vote on the issues."

Perhaps Thompson summed it up best as he walked through the streets of Smithfield last weekend and talked about local Democrats' chances this year:

"I wish our valley wouldn't vote straight party so much," he said.

Iraq war hits home

The Herald Journal - 9.8.04

Last June, Brett and Zellene Allred of Hyde Park received a letter from the U.S. Marine Corps.

The letter offered congratulations for an award their son recently had earned, and it assumed the proud parents knew all about Lance Cpl. Michael Allred's Purple Heart.

But Lance Cpl. Allred hadn't mentioned it once in letters and phone calls home from Iraq. He had received it in March.

"He doesn't toot his own horn," said Zellene Allred. "He very quietly does the things that need to be done."

On Tuesday, it was time for others to speak about what he'd done.

Lance Cpl. Allred, 22, died near Fallujah, Iraq, on Monday. He was one of seven Marines killed in a car-bomb attack, and the first soldier from Cache Valley to die during Operation Iraqi Freedom.

The Department of Defense had yet to confirm the casualties or details of the attack by Tuesday afternoon, but stories about a wiry, brown-haired young soldier who never had a negative word to say about the Iraqi people were made public, albeit with a moist eye and a choked voice at times, by those who knew him best.

Early Tuesday afternoon, the driveway to his family's Hyde Park home was filled with the vehicles of extended family members offering comfort and condolences. A spacious front yard was lined with 60 American flags. Parked in the grass 25 feet from the front door was a red Chevy S-10 pickup, with a Marine Corps sticker in the rear window and a Harley-Davidson flag draped over the side.

Family members spoke quietly in the shade of the garage. Friends who knocked on the front door offered Brett or Zellene Allred a hug, as Michael Allred's nieces ran around the living room.

His parents held a photo of Michael in his blue dress uniform and spoke calmly about what had been on their minds since two Marines arrived at the front door Monday night.

"He was very positive, very upbeat," said Zellene Allred, who last heard from her son in a letter received a week ago Monday. "He felt very strongly that we should be in Iraq. ... He was proud."

"He felt it was a way to do something with his life that had meaning and purpose," said Brett Allred.

Michael Allred was the third of Brett and Zellene's five children, one of four boys. He was the only one of the five to join the military, having enlisted six months after graduating from Sky View High School in 2000, but he followed several uncles who fought in World War II and a grandfather who was in the Korean War. Lance Cpl. Allred was an uncle who loved his young nieces, a son that played on his motorcycle or in his red truck and a friend who rock-climbed, camped and kept family members on their toes.

"My whole life, he was basically my brother," said J.R. Jorgensen, 21, a cousin from Salt Lake City. "If there was trouble, we were the ones behind it."

Jorgensen said the two friends had "big dreams" for when Allred's tour of duty ended. A road trip back from the Marine base in San Diego, a stop in Las Vegas, perhaps working together for a property company in Salt Lake City. Maybe back to school or an LDS mission. Definitely a new motorcycle. Brett Allred said the one thing his son was sure of was that he couldn't wait to be back in Cache Valley.

Michael Allred's tour in Iraq -- his second since Operation Iraqi Freedom began in early 2003 -- was scheduled to end the first week of October. His four years of enlistment would have expired in January. His parents said that during a visit to Hyde Park last Christmas, their son didn't talk about fighting or the danger U.S. troops have increasingly faced during the last year. Instead, he told funny stories about the people he had met. The humble young man would blush when people called him a hero for defending supply lines as American troops took Baghdad, and he quietly let his family know how he felt about a second trip in Iraq.

"He was concerned about going back," said Zellene Allred.

He wasn't concerned about fighting, she said; Michael had been trained to fight. But as the war in Iraq continued and attacks from insurgents became more frequent, Michael Allred and his Battalion were concerned about knowing whom to fight.

"This time, they didn't," said Brad Allred, Michael's 26-year-old brother. "And that's what happened to him in the end."

Brad Allred said the two shared a room growing up, as well as many late-night conversations about the future. Brad Allred learned that his brother kept his word no matter what. He learned that Michael Allred had "no fear" and a sense of humor that appealed to 21-year-old cousins as well as nieces just learning to walk.

Now Brad Allred will remember those traits, he said, every time a motorcycle drives by or someone else posts a Marine Corps sticker like the one in Michael's old truck.

"I feel a sense of pride," said Brad Allred. "That's my brother. He's a Marine."

Time, effort and lots of fake blood: PIC loves the gore

Cache Magazine, The Herald Journal - 8.27.04

"More blood, we need more blood."

The sun had just risen above Providence Canyon on a Monday morning in early August, and Tyler Atkinson was feeling violent.

He and a few buddies had dug a shallow grave in the middle of a thin stand of trees just north of the road, where spent bullet casings and crushed beer cans littered a gravel parking lot. The grove of trees filtered the morning light, dust visible in the air in the sunbeams. They huddled near a maroon sedan, a pickax propped against a nearby cooler, and discussed the "point of view of a dead body." They laughed about the latest hack-em-up Quentin Tarantino flick, and Atkinson asked for more blood.

"Have you seen 'Kill Bill'?" a shaggy-haired kid with baggy jeans asked, and shook a soggy hand above a clear plastic tarp, spreading red specks grimly onto the ominous-looking translucent sheet as five other young men hovered nearby and smiled.


"It takes a lot of time and effort," said Atkinson, the ringleader of the Providence Canyon scene along with friend James Cawley, where the two burgeoning filmmakers were shooting the short-film "Workplace Violence" for entry in the Utah State University Film Festival this fall. "And fake blood."

------

It wasn't always so Tarantino for the two young filmmakers.

Following a intro-to-theater class at Utah State University two years ago, Cawley said it wasn't a fellow interest in gore he noticed in Atkinson. In fact, Atkinson almost doomed "Partners In Crime Productions," or P.I.C. Productions as the two are now known, with the enthusiasm he approached his classmate with that day.

"I remember going home and thinking about how big of a dork was in my class," said Cawley, 21.


But the two shared a goal more important than a first impression. As classes wore on, the only two students in the acting class that weren't theater majors -- Atkinson studies marketing; Cawley, Political Science -- bonded. They answered questions, volunteered to act at nearly every opportunity, stayed late after class -- and wore on the nerves of Associate Professor of Theater Kevin Doyle.

"He hated us, he absolutely hated us," said Cawley.

"He'd say, why are these guys here?" said Atkinson.

A semester later, Atkinson, now 22, and Cawley launched P.I.C. Productions to achieve the mutual goal of becoming filmmakers in Cache Valley. Five films later, they've even convinced Doyle to join them.

"They were a lot more ambitious than the others (in the acting class)," said Doyle, who plays "The Boss" in "Workplace Violence." "They were having fun but taking it seriously. I realized it wasn't just a lark."

They were serious enough to write, direct and produce four films before "Workplace Violence" was completed this summer. P.I.C. Productions were recognized as "promising young filmmakers" for their short "Mind Shadow" at the annual L.D.S. Film Festival, which also featured films like "Napoleon Dynamite," "Saints and Soldiers" and "The Home Teachers." The Utah State University Film Festival awarded them the Best Picture award for "Transfer of Aggression" last fall, and they hope "Workplace Violence," the longest film they have produced, can surpass that success.

"Our main goal is to prove you can make a movie without spending thousands of dollars," said Cawley, on a set where vehicles used as props belonged to the producers, cameras were bought at a fraction of the original cost, and blood was made of Karo Syrup and food coloring.

Though the goal may be Hollywood, or at least a budget that extends beyond buying Little Caesar's pizza for cast and crew, Atkinson and Cawley are focused on Cache Valley for the time being.

During an interview last week they continually stressed how successful films will encourage other locals to make movies. They said the "partners in crime" includes student actors looking to add to a resume, or crew members eager to learn the ins and outs of digital technology. And they said it can encourage participation in the fledging Logan Film Society and local filmmaking scene, which is growing despite the lack of a formal film department at USU.

"One short film can be worth more than four years of film school," said Atkinson, repeating advice he'd been given by a professional and consistently keeps in mind.

------

At the final on-location shoot for "Workplace Violence," the violence from Providence Canyon has been replaced by, appropriately, a workplace. A long row of cubicles in a USU office building is filled on a Saturday morning with the three-man cast, Cawley and Atkinson, the crew, around a dozen extras, and the digital equipment needed to produce the final scenes before the film hits the editing floor.

Atkinson called out action, and the disheveled "John Patterson" stumbles through the office to his cubicle as a camera follows him from a bird's-eye view perspective.

The unique camera angles, techniques like mixing black and white scenes with color scenes, and the dark content of "Workplace Violence" trademark the film as a typical P.I.C. Productions thriller. When an arrogant co-worker mysteriously disappears, John Patterson begins to unravel the cloudy office politics surrounding the incident and suddenly finds himself involved, perhaps too closely, in the situation.

Although the P.I.C. partners have focused on screenplays that emerge from Cawley's experiences as an intern with the Pocatello Police Department thus far, Atkinson said the duo has notebooks full of other ideas. They say a film like "Napoleon Dynamite," the coming-of-age story made by a Preston native, could be the route they go, or perhaps a romantic comedy that Atkinson has in mind.

The possibilities for the two are infinite. But one thing is for sure.

"We just want to make films, that's what we want to do," said Atkinson, and then let Cawley completes the thought: "For the rest of our lives."

Innocence lost in war's carnage

The Herald Journal - 6.19.04

On a shelf above the workshop desk in the basement of his Logan home, there's a framed photo of Marriner Brown as a young man.

In the black and white picture, a seated Brown leans forward in his Army dress uniform. His dark hair combed back just like the 80-year-old Brown still wears it, albeit with a bit more gray these days. The teenage Brown smiles the confident grin of a recent high school grad and just-married man on the way to serve his country, cocky and sure of himself and his mission. There's no fear in his eyes, and the photo version will never speak about what he was headed for in the military.

But the real Marriner Brown, who now patiently builds grandfather clocks and furniture on the desk below the framed photo -- surrounded by medals and ribbons from his service time -- can talk about what he saw.

The real Marriner Brown uses a cane, and slowly climbs down the stairs to the workshop where the old olive uniform is folded over a hanger in the corner. The real Marriner Brown traded the uniform of a soldier for the uniform coveralls of a man who owned a service station for 30 years. The real Marriner Brown pulls out a thick, red photo album full of newspaper clippings and photos from 1943 until 1946, places souvenirs from Germany on the workbench, and runs a large hand along a map to point out where his tank traveled with the 86th Infantry Division during World War II.

And often, he grins.

He can still smile like the kid in the photo when he thinks about how fortunate he was to survive German shells that rained down on his Allied camp and a blow to the head that left him unconscious and bloody. But the youthful look in his eyes is drained when he recounted other stories, many of which illustrate the difficulty of crossing the Rhine River with a refurbished M-7 tank in the summer of 1944 to engage in vicious combat before his 21st birthday.

"We had several incidents that were hard to stomach for a young boy," said Brown, as he paused to close his eyes and take a deep breath, a frequent occurrence during an interview last week. "I guess I was 20 years old."

He was a part of the unit that reclaimed and returned the crown jewels of Austria. He had his tank and crew personally approved by legendary General George S. Patton near the town of Ingolstadt -- "He gave us a thumbs up as he went by," said Brown. And he was also a part of a battalion that shelled villages and German military strongholds in the southern part of the country as the Allied forces moved, and more than once rolled through the wreckage to discover women and children were in the path of the advancing war.

"It's hard to say who you are when you see arms and legs, and bodies in half," said Brown. "But it's war. We were always told 'kill or be killed.' That was our motto."

That was also the attitude of the German SS troops, he said.

On a road one day during the war, a foot soldier in front of Brown's tank was shot. As the unit braced for the surprise attack, a medic responded to the wounded man. Another rifle crack and the medic crumpled, shot while he attended the soldier.

Brown said a nearby American saw a window shutter close in a small German home immediately after the shot rang out. So the tank turned it's 150-caliber Howitzer fury on the dwelling, and subsequently the enemy combatants the rest of the afternoon.

"That day, I shouldn't say it, but there wasn't a prisoner to come down that road. To shoot a medic, that wasn't right," said Brown. "But they were fighting for their lives too."

So were the occupied citizens of Germany, as Brown saw first-hand as well.

On the outskirts of a liberated prison one night, the Americans were told stories that Nazis had been shooting prisoners. That night, camped in a German farmhouse, an enraged Polish man asked the Allied soldiers for a gun to go shoot the German who had killed his brother.

A captain denied the request, but the next day the Polish man accompanied Brown's group when they surprised four German soldiers hiding in a nearby house. After taking two young Germans back to their Jeep, the captain left the Polish man behind, with the two remaining German prisoners.

"I didn't like the idea ... but this fellow was bound and determined to get even," said Brown. "So we let him take a rifle..."

And he trailed off, the rest of the story left to the imagination.

"It brings back too many memories," he said, and paused to wipe a tear from behind his glasses.

He sighed deeply and exhaled.

"You gotta excuse me," said Brown. "I get a little upset."

But Brown doesn't keep a small toy tank on the mantle of the Logan home he built for his wife and six children following the war so he will be bothered by the old memories.

When he choked up looking at a photo of the 86th Infantry returning to New York City by boat after the war ended, it wasn't from sorrow. When he paused during the story of a man from Hyde Park that was killed in a tank accident, it was because he remembered so many good things about the friend. And when he pulled out 60-year-old copies of the New York Herald Tribune and New York Times with his battalion on the cover, it wasn't to wallow in sadness.

Brown was a part of the only unit to be sent to the Pacific Theater of Operations following a tour in Europe. The unit was on an island off the coast of Japan when the atomic bomb was dropped. He visited the remains of the mansion Hitler lived in when the war began. Above the black and white photo over his desk is a plaque that reminds him of the bronze star he was awarded. The brother of three other World War II soldiers -- De Alton in Italy, Edward in the Pacific Theater, and Francis, a Marine in the South Pacific -- he beamed when he mentioned "the greatest nation in the world."

"I was proud to serve, and have the little part of it I did," said Brown. "I really enjoyed the German people, there was something about them that was genuine. The SS and army group was something different. In the country, those people were very happy to see the war end."

One can only imagine Brown felt the same way.

Forty Years of Beatles

The Herald Journal - 2.07.04

Yesterday.
A local band called Deja Vu practiced away.
One member's Logan home is where they play.
Oh, Craig Mortensen and Spencer Parkinson, believe in yesterday.

Except this weekend, when today is the day that's really special.

Saturday marks the 40th anniversary of the day the Beatles first set foot in the United States. It was the first hard day's night in the states for the lads, and followed three days later by a television introduction on the Ed Sullivan show that led to concerts, international fame and innovative music that gave the Fab Four a ticket to ride all the way to being considered by many the greatest band in history.

While the landing at John F. Kennedy Airport in New York on Feb. 7, 1964 may have been just another good day sunshine for the boys from Liverpool, many local residents like Mortensen and Parkinson remember the events that ushered in years and years of success as just too important to let it be — even four decades later.

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"This is what we're talking about, yesterday, so it's an appropriate song," Mortensen said Friday night, and sat down on a stool in a spare bedroom of his Island neighborhood home, where he and Parkinson's guitars do much more than just gently weep. The due perform the hit song after a rendition of "Here Comes the Sun," both of which that have been perfected over the seven years Deja Vu has been practicing 1960s-era tunes in a room plastered with Beatles posters and memorabilia, and then performing them around Cache Valley.

The two men didn't know each other when that first Ed Sullivan appearance aired — Mortensen watched with his parents in Logan, Parkinson in Carlsbad, Calif. — but the shaggy quartet meant a lot to the formation of Deja Vu, even back in 1964.

"They were singing coming of age songs," said Parkinson, comparing them to the sugary pop that had dominated mainstream radio at the time. "And they were kind of raw, working class guys."

"Like us," Mortensen interjects.

Mortensen was just a teenager when he heard "I want to hold your hand," on the radio.

"I immediately told my parents I wanted a guitar," he said before the private concert Friday night. "And you know the lyrics 'Played it 'till my fingers bled?' That was me."

While it may be a long and winding road to get the two musicians to pick a favorite Beatles tune - "I couldn't name one, it's impossible to answer," said Parkinson — the influence of the British Invasion reached others in Cache Valley that have no trouble rattling off favorite memories.

Long before Mark Meaker started working the equivalent of eight days a week as the Logan Fire Department's chief, he was a little boy looking up to the older sister he called a "huge, huge, huge Beatles fan." It's easy to see how her Beatle-themed birthday parties, weddings and parties where she and her friends would lipsync Beatle songs, and one particular night in front of the television watching the Ed Sullivan show influenced Meaker — he's seen Paul McCartney in concert four times, keeps a portrait of the band in his den, and even "raised my kids on the Beatles."

But in 1964, it was just beginning. Everyone his California neighborhood would come together at the Meaker household to see the Beatles perform on Sullivan's program, and that where Meaker's most vivid memory of the band impact occured. His father - a "refined man," said Meaker, more interested in tennis and fine art than a teenage pop group — sat with his children and neighbors to get a taste of the latest craze.

"Great, here they come," Meaker remembered his father sarcastically saying as the group launched their first number. But by the second tune, "Yesterday," the eldest Meaker saw how they could work it out.

"My father turned to my mother and said, 'My goodness, these young boys really do have talent,'" said Meaker. "That was the moment adults accepted them."

For Elizabeth York, she didn't need anybody's help in any way to convince her parents she got to get them into her life.

"My mother encouraged me to watch them on the Ed Sullivan Show," said the director of the music therapy program at Utah State University. "So she deserves some credit."

Although the television performances and newscasts of the first American appearance of Paul, John, Ringo and George were entertaining to the 14-year old girl in Spartanburg, S.C., it was the words they used that filled her sky with diamonds.

"It was a breath of fresh air compared to the boring top-40 on my transistor radio," said York, who said she was inspired by the innovative songwriting that still influences the writing she does today. "The Beatles brought a different kind of questioning to their lyrics."

Of course, there was also the concert in Atlanta in 1965.

"That was the high point of my teenage years," she said.

York still listens to the catalouge today, and probably will when she's 64. Especially thanks to a something she learned four years ago that proves how lasting the sound has been — her 14-year old niece was in love with Beatles tunes.

So they bought a ticket to ride to Britain, and spent a vacation at the museums and sites where the musicians came up with the music that York still teaches to piano students she teaches. They saw Abbey Road, Strawberry Fields, Apple Studios and the Cavern Club. And she realized that what she heard as a teenager is what allows her, 40 years later, to still think like dreamers do.

"[The Beatles music] changed me, gave me hope, was healing, and accompanied me in personal growth. It pointed out to me how music can have a deeper meaning."

Brotherly Bond Never Broken

The Herald Journal - 2.9.04

Loyd Lewis lay on the battlefield of Iwo Jima in February 1945, bullets flying from every direction and bombs falling from above. So he played possum.

The deception of keeping completely still was the 19-year-old Marine's best chance of surviving the chaotic six-day battle where Japanese troops would pop out of hidden tunnels guns ablaze, or run kamikaze into the foxholes of American troops. It was also the natural reaction to having so much blood flowing from his head that he couldn't see.

"I thought I was dead," said Lewis, "except I could still think."

Thinking was all the teenager from rural Preston had ever needed to contact the person that had been closest to him throughout his young life.

Mere thoughts kept Lewis "unnaturally" in touch with the boy he had ridden mules, played football and worked the farm with growing up; the teenager who enrolled in the military alongside Lewis in 1942; the man that was sharing the foxhole Lewis had just been blown out of; and his best friend -- his identical twin brother, Boyd.

"This is where we communicated," said Lewis, now 78, tapping the thin gray hair on his temple that is still buzzed down to the bone like a true Marine. "We could talk without saying a word."

Except for that moment, seconds after a World War II-era mortar known as a Whistling Willy had landed in the dirty hole the brothers shared that afternoon.

"I tried to tune him in, and I had no answer."

It was the furthest from his brother Lewis had ever felt.

Before the twins were born, the doctor claimed he could only hear one heartbeat, until a pair of 7.5-pound 21-inch boys came out. When they were sent to work on different farms at age 11, Lewis left his job at lunchtime because he missed his brother, and met Boyd walking toward him, halfway between the farms. When military officials attempted to separate the twins to prevent the Lewis family the potential trauma of losing two sons in the same battle, they discovered the iron will that joined Loyd and Boyd.

"You guys are so identical," Lewis said the officer finally admitted after the brothers had lobbied to stay together. "If one dies, the other would die of heartbreak. So both of you might as well get your asses shot off.

"We were born with it, how can I explain it?"

As the fire slowed on Iwo Jima that afternoon in 1946, Lewis looked back toward the foxhole and didn't see Boyd. He looked around the immediate area, but saw nothing but body parts and a helmet strewn on the ground.

In the helmet -- Lewis recalled last week, his voice choked and his blue eyes red, as a thin tear streaked down his cheek from behind a pair glasses -- was Boyd's head.

When the battlefield calmed, Lewis collected what he could of his closest friend -- pieces of arms, a leg, the helmet -- and wrapped them in a poncho. He slung the sack on his back and brought it to the makeshift medic unit on the island.

"I've got my brother," he told a doctor, who chided him for wasting precious time and asked what Lewis really had in the pack.

So he unrolled the poncho that he would soon lay to rest in a hole he dug on Iwo Jima.

"That's my brother."

Though he had the strength to bury his brother, and fight "with hate" through the next day, Lewis wasn't sure at how much further he could go.

In battle the next day, Lewis fell on a live grenade that was thrown at a group of Americans. While perhaps recognized as courage at that moment, Lewis now admits the move was a better indication of the pain he was harboring than his bravery.

"I wanted to die," he said. "I thought it would be the coward's way out. After my brother died, half of my world died. Most of me died with him."

The grenade ripped through his midsection -- "right here" he said, running a hand along his belt -- tearing through his colon and urinary tract. The injuries pulled him out of combat, and through military hospitals in Saipan, Pearl Harbor, San Francisco and Seattle over the rest of the year.

He fought doctors along the way, tore IVs from his veins out of frustration and argued against treatment he needed. But Lewis survived, and after he received a blessing from an LDS hospital chaplain, the will to live was renewed.

"He told me I would live, and that the Lord had a purpose for me to stay alive," said Lewis. "I wanted to come home then, I wanted to come home."

Back in Preston by late 1946, he declined a military official's suggestion to live on disability payments from the government for the rest of his life, and went to work with his father and another brother on a farm. He went back to high school and finished the degree he abandoned four years earlier. He eventually taught school in his hometown of Preston, the job that led him to Arimo, Idaho, where he met his future wife, Fern, at a basketball game.

But while a cane for partial paralysis and two bags strapped to his legs for bowel movements were the visible changes, there was much more change that others, even the 21-year-old Lewis' new wife, couldn't understand.

"The night dreams for years went on," said Lewis, who would thrash in his sleep when haunted by memories, so much that Fern often would have to leave the bed to sleep safely.

One morning, he awoke to Fern nursing a black eye, which he had unknowingly given her during a traumatic flashback.

He took long horseback rides by himself to deal with the pain during those years, and even joined a boxing team to relieve some frustration. However, the memories were always simmering just under the surface, and pushed his wife and family away for years, said Lewis.

"I loved her, still love her, but I still had this feeling ..." he said, and trailed off as the memories flooded back. "She started to realize what that was, to be an identical twin."

Until about nine years ago, Fern had never heard the complete story of Boyd's death. Their six children never totally knew the death their father had seen. Even his only son, who Lewis still rides horses and hunts with, just as he and his brother did while growing up in Idaho, never knew how important the relationship between father and son was to Lewis.

"He honors me like a father, and treats me like a best buddy," said Lewis, and pointed to a series of framed photos the proud father posts from their excursions.

"Do you know what his name is?" Lewis asks, though the crack in his voice and the tears welled up in his eyes give away the answer.

"Boyd."

Something in the Wind

The Herald Journal - 3.21.04

UINTA COUNTY, WYO. -- Rick Lynn spends his days on the open plains just east of Evanston, Wyo. He pulls a black baseball cap low on his leathery face and covers a bright pair of eyes with sunglasses. He looks across acres of barren, snow-covered ground. The stoic, clean-shaven Lynn wears a simple uniform during the winter, just a hooded black Carhartt jacket, blue jeans and boots caked with mud. After he parks a filthy white Ford outside the garage he calls an office, he drives a snowmobile to keep up with what he tends.

Ten years ago the description of Lynn may have been a perfect fit for a rancher on this land, which totals nearly 28,000 acres. But in 2004, the open space that begins just three or four miles north of I-80 isn't home to sheep or cattle. In fact, the commodity that Lynn uses his sophisticated electrical skills to harness would probably disturb a grazing flock.

However, the wind that almost constantly blows across these high plains is an ideal source of renewable energy.

Lynn is the plant leader at the Wyoming Wind Project, the 80-turbine facility on the otherwise desolate stretch of land in the southeastern part of the state that began producing power in January. It's the same renewable energy project that two Cache Valley municipalities have both recently signed contracts to purchase, and part of a trend that is gaining popularity and accessibility across the country as a source of electricity.

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Last Friday was a clear and cold day at the Wyoming Wind Project. Sunshine twinkled on the thick layer of snow that still covered most of the 45 square miles the project leases. The crusty snow was shoveled only where absolutely necessary -- a skinny dirt road that leads from I-80 to Lynn's office in a brand-new commercial-sized garage. Everywhere else, it was deep enough to force Lynn onto either a snowmobile or Sno-cat to visit each turbine and tower.

From the base of one 220-foot tall white tower, a group of men gazed skyward, dwarfed by the gleaming white structure. Three 30-foot blades rotated around a turbine high in the sky, and gently flexed at slight changes in the wind pattern far above their heads.

It was windy that afternoon, with gusts up to 20 miles per hour. While the wind chilled the tour group, it wasn't enough to dampen the spirits of Lynn and visiting officials from the Utah Associated Municipal Power Systems (UAMPS) and PPM Energy. Because they knew the 80-turbine facility was getting exactly what it needed.

"These are the latest and greatest," said Barrett Stambler, the director of renewable business development for PPM Energy in Portland, Ore., which markets power from the project, as he watched a meter inside the tower that monitors current electricity output ratchet up toward 1,300 kilowatts.

Stambler was pleased to watch the turbine production monitor as it neared its capacity of 1,800 kilowatts. The fluctuating 12 to 20 mph wind speed was plenty for the turbines. Each requires a wind speed of about 15 miles per hour to start, and operate independently of each other based on the wind at each specific site. Wind of about 45 miles per hour are enough to get the Danish-built turbines to produce at peak capacity, which provides 144 total megawatts of electricity from the entire facility -- enough to provide electricity for 43,000 customers.

The turbines harness wind through rotors, the long fiberglass blades atop the tower. When the wind turns the blades, machinery inside each turbine spins a series of shafts, which connects to a generator that turns out electricity. The electricity goes through a substation on the facility grounds, and transmission lines that send power to 20 Utah municipalities that subscribe to the Wyoming Wind Project.

Although the entire facility produces at capacity only one-third of the time -- a variance typical to wind farms, that prevents any municipality from receiving electricity solely from wind -- the gusts are strong and predictable enough to make the barren plains a very productive investment.

"It's one of the best wind areas of the West," said Marshall Empey, UAMPS Planning Manager.

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According to the U.S. Department of Energy, commercial wind energy systems now exist in 26 states. The emerging industry now has a total capacity of generating over 4,600 megawatts of electricity nationwide, including 1,700 megawatts added since 2001 alone.

With growth numbers like that, it's not just environmental reasons that have ushered the expansion of wind power -- it's also become cheaper. The cost of producing electricity from wind now costs between 4 and 6 cents per kilowatt, according to the department of energy, a decrease from the 1980s price of nearly 80 cents per kilowatt, valued in current dollars.

The contract that UAMPS has marketed to Utah customers locks in a fixed rate for a 25-year period, and allows cities to pay for wind electricity only when the windmill turbines are producing power. Empey acknowledged that dips in fossil fuel prices could lead cities away from buying wind power if cheaper gas and oil is available. However, he also said the renewable resource is nearly always the best choice to supplement electricity needs during peak usage times -- when system use is at its highest -- and at a price that is constant. That's important for municipalities that often are left to look for power during peak times, when prices for more traditional sources tend to spike.

"The economics will dictate (use)," said Empey. "Why burn gas or oil if you're buying this on a per unit basis?"

A recent study shows that peak power needs are an increasing strain on Utah's power systems. The Utah Foundation, a research organization in Salt Lake City, released a report earlier in March that said peak demand is growing at a significantly higher rate than average demand. In fact, the foundation reported that since 1991, the gap between peak demand and average load demand has grown by approximately 200 megawatts.

Most of that demand comes during hot summer weather, said Janice Houston of the Utah Foundation, when commercial air conditioners that use a large amount of electricity tax the power grid, typically during the hours from 10 a.m. until 5 p.m. A time that, fortunately for Wyoming Wind Project customers, is the same time that studies show the winds outside Evanston are the most consistent, and available for purchase at the fixed cost.

"In summer, the wind shape is right across our peak in the afternoon," said Empey, citing another advantage of the wind deal.

Empey said coal and hydroelectric power costs per kilowatt are currently close to 1 cent, which is still much lower than wind energy. When combined with a reliability factor at coal-fired and hydroelectric plants that is far greater than wind farms can provide, those two sources will remain the main providers of energy in the foreseeable future.

However, natural gas prices are currently between 4 and 5 cents per kilowatt, and susceptible to variables that could drive up costs in the future. Natural gas is generally as reliable as coal or hydro. Even though the federal Energy Information Administration has projected the retail price of electricity to decline by 2025 because of technology and decreasing fuel prices, UAMPS officials said wind power could still outpace the more traditional sources of power in the decades ahead, and possibly sooner.

"In three or four years this could be below market (price)," said Empey. "As the price of gas goes up, we'll always take the wind."

The economics don't just benefit UAMPS customers, either.

The $143 million project -- coal plants typically cost two to three times that much to build, depending on size -- broke ground in Uinta County less than a year ago. Local jobs were added when construction crews were hired from the community, which boomed when oil drilling was prevalent in the 1980s but has steadily emptied as oil wells dried. Capital investment costs were taxed, and income taxes are paid to the host county, even though the ownership is based in a Florida energy conglomerate and a Portland, Ore. company.

"It's huge for these rural communities. The economic benefit and tax base is great," said Stambler. "Imagine any other type of power plant, start to finish in less than six months."

The financial benefits will also continue as the technology catches on across the West. Millions of dollars in federal grant money is available to develop wind energy in rural areas, to make unusable, barren land across plains with high winds productive.

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The faith in wind as an energy source, in addition to the economic benefits through the long-term UAMPS contract, has influenced two local power systems that are UAMPS members. Both Hyrum and Logan bought into the facility this winter, at 1 megawatt and 3 megawatts, respectively, and each cited the cost as a factor when they added wind energy to power portfolios.

"Wind power is a very, very important part of our portfolio, and a very good thing to have," said Hyrum City Mayor Gordon Olson.

Hyrum's wind energy is in addition to 1 megawatt of power they have invested in at a gas-fired plant in Payson. The two sources compliment each other, said Olson, as the wind power has an output that is still somewhat unpredictable.

Logan City Power and Light officials and the Power Advisory Board were enthusiastic about the project in January, when the city agreed to purchase a share that equals approximately 2 percent of the amount of power needed for residents annually.

The agreed-upon cost, about $48 per megawatt hour, is about $6 higher than the city's budget for power per megawatt hour this year. However, city officials said the price would be competitive in the long run, and in addition cited the need to include a renewable energy source in the city's power portfolio. Power department officials have also said that interest in "green" power is a goal as the renewable resource movement expands, and citizens have already expressed interest in the technology.

"We're on the forefront," said Jack Peterson of the Power Advisory Board. "We can step up to the plate and start getting involved in these things."