Grandfather's Town: KUZARAVILLE

Grandfather's Town: Kuzaraville
George and Sophie Kuzara circa 1940
Kuzaraville, Wyoming
The 30's---My paternal grandparents lived just off US87, over the RR tracks, just east of Big Goose Creek---about 6 miles north of Sheridan.
At the turn of the century, this area of Wyoming was at the center of the coal mining activity and there were 8 or more company towns in the area. Sometimes they named towns with the same name but with a number following. I remember Dietz 7 and 8---also Monarch and Acme.

All of these mines were railroad mines---they shipped the coal by rail. Most of it was shipped east and was used industrially and for generating electricity and by the RR's for firing their steam locomotives.<br><br>
My Grandpa started out selling bread that was baked by my grandma, door-to-door, in the mining camps. Demand led to a bakery and a full time baker.

A town has to have quite a few people living in one place. My grandpa had 12 children---7 boys and 5 girls. I'm sure that all their activity seemed like a main street on Saturday night, every day!

Through the years, his town grew and by the 30's there was a general store with a gas pump (it was a hand pump---you had to push a pump handle back and forth to fill the glass bowl at the top)---a bar, ice house, smoke house, 6 other houses for miners working at his coal mine---the Star Coal Mine. The ice house was a large building---quite high for the storage of ice that was cut from the river each winter. Each block of ice was separated---top, bottom, and sides, with a layer of sawdust to keep it from melting through the summer. This ice was also sold door-to-door in the camps. There was a large garage-barn combination building---sides for livestock---center for the Sunday-go-to-church car---the top for hay. It was painted barn red and had a white "GK" high on the gable end---my grandfather's cattle brand. Some other necessary out buildings---a bath house with a real, black, rubber tub. And, a stove---a 4-holer to handle all the traffic!

George Kuzara
Not a drop spilled---the bottle is big---the beer is dark---must be home brew.

The bakery was still there making bread and a wonderful prune-filled sweet roll. The baker always had bread "men" (bread shaped like a person---about 8" tall) for the kids when they walked in the door to the bakery shop.
There were livestock of all kinds---horses, cattle, milk cows, ducks, geese, chickens, pigs. Buildings were scattered in a haphazard manner without planning or design---barns, corrals, chicken houses and a feed house.
Kuzara home in "Kuzaraville"

And the main house---it seemed like a huge house at the time. It was big but not nearly big enough. The second story was divided into two dormitories---girls and boys. The first floor had a big dining room, a kitchen, 2 bedrooms, and a parlor---a screened-in porch on two sides.

This town was never on the map but it was more of a town than many that were. I think because it was hard to find a name for it---Kuzaraville just didn't seem believable.

George's Studebaker Truck

The delivery truck was equipped with white sidewall tires, chains, and factory installed air conditioning. The radiator had an adjustable thermostat that could be removed in warm weather (you supplied the piece of cardboard).

In the left background is a rustic picket fence, barn and chicken house, with attached miner's house. Showing are two smoke pipes, for a cook stove and a heater---coal fired, for sure. In the right foreground is another miner's house--partially hidden behind the snow covered mound of a large root cellar with a tall square wooden vent stack.

The truck was equipped with benches, providing seats for the family of 14, when going to the Catholic Church in Monarch. It must have been the only time that they were all going in the same direction.

Grandpa and His Pickup

1929 to 1933: Saturday Nights
After my father was laid off by Ford, he returned to Sheridan to find work. This was the start of the depression and jobs were scarce. Employers were laying workers off, not hiring. My father went to work at the Star Mine for my grandfather and we lived in one of his small houses---about 8 other miners lived there also.
The miners lived in his houses---bought his food and clothing etc. At his general store they bought whiskey when it was legal---and when it wasn't. Other miners lived at the mine location about 3 miles closer to Sheridan. Saturday night was the time that they were all paid. The dining room was the waiting room and the kitchen was where each miner was paid for that week's work. My grandfather would add up the total amount each miner earned---subtract all of that week's charges for food, whiskey, etc., and then pay each the difference in cash. This included my father and that was the reason our family was there sitting in the dining room.

I don't know how it started, but it must have begun in 1929---the established custom was that as each miner left the kitchen and entered the dining room, he would give each child there a nickel, dime or sometimes even a little more. At at that time my brother and myself were the only kids there---we would leave for home with 50 cents or as much as a dollar in change.

Over the years I had saved $58.00. It was borrowed from me to buy a gas powered washing machine for my mother. I remember the loan but not getting paid back. If I had been paid back, I would have remembered what I did with it---those were tough years and that money did not come easy.

The Miners
All of the miners that worked at the Star Mine were Polish immigrants---all bachelors---and could speak very little English. There was the depression, there were no jobs to be had, but they had a job and made a small living. Their needs were very simple---food and a place to live, clothes and whiskey, and working in the mine---that was their life. Sometimes on Sunday, my Grandfather would tap an iced-down keg of beer and they would all sit around in the backyard, drinking beer. I was there and drank some of the beer!
On payday when the accounts were balanced, they had very little cash left (they were paid in cash---no checks---no social security---no taxes). They worked and they were taken care of. If they were hurt they still had food and shelter. If they got too old to work they still had their needs taken care of. It was a terrible life, in terrible times---so sad to think of now.

I can only estimate what they earned as miners. I worked in a union mine for a few days in 1943 while waiting to receive my orders to report for Air Cadet Training, and my pay was $6.40 a day. So going back to 1930---a small, non-union mine---I would guess that they were paid a little over $4 a day, 6 days a week during the winter months---2 or 3 days a week in the summer months. My $1 dollar a day doesn't look so small in that perspective.


My grandfather made illegal whiskey during prohibition---which lasted from 1919 to 1933. He probably started in the early 1900's, just after arriving in Dietz, Wyoming. Prohibition must have been a very welcomed opportunity. I never new for sure where he made it while I was growing up but I always believed that it was made at a dry farm owned by an uncle (by marriage). The farm was located 15 or 20 miles east of the Star Coal Mine. There was a dirt road from the mine to the farm---he had a general store and could buy all the sugar and corn he needed. He had a blacksmith shop at the mine and could fabricate the metal needed for the still. His distribution system was the bread route---he sold bread and "shine". He aged his whiskey in charred oak barrels buried in the coal slack tailings piles (fine unsaleable coal). This slack generated heat which speeded up the aging process.

In Stanley Kuzara's book (George's Son), Black Diamonds Over Sheridan, he talks about Grandpa's bakery business in Kuzaraville, Wyoming: "The bakery business was bound to thrive with superb bakery products. Unfortunately, poor Mike Sikora could not resist offers of sociable drinks as he made his deliveries until he became quite alcoholic. Time after time, he would come home in a stupor.

As many of the miners had chickens and cows, much of his deliveries consisted of 100-pound sacks of bran, corn, wheat and as much sugar as his quota would allow (this was during prohibition and many of the miners made their own moonshine, beer and wine). In the Fall, my father would take orders for grapes, and after getting a sufficient number of orders, would buy a carload for distribution."

Most of this I figured out over the years as I was not told all of these details. However, in the summer of 1942, I was cleaning up the last of a slack pile, on the back side of the mine property, and I found a twenty gallon oak barrel of whiskey. It had to have been there for 10 to 15 years at least. The whiskey was sampled and found to be the best---not my opinion, as I was not an expert. My Grandfather, as I remember, did not seem surprised at finding the barrel of whiskey!

How "wee" George saved "old" George

Vi, my mother tells a story about when I was a toddler. She said the banks were closing and they had just deposited the month's pay check. Grandpa Kuzara sent them enough money to get back to Sheridan where they lived with Andrew's father and mother, George & Sophia, his five sisters and five younger brothers. Their bed was in a sort of loft room with the entrance under the stairwell. One night Grandpa Kuzara barged in and hid booze under their bed. As she was nursing George to quiet him, the "revenooers" barged in on a raid, but backed out with apologies and Grandpa was "saved".
Grandpa and His Pickup
By Mike Kuzara, Wyarno, Wyoming, May 2008
I wish I had my Grandpa's pickup, or as he would say, "peek-op." You know the kind with the outside flaring fenders, the windshield that cranked open, the headlights on their own little pedestals, and the gearbox that gave its' own distinctive whine? It was a sort of universal gray, dented and scratched here and there, and Grandpa could make it go just about anywhere, anytime.
Summer pasture was a place referred to as the 'dry farm' and almost every day I got to accompany Grandpa there to check the cows. "We count cow, then we look at fence, ya?" Grandpa would say. So up and down hill, and around impossible side hills we would go with all of the fencing stuff crashing and rumbling around in the back battering the cargo space with a hundred more dents.
Some of the side hills were a contest to defy gravity, but Grandpa always seemed to win. "You scare?" he would ask, looming over me from the up-hill side. "N-n-n-o!" I would croak. But I'm sure the white knuckles and the wide eyes gave denial to the admission.
Most fun of all was the trip back, because Grandpa, being just a big kid, played a game of seeing how far we could coast. At the crest of the first hill, he would shut off the engine, turn to me with a Teddy Roosevelt grin, and say, "Now we save gas!" We'd whiz down the first decline, and lose speed as we squeaked and rumbled up the next, tip over the top, then pick up speed going down the next.<br><br>
All summer long Grandpa had been hitting the first hill a little faster, and as the dry Autumn wore on, the soft dirt road became harder, and of course, faster. August, and school would be starting soon so our summer together was about to end. We were back at the far side of the dry farm when, with a grin, and a twinkle in his eye, Grandpa said, "This time we go all the way to highway!" We sailed around the corner before the first hill, sliding sideways in the dirt, then Grandpa caught another gear, and when we cleared the top, there was this 'carnival ride' feeling in my tummy!
Around two small corners and down the first decline we flew with the wind shrieking through the cab via the open windshield vent, then up over the top of the next hill where we actually went airborne, then down the next decline with those old 'knobby' tires singing like I'd never heard them sing before! I should mention here that there were two right angle corners at the bottom of the last hill. We fishtailed through the first one, but Grandpa lost it on the second corner and over we went.
The next thing I knew there was this terrific pressure on me. It was Grandpa. He was reaching up and opening the left-hand door as mine was flat on the ground. He flipped it open, pulled himself through, then reached down and pulled me out. I knew Grandpa was strong, but what he did next was amazing to me. The pickup was on its side and he just squatted down, lifted, and flipped it back up on its wheels! After we gathered up all of the stuff that had fallen out, Grandpa started the truck and we drove home real, real slow.
"You OK?" he asked. I nodded yes. We drove a little way. "You want some pop?" I brightened, and nodded yes. We drove a little farther. "You want some candy?" This was getting better all the time! "Yeah!" I said. We drove on some more. "you won't tell Mama?"
When we came into the yard still going REAL slow, Grandma's radar kicked in. She circled the pickup before we even got stopped. Now I'd heard a lot of Polish because that's what Grandpa and Grandma used when they didn't want me to know what they were talking about, or maybe it was just handier for them. However, I heard Polish I'd never heard before with Grandpa shuffling to the house and Grandma pecking at him like one of those feisty sparrows you sometimes see badgering a hawk.
Worst of all, I didn't get my pop and candy!
Mike Kuzara, Wyarno, Wyoming