U-Boom books - history of the nuclear age

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Richard Hull
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U-Boom books - history of the nuclear age

Post by Richard Hull » Fri Sep 21, 2007 5:00 pm

The nuclear age started with fission. Fission demanded the crucial element uranium. To read about the quest for this metal is to see the human spirit touched by greed and lust for quick money in what would probably be the last "lone wolf" propector mineral rush in US history.

! have read and enjoyed 4 major works on the famous U boom of the 1950's. Here they are with my synopsis of each.


U Boom by Al Look, 1956.

This is certainly the first attempt at the history of the U Boom and was penned shortly after it got rolling and during the midst of the rush. Written on the heels of the Cinderella stories that created three or four instant "uranium millionaires", it is a fascinating read.

I could not imagine any author painting a more humourous and entertaining picture of the boom than Al Look. (Newspaperman who lived in the area.) His euphemisms and hilarious annecdotes woven into the fabric of the tale will have you in stitches. His tone is totally western and it is like an old cowpoke is telling the story over drinks that you are buying him.

example: Look was talking about multiple boom and bust periods or cycles for prospectors on the Colorado Plateau.........'By 1949 it looked like U rock was going to be the new darling mineral to scratch out of the earth. Many grizzled old prospectors had seen it all before and many had bitter memories of having their belts being cinched up to the last notch.'.......

Look has the freshness of the moment to his advantage, but also the overburden of tall tales sprouting up at the time that would be given the lie only much later.

A totally fascinating and enjoyable read taken from the moment it was all going down.

There was a glut of this book on the used market 5 years ago and all available for about 10-15 dollars. Look personally signed a large fraction of all the books sold. Today, the cheapest copy I could find was $40.00, unsigned!


Uranium Fever by Ray and Sam Taylor, 1970

This is the next entertaining book written regarding a deeply personal taste of the times by a falling, if not fallen, LDS prospector whose mere name brought him instant recognition and some respect by the hoardes of LDS folks he encountered. The book must be read for a deeper insight in this vein which figures deeply in Taylor's successes and smooth flow among LDS locals who loved impeding outsider's efforts.

Pluralism is a significant issue throughout the tale, though Taylor is personally monogamous as his faith now demands, he is certainly lustful and openly admits to desires for pluralism which his famous LDS ancestor championed.

This LDS/Uranium tale is very well told and intricate in the human sense of obtaining and profiting from the Uranium boom.

A must read for those who like personal human stories with interesting exploits and twists intermixed with tales of prospecting and all of the visicitudes encountered along the way.

The basis of this book is the Taylor's involvment in the actual filming of a "for the theater" movie documentary entitled "Uranium Fever". This film was actually released in the 50's, never went anywhere at the box office, joining thousands of sub B grade films of the period.

Sadly, I have been unable to locate it or a copy on DVD or VHS for sale even amoung the popular rush to old "camp" 50's "lost boy", forgotten, films.

I have located the popular song of the mid-fifties called "Uranium Fever" that came out on a 45 rpm record at the time.

This book is rather readily available used in the 15-25 dollar range.


Uranium Frenzy by Raye Ringholz, 1991

This is a latter day work and well researched long after the U boom was a memory and Moab went yuppy tourist. As such, it is more dispassionate and factual in many areas than the above works.

The author tells her tale well with a linear historical time flow. We are introduced to a lot of names that few people are familiar with like the grand old man of uranium, Howard Balsley, who was one of the early folks profiting off U rock (1920's and 30's into the 60's!).

Balsley would become famous for being the little old millionaire still living in the old log cabin just outside Moab. He bought and sold large lots of Carnotitie as a middleman throughout his years, making his money off of the old sourdough type miners, grubstacking them and taking part of the haul if successful.

One load of yellow carnotite he purchased, in particular, (several tons), was "so damned pretty and yeller" that he had it dropped onto his property under a shed, not having the heart let it go and turn it back into cash. The result was that "rim flying" AEC piper cubs in the 50's, with large scintillators, were constantly remapping the rich area below at Balsley's cabin as a "hot prospect".

Ringholz also follows and reports well on the health issues that would later plague an entire generation of "Marlboro men" who worked daily in mines with 10,000+ pico curies per liter of radon and smoked three packs of unfiltered "Luckys" on top of it. The cries of the farsighted Doc Haladay about future cancers, going unheeded.

I believe that Frontline or the American Experience, (PBS), produced a one hour documentary entitled "Uranium Frenzy", very recently and Ringholz is interviewed extensively throughout the film.

A very good read and scholarly effort that succeeds at its task. Lots of great photos in this book.

This book is easily picked up, used, in paperback for as little as $2.00 a copy! Hardbacks are about $10.00


Yellowcake Towns by Amundson, 2004

This is another very recent histroical effort telling the tale of three towns where yellowcake, (uranium oxide), was the cash crop. it follows them through boom and bust on the Colorado Plateau.

It tells the story of Moab, Utah which would not let itself die when the U stuff was no longer needed, reinventing itself into a booming yuppy tourist trap.

The story of another town, Grants New Mexico, is also recounted. Grants did, virtually, die after increasing to 600% of its original size during the boom, only to then shrivel up afterwards, but is currently making a Uranium based comeback of late.

There is the story of Jeffrey City, Wyoming. This town was virtually created for the Uranium boom and would actually die out completely.

A well done history of three "yellowcake" towns.

This rather recent book is in paperback only and is in the $10.00 to $20.00 price range.


Those reading all of these will be near experts on the boom, the towns, and many of the principal players.

Has anyone else here read any of the above and wish to add their own personal comments? I would appreciate another slant if you have.

Richard Hull
Progress may have been a good thing once, but it just went on too long. - Yogi Berra
Fusion is the energy of the future....and it always will be
Retired now...Doing only what I want and not what I should...every day is a saturday.

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