ROCK SPRINGS — Author and region native Marilyn Nesbit Wood will give a reading from her book, The Day the Whistle Blew, at 7 p.m. on Thursday, April 23 at Western Wyoming Community College. Wood’s story recounts her life in the Stansbury Coal Camp as well as the tragic death of her father in the Stansbury coal mine disaster of 1955.
This author event will be held in Room 1302 of the Rock Springs campus and is free and open to the public.
Wood loved the life she lived as a child in Stansbury, a coal mining camp north of Rock Springs. Though the camp no longer exists, Wood recognizes the truth in the saying: “How can I forget a place that gave me so much to remember?”
“My friends and I had an almost magical childhood growing up in Stansbury, until the accident, and the closing of the mine,” the author recalls.
Wood’s new book traces the almost parallel paths followed by the Town of Stansbury and her family’s life there. Her father was the mine foreman when the Stansbury Mine opened, and her family lived in one of the first homes that Union Pacific Coal built in the model town. Wood’s mother was the last person to move from Stansbury after the mine closed and the houses were moved out.
Kathy M. Karpan, local coal miner’s daughter and former Wyoming Secretary of State, said of Wood’s book: “For anyone who lived in or near a mining camp in the mid-twentieth century, The Day the Whistle Blew is a family and community history. From the perspective of a miner’s young daughter, we experience the birth and death of Stansbury, Wyo., home of a new bituminous coal mine predicted to be among the most productive in America and a new company town built as a model for the industry. We are witness, through Marilyn Wood’s memories, to one family’s life in a relatively prosperous and close-knit community where danger was always a whistle blow away.”
Wood’s book recounts the life of Stansbury with its school, store, medical clinic, boarding house, and homes; the mine and miners; the mine wives and their clubs and friendships; and the mine kids and their antics. It also discusses some of the history of Rock Springs in that era, as Rock Springs and its business community served as the hub of the mining camps.
As a place to grow up, Stansbury was an almost idyllic locale, Wood writes. She tells of children roaming the hills together, gathering for swims, getting into mischief, and walking the few blocks to a community school.
According to Julie Whitesel Weston, author of The Good Times Are All Gone Now, Wood’s book The Day the Whistle Blew captures the bittersweet essence of growing up in a Wyoming coal mining town. From the men laboring underground, to the company officials who ruled their lives, to her own first love, Marilyn Nesbit Wood skillfully builds the setting for what is a tragic story of love and loss. Poignant and true, this book captures the heartbeats of mining life, Weston said.
But soon, diesel-powered engines replaced coal-fired steam engines and the demand for coal dried up. Then Wood’s father was killed in a mine accident on Nov. 10, 1955. The author gives a chilling account of that day when the whistle blew continually and the community gathered outside the mine portal waiting for the miners to be brought to the surface. The book offers a first-person perspective of the family’s struggles and of the final days during the closing of Stansbury.
Anne McCauley, of Story Circle Book Review, writes that “...Marilyn Nesbit Wood opened her soul and dug deep to write this memoir. The Day the Whistle Blew deals with family dynamics on almost every level, as well as poverty, work ethics, public education in the 1940s and 1950s, the control of company towns on its residents, and the disparity of wealth between blue-collar workers and the more elite white-collar owner class. Wood captures the culture of the times spot on....”
The author’s connection to southwest Wyoming continued after Stansbury ceased to exist. Wood married University of Wyoming and NBA basketball great Tony Windis and lived with their family for several years in Mountain View where Tony was the high school basketball coach. She later returned to Rock Springs and worked in the trona industy. Wood now lives in Laramie and is retired from the University of Wyoming after 24 years spent working for head coaches Pat Dye, Al Kincaid and Dennis Erickson, and in the College of Agriculture.
While back in Rock Springs on April 23, Wood will be a special guest in WWCC Adjunct Instructor Barbara Smith’s memoir-writing class at the Young at Heart Senior Center. She will be accompanied by her publisher, Nancy Curtis, of High Plains Press.
“Marilyn and Nancy will be talking about how she wrote her memoir some years after the events of the book happened and how she got it published,” Smith said. “She will be encouraging other local writers to persevere and write their own memoirs.”
Wood’s visit and reading are sponsored by the Arlene and Louise Wesswick Foundation, Western Wyoming Community College and the Outlaw Inn. Louise Wesswick was the first person to read Wood’s memoir and encouraged her to persevere and get her book published.
Copies of The Day the Whistle Blew will be available for purchase at the April 23 reading and at the WWCC Bookstore. For more information, or to order a book directly from High Plains Press, go to www.highplainspress.com or call (800)-552-7819.