GIANTS OF SAN JUAN by Buckley Jensen
In 1953, when the first uranium boom was in its infancy, Clyn P. Young of Monticello decided to try to make “mucking” (getting the blasted ore out) mines easier. Up until then, mining uranium was a matter of wheeling ore out by hand in a wheelbarrow, using donkeys to pull it out, or building iron rails and using small ore cars. All were slow, labor intensive and expensive.
Clyn went to a junkyard and salvaged parts from a ¾-ton wrecked truck and built what he called his first shuttle truck. It was built lower and more compact than an ordinary truck so it would operate inside the narrow confines of mines in those early days. His prototype went into service in l953.
Clyn showed his idea to his brother Darroll. Darroll, whose career up until then was with the U. S. Indian Service, was impressed. He and his wife Leda decided to move to Monticello and go into partnership with Clyn and Norma to build more shuttles. They also wanted better schools for their two young sons, Wayne and Craig.
On May 1, 1953 these two couples each put up $1,500 and formed a company which they called the Young’s Machine Company, or YMCO. They operated out of a small shop leased from Lloyd Barton at what is today 235 West Center in Monticello.
Getting their shuttle business off the ground proved much more daunting that they had expected. To take up the slack and keep food on the tables, they created a machine repair shop. Local farmers and truckers soon kept them busy almost full time.
In l954, the uranium boom in San Juan ramped up to the point that the demand for everything to do with uranium went through the roof. The Young’s outgrew their shop in town and bought land north of Monticello. They constructed a 40’ x 60’ steel building and tried to find the time to build three different-sized shuttle buggies.
Trying to do everything was wearing them to a frazzle. In l955, they hired Arlow Freestone to come aboard with the responsibility of being office manager, bookkeeper and parts manager. Clyn and Darrol finally had time to work full time on designing and manufacturing their shuttle cars.
In l956 they brought Buckley Christensen on board as the full time parts manager.
Both Arlow and Buckley were great assets to the company. Buckley stayed for 35 years and eventually became a shareholder. Until Arlow became the administrator of the San Juan Hospital years later, he was an integral part of YMCO.
Demand continued to increase. The Young Brothers had to have help. Pat Butler was the first welder-mechanic they hired in l956. The same year they hired Julius and James Harvey, E.J and Leonard Bartell, Wayne Rasmussen, David Carhart, David Miller, Darrell and Kent Rogers, Keith Taylor, and Grant Bayles, who were all competent welders and willing workers. Wesley Norton came on board also and was the expert on the lathes.
In l957, two milestones occurred. First, Clyn and Darroll’s brother Jack (Gerold K) joined the company as a full partner. Jack had worked for a steel fabrication company in Salt Lake City and he had expertise in areas sorely needed to build a better product. The other milestone was getting an original equipment manufacturer contract with the giant Deutz company in Germany. Deutz made air-cooled diesel engines and other equipment.
With the Deutz connection, Young’s were not only able to build shuttle buggies of higher quality, but they branched out into other lines of equipment like hoists, water pumps, electric generators and air compressors.
The company continued to grow and expand. Between the three partners, they had 11 sons, all of whom were under the age of 16 when the company was formed. These boys were taught to work and many of them learned highly-skilled trades from an ever growing number of skilled employees and their fathers mentoring them.
At age 16, each of the sons became employed in the business, and had the option to stay with the company when the graduated from high school or college.
YMCO continued to grow and prosper through the 1960s and ‘70s. The shuttle cars became world renowned. They shipped finished products all over the world, including Canada, Mexico, Argentina, Bolivia, Chile, Spain, Afghanistan, and Ethiopia. YMCO contracted with Eimco in Salt Lake for world-wide distribution rights. Eimco added many more nations to the customer list, including France, Australia and Peru.
In l971, tragedy struck. Clyn was working on a truck when the heavy cab he was working under fell and crushed him. Darroll and Jack carried on, despite the huge hole left by Clyn’s passing.
In the l980’s, the surviving brothers purchased and tore down two large Armco steel buildings in Mexican Hat. They hauled them piece by piece to Monticello and reconstructed them. The manufacturing space tripled. This addition made them the largest private manufacturing facility in southeast Utah. Today, the YMCO complex on the hill north of Monticello has 23,000 square feet of manufacturing space under roof.
The uranium industry has been very cyclical throughout the history of YMCO. The founding brothers had their mechanical repair and custom steel fabrication businesses to fall back on in hard times. There have been wild swings in the number of employees the company has had, ranging from 160 employees working two shifts in the 1970’s to fewer than 15 during the most severe down cycles. But they have been open for business every day for 57 years, and they are today the oldest privately held family business in San Juan County.
To survive the hard times, and keep as many valued skilled workers on the payroll, YMCO expanded into concrete, tunneling contracts and other ventures. However, the focus has always been to manufacture the finest mining shuttle cars anywhere and repair broken machinery for area farmers and truckers.
Darroll said that on many occasions, “no-one will ever know the challenges that we faced trying to build something as large and complicated as a shuttle car assembly line from scratch in a location hundreds of miles from the nearest suppliers and customers.”
It often took months to get parts and supplies to Monticello from Germany or other far-flung places. Air freight for heavy diesel engines was simply prohibitive. Slow boats across the Atlantic and trains from the east coast took as long as six months. For many years, Garrett Freight was the only way to transport supplies from Salt Lake City or other areas. Convincing potential customers from around the world to drive to Monticello to see their products was also a challenge, since major airports were all at least 300 miles away.
In l972, the State of Utah presented YMCO with the Utah State Small Business Excellence award. Many state and national awards have followed, including the U. S. Small Business Administration’s Exporter of the Year Award in l999 and the Utah State Global Achievement Award on May 23, 2000.
Darroll Young retired in 1975 and has passed away. Jack (Gerold) has been retired for several years, and at age 87 still lives near the business and checks in often to make sure his sons, Gary (president) Jack (vice-president and Steve (Secretary-Treasurer) are maintaining the standards set by their father and uncles.
YMCO today is vibrant. The last two years, according to the three owners, have been the best years in company history. They are probably the largest private employer in San Juan County. They pay wages far above the county average to compete partly to compete with the mines, but mostly because their employees are all highly skilled in their respective specialties.
YMCO’s 2009 “Young Buggies”, as they are called, cost $160,000 for the small seven-ton model and go up to $290,000 for the largest 15-ton model. The Pandora mine near La Sal has purchased nine new “Young Buggies” in the last year.
Since Clyn’s first home-made buggy 57 years ago, which sold for a few hundred dollars, YMCO has manufactured more than 2,000 “Young Buggies;” many of them custom built. The benefits that have accrued to Monticello and the entire county in high paying wages and one-of-a-kind services are difficult to measure.
Today, the second generation Young Brothers are constantly tweaking and improving their products as the requirements of 21st century mining require. And as the world demand for U-238 soars, YMCO’s best days may be ahead of them.
To the three founding fathers of YMCO, Clyn, Darroll and Jack (Gerold) Young, and their loyal wives (Norma, Leda and Beth), who together faced and overcame enormous challenges associated with building world-class mining equipment alone in the desert, we salute you. It goes without saying. You are GIANTS in San Juan County.