Palmer Businesses: The Backbone of Blanding
by Janet Wilcox
Clyda Palmer recently celebrated her 95th birthday and her large and talented family joined with her in recalling nearly a century of memories and accomplishments.
Her far-sighted husband LaVan (who passed away in 2013) and their four talented sons and three daughters have been directly involved in building dozens of homes and businesses in Blanding, most of which are still standing and operational today.
Her husband Van was a visionary, who had a gift for seeing a need and then figuring out ways to find a solution.
His parents were Joe and Hilda Palmer, who grew up in the Mexican colonies and were farmers and they taught their son a lot about work!
Van first worked as a mechanic for Edway Redd in Monticello in the 1950’s. It was there that Van and his son Steve both learned about managing and operating a car dealership.
The next family business he was involved in was the UTOCo gas station, which Van leased from Paul Black where the four-way stop is today. Thus began Palmer Gas.
In the 1950’s, the Navajo people on the reservation were still using wood to cook with. There was definite a need for something better! Van and his crew visited every hogan on the reservation offering them a lifestyle change via propane gas.
He loved the Native American people and made many friends in the process. Often the purchase involved bartering with animals, baskets, or jewelry.
The Palmer Propane service went as far as Tuba City and Window Rock. Often the delivery trucks would drop into a sandy wash, which took lots of work and logs to get out.
To remedy the problem, they started carrying logs with them! Despite the rural reservation challenges, the propane business grew.
Because of the extensive network that Van had established with the propane business, he and Keith Redd joined forces and created Abajo Petroleum.
They eventually had thousands of propane tanks which stretched from Green River to Cortez and across the reservation. He also put in a propane bulk plant in Blanding and then one in Monticello, Cortez and other places on the reservation. He had 50-60 people working for him.
Every summer his children and their friends would repaint the tanks white with a red lid. “He was a master at keeping us kids busy,” emphasized Steve.
Steve also credits his father with good business savvy. “Dad was good at finding a hole in the market and would fill that niche,” – whether it was food, propane, cars, homes, or other things!
During the San Juan County uranium boom, mining supplies were needed locally and Van built a mining supply business where Ben Black’s mechanic shop was on the north highway. They also put in a big bulk plant for propane storage behind the cabinet shop on the north end of Blanding.
The Palmer home burned in the 1960’s, which was devastating, but LaVan and his sons were able to rebuild around the original home and it is still standing today.
Next came the Patio redo – Blanding’s 70-year-old fast food “go to”! The Patio became a MAJOR family affair for the whole Van Palmer family for the next 15 years!
Steve Palmer recalled, “Every one of us had to help and it was a lot of work! Nine months of the year it was open and when it was closed, Dad would remodel it!
“Dad did all the work himself; however, in the process he taught all the family how to do building, wiring, plumbing, etc.”
In 1976, Palmers sold The Patio to Steve and Stan Bronson, then it was sold to Clyde and Carl Hunt, then to Clay and Cole Conway, then to Brian Bayles and now the Arthurs own it.
Floyd Nielson and Marvin Lyman originally built The Patio in 1965, as the A&W Root Beer Café, with Nancy and Cleal Bradford as the initial managers.
It was a cafe with walk-in service and no drive up window. Cleal remodeled the building with a drive-thru window and added patios outside. It was a successful operation. They bought the business from Floyd Nielson.
The Bradfords loved A&W Root Beer but did not want a franchise.
With the covered patios outside, they came up with the name Patio as there were patios on three sides of the site.
They eventually sold The Patio to Francis and Denise Lyman and they ran it for 4-5 years, then they sold it to Van Palmer. Van also built the laundromat behind Patio in the early 1970’s which is still running today.
Another problem Van identified was the need that Native Americans on the reservation had for buying vehicles. However, car dealers were reticent to finance the sale of vehicles, so that became Van’s next big challenge. He decided to orchestrate the loan himself and co-sign for every vehicle sold! Each contract was set up individually. He was adamant about paying the loan back, and that was when he sold his profitable propane business to Suburban Propane.
In the mid 1970’s, Van and Bert Palmer bought the Silver Saddle. Later the name was changed to the Elk Ridge and it was sold to Phil Acton.
Van also bought the City Center Motel and renamed it The Pines. Terry ran it a couple of years and maintained ownership, then sold the building to Norman Lyman, who started Radio Shack and rented out 12 rooms.
Later Steve Palmer and Van bought that building and rented it exclusively to college students with one room for a beauty salon for Sheri Stanley. They added kitchen units but eventually sold it back to Rex Nielson. Rex Nielson later demolished all the smaller businesses and built Canyon Country.
Steve Palmer bought the Radio Shack franchise from Norman Lyman and moved it to the Hallmark Book Store (west of Patio).
Steve ran the Hallmark Bookstore for 27 years until 2008. During that time, Steve and Van Palmer contracted with the college in the late 1990’s to sell college textbooks and offered a mobile bookstore as well. Eventually the bookstore was sold to Taylor Lyman.
Van was always on the move 24/7 looking for something to do. He taught his family that success happens when people have a need, then work hard to make that goal happen. His whole life exemplified that principle.
(More Palmer businesses will be featured in Part II. Send insights and comments to email@example.com.)