The Silver Bell Historical Society

My Silver Bell Journey

By Sheila Prater Wetherbee, as told by Paul Prater


Paul Prater came to the little town of Silver Bell from Texas in November 1955 to bring his parents, Herbert and Ella to visit with their daughter, Racine Townley and her husband Doyle and two children, Norma and Randy. They lived in the old trailer park.

The old trailer park was a place where people who did not have a house could move in a trailer and live there. It was equipped with a wash house that contained toilets, showers and washing machine facilities.

Doyle Townley convinced Paul to apply for a job as they were hiring for a lot of positions. He went up to the office and they wanted to hire him right away. He needed a physical that had to be completed in Tucson. It was getting late in the day and a trip to Tucson wasn't just around the corner. A neighbor in the park offered to take him to the Tucson Clinic.

He passed the physical and they hired him the next day. He went to work on the labor gang, working with shovels on the tailings dam and his Foreman was Bill Fortenberry.

He needed to get a place for his wife Fran and daughters Teresa and Sheila to live. He went into Tucson and made a deal on a trailer for $285.00. He made the purchase and arrangements to move it to the trailer park as soon as a spot became available. This trailer had no bathroom, just living and sleeping quarters and it was not very big.

Once he had housing secured, he took his parents back to Texas and picked up his family to move them to Arizona. They continued to live in the trailer until housing became available. While they were waiting, son Danny was born in 1956. Just imagine, two adults and three kids, ages three, two and a newborn living in that small trailer!

A house became available in 1957, three bedrooms, a bathroom, hardwood floors and plenty of living space for the family of five. In 1958, Karen was born and now they were a family of six.

The house was in the "new houses" #141 and he quickly went to work putting in sidewalks and flower beds. He said that Arizona Portland Cement which is now Calportland, better known to everyone as the cement plant used to drop loads of contaminated cement alongside certain parts of the road for people to use. I am sure many others made use of that cement for like projects.

Paul quickly made a job bid into the Mill where he was mixing chemicals, then an opening came up in the truck shop for a third class mechanic. He wasn't going to apply but was encouraged by some of the other men. He applied and got the job.

After nine months he was moved to second class mechanic, then he went on to become first class and then lead man. He eventually made it to the second shift Truck Shop Foreman. That's where he spent the rest of his career until his retirement in 1984.

Three more children came into the family, Jay in 1965, Sean in 1968 and Tracy in 1972. Seven kids in all, girls in one bedroom, boys in the other. It was always a busy household with neighboring kids in and out and neighbor ladies bringing their ironing boards over at night and do their ironing together (remember, everything had to be ironed at that time, there was no such thing as wash and wear!)

Many a card game was played at our dining room table and we could always count on a nightly visit from Carl Elder for a cup of coffee. Paul's dinner time was at eight pm and we always fed whoever happened to be there.

Paul was a ham radio operator and told the story of Don Henningschmidt climbing tower sections to bolt together the sixty foot tower he needed for the long range radios. Some of the neighborhood kids may remember the guy wires that were in our front yard. He talked to people all over the world and even did some phone patches for some families who had military sons/husbands so they could talk to their loved ones. (That was back before we had telephones in Silver Bell)

He talked about going to San Francisco to purchase a used loader that had to be disassembled and shipped by rail to the citing at Avra Valley and I-10. The shop named the loader "Big Paul" and it caught fire one time and destroyed the interior of the machine. It was rebuilt and still running when he left the mine.

He was also an ambulance driver for the mine. He took patients to local hospitals as needed and even had to transport a deceased worker to the City Morgue in Tucson. He also talked of being involved in Boy Scouts with Al Baginski in the early years.

Many friends were made throughout the years, McConnaugheys, Avenettis, Baginskis, Hoods, Vaughns, Coveys, and the list could go on.

Paul and Fran left the house that they had lived in for almost thirty years and moved to Marana for a short time. They moved on to Strawn, Texas where he worked for Strawn explosives until his final retirement. Fran passed in 1998, Danny in 2006 and Jay in 2016. Paul is 88 years old and living in Marana with Sheila. Teresa is in Marana, Karen in Sierra Vista, Sean in Phoenix and Tracy in Texas.

I am sure that there are so many untold stories of the people and events in Silver Bell. This is just a brief history and some stories told to me by my Dad.