‘The last of the first’ | CraigDailyPress.com

‘The last of the first’

Long-time mine employee weathered changes in career, economy

Bridget Manley

— From boom to bust and back again, Mark Parchman has seen it all.

As a big city high school student with scholarships, he could have attended any military school he wanted. Instead, Parchman came to Moffat County and began a career that would take him through more than three decades of career and community change.

Parchman came to Craig at age 19. On Dec. 15, 1975, he took a job at Trapper Mine, becoming one of the first six non-administrative employees the mine hired.

At that time, Craig was a different place.

Housing was short and hotels were few. People joked that an outhouse could rent for $600 a month, Parchman said.

Originally from the Las Vegas area, Parchman experienced culture shock living in a town that closed down at night and came to a standstill during hunting season.

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During the next 32 years, while Parchman watched Craig evolve under economic influences, his job description changed several times.

Parchman was first hired as a carpenter at Trapper Mine. Later, he became a welder and helped construct draglines. Eventually, he became a dragline operator – a job that he’s had for almost a quarter of a century.

Parchman learned the miner’s life is not easy, often taking a toll on family and marriages.

“It’s a tough life,” he said.

A major part of the lifestyle is shift scheduling. As a mine employee, he’s worked day and night shifts, and everything in between.

The night shift – or the graveyard shift as it’s commonly called – requires unnatural sleeping habits.

“Staring at the ceiling when you’re trying to sleep – I hate that,” he said.

Still, his job has its rewards.

He has been accident-free for 32 years, an accomplishment he takes pride in.

“It’s been a privilege to work with a group of men : who’ve won so many awards for reclamation and safety achievement,” he said.

Today, his job still consists of sculpting the earth beneath the bucket of a dragline, yet the methods used in that process have changed.

Global Positioning System technology in the mine’s engineering department enables Parchman to move dirt efficiently, eliminating the stake-and-hammer manual surveying methods used when the mine first opened.

Craig also changed after Parchman arrived – and not always for the best, he said.

In the 1980s, the national economy slowed.

At the same time, the power plant finished construction and caused many of the employees hired to build it to move away. Both developments deeply impacted the local economy, Parchman said.

Dark days followed. Businesses that didn’t close hosted “survivor parties,” and a slogan began circulating around town: “The last one out of Craig, turn out the lights.”

Eventually, the economy recovered and signs of revitalization appeared, sometimes in unexpected ways.

As Craig’s population increased, telephone numbers increased from five digits to seven.

“I had to push two more numbers,” Parchman said. “That was progress.”

Today, Craig reminds Parchman of the town he first arrived in during the 1970s.

“Nothing’s new under the sun, the only difference being that the sidewalks don’t roll up anymore during hunting season,” he added.

Through years of boom and bust, his desire for city life never left him. He travels occasionally to Las Vegas and New York City to get a taste of the life he left behind.

Still, Moffat County is his permanent home.

“Craig grows on you in a lot of ways,” he said.

A desire to raise his three children in a small community was one reason he wanted to stay.

Now grown, his children have made lives of their own.

His daughter, Aja, is a registered nurse in Craig while his other daughter, Traci, is attending college in Rangely. His son, Cory, serves in the Air Force and is stationed in Louisiana.

An empty-nest parent, Parchman, 52, dislikes the word “retirement.” Yet, he’s considered what he will do after he’s swung the dragline for the last time.

He plans to take up his camera and follow the changing seasons in surrounding national parks.

Until then, he intends to stay with the job he began more than 30 years ago, the only employee of the first six who still works at the mine.

“I’m the last of the first,” he said.