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Historic Provo

Oral History of Max Jones


INTERVIEWER: Today is September 18, 1999. The time is 1:15. We're interviewing Max Jones. Where were you born?

JONES: I was born at the mouth of Provo Canyon where my grandfather owned a hotel that housed the workers for the power plant and that wooden flume that went down the canyon. I was born there March 28, 1914.

INTERVIEWER: How long did you live there?

JONES: We lived there until they sold it in 1920. I moved to Provo at about 45 South 200 East, where my brother was born. We moved from there to about 65 North, 700 East. My other brother was born there. Then we moved to 83 North 500 East. Dad built a big house there. The house still stands. I lived there until I left home when I was 22 years old.

INTERVIEWER: How many brothers and sisters do you have?

JONES: I have two brothers. My first brother, Murtin, died at 20 years old of diphtheria. The other brother is still alive and lives in Orem.

INTERVIEWER: What are some of your memories of elementary school?

JONES: I went to school at the Maeser School. It's still standing. I went to Provo High School. I was on the track team. I have a gold medal for the medley relay when we were state champions in 1932 or 1933. I graduated there in 1933.

I didn't have the opportunity of going to college in the depression days. I went to work immediately after school. Eventually I got to be a concrete contractor. I put in about one hundred miles of sidewalk and gutter in Provo. I've either been the foreman for some other company or else on my own. I have built exactly fifty bridges in this state, plus water tanks for thirteen cities for their drinking water. There were numerous other projects like diversion dams and sewage plants.

INTERVIEWER: Can you name some of those projects in the Provo area.

JONES: I built part of the Provo Sewer plant on a sub-contract with Davis and Butler. I built the water tank for Goshen and Alpine. That's the ones in the general area.

INTERVIEWER: Did you put in any bridges here in Provo?

JONES: I put in the boat harbor bridge. There is one on Eighth North in Orem. Most of those from Geneva Road over to Lehi across I-15 I was the foreman for Clyde and Nelson Brothers on most of those.

INTERVIEWER: What is the history of the gutters in Provo? When did you start doing that? What was it like before you began doing that?

JONES: I started doing sidewalks and curb and gutters. First I went to work at Geneva. I was an assistant superintendent on Geneva construction. Then when that was built I went to work for Geneva Steel. Three or four months after I started I got in a serious accident. I was laid up. I spent nearly six months in the hospital. When I got out I went to work again for two or three weeks and I could not stand the noise of Geneva. I went into the concrete business in 1945. That was when I got my first license. I have both licenses hanging on the wall. I got one in 1945 and the other one in 1995. I was fifty years in that business.

INTERVIEWER: What were the road conditions like in Provo before then?

JONES: One interesting thing is before my wife and I got married we bought a piece of ground on 956 North 900 East. We bought half an acre of pasture ground. My mother-in-law said, "How come you moved so far out of town?" That is not far out of town. The road there was still gravel. There were cow pastures on all sides of us. We built that house and before we got married I had the foundation in and built the house after that. Before my mother-in-law died she said, "I can see that you're not a long ways out of town."

We stayed there until the apartments finally crowded us out and we sold that and moved to Indian Hills where we are now. My wife died in 1995. I've been living here alone since.

INTERVIEWER: Going back to your early days, what sorts of things do you remember in high school? What sorts of activities did you and your friends participate in in town?

JONES: At that time, there was really not much to do. We did a lot of hunting and a lot of fishing. I look back and I don't think anybody I knew ever got in any trouble. We always found something to do so we didn't get in trouble. I don't think any of us ever spent a night in jail. We went to dances at night.

INTERVIEWER: Where would you go to dances?

JONES: At that time there was a dance hall in every city in the county. We spent some time out at Geneva Resort. Where the Provo Post Office is now, a dance hall sat there. There was one at Springville at Park Roche and one in American Fork. There was one in every town in the county.

INTERVIEWER: What about activities you would do with your friends? What were your hang out places?

JONES: I don't remember what they call hanging out today. I don't remember any places like that. Everybody I knew tried to find a job. When I was sixteen I had nearly everybody in the neighborhood working for me taking care of about thirty of forty acres of beets. We topped them, we thinned them, we hoed them all summer. Then we loaded them out in the fall. I had just about everybody in the neighborhood working for me.

INTERVIEWER: Did you make good money doing that?

JONES: The day I was sixteen I came home driving a little Model T Ford. Mother said, "Where did you get that?" I said, "I bought it. Don't you remember that you told me I could buy one when I was sixteen. I was sixteen yesterday." I paid eight dollars for it. I had to give the rear tires back to the guy I bought it from. I think that the new set of rear tires cost more than the eight dollars. That's what that first car cost. At that time there were only three other people in Provo High School who drove their own cars. They were all Model T Fords.

INTERVIEWER: Did a lot of people have cars at that time?

JONES: No. Dad had one. My next door neighbor was a bishop, but he didn't have a car. I can think of the county recorder who lived up the street. He never owned a car all his life. I had two uncles across the road. They had cars. Other than that I can't think of anybody in the neighborhood who had an automobile.

INTERVIEWER: Did most people walk?

JONES: They just walked or rode bicycles. There was no place to go.

INTERVIEWER: What effect did the Depression have on Provo at this time?

JONES: In 1936 there was one building permit issued in Provo for a house. There wasn't anything going on in the line of new houses. It wasn't until Geneva Steel construction started that Provo started to really get out of the Depression. Wages before that were $4.00 a day, 50 cents an hour. That was the standard going and that was what they paid at Ironton Steel plant and the creosote plant and the pipe plant. It was fifty cents an hour. Shortly after Geneva started it got clear up to 75 cents.

Geneva Steel, in spite of what people think, has been the savior of Utah County. It isn't today, but it was at that time.

INTERVIEWER: What was the general outlook? Were people pretty pessimistic or more optimistic during that time?

JONES: I don't really know. I couldn't say. I know I was quite optimistic that things were going to get better. I can't think of what other people thought.

INTERVIEWER: Can you tell us about your community life here. What are some things that you did growing up in the community?

JONES: Dad was a contractor before me. When the Depression came along, you couldn't get much work. When you got work, you couldn't collect the money. He went to work for Ironton and he worked out there until his health got to where he couldn't work anymore.

I've worked all my life and hired people. I've never worked for anybody unless it was in a foreman capacity. I have hired some summers up to 100 people before the summer was over to work for me.

INTERVIEWER: What about a sense of the neighborhood? Did everybody pretty much know each other?

JONES: Everybody knew everybody. That carried on clear up until about 1975. All of a sudden I realized that I don't know anybody anymore. People started moving along and I didn't know anybody. Another thing they did is they all looked out for everybody. If they needed something like a loaf of bread, somebody got it for them. I don't think it's quite like that. It is in my neighborhood. It's still pretty much that way.

INTERVIEWER: What about the change in buildings and housing over the years? Have you seen quite a significant change in that?

JONES: You didn't see a condominium until about 10 years ago. Everything was single family dwellings. Now it's condos everywhere and large neighborhoods where you can open one window and shake hands with your neighbor in the next building. That is one big change that I've seen and one that I don't like especially.

INTERVIEWER: Why is that?

JONES: If you've got a fire in one of them and a good stiff wind, it just wipes the whole thing out.

INTERVIEWER: What about in the downtown Provo area? What were some popular places to go shopping?

JONES: At that time there was Taylor Brothers and Thomas.

INTERVIEWER: When was this?

JONES: This was about 1932 to 1942. There were very few stores downtown. There weren't very many cafes. There was Keeley's and Sutton Cafe. There was maybe one other. I don't think there were more than about four cafes in Provo at that time. There was only one hotel. In 1941 there was only one. There were no motels.

INTERVIEWER: What was the hotel?

JONES: It was Roberts Hotel.

INTERVIEWER: Where was that?

JONES: It was on Second South and University. It's still there. The motels hadn't been thought of. A little while later there was one big one built up there on 1200 North and just west of Fifth West. It was Weeders. They had quite a few little individual rooms in there. That was the first one. After that then they started. Everybody's got one.

INTERVIEWER: What about the buildings in downtown, have a lot of them been torn down and been replaced?

JONES: Not too many. They've remodeled. Take University Avenue from Center to First North. It's still like it was 75 years ago. Generally all through where the NuSkin building is that used to be the Orem Depot. Down through that part it's been changed quite a bit. Center Street from First East clear to Fifth West is about 75 percent of what it was 60 years ago.

A big change that I see is down what they call East Bay. That used to be pastures. That was it. That's all there was there. Now it's got so many big buildings like Novell and NuSkin and two or three other big companies in there. It used to be pastures. That's the biggest thing I can see in Provo.

INTERVIEWER: Who did those pastures belong to?

JONES: They belonged to Provo City.

INTERVIEWER: How long ago did that change from pastures to a commercial area?

JONES: About fifteen years ago.



INTERVIEWER: Tell me about the experience of being LDS and how that was a part of the community.

JONES: Up until the time Geneva came here it was at least ninety percent or more LDS. At that time the Seventh Day Adventists had a church here. The Catholic Church was here. The Community Church was here. The Presbyterian Church has been here. But they don't have very many members. When Geneva came then they started to get quite a few member. People moved in. There was one other church. The guy that came here to start it worked for me. It's on 700 West just north of First North. It's quite an active church. There are a few more like the Church of God up on Canyon Road that showed up lately. I still think that Provo is more than 75 percent LDS in spite of all those that moved in. They don't have the membership.

Neither my father nor mother belonged to the Church. I was 22 years old when I was baptized.

INTERVIEWER: What was that like from the time you were born until you joined the Church, being in such a Mormon dominated community?

JONES: You were looked down on. I was looked down on. About the time I was eight or nine years old I tried to get in the Church. The bishop said, "We don't want you people in the Church." I said, "What's the matter with us people?" He said, "If you wanted to be in the Church, your parents would have gotten you into it?" It went on until I left Provo and went down to Salina to go to work.

The fellow that I worked for happened to be a bishop. I told him I didn't' belong to the Church and he said, "You come over to the Salina Second Ward next Sunday and I'll baptize you." I had never seen a Bible. I'd heard of the Book of Mormon, but I had never seen one. I can't believe that they would baptize a person. They wouldn't do it today not knowing anything. I have been in bishoprics for 35 years. I think they made a good choice.

INTERVIEWER: Did you attend a different church before?


INTERVIEWER: And since being LDS in the community, tell me some of the relationships you had with non-members after you became a member. What was that like?

JONES: I still think there's a dividing line. In the ward I live in there are three non-member families. One of them takes part with everything that goes on. Nobody looks down on the other two. The one family doesn't want anything to do with us and they have told the people, "Don't come and see us. Don't talk religion to us." When the other family first moved in, they took part in everything. All of a sudden they had the same attitude. I think generally that it's an individual case by case thing.

INTERVIEWER: How have ward divisions affected the community, especially with the growth in the last ten years? Wards are always dividing.

JONES: I don't think that makes much difference. There is one thing that I think everybody will notice. If they live on the north side of the street and the south side of the street is in a different ward, it's very seldom that people on the north will know the people on the south. It depends where you go. Sometimes you just don't get acquainted with people unless you go to church and work with them. People have so much to do nowadays that they don't have time.

I remember when I was about ten years old. My grandparents didn't have a car. They hooked up a team. My mother and father and me and a cousin went up to Wallsburg, up Provo Canyon and visited for three days. I've thought many a time you can't do that nowadays. You can't go sit and visit with people. People don't visit like they used to. They sat up there on those porches and talked about everything that you can imagine. I didn't even know what they were talking about, but they sat there and visited for three days. There is too much to do nowadays to visit.

INTERVIEWER: What do you think has changed that?

JONES: Life has gotten so complicated now that it's hard to make a living. It takes all your time and the men work and most of the wife's work. There is too much to do. Along comes television. It's a lot easier to sit downstairs and watch television than it is to go three or four houses up the street and visit. That has one thing to do with it.

INTERVIEWER: You said you worked with cement and paving the roads. Did you have other jobs since then, or before that? What made you choose those jobs?

JONES: The city called for bids for special improvement districts. That included the sidewalk and curb and gutter in a certain area. People would bid for them. I branched out. I remember when my last daughter was born I was building a bridge at Tabiona. I came home. My wife called me and said, "Today is the day." I left that job and came down here. I had a job on Second West and Fifth North. Every time I pass that, I remember this is where I was when my daughter was born. I had a crew there. I had two jobs going at the same time.

INTERVIEWER: How many children do you have?

JONES: I have three daughters?

INTERVIEWER: Do they live here in Provo?

JONES: No, one lives in Orem now. She spent 31 years in Minnesota and moved here a year ago.

INTERVIEWER: How many grandchildren do you have?

JONES: Thirteen grandchildren and seven great grandchildren.

INTERVIEWER: Do your other two daughters live in Utah?

JONES: One in Boulder, Utah and the other in Idaho Falls.

INTERVIEWER: Are there any other things you can tell us about your experience with road paving in Provo? How many years did you do that?

JONES: I did that off and on. It came in sometimes when I had two special improvement districts and I got both of them. It's been seven or eight years since the last one was let in Provo. Provo is pretty well covered up by sidewalk and curb and gutter. There isn't very many vacant spots. They changed the ordinance so that if a person developed two or three acres of ground the developer had to put them in. I did a lot of those for different developments.

INTERVIEWER: Can you give me an idea of what that covers?

JONES: It's been everywhere. It's all over. It's scattered all around.

INTERVIEWER: What are some national events in American history that have had an effect on the community of Provo? For example, World War II. Do you remember how that impacted Provo?

JONES: It took an awful lot of the people in the working age from eighteen to thirty. There was very few of them left. At that time it was just about impossible to find anybody that would work. There was just nobody around to work. At that time you had to hire the people that were too old to go to war. A lot of them were physically handicapped. One other funny thing about this time, a single guy didn't want to walk into a cafe at night or a beer joint. There would be all of the booths full of girls and they would all be whistling at you. That's one thing I think about now and again. It was a funny thing. When I was really looking for girls to whistle at me, there wasn't any. Then all of a sudden I'm married and I don't want them whistling at me and then they whistle at me.

I lost a few friends in the war. I think the biggest effect that the war had on Provo was Geneva Steel never would have been built if the war hadn't happened. I think that's the biggest affect it had here.

INTERVIEWER: What was the general outlook on the war by the people?

JONES: I think they hated to see it happen. The people that I talked to had no question but what America would win it. They hated to see it even going. I didn't get in the service. I had a defense job. I was assistant superintendent on Geneva construction. I got hurt and after that I no longer had that job. I got a letter from the draft to report. I was sitting in a cast at Utah Valley Hospital. I stayed there. There was no chance that I could have gotten in the war after that because of the way it left my one leg.

INTERVIEWER: What about some of the other wars, like the Korean war?

JONES: I can't remember even discussing that. I don't know anybody that was in either the Korean or Vietnam War. I don't know anybody personally that was in those two. I never discussed it with anyone.

INTERVIEWER: What about Watergate?

JONES: That didn't have effect on me. I have never been too interested in things like that.

INTERVIEWER: Do you think that the general community outlook on the government or politics has changed?

JONES: I think it has changed for the worse. I won't mention his name, but we got one person in state government that I know real well. I helped him get elected and helped him get another person elected. I am so disappointed with the way he is acting. I see two or three others that campaign and make these promises. Then they get in office and they forget them. I really think that politics is getting worse. Another example is the way Utah got the Olympics. It's an example of the same idea.

INTERVIEWER: Do you remember many celebrations, fairs, or holidays that are celebrated here in Provo?

JONES: They don't have it like they used to. The fair used to be in Provo. Then they moved it to Spanish Fork. I hear they're squabbling now with UVSC on that. The fair in Provo used to be an event to look forward to.

When I was growing up the Ringling Brothers and Barnum and Bailey Circus and one or two others came. They don't come here anymore. That was a big event in Provo for the circus to come here.

INTERVIEWER: Where would they hold the fair?

JONES: Down in the Eastbay area. That was known as the fair grounds for a long time.

INTERVIEWER: What were those fairs like?

JONES: They had all the exhibits. Every business around had a little exhibit. They showed farmers what they raised. The farmers had their cows and sheep. I think people enjoyed it a lot more than they do now. It's gotten too commercial now. It was really something. It was a thing that people looked forward to. I haven't been to a fair for so long. I don't know hardly anybody that goes to the county fair anymore. It's just not as interesting as it used to be.

INTERVIEWER: What about celebrations?

JONES: The Fourth of July of course is a big celebration in Provo.

INTERVIEWER: What are some of the things they do?

JONES: They have the Stadium of Fire and the parade. They always bring in some well known entertainers at the Stadium of Fire at the football stadium. They fill it up. A lot of people go to it. It's probably one of the biggest fire works celebrations in the whole country.

INTERVIEWER: Has that changed quite a bit over the years?

JONES: Yes. It used to just be a little one. Now it's nationally known. We've had some nationally known people like Natalie Cole and Della Reese. I know we've had some of that class that have come here.

INTERVIEWER: What about other holidays that were celebrated that aren't anymore?

JONES: I don't think they have the Christmas Parade. I can't think off hand of any. They might have it. I don't remember them having a Christmas Parade the last few years.

INTERVIEWER: Are there any other things about Provo that you would like to tell us about?

JONES: I can't really think of any that we haven't covered. Seven Peaks up there has taken up all the ground the State Hospital used to have in the early days. The State Hospital doesn't have as many people now. They have different methods of taking care of those people. That's one big change in that end of town.

INTERVIEWER: When did this happen?

JONES: Ten years ago. They started to take those inmates and put them out in little different group homes around. They still have the worst of them up there. They sold most of the ground. It used to be self-subsistence. They had people work big fields of vegetables and big herds of cows. They were self-sustaining. They don't have anything anymore.

Interviewee: Max Jones
September 18, 1999

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