After 91 years, the ‘B’ gets permanent lights


About Utah: After 91 years, the ‘B’ gets lights

By Lee Benson

Published: September 16, 2018 4:36 pm

In picture: Bingham High School alumni John Berg, left, David Gourley, Gary Curtis and Deanne Curtis stand below the 91-year-old Block “B” that will be lit up the night of Sept. 20.

COPPERTON — Ninety-one years ago, when the big block “B” was erected on the mountainside, it had plenty of company.

There was Bingham Canyon immediately adjacent to the south, home to the town of Bingham Canyon, which at its height was occupied by roughly 13,000 people, most of the households headed by miners who toiled for Utah Copper, later to become Kennecott Copper.

Then there was Bingham High School, for which the “B” officially stood. The school had been around since 1908, educating all those miners’ sons and daughters, and for years, school spirit had cried out for a symbol that said “This is Bingham.”

In 1927, the people of Bingham finally did something about it, climbing into the foothills above the school to carve a stone “B” into the side of the mountain and cover it with whitewash

That “B” hasn’t moved an inch since.

But everything else has.

Slowly but surely, Bingham Canyon got completely filled up as the copper mine expanded eastward. The canyon is now a mountain. Buried beneath is the town of Bingham Canyon that once housed thousands.

As for the high school, in 1975 the Jordan School District relocated the school 10 miles east to South Jordan. Only the name remained — Bingham High School. That and the “B” on the mountain.

Bingham alumni — students and townspeople — have never taken their eye off it.

It is the one remnant left that keeps the past glued to the present.

About three years ago, a number of those alums got together and approached Rio Tinto, the company that owns the Kennecott mine and the mountainside the “B” rests on, about taking steps to ensure the “B” could be maintained in perpetuity.

Rio Tinto, by all accounts, couldn’t have been more agreeable or accommodating. The company cut in a new road for better access to the “B” and assured the friends of Bingham they could have unfettered access to keep it maintained.

That led Gary Curtis, a Bingham alum (Class of ’63) and a member of the Our B Forever committee — and, not incidentally, a Kennecott employee for 49 years — to make a proposal to John Berg, another Bingham alum (Class of ’61) and the Our B Forever committee chairman.

“If it’s going to be permanent,” he said. “Then why don’t we light it?”

“Great idea,” said Berg.

It is a testament to the depth of Bingham’s roots and the passion and generosity of its supporters that within a year sufficient donations were collected to light the “B” with LED lights.

Rio Tinto pitched in, again, in the form of poles, transformers and wires.

The official “Lighting of the B” is scheduled to take place on Thursday night at 7:30 p.m. as part of Bingham High School’s homecoming week.

The ceremony will be in the vacant lot in Copperton where Bingham High once stood.

Eleven people have been selected to “Light the B,” including the old — Stella Nepolis Saltas from the Class of ’46 — and the new — current Bingham High School student Isabell Christensen. Others include former teacher Dorothy Peterson, Principal Christen Richards-Khong, Rio Tinto/Kennecott representatives Vince Christensen, Matt Tobey and Mark Cameron, Trent Beisinger of Codel Electric, Berg and Curtis from the Our B Forever committee and, health permitting, 93-year-old John Susaeta, who lives across the street from the “B” and was 2 years old when it was erected.

The world is invited, Berg said, although not expected.

“This ‘B’ means nothing to most people,” he said. “But it means a whole lot to us who are Bingham Miners.”

Berg remembers when Bingham “was the melting pot of the world,” a time when people came from all corners of the globe to work what became the world’s largest open-pit copper mine. Greeks, Italians, Swedes, Basques, Slavs, Chinese, Japanese, Frenchmen. Bingham had diversity before anybody used the word diversity.

“We have to let people know what was here,” said Berg. “We can’t ever let that die.”

 “There’s something about that copper water, it just stays with us,” added Deanne Curtis, Gary’s wife and president of the Bingham Alumni Association.

After its unveiling on Sept. 20, the big block “B” on the hill will be lit up for special Bingham High School occasions and victories in sports and other extracurricular activities. (The football team alone might run up quite an electric bill, considering it is undefeated and currently ranked the 15th best team in America).

Anytime Bingham does something to be proud of, the “B” will shine, illuminating the now while at the same time casting a bright glow on the then.