Redmond Life

Digging Deep For What’s Real

By Andrew Berthrong

Forget what you think you know about mining — of hunched figures hammering away in the dark danger of a narrow shaft, of the constant risk of cave-ins or the precious vein petering out, of the miners’ strong-set faces streaked with black dust, their tired eyes, of canaries in cages.

Salt Mining, particularly at Redmond Life, is different in almost every way.

This trend-bucking is something of a habit at Redmond Life. Its salt mine in Redmond, Utah, is not only a picture of cleanliness and safety — with over 15 miles of luxuriously broad and vaulted tunnels burrowing through the pure salt of an ancient seabed — but its Heber facility is equally impressive for very different reasons.

A little history: in 1958, a drought drove two brothers — farmers Milo and Lamar Bosshardt (pronounced ba-shard) — to begin mining the salt, which in those days lay exposed to the open air, one end of the huge vein of salt having been heaved up from below millions of years ago. The place was well-known, but never successfully mined. The brothers’ father even told them, “Don’t do anything with the salt — you’ll lose your shirt.”

They did it anyway.

Salt On A Geological Scale

I want to see it all for myself so, having arranged for a tour of the mine, I drive the couple hours south from Heber to Redmond under a blue cloudless September sky.

The mine sits among acres of farmland, right next to the old Bosshardt farm. If it weren’t for the tall conveyors piling up salt in the yard, you might not suspect there’s a mine here. All the land around is still in vigorous use: some for alfalfa and hay, some for grazing. As I drive slowly by on the gravel road, a few quiet black cows raise their chewing heads and stare.

I’m met by Lamar Bosshardt’s grandson, Kyle — a fair-haired middle-aged man with a full rusty beard that’s just beginning to gray. He looks a little like a Viking.

He leads all of the tours. The mine has been a popular local school field trip for decades and, a few years ago, Ozzy Osborne and his son came to the mine to do a television show. “They were very pleasant,” Kyle says.

Kyle believes strongly in the salt he mines. He carries a pocket-sized shaker of Real Salt everywhere he goes and relies on the salt and its 60-plus naturally-occurring minerals to add savor to his meals when he’s out and about, and even to ease muscle aches. In fact, one of the first things he tells me is that in the 22 years he worked underground breathing that mineral-ish air, he rarely — if ever — got sick, a record he is sober about.

“Maybe it was luck,” he says. “Maybe those were the healthiest years of my young life, but I believe that it also had something to do with the salt.”

We get into his truck and he begins to show me around the facility. There is the salt dust-encrusted crusher that takes the huge chunks of salt and sizes them for different markets, from salt licks for agriculture to road salt. The road salt sits in huge mounds all around the crushing facility and Kyle’s brother coordinates the distribution of the road salt all throughout the West.

Kyle takes me around one side of a huge mound of reddish salt and the dirt road begins to cut down into the earth, sweeping down like a freeway offramp. Almost immediately, the ground changes from dirt to salt and we are confronted by a wide black gaping open — what in mining they call a “portal” — carved out of a sheer face of pure salt, as if scooped out by some giant hand.

In we go.

You drive into the cave and it envelops you. Once inside, its gray-reddish hue — the exact color, it turns out, of Kyle’s beard — composes the walls, the ceiling, the floor. But even those concepts, rooted in the language of a human-sized home or building, are too small for what this is.

The mine plays with your sense of scale, of time and of space. Salt, in most of our experience, is small. It sits — stark white — in a shaker on the table. We sprinkle out the tiny granules onto our meals and measure it out one teaspoon at a time. But here at the mine, just north of Redmond, salt is huge.

Here, the scale is geological. The Redmond salt deposit was laid down in the Jurassic Period — about 160 million years ago and long before humans or any industrial pollution were in the picture. Back then, a vast inland sea covered most of what is now Utah. When it dried up, it left a layer of salt nearly a mile thick, part of which was eventually pushed up to the surface by geologic activity along the Wasatch fault line. Once exposed, it became a gathering place for animals and a resource for native peoples and settlers. The small portion of the salt deposit that the Redmond company mines today is nearly inexhaustible. These days, the mine produces about 600,000 tons of salt per year.

“We have hundreds and hundreds of years of reserve here,” says Kyle after the rumble and roar of a dump truck hauling a load of four-foot hunks of salt fades away into the darkness. The headlights cast a pale light and long shadows across the wide salt road and along the vast rock-salt corridors. To me it feels like science fiction, as if exploring one of Saturn’s baren moons. I ask him if he ever gets used to being down here.

“Yeah,” he says. “I imagine right now you’re confused and turned around, and a little lost too, but when you live this — it feels like your home.”

Kyle has never received a paycheck from any other company. He started working the mine in 1987, after graduating from high school, and worked underground for 22 years before moving into a more managerial position topside. He has never left and has no plans to.

That Deep Salt Connection

This is another pattern I’ve noticed — people at Redmond stay at Redmond. Kyle’s cousin Darryl Bosshardt says employee turnover is less than a half a percent, far below the industry average.

A few weeks after I visit the mine in Redmond, Darryl — who works in business development at the Redmond Heber office — invites me to one of their monthly company lunches. Darryl is waiting for me when I arrive. He’s a smiling, slightly-built guy, who immediately begins talking to me about the people at Redmond. What’s remarkable to me is that, even though I’m a last-minute visitor, they have my name already printed on a welcome sign on the buffet table.

We all sit in the sun in the parking lot, eating chili. Darryl tells me that employees work in teams, and although each team has a leader, the leader’s role is more of a facilitator to help each employee get the most out of their experience at Redmond; to, as the company mission states, “elevate the human experience,” which is a phrase we might associate more with a college literature class than a mining and manufacturing company.

Darryl introduces me to a tall fellow sitting nearby, turning to him to elaborate on these teams for me. Ken explains the purpose of the teams, which you would think would be something business-y, like “to streamline the shipping system” or “to develop a marketing strategy.” Instead, Ken says their teams are “trying to deeply connect with each other.”

And that is what is so remarkable about the company: they’re more interested in how they do their jobs, in building and maintaining positive and productive relationships, than simply completing a certain task. They seem to be looking beyond the work, toward building an environment of mutual growth.

“It’s about the people,” Ken continues. “We expect everyone to speak their mind and do their part on the team. No one is above or below anyone else — we really don’t like titles. I don’t typically tell people I’m the CFO. When they ask what I do at Redmond, I just say I play with numbers.”

And this is true. I wouldn’t have known any of the job titles of any of the people I met with at Redmond if I hadn’t asked. I still don’t know Kyle’s official job title because I didn’t ask — it just never seemed to matter.

Not only does it seem to eschew the typical business world hierarchy, but Redmond also offers an unusually wide range of unique products and services — from salt and raw milk, to toothpaste and skincare, as well as many industrial products, such as road salt and agricultural salt. But while I’m there, they hardly talk about these things. The products speak for themselves. Instead, the people at Redmond mostly talk about ideals.

“It’s not for everyone,” Darryl says as the lunch wraps up and we move inside. He explains that because the company takes such a holistic view of the employee, it’s possible that some could find it all-consuming. The wrong personality could burn out.

Not Your Typical Office

When lunch is over, we go inside and sit on a couple of couches next to a workspace you might see in any medium-sized business: a few rows of glowing computer screens where men and women type or talk on the phone or to each other.

Darryl calls over a small, energetic woman who’s a member of what’s called the Culture Team. Her name is Sue and she turns out to be the team leader, which, again, I wouldn’t have known if I hadn’t asked. She talks a little about her past before she was hired at Redmond, about her breast cancer survival and the huge lifestyle changes she made to get and stay healthy, which eventually led her to Redmond.

“I think I only had five interviews, which for Redmond is pretty fast,” she says.

That’s a lot of interviews. And she was an exception. Usually the process is longer and more rigorous. Darryl tells me about another employee they talked with over the course of five years before he was hired.

I’m beginning to get it: When you’re a company that places so much value on community and the interdependency of people, this meticulous hiring process makes sense. The kind of work environment it’s trying to create depends on hiring the right people; people who understand what the company is trying to achieve and who buy into its ideals of collaborative teamwork, trust and umbuntu — the idea, as Sue says, that “we are because of each other.”

We sit, and the conversation turns to a phrase Darryl uses a lot — it is an idea central to the culture at Redmond. He calls it “putting yourself in the place of most potential.” I’m not totally sure what this means, so he explains that it expresses the culture of trust the company tries to encourage among its employees; that when employees get the company vision, when they really adopt the company mission of elevating human life and experience, then they can decide better than any manager how their time is best spent.

Sometimes, Darryl says, an employee’s “most potential” might be to be at their kid’s baseball game instead of at work. The idea being that when that trust exists, the work of most value to the community is achieved.

Just as we’re talking about this, out of nowhere, Sue whispers, “Turn around.”

I turn, and a child — he’s probably no older than three years old — trots by gripping a piece of paper with the outline of a shark on it. His mother is working at a computer nearby and when the boy comes to her, she lifts him up to a chair next to her.

“This isn’t uncommon,” whispers Darryl, leaning over to me. “There are other times when I’ll come in here at nine or 10 o’clock at night and she’s here working by herself. Life is a blend. And nobody is keeping tabs on that — we just trust her.”

He says that their philosophy is to focus on that blend, to allow people to be their whole person. “The better I can let Sue be her, the better I can be me.”

This conversation reminds me of something Kyle said down in the mine about purity, lamenting how white, processed salt is somehow “pure.” He told me that a question he gets asked a lot on his tours is about what Redmond does to clean the salt extracted from the mine.

He got a little impassioned, remembering. “I say to them, ‘Which would you rather put on your table: something that’s been in the earth, protected from any contaminates for 160 million years, since the Jurassic Period, or something that’s evaporated off of the Great Salt Lake today?”

“We don’t do anything to it. We mine it. We crush it. We package it. That’s it.”

I know he wasn’t being metaphorical, but I can’t help thinking that this is what the people at Redmond are trying to achieve in a greater sense. They believe that the salt they’re providing is what salt should be, that the minerals it contains don’t make it less pure, but more. The minerals are what make a complete salt.

Which is just what they believe about people. They don’t just want an accountant, or an electrician, or a truck driver, or a marketer, or a web designer — they want the whole person. Not just for what they can do, but who they are.

They’re looking for what’s real. Real salt and real people.

The scene before me is reminiscent of the old Western song lyrics, “empty saddles in the old corral.” Saddles, tack, and spurs now sit quiet and gather dust, guitars lie where memories of Western melodies waft, but Bob’s eyes still twinkle.

Bob McPhie is one of the few great American Cowboys left in the Heber Valley, not to mention, one of my childhood idols. I fondly recall sitting in the grandstands of the old local rodeo arena beside my grandpa. I would balance my popcorn on my lap and clap for Bob as he rode in the grand entry serpentine. Bob served for twenty-five years as the Rodeo Chairman of Heber’s Mountain Valley Stampede. Bob spent most of his life on the back of a horse. Some of his earliest memories are of riding behind his mother’s saddle, while she held his brother Joe in front. The three of them would ride over to Little Valley, where his father was herding sheep. In his low, slow drawl, he shares, “None of us had cars when I was a young person. There was only one car in our whole high school. The next best thing to have in them days was a good horse. My dad bought my first horse from Sweats over on Center Creek. We bred her to a paint horse, Ol’ Paint, that Dean Clyde owned. We got a beautiful paint horse out of it, and its name was Tango. And I rode that little horse forever and ever.”

When he was a boy, Tango was sighted outside a sheep camp, giving Bob away after he swiped a few firecrackers herders used to scare coyotes off. Unfortunately, or maybe, fortunately, depending on how you look at it, his grandfather was the sheriff of Heber. When he found Bob, the sheriff sentenced him to a week’s worth of haying in Wallsberg to pay for his bit of mischief-making.

Don’t Fence Me In

Bob’s best friend all through school was Ardean Clyde, my grandmother. As a young boy, Bob and my grandma ran wild. They rode horses everywhere, always together. Bob chuckles at his younger self, remembering a very long horse ride with no bathroom break — due to embarrassment. The two of them were bringing horses back to Heber from Hannah. He claims with a grin that it near killed him.

Bob was born May 22, 1930, to Less McPhie, a miner and sheepherder and Maude, his loving mother, who cherished her time as a housewife and served up the “world’s best” shakes and a mean nut sundae at Palace Drug. Bob has always loved sheep and began herding at a young age following the footsteps of his father. His grandmother recorded in her journal how proud she was of Bob, who at age 15, returned from sheep camp with $50 in his pocket. He had been the Camp Jack; this title entailed such things as packing water, feeding horses, doing quite a bit of the cooking, little odds and ends around camp, and moving camps with teams of horses.

When Bob was 17, he worked for Bill and Erve Jordan. Midseason, the herder got sick and had to quit. Erve instructed Bob to move a herd of 1000 head of ewes and lambs out of the head of Wolf Creek. He woke that morning bright-eyed and chipper but soon felt a sinking feeling of despair upon discovering that every horse had taken off in the night. He began his first day as herder alone on the top of Wolf Creek with no horses. This lesson was the beginning of an education from the mountains as a herder. Bob eventually found the horses quietly grazing in a mountain meadow not too far from camp. Bob’s come a long way from that first experience. After spending a lifetime immersed in the field of large animals, and working in the saddle, Bob’s wisdom of all the facets of livestock production is vast. “You learn a few things out there,” he smiles sagely.

Home, Home On The Range

A man of God and country, Bob has served both throughout his 90 years. As a young man, Bob enlisted in the U.S. Navy during the Korean War. While his ship was docked in Long Beach, he met a lovely long-legged lady. Although Bob went out with her just enough to make her boyfriend real mad, the California beauty captured Bob’s heart. After his discharge, a few months later, this country boy returned home to Heber and sent Miss Mitzi a ring through the mail. She called him to accept his proposal. He drove to California, and they returned to Heber City as Mr. and Mrs. Bob McPhie.

Determined to make something of his life, never straying from his passion for livestock, Bob attended BYU’s Animal Science Program. Now married and needing to care for his family, Bob began working nights as a miner. His sweetheart, Mitzi, often attended his classes taking copious notes to share with him when they were home together. His professors saw the dedication and teamwork of this remarkable couple, and realizing that he was working himself to death, suggested a better job, one where Bob could use his love of Animal Science and agricultural background. His connections at the university gave him a foot in the door at Roper’s Stock Yard in the Basin. From there, he went to work for Hesson-Clark Animal Health Company, working mainly with poultry, and then landed a job with Bayer.

Bob enjoyed a successful career as a pharmaceutical representative for Bayer in their large animal sector for 35 years before retiring. Respected as he was in the industry, he was asked to return for another two years as a consultant. Bob also served on the Utah Cattlemen’s Association for twelve years as a committee member. His service with them melded well with his day job. He cooked a lot of beef to promote the beef industry and represent Bayer. He had quite the cooking outfit rigged up on a fancy trailer. It had a big round fire pot where he would cook the beef attached to the end of a pitchfork. The meat was stripped off and threaded onto kabobs to serve thousands of people at events like BYU tailgate parties.

Get Along Little Doggies

In the 1970s and ‘80s, Bob lived in Caldwell Idaho, where he met up with another friend from Heber, Lyle Buhler. Both were huge rodeo fans and roped a lot putting together several roping events and jackpots. Champ Gross, President of Calf News magazine out of California and Tom Hovedun, Secretary of the Utah Cattlemen’s Association, approached Bob and Lyle about launching what is now known as the International Feedlot Cowboy Association. They reached out to cattle feedlots from California to Kansas and Nevada to Canada. A large organization was formed, and ropings followed, beginning regionally, with winners advancing to the finals. Bob served as president of the association for 20 years. In 1981 Bob and his good friend Don Simms won the World Championship team roping in Elko Nevada. Bob still sports his buckle today. Now as many as 900 roping teams compete in the world finals.

When Bob made his way back home to Heber, his dad had a thoroughbred mare bred to a famous cow horse, Keno Blanton. From that breeding came Bob’s 16-hand, jet-black gelding Keno. Keno is one of the best rope horses Heber Valley has ever known. Performance speaks for itself, and word spread far and wide across the west. Keno carried several good cowboys to victory, including ProRodeo Hall of Fame inductee, Leo Camarillo. Bob was offered tremendous amounts of money for Keno. A couple of Texans at a roping event handed Bob a blank check and told him to fill in his price. Bob told them in no uncertain terms; it just wouldn’t work, he’s not for sale. Keno is laid to rest in the corral by Bob’s home.

Bob’s talents didn’t end at roping; his fingers were darn good at lassoing a tune too! Some of my favorite memories include Bob and his guitar, sitting around a campfire, or at my families’ barn parties, singing old cowboy songs with my grandfather. Cash was low, but the talent was high in the home of Bob’s parents. The McPhie family were very talented with music and were known to get together for reunions at Liberty Park in Salt Lake City to play and sing. Bob’s mother bought him his first guitar as a young teenager. Bob leans back in his chair as he recalls, “My Grandma McPhie took a piece of paper and drew six strings on it. She put dots where my fingers should go for the different chords. That was my first lesson. That’s how I learned to play guitar.”

Bob began singing with his cousin Joyce and later began to entertain on his own. He sang in bars and church houses across the United States throughout the years. In 1964, the last year the National Finals Rodeo was hosted in Los Angeles, Bob traveled with my grandfather, Arvin Anderson, and their friend Mont Fitzgerald to attend the rodeo. On their way home, the three stopped by a casino and bar in Las Vegas to wet their whistle. It just so happened that there was a talent show going on. Mont disappeared from the table and, upon his return, proudly announced, “You boys better get ready. You’re up next.” Shocked, the two gathered their composure. Grandpa grabbed a guitar, and the two swaggered to the stage and started to sing. Mont’s plan played out well as he passed his hat around the crowd for change. In the end, those two cowboys won the whole kit and caboodle. I asked what they won. With a sly smile, Bob replied, “Some more drinks.”

Believe

One Sunday, while at a roping event in Idaho with his son Brett, a prompting struck Bob like a lightning bolt. He knew this was not where he should be on Sunday. This life-changing moment led to years of devotion to his God. Some of Bob’s most cherished years were spent as the bishop of Center Creek Ward for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

Bob recalls a conversation with a young man who couldn’t imagine how this bishop could possibly understand his view as he’d been doing a bit of drinking. Bishop Bob told him that he’s, “spilt more of that crap than you’ve ever drank, so don’t try to tell me I don’t know what it is.” This ‘been there done that’ perspective has helped him reach hearts that are a little tighter at entry. He recalls sharing the mic with and singing at funerals of characters in the valley who may have been a bit rough around the edges, but these folks are near and dear to Bob’s heart. As bishop, he tended to run things just a little unconventionally. Sometimes swearing a little over the pulpit and bending minor rules, such as no guitars in Sunday meetings.

A mischievous grin spread across his face as he told me about picking up his guitar one Sunday morning. Mitzi asked him where he was going with it. He told her, “I’m taking it to church.” He explained it was his good friends’, Brother and Sister Ryan’s 65th anniversary, and that he was going to sing them a song. Mitzi retorted, “Bob you’re not supposed to do that, and you know it!”

“Who the hell’s gonna stop me? I’m the bishop!” She resigned, “Well, go ahead then.”

Midmeeting, sure enough, he called a halt to everything, had the Ryan’s stand up, and he sang to them, “When your hair has turned to silver, I’ll love you just the same…”

Later in life, Bob’s guitar traveled with him to Nauvoo, Illinois, where he and Mitzi served two missions for his church. When he returned to Heber, he joined the local Senior Citizen’s band. I believe that to date, Bob has sung at more funerals than most undertakers have attended.

Bob has enjoyed many accomplishments with his talents, in addition to an impressive career, but Bob’s most proud of his family. His dear wife Mitzi is his cherished partner, and their five children, Bobbie, Bret, Kris, Wendy Sue, and Bart, are his treasures. Bob has suffered loss, as Mitzi, Kris, Wendy Sue, and Bart have all passed on from this world. Yet he finds joy in being surrounded by a flurry of his precious grandchildren and great-grandchildren. His seasoned advice to me about my husband, came from his favorite song, Have I Told You Lately that I Love You? “Don’t forget to tell him you love him.”

Take Me Back To My Boots & Saddle

Sitting quietly in his chair with the chickens pecking in the yard, Bob has watched just shy of a century pass by in this beautiful mountain valley we call home. Bob has lived a full life doing what he loves with those he loves, both two-footed and four-footed. So it really should come as no surprise that Bob’s first and last jobs were on his horse riding range.

While in his twilight years, Bob went back to being in the saddle all day ridding the forest range for the Forest Service. Bob became great friends with the sheepherders whom he shared the mountain with. They would come each morning to his camp and help him saddle his horse and mount up. They got to thinking and asked him how he managed to get off later in the day. Bob told them, “I manage.” This gritty old cuss rigged up a rope at camp, that he’d trained his horse to walk under as he grasped the line, allowing it to pull him to the ground — that my friends, is a cowboy determined to live his dream till the end.