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Fremont County Museum System

McNiece Geiger Counter

Just a mention of the name of the device – the Geiger counter – and your brain probably goes “click, click, click, grind, click click.” Maybe, like me, you first heard that classic sound because you were watching Lassie reruns one lazy summer day on Nickelodeon, and they showed that one episode:

- “Woof!”

- “What’s that girl?”

- “Woof!”

- “You say that Timmy and his friend found the nosecone of a rocket that the army sent up with a guinea pig inside, then they let the guinea pig go, and they have all been exposed to dangerous levels of radiation?”

- “Woof!”

- “OK, let’s go!”

---some time later---

- “Son, you’ve been exposed to radiation!”

- “Golly, I haven’t seen any ray-day-ay-shun! Honest!”

 

Whether Nickelodeon reruns or Fallout 4 first introduced you to that characteristic Geiger counter sound, it’s undeniable that the sound is engrained into American culture. Here in Fremont county, the Geiger counter, specifically the Geiger counter pictured here, changed the course of history.

 

Maxine McNiece bought this Geiger counter in 1952 for her husband Neil’s Christmas present. In September of 1953, they headed out to the Gas Hills in their Dodge PowerWagon for a prospecting trip with this Geiger counter. On a hill near where the current Gas Hills Road ends, the counter’s needle went off the charts. With their friend Lowell Morfeld, they filed mining claims and founded the Lucky Mc Uranium Company, which would eventually become part of Utah International, and later, General Electric.

 

Inspired by the McNiece discovery, Bob Adams, a restaurant owner from Rawlins, began his search for uranium, and it quickly became an obsession. “A doctor’s specimen, I’m sure, would have sat a Geiger counter to ticking,” he later recalled. He located uranium ore in the Crooks Gap area and secured a milling contract from the Atomic Energy Commission (AEC). With financing from a wealthy physician friend, Dr. C. W. Jeffreys, he built the mill and the town of Jeffrey City to support the mining and milling operations of his company, Western Nuclear. 

 

The uranium industry employed thousands and changed Fremont County forever. For a time, some 2,000 people lived in the now desolate Gas Hills. Jeffrey City’s population peaked at roughly 5,000. The county would eventually have five operating uranium mills. Money from the industry paved roads, built schools, and provided the motive to establish Central Wyoming College. Even the CWC Student Center bears the name of Lowell Morfeld, who was a major benefactor to the institution.

 

Disaster struck the industry in 1979, when a partial meltdown occurred at the Three Mile Island nuclear power plant in Pennsylvania. Utility companies cancelled plans for dozens of nuclear plants which, in combination with cheap uranium imports, largely destroyed the domestic uranium industry.

 

Next up for the Fremont County Museums

 

December 8, 2pm at the Riverton Museum, “Make Your Own Christmas Ornaments”

           Children’s Exploration Series Program

 

December 8, 9-5pm at the Riverton Museum, “Christmas Open House”

 

December 8, 10-4pm at the Dubois Museum, “Christmas Open House”

 

December 8, 5pm at the Pioneer Museum, “Old Fashioned Christmas”

           Children’s Exploration Series Program

 

December 15, 3pm at the Dubois Museum, “Christmas Crafts”

           Children’s Exploration Series Program

           

The Dubois Museum, the Pioneer Museum in Lander and the Riverton Museum work extremely hard to provide programs, care for the facilities, create exhibits and care for the thousands of artifacts and archival documents in the collections of the museums. In order to consistently accomplish these objectives the museums are more reliant than ever on donations from the private sector. Please make your tax deductible contribution to be used specifically for the benefit of the museum of your choosing by sending a check to Fremont County Museums 450 N 2nd Rm 320 or taking it directly to the museum you choose to support.