Payson's Historic Timepiece Faces Opposition

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One person's history can be another's living hell -- at least when that history involves the recently rejuvenated sawmill whistle that Rim country residents set their watches by for many years.

The historic whistle began blowing again last year, following a grassroots campaign by descendants of the mill's employees and a group of Payson Elementary School students. The students engaged in a letter-writing campaign that convinced Gordon Whiting, vice president of property management for Kaibab Industries, to allow the whistle to once again blow four times a day at 7 a.m., noon, 1 p.m. and 5 p.m.

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Jimmy Connolly displays the old sawmill whistle that now sits on the roof of Sawmill Crossing. Connolly, whose father used to blow it when he worked at the mill, came into possession of the homemade whistle in 1995, when the sawmill was being torn down. "I grew up without a watch," Connolly said. "We used to live by that whistle. My mother always told me, ‘When you hear that whistle, you come on home.'"

The whistle had gone silent in 1993 when the old sawmill on the site of the Sawmill Crossing theater/shopping complex at the southwest corner of Main Street and Highway 87 shut down.

When it began blowing again, the shrill blast of the whistle, which once announced the beginning and end of the work day and the lunch hour, could be heard throughout much of Payson, carrying a distance of up to several miles when weather conditions are just right.

Now a group of nearby residents has asked that the whistle blowing be curtailed because it is disturbing the peace and disrupting their lives. Sandra Montbleau, who lives and operates a therapeutic massage business on W. Frontier Street, is one of the leaders of the group.

"It's so loud that we get blasted," Montbleau said. "It's hard for babies to sleep, (and for) anybody who wants to take a Sunday afternoon nap."

Montbleau also believes that it's only a matter of time before the whistle causes an accident.

"The man hanging my Christmas lights when the 5 p.m. whistle went off almost fell off my roof," she said. "If something does happen, there will be a lawsuit."

One of the more passionate pro-whistle blowers is longtime Rim country resident and weather recorder Anna Mae Deming, whose late husband worked at the mill for 25 years.

"They're whiners. They're no-gooders," Deming said of those who want the whistle toned down. "One said it was waking babies. Well it only blows four or five seconds and it didn't wake babies before. (Whenever) I go to town, get in a crowd -- anything -- people all say they enjoy it so much."

Montbleau says it's a lot more than two women who oppose the whistle, citing a petition that is currently being circulated.

"It's not just people who live on Frontier Street," she said. "It's people all over town."

She declined to say how many signatures are on the petition, but did provide an unsigned copy of it.

"We believe there should be reasonable control of noise at all times, especially when the volume of noise is so disturbing to so many people from many areas of town," it reads in part. "Anyone else doing this in their own back yard would be fined by the police and asked to stop."

Deming doubts that many have signed the petition. She said the issue is preserving Payson's past.

"(The whistle) has thrilled more people," she said. "They are so happy to hold fast to just a tiny little bit of Payson that's left on Main Street. That whistle is just one of the little things that's left."

Montbleau says she's not trying to be insensitive.

"People's feelings are really deep about this, (especially among) the ones that want to keep it like Anna Mae Deming," she said. "I don't want to disrespect anyone's family heritage."

Whiting, who has met with the opposition, is caught in the middle.

"We put up a noise shield that didn't work, so we're going to take it down and try to come up with something that will shield the noise from that neighborhood," Whiting said. "In the meantime, our compromise with those folks was to say, ‘We'll get rid of the 7 a.m. and 1 p.m. whistles and just blow it at noon and 5 p.m. Then when we get the (new) shield, we'll put it up and see if it lets us turn it back on more times a day.'"

Montbleau says she appreciates Whiting's willingness to work with her, and realizes the issue is a sensitive one.

"We're not asking for the whistle to be shut off totally," she said. "We're just asking for a reasonable blow, like one time a day at noon and not on Sunday, because that's a day of rest."

Whiting agrees with Deming that the vast majority of Payson residents like the whistle, but he can also see where the other side is coming from.

"They do have a legitimate complaint," he said. "It is fairly loud back there in the neighborhood, so we're trying to find some middle ground and be a good neighbor."

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