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A Toast to USU Eastern

Thursday, Nov. 07, 2013

Judge Boyd Bunnell standing at the rock 'Gibby' in Price

Judge Boyd Bunnell stands by the famous little rock he helped bring to the USU Eastern campus 74 years ago.

glass flute illustration for USU Eastern's 75th anniversary

A flute specially engraved in honor of USU Eastern's 75th birthday.

There is only one Judge Boyd Bunnell, one Gibby and one 75th anniversary of Utah State University Eastern.

The once Carbon College — now USU Eastern — celebrated its Golden Jubilee Oct. 21-28 with plays, presentations, talks, concerts, luncheons, authors, art, awards and athletic competition.

For those fortunate enough to hear the retired Seventh District Court judge speak at the school’s anniversary luncheon Oct. 24, they learned, first-hand, about the origin of what may be the world’s first pet rock or rock mascot, depending how you look at it. The little boulder was hauled onto campus more than 74 years ago by Bunnell and six of his classmates. They did this because Carbon High School already claimed the letter C and painted one on Wood Hill overlooking the town.

“So we thought, if we can’t go to the mountain, let’s bring the mountain to us,” Bunnell said.

And that is exactly what they did, lugging onto campus this now famous stone that was promptly painted blue and named Gibby, short for Rock of Gibraltar.

The judge, leaning on his cane, went into detail about what it was like to be one of the first students of Carbon College and divulged his role in the hauling of the hefty rock from a nearby lot where the LDS Seminary building stands today next to Carbon High School.

He joked about being ditched by his older brother, Louis, who forgot he had a heavy date that night, as he described it, and asked him if he would take on the weighty task in his place. He agreed to do it. And so, borrowing his father’s tow truck from Bunnell Motors — unbeknownst to his father — he and his fellow rock hounds snuck out around midnight, hot on Gibby’s scent. 

They subdued the old rock, but not without a fight, as they chained and attempted to lift the ancient boulder from its resting place. The tow truck initially reared up against the weight of the stubborn stone until Bunnell’s more substantial classmates were able to eventually bring the front tires back to earth by jumping up and down on the truck’s bumper. With sketchy traction, it was slow going as they zigged and zagged their way through sage brush toward campus between shouts of “bounce, bounce!” from Bunnell to the bumper brigade as the future magistrate tried to manage the tipsy truck from behind the steering wheel.

He talked about the initial tepid reaction to the rock by administrators and the boulder’s various campus locations that led to its present place outside the student center. He said the painting of the rock originally began as a reward to winners of tug-o-wars and other battles between the freshman and sophomores that usually regressed into a mud fight. Today, he said, anyone can paint the rock at any time, noting that he had seen it change two or three times over the past few weeks alone.

He talked about the rock art that adorns the walls of nearby canyons, noting how timeless it is and how Gibby is a lot like that. And after all of these years, he said, it still serves a purpose. Exactly what that purpose is may be open to as many interpretations as the thousand layers of paint that coat it, but who knows, he said, maybe one day a world-renowned artist can claim the rock as his or her very first canvas.

Few would disagree that rocks have special meaning in Carbon County.

For the region’s rich mining heritage, rock is a means to an end when mining the coal from deep within. And thanks, in part, to Bunnell, one bold little boulder has become a means of communication and recollection. In one form or another, that ordinary rock continues to help students, faculty, friends and others express themselves in uncommon ways and celebrate innumerable milestones.

The messages they paint on its surface come and go. But despite the fleeting lives of the messengers, Gibby steadfastly remains, solid as Gibraltar. There is comfort in that and will likely be just as reassuring to those toasting the college’s 100th anniversary in 25 short years from now.

Writer: John DeVilbiss;

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