Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Big Boy rolls through Barstow

Bystanders watch Union Pacific's ‘Big Boy' No. 4014 roll through Lenwood on its way to an inspection stop in Barstow. The locomotive, one of the largest ever built, is headed home to Cheyenne, Wyo., for restoration that is anticipated to take three to five years. (LARA HARTLEY, FOR THE DESERT DISPATCH)


BARSTOW • Steam wasn’t coming out of its stack, but Big Boy No. 4014 roared down the tracks along the Harvey House before coming to a complete stop in front the historic Barstow train station on Monday.

Hundreds of onlookers were allowed to walk up to the gigantic steam engine as dignitaries and a Union Pacific crew jumped off.

The locomotive arrived at 3:41 p.m., about 40 minutes late, being towed by a modern Union Pacific engine with the same number as Big Boy — 4014. Another locomotive was pushing it. Three passenger cars, two box cars and five flat cars followed.

“It’s magnificent,” Wade Harris, of Barstow, said. “You don’t want to miss something like this. It’s history.”

Shelli Anderson, of Claremont, followed the train since it left Colton on Monday. The train enthusiast says she has posted a lot of photos to Facebook.

“It’s awesome,” she said. “Absolutely spectacular.”

In its heyday, Big Boy No. 4014 was a “moving eruption of smoke and vapor” that was known to drag heavy freight trains over the mountains of Wyoming and Utah, according to one Associated Press story. The American Co. in Schenectady, New York, built 25 of the monsters to Union Pacific’s specifications between 1941 and 1944.

A Union Pacific crew is towing the 1.2 million pound steam locomotive 1,293 miles on an 11-day excursion to Cheyenne, Wyoming, where it will be restored back to life during a five-year project.

“It’s beautiful,” said Joseph Sanchez, who worked for Santa Fe Railroad for 25 years. “It’s a beautiful piece of machinery made in the United States of America.”

Sanchez’s fiancee, Ann Canizales, agreed: “I love antiques, and this is a real one.”

Soon after the couple talked about Big Boy, a voice bellowed from the locomotive.

“All aboard!”

It was 4:09 and time to go.

The wheels on Big Boy slowly came to life, and its horn blew twice.

“Diesels just don’t have that look. But look at it,” said Dave Keeler, of Barstow, as he walked away from tracks where Big Boy once rested. “The Schooner of the prairie. There’s nothing more romantic than a steam engine. I just had to see it. I actually wish they would put them in service again.” Keeler gave Big Boy one more glance as it rolled further down the track. “That’s incredible.”

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Roger Naylor's Arizona: Chloride

Check out the extraordinary murals of artist Roy Purcell, splashed across a jumble of boulders just outside Chloride. (Photo: Roger Naylor/Special for the Republic)

Roger Naylor
Special for The Republic

You never know what's going to happen when you travel. On a recent afternoon with the faint scent of lilac on the breeze, I was gunned down in the streets of Chloride.

Minutes later, I was scrambling from boulder to boulder in a rocky canyon, jockeying for the best view of vibrant murals splashed across big granite outcroppings. Painted by Roy Purcell in 1966 and then repainted by Purcell and family members 40 years later, the 2,000 square feet of eye-popping color and thought-provoking images held me spellbound.

Before leaving town, I cruised the streets admiring the quirky collection of metal sculptures, painted bowling balls, bottle trees, stacked mining tools, stuffed-animal dioramas and other strange displays. Although no one knows exactly how it started, Chloride is a thriving hub of yard art.

If you aren't familiar with Chloride, don't beat yourself up. It's under the radar of many travelers. Founded in the early 1860s, it is one of the oldest continuously inhabited mining towns in Arizona. The cluster of weathered buildings huddles along a dead-end road at the base of the Cerbat Mountains.

The first time I rolled into Chloride, I had no idea what to expect. It felt like I was in the middle of nowhere. I stopped in at Yesterday's, a restaurant and saloon, and asked what kind of beer they had. The bartender cocked an eyebrow and said, "You want me to name all 175?"

Annual events in Chloride include a Jimmy Hoffa Birthday Bash, soap-box derby races for adults and a townwide yard sale. But most of the time, it's ridiculously quiet. Chloride makes Mayberry look like the Las Vegas Strip. When I want to escape whatever hustle and bustle momentarily rules my life without going on a long backcountry hike, I head for Chloride.

It wasn't always like this. After silver chloride was discovered in 1862, mines sprang up throughout the region. The Butterfield Stage and the Santa Fe Railroad came through town. The population topped 2,500 during the boom years. About a tenth of that number resides there today.

The "former mining town" label applies to dozens of rural Arizona burgs. They evolve new identities or disappear. Yet, Chloride still seems to be weighing its options. Historical buildings remain, a smattering of shops comprises a small commercial district and a gunfight generally breaks out at high noon every Saturday.

The Immortal Gunfighters of Chloride, a re-enactor group, built Cyanide Springs in 1997, a ramshackle replica of an Old West town smack in the middle of Chloride. Using only hand tools, either because they strove for authenticity or because they were drinking, depending on who tells the story, they peeled aged lumber from nearby mines and slapped together the rustic town within a town.

Although one side of the street of Cyanide Springs is false-front structures, the other side consists of historical gems that include the Silver Belle Playhouse, a former vaudeville theater, and an old miner's house now preserved as the Jim Fritz Museum. Both buildings are more than 100 years old.

It was while watching Chloride's last remaining re-enactor group, Longcoats and Lace Gunfighters, that I got pulled into the action. They recruited a couple of folks from the crowd for their final skit. My part consisted of taking a fall in the dust during the shootout. It was a role I had perfected in my childhood of playing cowboy. As guns roared, I clutched my chest, did a pirouette, staggered into a modified triangle pose before collapsing, pushing to my knees and crawling a few inches on my elbows, then collapsing for a final time to what I'm sure were sobs and mournful wails.

After the smoke cleared, I lingered awhile in case anyone wanted my autograph. No doubt intimidated by my artistic intensity, the crowd kept a respectful distance. So I jumped in my truck and headed for the murals.

In 1966, Purcell worked as a miner in Chloride. When not scratching for ore, he painted a set of murals called "The Journey ... Images From an Inward Search for Self" on towering slabs of granite. The murals launched Purcell's celebrated artistic career.

I've spent a good deal of time over the years trying to decipher all that I see painted across the rocks — the writhing serpent, the ancient symbols, a rising goddess, the town dwarfed by a giant taloned foot. Like all good art, the murals slap you around a little.

Even Purcell wasn't sure what he created. He wrote, "Finally in September 1966, I stood paint-splattered, ragged and tired on the rocks across the canyon to view the finished work. I understood only remotely what had erupted so violently out of myself. I felt more like an aged Samson with a sun-bleached jawbone in my hands than an artist with a paintbrush."

Chloride isn't for everyone. Windshield tourists will be bored by this speck of a community hanging on in the high desert. The town has two restaurants, one modest adobe motel, a general store and a few shops with chancy hours. Your best bet to catch everything open is to show up on a weekend. But the key is to get out and walk around. Talk to the characters who call Chloride home. You'll get lots of great stories. Nobody lives here because of the convenience.

Visitors are welcome in Chloride, but they're not fawned over. It's up to us as travelers to fit into the languid rhythms of an authentic small town. I, for one, like that very much.


Chloride is 227 miles northwest of central Phoenix. Take Interstate 17 north about 23 miles to Arizona 74 and go west for 36 miles to U.S. 60. Go 11 miles northwest to Wickenburg, then take U.S. 93 about 110 miles north to Interstate 40. Go west about 25 miles into Kingman, then take U.S. 93 northwest about 18 miles to County Road 125. Go east for 4 miles to Chloride.

What to see

Roy Purcell murals: Drive east on Tennessee Avenue. The pavement ends at the edge of town, then it's 1.3 miles on a dirt road that's rough but passable for most cars. Painted arrows and signs guide you. Ancient petroglyphs are on the opposite side of the canyon from the murals. For more information on Roy Purcell's art, go to www.purcellgalleries.com.

Railroad depot: The old railroad depot and former jail are still standing but there are no signs to either. Get a map and directions at Mineshaft Market, perhaps the smallest tourist-information center in the state. 4940 Tennessee Ave. 928-565-4888.

Shootouts: Longcoats and Lace Gunfighters conduct mock gunfights at noon most Saturdays. Check in at Ye Ol Shoppe, an ice-cream and souvenir shop attached to Cyanide Springs. 4942 Elkhart St. 928-565-5032.

Movie: A 30-minute movie about Chloride is shown in the Silver Bell Playhouse upon request. There is no charge, and Ye Ol Shoppe provides free popcorn.

Where to eat

Yesterday's: Enjoy fine dining in a casual atmosphere, with a menu that features everything from juicy burgers to osso buco. There's an impressive beer selection. Live music on weekends draws folks from surrounding towns. Historian Mark Hall-Patton will give a free lecture on the history of the region from 3 to 5 p.m. Saturday, June 21. 9827 Second St. 928-565-4251, www.chlorideaz.com.

Digger Dave's: This eclectic place has a small dining room on one side and a bar on the other. Walls are plastered with memorabilia that will make you smile. Food is made from scratch and the place is known for its 10-hour barbecue and chile verde. The bar's patio is filled with old mining equipment and weird yard art. 4962 Tennessee Ave. 928-565-3283.

Where to Shop

Shady Lady Attic Antiques: 4881 Payroll St. 928-565-2886.

Van Meter's Silversmithing: 4727 Tennessee Ave. 928-565-4180.

Claim Your Treasure: 4980 Tennessee Ave. 928-565-4684.

Where to stay

Shep's Miners Inn: This lodging offers 15 modest but comfortable rooms in an adobe building that dates to the early 1870s. $50. 928-565-4251.

Roger Naylor's Arizona

Every month in Explore Arizona, Roger Naylor shares his favorite finds from traipsing around the state.

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Arizona Historical Society soon could be history

Photo taken by C.S. Fly after Geronimo's surrender to General Crook in March 1886. Left to right: Yanozha (Geronimo's brother-in-law), Chappo (Geronimo's son), Fun (Geronimo's 2nd cousin) and Geronimo, the Chiricahua Apache Tribe's legendary medicine man. (Photo: Arizona Historical Society)

Laurie Roberts
The Republic | azcentral.com

The Arizona Legislature is about to take aim at the state's history – or at least public access to that history.

A routine proposal to extend the life of the Arizona Historical Society for another 10 years has been slashed to two years, a move that the state historian says could be "a death knell" to the agency that operates seven museums around the state.

Marshall Trimble says he's puzzled by why the Legislature would want to stick it to the Historical Society, which collects, preserves and showcases the history of Arizona and the west.

"Our history is one of the most unique and colorful in the entire 50 states," he said. "Our story is so important to the state. We are a place that lives by our legends and our history."

Sen. Gail Griffin, the senator pushing a two-year rather than 10-year extension, says she wants to make sure that the agency corrects longstanding problems identified in a state audit last fall before giving it a longer life.

"I'm on their side," Griffin, R-Hereford, told me. "The issues that were brought up were serious concerns. I just want to make sure those concerns are taken care of."

The audit noted that the Historical Society needs to do a better job fund raising and managing its collection, problems that were also identified in state audits in 1995 and 1998.

Problems that I'm quite sure will be so much easier, now that the agency faces the possibility of extinction in two years.

The Arizona Historical Society was established in 1864 by the First Territorial Legislature. Arizona's leaders, in those days, understood that they were making history and that it was important to preserve a record of that history.

Among its 1.2 million artifacts are Geronimo's rifle and Wyatt Earp's shotgun and jewelry made in a Japanese-American internment camp in Arizona. There, you can learn about the people, places and events that shaped this state.

For now anyway.

The Historical Society – already by hobbled by budget cuts -- is due to sunset on July 1. After reviewing the agency's sunset audit, a House-Senate committee last fall recommended that it be reauthorized for another 10 years.

The 10-year extension breezed through the House. But Griffin amended the bill in the Senate, to terminate the agency in 2016.

It's now up to the House whether to go along with Griffin's plan.

Trimble, who has volunteered his services as state historian for nearly two decades, called Griffin's proposal "mean-spirited and really severe."

"The historical society doesn't deserve this kind of treatment," he said. "In recent years the Legislature has cut the budget in half and reduced the staff at AHS from 75 to 25 while at the same time insisting on unrealistic accountability on the part of the staff."

He says the historical society is already feeling the effects of Griffin's move. The family of the late Paul Harvey, a radio icon who lived part of each year in Phoenix, was set to donate his papers to the Arizona Historical Society, Trimble says. As a result of the Griffin's move to cut its lifespan to two years, he says the family has put that donation on hold.

He says fund raising also is being affected as donors wonder whether the agency will be around after 2016.

Trimble is hoping the Legislature comes to its senses. But then, he looks at what's happened to the state's parks, which have never recovered from a legislative gutting a few years ago.

"I see a pattern here among some of the people who have power down there," he said. "They think these things are not important. It really saddens me. I broke in as a young historian with John Hays and Joe Lane and Carl Kunasek and Stan Turley. … They really cared about Arizona and I don't feel there are enough of them down there that feel that way anymore."

Sadly, he's right. A lot of our leaders today are ideologues, interested in a good fight with the feds over state's rights.

But the state? Not so much.

Monday, April 7, 2014

Author brings history in Mojave Desert to life

This 1918 photo shows an old Tonopah & Tidewater railcar that was used as a schoolhouse at Tecopa, north of Baker. (Collection of Mark Landis)

By Mark Landis
San Bernardino Sun

The history of the Tonopah and Tidewater Railroad, a nearly forgotten desert mining railroad that carried untold tons of mineral riches from California and Nevada, has been brought to life in a new book by local author Phil Serpico.

A resident of Palmdale, Serpico has been writing books on Southern California’s railroad history since 1988. Serpico’s latest work titled “Tonopah and Tidewater Railroad — The Nevada Shortline” is the author’s 7th book on railroading history.

The book focuses on Francis M. “Borax” Smith and the “no frills” desert railroad he built to carry borax and other minerals from the mines in California and western Nevada, to the mainline railroads and ports in Southern California.

The Tonopah and Tidewater Railroad, better known as the “T & T” spanned 166 miles of the most inhospitable desert territory imaginable, from Ludlow, Calif., north to Gold Center, Nevada.

F.M. Smith (also called Frank) was born on a small farm near Richmond, Wis. in 1846. In the spring of 1867, Smith struck off to find his fortune in the west. His travels took him to the mining districts of western Nevada, where he located a large deposit of high-grade borax in a dry lake bed known as Teel’s Marsh.

Borax didn’t have the glamour of gold, but Smith realized the value of the find, and he began processing the crusty material and shipping it to San Francisco. Frank partnered with his brother Julius, and established the firm of “Smith Brothers” in 1873 to mine and sell borax products.

Smith’s operations expanded dramatically, and in 1886, he incorporated the Pacific Borax Salt & Soda Co. Smith and his competitor William T. Coleman drove the growth of the borax business in the west into one of the region’s must successful mining industries.

Smith eventually purchased Coleman’s bankrupted operations, and in 1890, he formed the Pacific Coast Borax Co.

The borax mines were generally profitable, but they all shared a major problem; remote locations and high transportation costs. The mines were located in desolate places like western Nevada, Death Valley, and the Calico Mountains.

Far removed from any established transportation, the borax freighters were forced to use mule teams to pull huge ore wagons to the railroads in Daggett, Barstow, or Mojave in Kern County. This excruciatingly slow method of transportation evolved into the famous “20 Mule Team” wagon trains. Each of the massive custom-built wagons could carry an impressive 20,000 pounds of ore, but this was still only about one-tenth of a railroad freight car’s capacity.

Smith knew he could increase his profits if he could construct a railroad network to transport the materials from his mines. The railroad would also allow him to tap into the growing freight business of the mining districts in Tonopah and Beatty, Nev.

Construction on Smith’s railroad began in 1905 at Ludlow, a small railroad town on the Santa Fe line, 50 miles east of Barstow. The T & T’s route passed through some of the hottest and driest regions of the Mojave Desert. In October of 1907, the line reached Gold Center, Nev., a small mining town south of Beatty.

Smith gave his railroad the ambitious name of “Tonopah and Tidewater” with the unrealized intention of reaching the port of Los Angeles. When asked about the ambitious name, Smith was quoted as saying; “Broad enough, is it not? It will put some of those railroad people guessing at any rate.”

At Gold Center, the line connected with the existing rails of the Bullfrog and Goldfield Railroad. From here, the T & T was able to reach the mining boom towns of Beatty, Rhyolite, Goldfield, and Tonopah. Smith also built a narrow-gauge railroad from Death Valley Junction on the T & T, to the mining camp of Ryan, located in the southern end of Death Valley.

In addition to hauling borax and minerals from the mines, the T & T became the lifeblood of dozens of small desert communities and mines along the route. By 1910, the western Nevada mining districts had all but played out, and it was only Smith’s borax freight that kept the struggling T & T alive until 1940.

Huge borax deposits were discovered in 1925 near the present-day town of Boron, and the site was located only a short distance from the existing Santa Fe Railroad mainline. This discovery along with other large deposits in the south, made the northern borax mines less profitable, and the T & T withered accordingly.

As the rails were pulled up, the small towns along the way either crumbled away, or struggled to stay alive. The town of Ludlow stayed alive as a stop on Route 66, and still serves travelers on I-40 today.

F.M Smith’s borax empire provided him with a lavish lifestyle, and he became one of the pre-eminent industrialists of his time. His Pacific Coast Borax Co. evolved into the U.S. Borax Co., which was later acquired by the Rio Tinto Group.

Serpico’s 296-page hardbound book details the birth of Smith’s great borax empire, and the collection of rugged individuals who built and operated the supporting railroads. Hundreds of photos, maps, and historic documents illustrate the struggles of working and surviving in harsh desert environments.

For more information on the “Tonopah and Tidewater — Nevada’s Shortline” and Phil Serpico’s other books, go to: www.omnirr.com.