Wednesday, August 26, 2020

3600 miles behind the wheel of a 1929 Model A on Route 66

Phillip Thomas
Hagerty Media

Context is everything, right? For modern traffic, Route 66 is a slow, constricted highway, especially when compared to the interstate highway system. For a 1929 Model A, Route 66 is just the right speed.

Just as time and technology ditched the horse for the horseless carriage, those forces eventually bypassed Route 66 for interstate highways. Communities built along the highway withered while the traffic flow was diverted sometimes hundreds of miles away to newly-built freeways. Priorities for infrastructure had changed and no longer supported aging mining towns and farming communities; instead, Eisenhower and his administration sought to funnel the masses and their goods between metropolises with military efficiency.

Among the forsaken, recession-plagued byways of America, Route 66 became a martyr. Its meandering pavement is synonymous with the mystique of the open road, drawing those who crave an unpredictable journey and delight in driving for driving’s sake. One such scenic traveler is Ryan Tebo, who has been rattling and rumbling across from coast to coast in his 1929 Ford Model A for the past two weeks.

I caught up with Tebo at the Cool Springs Station in western Arizona, a kitschy rest stop on the eastern side of the Black Mountains. The Model A puttered off the road into the parking lot and I leaned on the window frame of the Model A to introduce myself. Tebo had covered 3200 miles thus far, and his attention was fixed on the three-thousand foot pass just ahead. He had been on the road for 11 days, and the push from Gallup, New Mexico to Needles, California, had been among his toughest yet. The temperature highs through the Southwest hovered above 115 degrees, pushing the Model A’s nearly 100-year-old cooling system to its limits. The 30-year-old New Hampshire native behind the wheel was feeling the strain himself: “I have no idea how you guys live out here!”

Well, we drink lots of water. The Model A seemed to agree with this strategy; as we wound up Sitgreaves Pass into Oatman, Arizona, it demanded several stops to refill the radiator, which was constantly boiling over.

In the past month, Tebo’s developed an entirely unexpected cult following in the automotive community. He was nearly two weeks into his road trip when a Facebook page he made for his friends and family to track his trip picked up serious momentum. More and more people began living vicariously through his updates and photos logging each day’s trip and the challenges it brought.

“The people really surprised me—how outgoing they are, and how willing they are to help. I’ve gotten hundreds of messages from the United States and all over the world [from] people that are watching,” he explains.

The story began with his search for a daily-driver early Ford, as Tebo has owned quite a few over the years and had several projects already. He scoured the internet until he stumbled upon this ’29 Model A on Facebook Marketplace.

The Model A had been restored decades prior and served as an older couple’s runabout for several years before it was parked roughly 10 years ago. The flathead four had been rebuilt with a counter-weighted crankshaft, slightly healthier Touring cam, and a higher-compression Brumfield head, which helps it burn today’s higher octane pump gas. Beyond a few other minor tweaks, the ol’ Model A was practically as pure as God and Henry Ford intended. It still had a three-speed manual, drum brakes, and no EFI. Ironically, its sole modern concession, the electronic distributor, represented Tebo’s only real complaint on his cross-country trek; its built-in timing curve isn’t ideal for that particular motor, and it removes the driver’s manual timing controls from the steering wheel.

“I was looking for one that I could just leave outside, not worry about, was pretty good mechanically … and that’s really why I bought this one originally,” Tebo recalls. “It’s a good driver, which is what I look for—I like them pretty much original. I won’t buy one that’s been chopped or anything like that, but I’m not so crazy that it has the right spark plugs in it for the period.”

Even though the idea of taking the Model A cross-country had flitted across his mind, Tebo could never have anticipated the circumstances that would create the opportunity for his cross-continental trek. His primary objective for the Model A was getting it sorted for trips around the Northeast to shows and swap meets; he’d never been beyond Pennsylvania, and he figured the Ford was a great foundation for a road warrior. Once the COVID-19 pandemic cleared his schedule of those planned events, he found himself with a fistful of vacation time and a road-ready Model A.

He spent the first few days getting from New Hampshire to Route 66’s eastern branch, which starts in Chicago. “I was pretty comfortable there because I had driven a different Model A to Hershey, Pennsylvania last year to a swap meet,” Tebo says. “I really didn’t have any part of that section that I hadn’t been on before, but I had to fix the carburetor on the second day.”

The base plate of the carburetor, an aluminum component, had warped and begun to leak between the intake and carb. Tebo managed to use a file and flatten it enough for the time being, “but I didn’t make it too far and I could smell something burning and hear a flapping noise—I lost the fan belt and grabbed the fan belt that I had brought, which was too big … pure stupidity on my part to not double-check beforehand!” After a little self-ribbing, he put the ravaged belt back onto the Model A and limped the car to a parts store in rural Ohio.

Tebo managed to find a suitable replacement at another store, and he decided to stop at Snyder’s Antique Auto Parts to pick up a rebuilt Zenith unit before the old one warped again. On the bright side, Tebo says: “I’ve dealt with [the shop] for years, so it was kinda cool to make the personal connection and go down there.”

The Model A griped only once more, when the exhaust gaskets failed. Tebo managed to replace the upper gaskets, but the lower collector gasket eventually blew out too. There was no chance in hell—or at least, in Staunton, Illinois—of finding another, so he folded aluminum foil until it was thick enough to become a gasket. “I check the exhaust clamp’s tightness every morning now to keep it in check,” he laughs.

From there, the trip westward continued with only minor complaints from the Model A, mostly regarding cooling as it entered the desert mountains. Though the Ford tolerated 55-mph speeds when it had to—specifically, when interstates overlapped with the original route—it was most at home on Route 66’s lower speed limits, which rarely break 45 mph.

As he pulled through each Route 66 town, word began to spread among the shop owners and historians dotting the old highway about this crazy dude driving cross-country in the middle of the summer … in a prewar Ford. With COVID-19 largely reducing tourist travel, this year has been especially tough on the Route 66 community, so the excitement spread quickly.

“I’m from a small town where the main route used to go through our downtown until the interstate came along. Once you lose your traffic, you lose your restaurants, your gas stations—so even though this happened before my time, I guess I feel for the people,” Tebo explains. “I kind of have an understanding of what they go through.”

Tebo managed to complete Route 66 this past weekend, entering Santa Monica with 3600 miles on the odometer. “I was driving through Los Angeles traffic, so I didn’t have a lot of time to think about it, but it felt good that I had made it,” he says. “And it really was bittersweet—not because the trip is over yet, but because I had enjoyed the people on Route 66 and that whole experience.”

Tebo turned north after Santa Monica to chase the Pacific Coast Highway before heading back east along the Oregon Trail—which is where you can catch him now.

Even if you can’t break free of responsibility to tackle thousands of miles of pavement yourself, his trip serves as a reminder of what the fractured two-lane blacktops of yore can teach us. There’s more to the world than what you see on the internet and from the comfort of the interstate. You’ve got to get out there and experience it for yourself. “You watch the news and you think America’s really in a bad spot,” Tebo says. “If I go off what I’ve seen so far, I don’t know where the news is getting their information from.”

Wednesday, January 23, 2019

The coast-to-coast road before it was called Route 66

History buff and author Mark Landis stands on a section of National Old Trails Road, which became the famous Route 66, a part of the original highway system of San Bernardino (Paul Prado)

Paul Prado
Highland Community News

Last week, local history buff Mark Landis provided a history of the Santa Fe and Salt Lake Monument at the Interstate 15 north and Highway 138 junction at Wagon Train Road.

The small stretch of asphalt road that runs along the hillside past McDonald’s has a history unto itself.

“This piece of road is now called Wagon Train Road,” Landis said. “Prior to being Route 66, it was called National Old Trails Road. National Old Trails Road was the very first ocean-to-ocean highway.”

It was opened in 1914.

“It was barely a two-lane dirt road which went across the country from east to west,” said Landis.

There were sections that were paved as it went through cities and towns, but for the most part the National Old Trails Road was a dirt road through the rural sections.

In 1926, the National Old Trails Road became the famous Route 66, which ran from Santa Monica through Chicago, according to Landis.

“Route 66 came through the Cajon Pass by the Interstate 15 north and Highway 138 junction and passed through to San Bernardino,” said Landis.

“It was a major thoroughfare, and a lot of the businesses that grew up in San Bernardino were there to support travel on Route 66, as people traveled through to the west coast,” said Landis.

At a present-day Pacific Crest Trail trailhead, remnants of the National Old Trails Road steel truss bridge rest on both sides of a narrow ravine, called Crowder Creek.

The 12-foot high concrete abutments stand as a reminder of the rugged history of San Bernardino’s original highway system.

Landis believes that the steel truss bridge was used until the 1930s.

“The road that wound around the hill was only narrow enough for one car to travel,” said Landis. “There were only a couple of areas on the road were vehicles could pull over and pass each other.

“The road swung around the bend by the, now, Pacific Crest Trail sign and traversed the land down to San Bernardino.”

The National Old Trails Road went north from the Pacific Crest Trail sign through Crowder Canyon and meandered toward the upper toll house, according to Landis.

“You can see how narrow the road used to be,” said Landis, as he stood on the Pacific Crest Trail. “The folks that traveled it, pretty much, had to stay on the road. They couldn’t bypass the toll house.”

Landis is passionate about the history of the area.

Next week, we will learn how all of this is connected to the famous short-lived Camp Cajon.

To see the concrete remnants of the steel truss bridge of the National Old Trails road, you can go to the Pacific Crest Trail trailhead at 3396, 2800 Wagon Train Road, in Phelan.

Monday, January 21, 2019

Author to offer glimpse of ‘Mojave Road in 1863’

By Matthew Cabe
Victor Valley Daily Press

APPLE VALLEY — Author and photographer Jeff Lapides will be the Mohahve Historical Society’s first guest speaker of 2019 when the group meets this week, according to President Jim Mustra.

Lapides will discuss “The Mojave Road in 1863: The Pioneering Photographs of Rudolph D’Heureuse,” a book he edited that includes a foreword by Dennis Casebier, author of the popular “Mojave Road Guide.”

Lapides’ book is, in part, a collection of all the glass plate negative images taken by the German-born d’Heureuse during his travels on the Mojave Road from the Port of Los Angeles to the Colorado River.

In the book, the 155-year-old images are accompanied by newspaper accounts, and reveal an early and wild Mojave Desert, according to the Mojave Desert Heritage & Cultural Association website. They were produced only 25 years after the invention of photography.

Ansel Adams included some of D’Huereuse’s work in a 1942 exhibit of frontier photographers at the Museum of Modern Art in New York, according to a California Desert Art report. There, D’Heureuse’s photos were seen alongside those of Timothy O’Sullivan, Carleton Watkins, William Henry Jackson and Civil War chronicler Mathew Brady, among others.

The Sierra Madre-based Lapides “stumbled on” D’Heureuse’s photos while completing a separate project, according to the Mohahve Muse, the society’s newsletter. He will share the story behind his find during the meeting, as well.

The Mohahve Historical Society meets at Redeemer Church, located at 22434 Nisqually Road in Apple Valley. Doors open at 6:30 p.m. Thursday, with Lapides’ talk to follow. Refreshments will be available.

Visit for more information.

Thursday, October 25, 2018

The Headless Horseman of Yermo

Headless Horseman of Yermo display (MojaveDesert.Net)

By Matthew Cabe
Victor Valley Daily Press

In October 1965, Don Hughes was busy clearing land in Yermo when he inadvertently unearthed what local historian and author Cliff Walker described as a “highly mineralized axe head” in an article on the Desert Gazette website.

Near the axe, Hughes found part of a jawbone and skull buried in sand. Some 30 feet away, the skeletal remains of a man and horse were also uncovered. The man was seated atop what was left of his steed. Knives stuck out of what was left of him.

The proper officials were notified and an excavation followed. When the papers got wind, the man was dubbed the “Headless Horseman of Yermo.” In a later interview, Hughes said tests dated the bones to about 1850.

Analysis also determined the man was between 21 and 23 years old. He stood 5-feet-2-inches tall.

In a phone conversation with Walker — one that was cut woefully short by bad reception — I learned the initial theories on the horseman’s heritage.

“His teeth were ground down,” Walker said, which led him and others to believe the man was of Native American or Mexican descent. Teeth like his, Walker continued, were a common attribute of “indians and vaqueros” due to a grit-filled diet.

About five years ago, though, the director of the San Bernardino County Museum informed Walker that tests revealed the horseman was not a Native American.

“He could still be a vaquero,” Walker said.

In 1972, the horseman went on display for the first time at the Mojave River Valley Museum in Barstow, but it was in the custody of the county museum and was eventually returned. Rumor has it that the county must locate next of kin. Good luck.

This appears to be a sore spot for Walker. When he chatted with the county museum’s director, he asked about the horseman’s whereabouts. “She wouldn’t tell me,” he said before the line went dead.

Experts offered historical scenarios to explain the man’s grim fate for years after the discovery. Most involved horse thieves. More than 50 years later, much surrounding the “Headless Horseman of Yermo” remains shrouded in mystery.

Sunday, May 6, 2018

Museum explores cultural significance of Route 66

A view of Route 66 in Arizona, circa 1960. HULTON ARCHIVE/GETTY IMAGES

Associated Press

Tens of thousands of people visit the Arizona Route 66 Museum each year, aiming to get a feel for what it was like to take the old highway route that crossed eight states to connect Chicago to the West Coast.

Visitors to the Kingman museum spend hours looking at displays, photographs and life-size dioramas of the groups and events that depict the evolution of the highway that came to fame in the mid-20th century, the Kingman Daily Miner reported.

In his four years volunteering with the museum, T.R. Srigley said he sees just as many foreign tourists as Americans. The diverse appeal of the museum is evidenced by shelves of brochures, which describes the more than 20 exhibits in six different languages.

"It seems to me like a lot of people are from China and Europe. There's an awful lot of them," Srigley said. "They know a lot about Route 66; it's pretty amazing. They know more about Route 66 than the Great Wall of China."

Visitors can see a 1950 Studebaker Champion, originally priced at $1,487. Another exhibit features a rusty old Ford truck loaded with pots and pans, furniture and other worldly belongings of an Oklahoma family fleeing the Dust Bowl, emblematic of the Joad family in John Steinbeck's "The Grapes of Wrath."

The museum, operated by the Mohave Pioneers Historical Society, opened in 2001 and draws about 50,000 visitors each year.

"This really is the museum that helps explain the significance of Route 66 to our culture through the ages," said Josh Noble, Kingman's director of tourism.

The museum is located in the former Kingman Powerhouse, which once lighted the way for early Route 66 travelers, said Shannon Rossiter, director of the Mohave Museum of History and Arts.

The historic building was constructed between 1907 and 1911 to produce power for mines. The facility was mothballed following the construction of the Hoover Dam. It was restored and reopened as a visitors' center in 1997.

Tuesday, March 20, 2018

Mitchell Caverns is a time warp – and that’s why it’s so cool

Inside Mitchell Caverns in Essex, Calif. (Photo: Lance Gerber/DESERT magazine)

Rick Marino,
DESERT [Sun] magazine

Some years back, while I was out exploring the remote stretches of what is left of Route 66 in the remote desert east of Barstow, I happened upon a sign along Essex Road. It pointed to “Mitchell Caverns” but had a “closed” sign underneath it. Fascinated by this discovery, I immediately looked up the caverns, and found they had recently been closed with no date set for reopening. Bummer!

Well, time heals all wounds, as they say, and that it flies – and that it does. Mitchell Caverns is NOW OPEN again after being closed for about seven years for infrastructure upgrades. When you see how remote the caverns are, it makes a lot more sense why improvements would take so long.

Surrounded by Mojave National Preserve, the Providence Mountains State Recreation Area is where the Mitchell Caverns are located. It’s more than 100 miles east of Barstow, about 60 miles west of Needles and 16 miles north of Interstate 40 on Essex Road. At an altitude of 4,300 feet, this location is very remote to say the least. The nearest gas station is 24 miles away to the east in Fenner, or 40 miles west in Ludlow (Grab cheap gas and a classic diner meal at the Ludlow Café!).

Named after Jack and Ida Mitchell (who led tours of the caverns as a Route 66 attraction from 1934 to 1954), the caverns are now part of the state park system. It is essential to have a reservation for tours, which take place Friday through Sunday only. There are only two of them per day, at 11a.m. and 2 p.m.. Each hold a maximum of 15 people. Reservations are NOT available online at this time and must be made by phone to the visitor’s center during the week.

This road trip is a long day-trip unless you are passing through or plan to camp out, so it’s best to get an early start as it is about three hours from the Coachella Valley. After breakfast and fueling up in Twentynine Palms, I take Amboy Road all the way until it ends in Amboy on Route 66. Amboy is sort of a ghost town – home to Roy’s Motel and Café that no longer serves any food – but is now a last chance for gas and cold drinks, snacks and souvenirs. Roy’s is a great place to take photos and is becoming popular with the Instagram crowd. The motel rooms are home to art exhibitions, too.

Down the road is the Amboy Crater, an extinct volcano that you can hike up to and around – best to do this in the wintertime! Right now, Route 66 is closed about 4 miles east of Amboy, so make a left on Kelso Road and head north to Interstate 40 before winding east on the interstate. Take the Essex Road exit and follow the signs all the way to Mitchell Caverns.

The road slowly gains altitude, and the desert plants get thicker and more diverse as does the terrain, all the way up the parking lot. When you arrive at the visitor’s center, a cabin built from rocks and stones which is located in the Mitchells’ original home, you really have to wonder how rugged it must have been to live up here, let alone build out the other buildings as guest quarters and clear a path from the road down below. I learn there is a spring about three-quarters of a mile away, which Jack ran a pipe from for water.

Inside the visitor’s center are many displays showing how the caverns were formed over millions of years as well as those that contain fossils of ancient animals and artifacts of the Chemehuevi tribe that have been using the caverns for approximately 1,000 years. Check in with the ranger to pay your fee and the trip to the caverns begins.

Ranger Andy Fitzpatrick has been working at the caverns for a couple years and knows everything you could ever think to ask about the place. The trail to the caverns is about a half-mile hike, pretty level and very easy, and the view is worth the drive alone. On a clear day, you can see all the way to Arizona!

Along the way, there are a few prospecting holes that Jack mined looking for silver back in the day. As you round the bend, you see the entrance to the caves looking at you, the “Eyes of the Mountain,” Andy says is the Chemehuevi name. Crossing the footbridge over a ravine, above your head are ancient pinyon pine, junipers and scrub oaks in the canyon below the red rocks of Fountain Peak.

At the entrance, ranger Andy asks if I have been in any cave systems recently or if anything I am wearing has been. There is a fungal disease, White Nose Syndrome, affecting bats that has been spreading across the country over the years. With a firm “NO” we walk in, and it is every bit of awesome that I imagined.

First off, the temperature is a cool and perfect 65 degrees (always, I’m told), and the formations cover every inch of the place. It feels like drips of molten wax – like an ancient candelabra, just bigger! LED lights are part of the renovation and are perfectly placed to get the maximum effect. We follow a concrete pathway (keep in mind there are some stairs here and there), stopping in different areas while the ranger shows and tells about the many different features we are seeing. Turns out, we find a bat hibernating!

We also look and look for two different albeit tiny insects, a Niptus beetle and a pseudo scorpion (kind of like a land crab) that are found nowhere else on earth but here in the caverns. (Don’t worry, they are only about an eighth of an inch in size!) I am bummed we do not find any this trip.

There are two large main caves: El Pakiva (The Devil’s House) is at the entrance and Tecopa, named after a Shoshonean chief, is at the exit. The trail inside is only about a quarter-mile, and there are some narrow passages between some of the areas, but none of it bothered me at all. I was worried it would! There are several different formations you will see – all are spectacular. My favorite is when a black light brings the texture of the cave to life.

These are the only limestone caves in the California state park system, I learn, with the oldest rocks. The quick and easy explanation of how the caverns got here is this: Think 300 million years ago, a warm shallow sea covered the area, and tiny shells and corals piled up to create limestone layers. Between earth movement and wet and dry periods, the caverns were created and drip, drip, drips over those millions of years carrying calcified water created stalactites from above to the stalagmites below. Some even meet to form large columns!

After coming back out, I understand how and why the Mitchells sought to share this with the everyone – I would, too. Well, I guess I just did! After all, it’s just a road trip away.

Monday, November 6, 2017

Palm Desert 'wave' house hoping to be preserved, but city and historical society can't agree on how

Miles Bates House, Palm Desert 1955. (Photo: Historical Society of Palm Desert)

Sherry Barkas
The Desert Sun

A mid-century modern house with a unique “wave” roof may be eligible for a listing on the National Register of Historic Places, but the city of Palm Desert – which owns the structure – says such a designation would cause costly renovation restrictions that could deter potential buyers.

The house, which was extensively renovated by previous owners, was purchased by the city’s former redevelopment agency in 2007 as part of a plan to expand the nearby Joslyn senior center. The state dismantled the redevelopment agencies in 2011 and, in meeting dissolution mandates set by the state, the city’s Successor Agency must sell the property.

Palm Desert officials want to find a buyer for the house, designed by architect Walter S. White for artist Miles C. Bates in 1954-55, who will restore and preserve it. But The Palm Desert Historical Society wants something more: A national landmark designation that would prohibit demolition and strictly control any changes to the unique structure, with its distinctive rippling roof.

While Palm Desert officials say they support locally registering the house as a historic site, the far more restrictive national designation could prove costly to future owners.

“Experts as well as staff don’t feel that the national listing will serve preservation of the house in that the rigid rules to restore it to its exact original condition is not financially viable,” Public Works Director Mark Greenwood recently told members of the city council.

He added that any application for a historic designation should be left to the house’s future owner.

“The city of Palm Desert is committed to creating the best opportunity for a buyer with the skills, knowledge and ability to acquire and renovate the house,” Greenwood said. “The city will support the buyer’s efforts to list the house on the National Register, if they choose to do so. The good news is that significant interest in the home has already been shown by the modernism community.”

Historical Society board secretary Merilee Colton, who has helped lead the effort for the national recognition, was disappointed to learn that the council, acting as the city’s RDA Successor Agency, voted 4-1 to object to the nomination for historical listing. Councilwoman Susan Marie Weber recused herself because she is on the historical society board.

“I am aware that some of the staff do not believe the national designation would be helpful,” said Colton, who was out of town when the item was presented to the council on Oct. 26. “There can be disagreement on city vs. national designation, but it is clear that national designation carries more weight and city designation allows, per the guidelines, for the city council to reverse a recommendation to preserve the house, should it choose to do so.”

The Historical Society’s national registration application will continue, even if the city’s Successor Agency does not agree, the house will still qualify for listing as a nationally-designated structure, she said.

The Historical Society, Colton said, “will continue to work with the city to try to find the right buyer for the Bates house, and we will continue to support national designation for this important work by a master architect.”

Barbara Lamprecht, who is preparing the national designation application for the historical society, said there is no reason “restoration” must be followed. She suggested following the secretary of the interior’s standards for rehabilitation rather than restoration.

Doing so would mean the primary character or defining features of a structure would be preserved and restored but other elements could be changed, Lamprecht said.

The state historic preservation officer could control restoration and preservation efforts if placed on the national register, Greenwood said.

Local historic designation would allow the Successor Agency to retain control through the city’s current ordinances, he said.

The city opened the Bates house for tours during last month’s Modernism Week Preview and it generated a lot of interest, Mayor Jan Harnik said.

“I think we’re going in the right direction” following staff’s recommendation, she said.

Friday, September 8, 2017

Mitchell Caverns in Eastern Mojave reopening in November

California State Park officials have announced that remote Providence Mountains State Recreation Area and its popular Mitchell Caverns in the eastern Mojave Desert will reopen November 3 after nearly seven years. The recreation area will initially be open Friday through Sunday. (COURTESY OF CALIFORNIA STATE PARKS)

The Press-Enterprise

Popular Mitchell Caverns in the eastern Mojave Desert’s Providence Mountains will re-open on a limited schedule in early November, a state park official said Friday, Sept. 8.

Providence Mountains State Recreation Area between Barstow and Needles – and its limestone caves — have been closed since January 2011 over infrastructure issues, including a bad well.

Park officials are hiring, while fans of the caverns, one of only two public “show caves” in Southern California, are rejoicing via social media.

State parks’ Tehachapi District Acting Superintendent Russ Dingman said he was thrilled to announce the re-opening, which comes in time for the fall busy season.

“I think it’s one of the hidden jewels of the state parks department,” he said.

The remote park will be open for day use only from 8 a.m. Friday through Sunday and on holidays starting Nov. 3 until more staff is hired.

Two tours will be offered daily, at 11 a.m. and 2 p.m.

The campground is expected to open in about six months. The closest campground is nearby Hole-In-The-Wall Campground in Mojave National Preserve. There also are motels in Barstow and Needles, Dingman said.

Park officials are now hiring seasonal park aides and maintenance aides.

State park officials had hoped to reopen the state recreation area in May or June. That was delayed until a septic tank could be replaced and trail work finished after the heat of summer passed.

For more information, check out or call 760-928-2586.

Preserving local history in Daggett

The old Stone Hotel in Daggett will become home of the new Daggett Museum. (James Quigg, Daily Press)

By Davina Fisher
Desert Dispatch

DAGGETT — After a 13-year hiatus, the Daggett Historical Society is planning on opening the Daggett Museum by the end of this year.

In 2004, the museum made national headlines after thieves made off with several Native American artifacts — one of which included a basket appraised at $3,500. The museum has been closed ever since.

Fast forward to 2017. The Daggett Historical Society has been making efforts to revamp significant buildings in town, including the museum.

“We’ve spent the last two years rebuilding and getting it ready for open-to-the-public status,” said the current president of the Daggett Historical Society, Daryl Schendel. “The purpose of the museum and the society is to not only preserve the history, but to make available to people the significance of Daggett and people who have lived there.”

In the late 1800s, Daggett was a major transportation and supply center for mining districts — most notably the town of Calico, which produced over $20 million in silver ore over a 12-year span. Rich silver deposits were found in the Calico Mountains six miles north of Daggett and in 1882 the Calico camp began to boom as the Silver King mine came into full production. During this time, mills and processing plants were constructed on the Mojave River near Daggett.

In 1888, the Calico railroad was built to connect the mine with the Santa Fe main line at Daggett in order to more efficiently move the ore from mine to mill. In 1891, more than 100 tons of ore from the Silver King mine and 50 tons from the Waterloo mine were hauled daily to be processed at the Oro Grande Milling company near Daggett.

During this same period the borax rush, in 1883, hit Calico. By 1902, Daggett was supported by three borax mines employing 200 men and had three stores, three saloons, two Chinese restaurants, a railroad, a drug store, a lumber yard, and the old Stone Hotel. The production of borax in San Bernardino County was at its peak in the year 1902, when the total value was just over $2 million. It has been estimated that borax taken out of the Calico Hills had a value of more than $9 million.

The museum has photos, tools and clothing on display to tell Daggett’s story.

“In each display cabinet there is something new unique,” said Schendel. “History on John Daggett, the river, fish pond, the stamp mill, the Daggett ditch — all things that played a big part in the area.”

The museum will initially be open on a limited basis, once a week. The Daggett Historical Society also plans to hold events at the museum. There isn’t an admission fee, but donations will be accepted.

“More stories are coming out since a lot of the families that live there are direct descendents of the pioneers of the town,” said Schendel. ” We want to bring back Daggett’s significance and history before it’s lost totally.”

For more information about Daggett, visit

Thursday, July 13, 2017

Another glass of Mexican wine

Snow-packed streets in Victorville lead to the Stewart Hotel in this undated photo. It was here where silent film actor William S. Hart convalesced in the winter of 1920 while members of his crew purloined Mexican wine from a stopped Santa Fe freight train. (Courtesy of Mohahve Historical Society and Victor Valley College)

By Matthew Cabe
Victorville Daily Press

In a late-blooming but wildly fruitful film career, William S. Hart established himself as an actor who portrayed cowboys with authenticity and integrity, both unwavering.

A Broadway actor with Shakespearean chops who first performed on stage in 1888, Hart was 49 when he starred in his first silent Western, “His Hour of Manhood,” in 1914.

Hart’s Westerns were informed by his childhood. Though born in Newburgh, New York — a still-small town on the Hudson River, 125 miles south of where the horses run track in Saratoga Springs — Hart’s formative years were spent in the rural Midwest with ranchers, Civil War vets, outlaws, gold prospectors and saloon proprietors.

And so he saw the Old West differently from what had been depicted on screen in the early dawn of motion pictures.

According to a bio on the Hart Museum website, his films are distinguished by “gritty realism,” and Hart is credited for creating the “good bad guy” role — immoral characters who find the path of “clean, honest living.”

The persona melded with the man; Hart is remembered as a philanthropic gentleman, a proponent of clean living. But a tale from Prohibition-era Victorville hidden within the pages of his memoir, “My Life East and West,” humorously challenges that notion.

In the winter of 1920, the 56-year-old Hart spent a day in an icy Sacramento River filming scenes for “White Oak,” released the following year by Paramount Pictures. The nearly frozen river proved costly.

“I should have gone to bed; instead of that we went to Victorville for our desert scenes,” Hart wrote. “The river scenes were only the start of the story, but they came mighty near finishing it, for at Victorville my sister Mary made me smoke that little glass cigarette and it registered one hundred and three.”

Poor Hart was laid up in the Stewart Hotel on D Street for three days with pneumonia. He received care from Harris Garcelon — the region’s only doctor — who introduced the actor to the Victor Valley years before, according to historian Dr. Edward Leo Lyman.

Meanwhile, Hart’s “company could not work” without their star, so they bummed around the city, loitering in Forrest Park.

This idleness led to an unexpected discovery of what Hart described as “ninety-seven million gallons of the finest Mexican wine” stowed in one of the rail cars of a stopped Santa Fe freight train.

“Where was it going, I don’t know,” Hart wrote. “I only know it never arrived there, and that through the medium of several short pieces of garden hose, enough wine was siphoned out of that oil car to irrigate the Mojave Desert.”

Alcohol was illegal and all, but illegalizing anything rarely gives pause to those in want. Hart’s boys scrambled for buckets, milk pans, garbage pails and washtubs, brimmed their receptacles and went on a two-day bender, transforming city streets into a “public dance-hall.”

“The more timid citizens telephoned to San Bernardino, forty miles away, for help,” Hart wrote. “The sheriff and twenty deputies, all armed to the teeth, arrived on a special train. They did not need guns. They needed many husky men and many stretchers.

“The merrymaking had ended. Every foot of available space outside or inside at Victorville was occupied by a sleeping cowboy. The courthouse was full — the jail was full. Nothing was sacred to those Bacchanalian inebriates.”

Hart wasn’t guiltless, though. He too partook and did so in front of Walter A. Shay, who served as San Bernardino County’s sheriff from 1918 to 1931.

“The sheriff was a real sheriff; no one had been harmed, no damage had been done,” Hart wrote. “He returned with his deputies to San Bernardino.”

I’ve been told of contraband liquor in Victorville. Of sweat-browed men pushing barreled booze through underground tunnels as unwitting citizens walked the streets above.

On Richard Thompson’s Mojave History website, I’ve read about Guy Wadsworth, a notorious Oro Grande bootlegger, who peddled “turtle juice” and “would rather make one dollar illegally than two legally.”

I’ve seen the Mohahve Historical Society’s photograph of deputies confiscating crates of rotgut.

But the revelry of Hart’s crew forced the issue into broad daylight, proving powers that be don’t always believe in whatever asinine law they’re sworn to uphold.

Dr. Lyman called the moment “the most hilarious and unbelievable ... episode of the town’s history.”

I call it one hell of a good time.

Monday, July 3, 2017

African-American homesteaders once farmed the Mojave Desert

This advertisement ran in several Los Angeles newspapers in 1910 encouraging African-American men and their families to go to the eastern Mojave for opportunities in both mining and agriculture. It appeared May 1, 1910.

By Joe Blackstock
Inland Valley Daily Bulletin

“An Appeal to Colored Men” was the bold message of opportunity in an advertisement in a Los Angeles newspaper on May 1, 1910.

It spoke of a mining and agricultural colony planned by, and for, African-Americans in far eastern San Bernardino County by the Eldorado Gold Star Mining Co.

The chance to have their own land and leave behind some of the pains of prejudice convinced the family of young Richard W. Hodnett, along with a few dozen others, to give up the trappings of “civilization” for a hard life in the desert.

More than a century ago, they settled in the Lanfair Valley, a hardscrabble desert wilderness almost to the Nevada line. Homesteaders — both black and white — could become landowners if they were tough enough to endure that area’s hardships and improve their land for three years.

The story of this exodus of African-Americans from places such as Whittier, Los Angeles and Long Beach had mostly faded from memory until unearthed by Dennis G. Casebier, founder of the Mojave Desert Heritage and Cultural Association in the hamlet of Goffs, 15 miles south of Lanfair on old Route 66.

His research, including oral histories taken from about 900 former eastern Mojave Desert families, showed that racial problems were relatively infrequent among Lanfair’s homesteaders, who perhaps realized they had to work together to overcome the challenges the desert presented them every day.

Hodnett, who died in Riverside in 2003, was an infant when his family escaped to the Los Nietos area of Whittier from Catcher, Arkansas, a racially charged community where they and other African-Americans were very unwelcome, Casebier said. Shortly thereafter, his father visited Lanfair and sent for his family to join him on 160 acres at an elevation of about 4,000 feet.

“My father would tell me how beautiful the country was, how there was land up there that could be worked up,” recalled Hodnett, during an oral history given to Casebier in 1999. “He liked farming and getting all that land up there for homesteading.”

The idea of opportunity for the Hodnetts and other African-Americans was first described in the Los Angeles Herald of April 24, 1910, by Howard Folke, vice president of Eldorado Gold Star, a wholly African-American company with mining interests in nearby Searchlight, Nevada.

In the article, Folke outlined an ambitious plan to create a “Tuskegee Institute West” to teach African-Americans the skills of mining as well as agriculture in the spirit of “the great work of Booker T. Washington in making practical farmers of thousands of young men of his race.”

The San Bernardino Sun on Jan. 10, 1911, wrote that “a veritable agricultural empire” was being created under the direction of G.W. Harris, a Pasadena minister, and Folke. What is still unclear is the actual purpose of Folke and the mining company in encouraging black families to join the Lanfair Valley colony, which was largely on public land open to homesteading.

Hodnett said he believed it was Folke who urged his father to not only leave Arkansas but later pull up stakes in Whittier and head for the eastern Mojave.

By early 1911, six African-American families had settled in the Lanfair Valley, according to Casebier. The Sun article said one black settler, William Jones of Whittier, had already sowed 80 acres of winter wheat.

Casebier said initially the homesteaders in the Lanfair area were mostly spread into two communities.

The original site of Lanfair, the meeting place and post office for most of its white settlers, was a couple of miles west of the railroad line that ran between Goffs and Searchlight. A post office for the African-American settlers at the Lanfair railroad siding was known as Dunbar, which Casebier guesses was named for African-American poet Paul Laurence Dunbar, who had died in 1906.

The two settlements later merged at Dunbar, with two post offices briefly operated in the same building. The Dunbar post office, whose postmaster was Folke, closed in May 1914 after 18 months of operation.

It was hardly easy living for the settlers, some of whom probably had little in the way of farming experience. They regularly faced the extremes of winter cold and summer heat, not to mention the isolation of an area reached only by railroad and many miles of dirt roads.

To educate the children of the area, the county formed the Lanfair School District on Jan. 13, 1913, later building a school there.

One white woman who was a student at the Lanfair School told Casebier she really never recalled any discrimination against the black children there. “They were kids to me,” she said. “I didn’t care whether they were pink, red or white.”

It wasn’t all perfect, though, as oral histories indicated that an informal white “social club” created for parties and dances did exclude their African-American neighbors.

In their first full year, the new homesteaders of the Lanfair Valley were welcomed by a winter of abundant rainfall, a godsend that proved to be the exception rather than the rule.

“It rained a lot of up there in Lanfair in that year, and in the spring, as far as you could see, was golden poppies all over the valley,” recalled Hodnett. “It rained so much up there (my father) could grow a good crop of grass and barley, oats and corn.”

That first year, ranchers, most without wells, produced a relative abundance of crops, part of which was shipped by train and sold in Searchlight and at neighboring mines.

The Hodnetts, living a couple of miles east of the Lanfair station, also had cows, horses, mules and chickens. Followers of the Seventh-day Adventist Church, family members were largely vegetarians, growing much of their food in a large garden. Occasionally, they would kill a cow or turkey to supplement their diet.

“We weren’t too pressed for money. There wasn’t much in the way of necessities to buy up there,” said Hodnett, who as an adult would operate a nursery for many years in Riverside. To help out the family, his mother worked several days a week at a hotel south of them in Goffs.

But after that first wet winter, nature returned things to normal in the east Mojave. Rainfall was an all-too-infrequent visitor for the homesteaders.

The Hodnetts set out many rain gutters, barrels and troughs to collect everything from each storm when it did arrive. They quickly learned never to waste a drop of water — even laundry water was collected and later poured on plants in the garden.

When things got especially dry, Hodnett said his family took their wagon out to remote watering sites to fill barrels to supplement their supply.

But despite all the challenges, many succeeded. Casebier has documented 24 African-American families, including the Hodnetts, who made it through the required three-year period and “proved up their land” to gain ownership. It is “remarkable for what it says about their persistence and their success in this difficult land,” he wrote in an article for the National Parks Service.

But it also appears that few truly wanted to make the rugged Lanfair Valley a permanent home and soon starting moving out. As an example, 64 voters participated in the 1916 presidential election in the Lanfair precinct, but by the 1924 election, there were only 27 registered voters. Seven residents cast ballots there in 1932, all for Franklin Roosevelt.

Hodnett said his father later moved the family to a farm near Needles (“The first time I experienced prejudice”) and later to Blythe.

“After he proved up the land, it was his,” Hodnett said. “But most people left there because it didn’t rain well. It was too arid up there.”

Hodnett told Casebier his family held onto the Lanfair land for many years after his father’s death, but eventually a decision was made to stop paying property taxes and give up ownership.

As the homesteaders gradually moved out, the area mostly reverted to desert rangeland for cattle. Today’s Lanfair Valley, now in the Mojave National Preserve, is not much different from the way it looked when African-American families first arrived to make a go at desert farming.

Casebier said one of the most interesting experiences he had while living in Goffs was to meet up with a very elderly Hodnett and his family in December 2000. During their interview a year before, Casebier had offered to take him to Lanfair.

“His family had gone to ‘grandpa’ and asked what he wanted for Christmas,” said Casebier, now a resident of Bullhead City, Arizona. “He said he wanted them to take up my offer” and have him guide them to the desert area of his youth.

A large group arrived in Goffs just after Christmas, and Casebier directed them to the long-abandoned site of Lanfair and Dunbar along the still-unpaved Lanfair Road. About all that remained was pieces of the school foundation — and a lot of memories.

“Seeing him on the steps of the Lanfair School, where he was a student in the late teens, was so culturally uplifting for me,” Casebier said.

Continuing research into the African-American homesteaders in the Mojave is being undertaken in a three-year study by a team under the direction of David R. Nichols, park archaeologist of the Mojave National Preserve.

Tuesday, June 27, 2017

Wind machine predated iconic desert turbines

Dew Oliver’s Wind Turbine in the eastern San Gorgonio Pass, circa 1927. Wind would enter the large opening to the right and funnel through a series of fans in the smaller cylinder, all turning electrical generators.


When anyone travels between Banning and Palm Springs, he is struck by the seemingly thousands of wind-generating turbines that mar the view of the upper Coachella Valley.

Most of these date to the 1980s and 1990s, but they are not the first such venture to try to tame the wind for energy production.

For that, we must go back to 1926.

In that year, a failed Seal Beach land speculator named Dew Oliver came through the Whitewater area. Convinced he could turn wind into electricity, Oliver traversed the eastern San Gorgonio Pass looking for a location with the strongest and most constant source of wind.

He found such a point on the A. J. Warner ranch just north of the present-day I-10, about half a mile west of the Whitewater exit.

In late 1926, he began construction of Oliver’s Wind Machine.

The machine was basically a 50-foot-long, 12-foot-diameter metal cylinder mounted on a turntable to take advantage of the shifting winds. On the windward side, a large funnel opening to about 50 feet in diameter was secured to the cylinder to funnel the wind into the machine.

In 1955, Harry James interviewed a few local ranchers who had witnessed Oliver’s machine in operation, and they stated that he had generated about 20 horsepower with his “Rube Goldberg contraption.”

However, Oliver’s brush with alternative energy was very short-lived.

First of all, the generator was about 12 miles from Banning and 9 miles from Palm Springs, the nearest population centers at the time. Even if Oliver had generated a substantial amount of power, most of it would have been lost in the transmission lines going to either place.

But the real killer of the project was Oliver himself.

Oliver was a slick salesman, offering himself up as a rich Texas financier. When it looked like his machine would work, he applied for a license to begin selling stock in an energy company.

However, he sold the stock before the license was issued, which got him in trouble.

Hauled into court in Riverside in 1930, Oliver was tried and convicted of fraud and selling securities without a license. He served six months in jail, and then left the area with no trace.

Oliver died in August 1949 in Los Angeles, never realizing his dream.

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Signs of the past to help make Kingman historical today

The “Entering El Trovatore” sign has reappeared on Route 66 in Kingman. (Photo: SCOTT DUNTON)

By Hubble Ray Smith
Kingman Daily Miner

KINGMAN – For the first time since the 1940s, the “Entering El Trovatore” sign is casting a bluish glow on Route 66, one of several sign restoration projects funded by Route 66 Association of Kingman to give visitors a sense of the town’s place in history.

It once stood on Chadwick Drive, which carried traffic on the National Old Trails Highway from 1921 to 1926. The new roadway was cut through El Trovatore Hill and the sign was installed around 1936.

It’s now displayed on Andy Devine Avenue, just east of the city’s famous water tanks.

Route 66 Association of Kingman accepted the sign as a donation from the Mohave Museum of History and Arts.

It also acquired the mid-1950s Brandin’ Iron Motel sign, an old Conoco gas station sign and a Desert Drug sign from around 1935, which are next on the installation list.

The signs have been refurbished in partnership with Legacy Signs.

The Route 66 group assists local businesses with sign restoration, art projects, facade renovations and graffiti removal.

“We have done these in conjunction with property owners, the museum, the city,” said Scott Dunton, local businessman and president of Route 66 Association of Kingman. “They pay part, we pay part personally.

“The museum and city pitched in all in an effort to make Kingman beautiful and something we will all be proud of.”

Established in 1994, Route 66 Association of Kingman has more than 130 members who are passionate about leading a revitalization effort in the downtown business district and along the famous highway.

“We need a historic city, all of Kingman, not just downtown, that people want to come to weekly,” Dunton said. “And come to stay and see the wonderful things you can (see) driving to and from Kingman.”

Recent projects include refurbishment of signage and murals at Mohave Museum of History and Arts, restoration of symbols and lettering on the historic Masonic Lodge, and restoration of a circa 1914 street lamp at the 1903 Elks Lodge.

A sign designed by Scott McCoy, listing the cities noted in the song, “Get Your Kicks on Route 66,” was created and donated to the City of Kingman with assistance from Laron Engineering.

Route 66 Association of Kingman hosts a monthly mixer at member businesses in partnership with the Promote Kingman initiative.

It also sets up receptions and special events for tours led by Japanese, German, Dutch, Brazilian, Canadian and Czech Route 66 associations.

Dunton is playing up Kingman’s ties to the historic highway. His father, Roy, began working at Gold Road garage on Route 66 in 1938.

Roy Dunton’s uncle, N.R. Dunton, owned the garage and built Cool Springs in late 1926. The family established Dunton Motors, now a classic vehicle dealership and restoration business, in 1946. Roy is the “D” in Mr. D’z Route 66 Diner.

Thursday, April 20, 2017

The Snake Oil Salesman of Zzyzx

Lake Tuendae at the Cal State University Desert Studies Center at Zzyzx.

Commentary by Linda Castro

The sign for exit 239 on Interstate 15, six miles southwest of Baker, says “Zzyzx Road.” Have you ever gotten off at that exit to explore? Have you wondered what is down that road?

First, you might be wondering how to pronounce this strange word. Zzyzx is pronounced “Zī – zĭx,” with the emphasis on the first syllable. Zzyzx is a made-up word.

The Zzyzx area has had human inhabitants since prehistoric times due to the spring (Soda Springs) and Soda Lake, now a dry lake bed. Projectile points and rock art have been found in the area.

The Mojave Road runs near Zzyzx. The road began as a trail used by Native Americans, Spanish missionaries, explorers and settlers in the 18th and 19th centuries. The land passed into U.S. hands in 1848, and in early 1858 what had become known as the Mohave Trail became the Mojave Road, a wagon road that connected with other significant trails such as the Santa Fe Trail.

In 1859, the Mojave Road came under the purview of the U.S. military. Army posts were established along the route to protect settlers and travelers from the attacks of the resident Paiute, Mojave and Chemehuevi peoples until 1871. This also opened the way for large mining development in the Mojave Desert region of San Bernardino County. The Tonopah and Tidewater Railroad, built in the early 1900s to carry ore from the California deserts to ports in the Los Angeles area, also had a station in the area named Soda Springs.

All of this history is similar to that of many other places in California’s desert. However, in 1944, this area was used for a rather unusual purpose: a health spa.

Curtis Howe Springer opened the Zzyzx Mineral Springs and Healing Center in 1944 at this location, which was federal land, after filing dubious mining claims for about 12,000 acres surrounding the springs. He gave the area the made-up name of Zzyzx, claiming it to be the last word in the English language.
Springer was a self-professed medical doctor and Methodist minister, but he did not hold a license to be either. He was a radio evangelist in Pennsylvania in the 1930s, and he used that platform to convince his faithful followers to move to Zzyzx so they could begin a utopian way of living with an abundance of miracle cures.

Once Springer decided upon the location of his utopian desert healing center, he began to recruit laborers to carry out his dream. He would drive a bus to Skid Row in Los Angeles to find recruits and promise them food and shelter in exchange for work. Some of the workers quit upon learning of the policy prohibiting alcohol, but many stayed for years.Springer promoted his healing center on his syndicated religious radio show and asked listeners for donations for his miracle cures. The miracle elixirs were marketed as the cure for everything from hemorrhoids to cancer. Springer’s most popular potion was one that he claimed cured baldness: Mo-Hair. After users rubbed Mo-Hair onto their scalps, they were instructed to bend over and hold their breath for as long as possible. When the blood rushed to their head from lack of oxygen, Springer would claim that their red faces proved his miracle potion was working.

For the next 30 years, hundreds of visitors came to Springer’s spa in search of a healthier lifestyle. But Springer’s scheming business practices would eventually catch up to him.

Springer attempted to sell land adjacent to Zzyzx, despite the fact he did not own the land. This, along with lawsuits brought against him by disgruntled users of Mo-Hair, eventually brought government attention to him and to Zzyzx. The Bureau of Land Management evicted Springer and his followers and reclaimed the land in 1974.

Since 1976, the BLM has allowed the California State University to operate its Desert Studies Center at the site of the old spa. A consortium of CSU campuses uses the area for their study of the desert. The buildings and pond developed by Springer are still there today.

Zzyzx is open to the public. Exit at Zzyzx Road and travel on the road for about five miles along the western shore of Soda Dry Lake until the road ends at a parking lot. You can stroll around Lake Tuendae and along the shore of Soda Dry Lake. If classes are in session, please be courteous and do not disturb participants.

Zzyzx is now also included in the Mojave National Preserve, established in 1994.

Zzyzx is a short detour off of Interstate 15 and is a quirky part of California’s desert history.

Friday, March 24, 2017

Man caught selling thousands of dollars' worth of stolen Nevada Museum Antiques on Ebay

Beatty Museum, Beatty, Nevada.
by Faith Jessie

LAS VEGAS — Beatty, NV, also known as the gateway to Death Valley, sits about a 100 miles northwest of Las Vegas.

The history of the town is told through the items that sit in its museum.

One piece of that history is glass bottles from the Friends of Rhyolite collection. It dates back to the early 1900's when Rhyolite, NV once thrived from the mining industry.

Diane McGinnis presides over the museum's Board of Directors and was surprised when a thief stole some of the antique bottles from the museum to make a profit.

"One of the other community members noticed that they had some stolen products on Ebay," said McGinnis
The Nye County Sheriff's department says the man behind the online sale of the stolen items from the community was 57-year-old Johnny Salisbury.

"They looked at his postings saw that he has the glass bottles and figured you know, we know where those came from," said McGinnis.

Salisbury was arrested by Sheriffs on Monday for stealing the bottles and other property valued at over $2,500.
Mark Hall-Patton, who spends a fair amount of his time with historic objects, says these pieces are valuable to collectors.

"Bottle collectors especially in the old west, what they are looking for are bottles from ghost towns, bottles from places where people are no longer living in, there are no businesses anymore," said Mark Hall-Patton, Administrator Clark County Museum System. "Rhyolight [sic] died fairly early, but the town site is still there and it's one of those towns that really has an image in Western History.

It's a part of history that everyone will be able to see. The bottles are now back where they belong and will be on display this summer at the Beatty Museum.

Thursday, February 2, 2017

Mojave Desert Archives — Virtual Tour —

The Mojave Desert Archives is housed in the Dennis G. Casebier Library, a state-of-the-art archival repository built in the image of the historic Goffs Santa Fe Railway Depot (1902-1956). This 6,000 square-foot building was made possible by a grant from the California Cultural and Historical Endowment and the membership of the Mojave Desert Heritage and Cultural Association (MDHCA).

The entrance to the Library is through the green door, just to the right of the old baggage cart and platform (below) in the two-story part of the building.

Upon entering the Library Reading Room, visiting researchers are greeted by staff and provided with an orientation on Archives rules and procedures. The large library table (below) is is where the researcher will set up, receive requested materials, and conduct their study. (Click on image to see full-size)

This wide view of the Reading Room (below) shows the location of the staff station on the right side of the room. The microfilm reader station is located in between the library table (center) and the staff station. Bookcases containing oral history transcripts and reference books line the walls.

Between the microfilm reader and staff stations is the Archives Citation bookcase. There are more than 130 titles assembled on the shelves in which the Mojave Desert Archives are referenced. The types of publications making up this collection are scholarly theses, historical monographs, government reports, and the in-house publications of the MDHCA. This output is the most visible representation of how the Mojave Desert Archives gives back to our community.

Inside the low and long one-story portion of the Library building, called the Freight House, is where the stacks of the repository are stored. The Freight House is divided into two equally sized rooms. Below is the north room. The file cabinets contain our Subject Files, processed manuscript collections, microfilm, pamphlets, and periodicals, such as a full set of Desert Magazine.

The north room has a scanning station for photographic and microform materials (below). This equipment is typically used to fulfill reference requests for long-distance researchers.

The north Freight House also houses the server rack for the Archives (below). This system runs ArchivesSpace, a web-based archives information management system, used to organize the collections of the Mojave Desert Archives and to develop collection guides for upload to the Online Archive of California. The digital assets of the collections are also preserved and backed up here. [Systems gifted by Smile Brands, Inc., Irvine, California.]

The north Freight House is also home to a small exhibit of framed photographic enlargements from the O. A. Russell Photograph Collection and vintage World War I and II war bond posters.

Interpretive graphic for the O. A. Russell photo exhibit (below).

The south Freight House contains both processed and unprocessed collections. The record storage racks (below) contain accessioned materials that are awaiting arrangement and description. The major collections stored here are those of desert writers Harold and Lucile Weight, San Bernardino County researcher Germaine Moon, and desert land activist Hildamae Voght.

The long tables in the lower right portion of the image below provide an excellent work space for handling oversized materials or for beginning the process of organizing materials from the record storage boxes.

The south Freight House is also home to flat files containing the 7,000 historical maps of the Mojave Desert Archives.

We hope you have enjoyed this virtual tour of the Mojave Desert Archives. In-person tours are typically led by the Archivist at the annual Mojave Road Rendezvous, held at the Goffs Cultural Center in early fall. Thank you!

Tuesday, January 31, 2017

Marta Becket, who made Amargosa Opera House famous, dies at 92

Marta Becket on February 8, 1993 in the Amargosa Opera House, Death Valley Junction. (Mary Walter Scodwell)


A flat tire brought classically trained dancer Marta Becket to Death Valley Junction, California, in 1967.

Nothing could ever make her leave.

For decades, the artist and performer put on one-woman shows inside the Pacific Coast Borax Co.’s old community hall, which she transformed with her paint brush and her passion into the weird and world-famous Amargosa Opera House.

Becket died Monday at her home in the near-ghost town of Death Valley Junction, according to Inyo County deputy coroner Jeff Mullenhour. She was 92.

Susan Sorrells, who owns the nearby town of Shoshone, California, and knew Becket throughout her time in the desert, said she will remember Marta for her talent and generosity, her sense of humor and her deep love of animals — from her small army of pet cats to the herds of wild horses and burros she fed and ferociously protected near her home.

The world will remember Marta for what she created, Sorrells said. “Her art really came first. She was extremely dedicated to her art to the point where she could become something of a hermit.”

Becket was born Aug. 9, 1924, in New York City, where she grew up studying dance, piano and art. As a young woman, she performed on Broadway and at Radio City Music Hall.

Becket was camping with her husband in Death Valley in the spring of 1967 when a flat tire sent them to the junction for a repair.

While there, she discovered an abandoned theater in the then-booming mining town just across the border from Nevada, 95 miles west of Las Vegas.

They rented the old building the next day for $45 a month.


The curtains parted every Monday, Friday and Saturday for years after that, though some nights no one showed up to buy a ticket.

So she would never have to perform in front of an empty house, Becket decided to paint herself a permanent audience. Over the course of several years in the early 1970s, she decorated the walls and ceiling with elaborate murals depicting a Renaissance theater.

Her marriage dissolved in 1983, but she soon took on a performing partner named Thomas J. Willett, “Wilget” for short, who served as stage manager, emcee, comic relief and companion for Becket until his death in 2005.

Amy Noel, an artist and business owner in Tecopa, California, said she caught her first Marta Becket performance about 30 years ago, and she returned to the opera house countless times.

First-time audience members didn’t always know what to make of the theater and its star, Noel said. “Then the lights would go off, and it was magic.”

The curiosity of Becket’s creation gradually drew attention from around the globe, as the famed dancer in the desert was profiled by dozens of magazines, newspapers and television programs. “Amargosa,” a 2000 documentary about her life, won an Emmy and was a finalist for an Academy Award. Her memoir, “To Dance on Sands,” was published in 2006.

Film crews and so-called “paranormal investigators” also showed up periodically to hunt ghosts in her theater and adjacent motel, but the spirit Sorrells remembers best is the one Becket painted on canvas and in one of her murals: a ghostly ballerina twirling through the opera house’s colonnade.

“That pretty much let everyone know what her wishes were,” Sorrells said.


Becket was still dancing — and still rising onto her toes to stand “en pointe” — well into her 70s. When a fall left her injured and unable to dance, she began staging what she called “The Sitting Down Show.”

“She’s an inspiration to us all,” Noel said. “She was so dedicated and so sharp. She had such a sharp mind, even when her body started to fail.”

Becket gave her farewell performance on Feb. 12, 2012, at age 87, before relinquishing the stage to a series of visiting dancers and placing the property in the hands of a nonprofit board.

Noel was there for the final show.

“It was packed to the gills,” she said. “Before Marta said a word, she got a standing ovation. She said, ‘That was a first,’ and then she went right into (her performance). It was beautiful.”

No funeral arrangements had been announced on Tuesday, but those who knew Becket expect her to be buried in Death Valley Junction’s tiny cemetery, near the graves of her mother and her beloved “Wilget.”

“She never wanted to leave Death Valley Junction,” Sorrells said.

As long as the Amargosa Opera House still stands, Marta Becket’s presence will be felt there, Noel said. “She promised to haunt it, so I expect she’ll be around.”

According to a biography on the opera house’s website, Becket gave her first performance in the theater on Feb. 10, 1968, before an audience of about a dozen people. She made all her own sets and costumes, and she wrote and choreographed the entire production, just as she would for all her original shows — each a mix of ballet and old-fashioned Broadway theatrics, often autobiographical.

Thursday, January 26, 2017

The 'Desert Magazine' that covered deserts around the world

Desert Magazine building postcard by Burton Frasher (Photo: Historical Society of Palm Desert/Special to the Desert Sun)

Sid Burks
Special to The Desert Sun

The first “Desert Magazine” was published from 1937 to 1985 and is not to be confused with those of the same name that came later. It was a regional publication that covered the deserts of the Southwestern United States and Northwest Mexico.

It reported on a myriad of desert-related subjects. It was aimed at the “Desert Rat” but appealed to anyone interested in the desert. It featured stories about desert destinations that usually required a four-wheel drive vehicle, and desert activities like gold prospecting and rock hounding. “Desert Magazine”’s classifieds included ads for metal detectors, desert gear of all types and land.

“Desert Magazine” was published monthly and usually had fewer than fifty pages. In the first year, only two issues were published, November and December. Several years had combined monthly issues, with ten or eleven making it to subscribers. From 1982 to 1985, the magazine wound down with five or fewer issues each year. After the 1985 run, the magazine ceased publication and went into bankruptcy. Several attempts were made to resurrect the venerable publication but none succeeded for long. An index and back issues are available online. The provider states that the magazine is an “orphan” publication and making digital copies available is not a copyright violation. Back issues are available to read or purchase at the Historical Society of Palm Desert. They can also be found on eBay.

May 1963 cover of Desert Magazine
showing glider flying over Palm Springs.
“Desert Magazine” began in El Centro, California, in 1937. Its founding publisher, Randall Henderson, used his knowledge and love of the desert to change the mindset of many about it. When Henderson came back from the war, he began looking around for a new home for the magazine. He needed a site large enough that he could do all of his printing work in-house and provide housing for his employees.

“Desert Magazine” began in El Centro, California, in 1937. Its founding publisher, Randall Henderson, used his knowledge and love of the desert to change the mindset of many about it. When Henderson came back from the war, he began looking around for a new home for the magazine. He needed a site large enough that he could do all of his printing work in-house and provide housing for his employees.

He had some enticing offers from interests in Tucson but settled on a stretch of the California Desert he and business partner, J. Wilson McKenney, had originally selected for the magazine. It was a desert cove protected by the Santa Rosa Mountains. He purchased twenty acres for the magazine and two parcels for himself. His brother — Cliff Henderson, who was still in the service — had asked him to look around for possible locations for a post-war community that he wanted to build. Randall recommended the area where his building was. Cliff came out to take a look and went on to become the founding father of Palm Desert.

Henderson felt strongly about the “Desert Magazine” building. He wanted it built in the Pueblo Revival Style. In the 1947 issue of “Desert Magazine”, he stated that, “Pueblo design is one of the desert’s most important contributions to the cultural life of the Southwest.” He felt that the Pueblo style was the only type of architecture that was purely North American and not subject to European influence. Pueblo architecture features projecting roof beams (vigas), rounded corners and irregular parapets. He built just such a building in 1948 as designed by noted Palm Springs architects Williams, William & Williams.

Desert Magazine building. (Photo: Historical Society of Palm Desert/Special to the Desert Sun)

The building was 17,000 square-feet and housed not only the “Desert Magazine” but several other publishing and artistic enterprises, including the Smoketree School of Desert Art. The building was the site of many art shows and other community activities. The “Desert Magazine” site would be the home to many Palm Desert “firsts.” It was the first commercial building constructed on the first developed block of Palm Desert. It housed the city’s first printing company, bank, art gallery and post office.

The magazine ceased publishing in 1985, but the building survived relatively unchanged for years. It was eventually re-purposed to accommodate restaurants. The restaurants moved on to other sites and the “Desert Magazine” building sat empty. In 2012, the building’s then owner, Sam Rasmussen, a San Diego developer, applied to the city for permits to make architectural changes he felt would make the building more “leasable.” As reported by The Desert Sun, “Rasmussen wants to add a second patio dining area, stone-clad columns and stairs, and handrails to the front and east entrances, as well as add some windows and replace the wooden front doors with glass. The design also removes the dark wood post, or vigas, adorning the front of the building.”

The Palm Springs Preservation Foundation protested the proposed changes. The Foundation argued that the “Desert Magazine” building was “the most historically important commercial building in all of Palm Desert” and would soon qualify as a historically significant building, protecting it from any architectural changes like those proposed by Rasmussen. The Mayor of Palm Desert delayed the vote to consider the Foundation’s recommendations, but the city council sided with the owner. The plans were approved and the changes were made. Today, the historic building once again houses restaurants.

Friday, December 16, 2016

The Route 66 Chronicles: Unraveling mysteries

Camp Beale's Springs, Kingman, Arizona. Photo by D.P. Flanders, 1873. (Courtesy, Mohave Museum of History and Arts)

By Jim Hinckley
Kingman Daily Miner

History is a lot like a good pot of stew. If we merely skim the surface, we miss the meat and potatoes at the bottom. This leaves the impression that the stew is a bit thin and without a great deal of flavor. Then we tell folks that the stew wasn’t very good and the story is repeated until it becomes fact.

With the passing of time, even photos are not always enough to separate myth from fact. Recently, the Route 66 Association of Kingman initiated an ambitious plan to partner with property owners in the historic business district to restore facades, as well as historic signage.

One of these projects was the Old Trails Garage owned by the Graves family. As historic research is something I engage in regularly, I was asked to assist in determining the date of construction and to find images of the garage that would allow for a more accurate recreation.

The earliest view of the garage was a postcard from about 1918 in the possession of the Mohave Museum of History & Arts. However, something did not seem right as the garage was supposed to have been built in 1912 or 1914, and I didn’t see the Brunswick Hotel that was built in 1909. This was accredited to a bit of photo editing, common in many early post cards. Then, with assistance from Steve Rider, a prolific collector of National Old Trails Highway era postcards, a similar postcard was discovered, but this one indicated a Needles, California location.

Even though the owners have decided that the facade renovation of the Kingman garage will mimic its 1940 appearance, complete with towering neon Packard sign from about 1930, it was interesting to have a more complete photo record of the facility’s evolution.

As the association’s initiative progresses, I am confident that further adventures in historic research will take place. In fact, I am currently in search of a mystery contractor that added a unique signature to his work – the use of white quartz to frame windows and doors.

To date, I have documented this signature at the Siesta Motel, 1929; the recently razed Bell Motel, 1946; the Assembly of God church, 1939; a circa-1930 cafe, and the last remnant of the pre-1937 Richards Auto Court. Perhaps the most intriguing of these buildings is the old church, as stones with Native American petroglyphs were used in the construction!

A few days ago I delved into the new Facebook live and posted several early morning discussions. A regular morning broadcast is something I may do in the near future. To have direct interaction with followers and Route 66 enthusiasts from throughout the world was a most interesting experience.

In the most recent of these I noted that a video from the site of Camp Beale, a mid-19th century military outpost on the Beale Wagon Road and Mohave Prescott Toll Road, would be shared. Recently, I went live with this short video and in the coming days will post a more detailed video on the Jim Hinckley’s YouTube channel.

This historic site is another location where the passing of time has greatly obscured its actual location, size, and even years of operation. The Mohave Museum of History & Arts has created some superb then-and-now photos that have resolved a few of these mysteries. The area is another gem in the Kingman region as the springs, a veritable desert oasis, and the miles of trails for hiking or mountain biking in the Cerbat foothills.

In school we may have been given the impression that history is as dull and boring as a three-day insurance seminar. Nothing could be further from the truth. Unraveling mysteries, chasing ghosts, and discovering tangible links to the dreams and vision of people long passed empower us to look toward the future with eager anticipation.

Until we meet again on the road in Jim Hinckley’s America, adios mi amigos.