When you look back, (memory) events are called History; when you reminisce they are called adventures. —JMC I like adventures, especially when they are about art.
The memory part: Route 66 – Back in the early fifties, little did I know how famous this highway would be. I lived in a town on Route 66. Actually, I lived on Beale Street, one block north of Route 66 in Kingman, Arizona. I grew up crossing Route 66 almost every day to see friends or play at the Santa Fe RR depot. Here is my story of how Route 66 came to our town.
The great covered wagons, the moving vans of the frontier. Horses and indians and cowboys, we could see it all, we imagined it and played at it and when we went to the movies we saw images of the wild west, and it looked just like where we lived. In the hills all around the town where we kids would hike, not more than mile and a half from downtown, there are lava bluffs from the ancient volcano of which our town resided, some say in the very middle. On the back side of the second row of volcanic bluff walls was a trail worn into the basalt desert floor. It was in a natural small valley that penetrated the high desert plateau and the rim of this volcanic depression, from one side to the other. A natural pathway through. Worn right into the rock were two wagon wheel ruts and the hoof prints of hundreds or thousands of horses pulling hundreds or thousands of wagons. Not shallow but deeply worn into the white layer of rock, like 6 and 8 inch indentations for both wheel and hoof tracks, and foot and a half deep on the sides of the rut as it wore down into a channel.
This was the place where the pulling of wagons for the settlers, the gold rushers, the miners and railroad workers, builders of western America had passed through. This particular spot required some strain and pressure against the red lava slope both going up and breaking going down. High above this spot on the bluff rock wall there were hand-painted signs from almost a hundred years before. These signs were painted 75 feet up from the ruts and 15 feet up right on the rock facing. One sign was a saloon sign “ The Old Trails Tavern,” one was there from a house of ill repute, but had been scraped and painted over by some concerned citizen, and one for a wayside trail station almost worn off except for a large arrow pointing west, the direction of and just enough letters to say “way station,” though the station no longer existed.
There beside these historical hand-painted signs, my friends and I also carved our names into the rocks (I hope there is a statute of limitations). Around the corner about 500 feet west, there is a crevice in the bluffs, split at the time of their formation. The bluffs are well over a hundred feet high at this point, and about 30 feet up the crevice is a collapsed rock shelf abutting each side. The early Native American Indians had carved a set of hand and toe hole ladder steps that we could climb right up the side to the shelf (not safely), and camp above the desert floor. There were several small caves or natural bubble cavities there, for us to take shelter in, just in case it rained one of the few nights it ever rains there in the desert. I did not know then that this was a part of the Beale Wagon Road, or even who Beale was.
The history part: The Beale Wagon Road and Camel Corps. Lt. Edward Fitzgerald Beale, a Naval officer in the service of the U.S. Army Corps of Topographical Engineers was appointed, in 1857, by President James Buchanan to survey and build a 1,000-mile wagon road. This would run along the 35th Parallel, from Fort Defiance, New Mexico to the Colorado River, on the border between Arizona and California. It was also an experiment for the Army to use camels. Camels could travel for days without water, carry much heavier loads than mules, and thrive on forage that mules wouldn’t touch. Beale took a Camel Corps of 25 camels imported from Tunis along with his mules and horses to find, map and build a path. The wagon road Beale built became a popular immigrant trail during the 1860s and 1870s. The general route of the Beale Wagon Road was then followed by Sante Fe Railway (1911) , U.S. Route 66, (1926) and later the Interstate 40 (1968).
Of this road, Beale wrote: “… It is the shortest (route) from our western frontier by 300 miles, being nearly directly west. It is the most level. Our wagons only double-teaming once in the entire distance, and that at a short hill, and over a surface heretofore unbroken by wheels or trail on any kind. It is well-watered! Our greatest distance without water at any time being twenty miles … It crosses the great desert (which must be crossed by any road to California) at its narrowest point.” Today portions of the original wagon road are still visible, such as I described above.
This was all before my time, but by 1926 major parts of the Beale wagon road became the major pathway for U.S. Route 66, “Will Rogers Highway,” colloquially known as the “Main Street of America” or the “Mother Road” – the major path for those who migrated west.
So now here is the Adventure part: As the small village of Kingman became more and more settled, the railroad came in following the new wagon road. A man named Tom Devine had been an employee working on that railroad in Flagstaff, Arizona, until a terrible accident had taken his leg. Unable to continue his work for the railroad, he took the settlement they offered, moved to Kingman and purchased the Beale Hotel (built in late 1890s and served as a Harvey House for a while). https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fred_Harvey_Company. One of his children, Andy, would grow up and leave and become the famous actor Andy Devine, and the town would later name that stretch of Route 66 Andy Devine Avenue.
However, that is not the adventure. This is: (keep in mind this is a childhood memory, circa 1949-50). Somewhere during the Roaring Twenties, the Beale Hotel used its little-known large basement and unknown secret tunnels for moonshine and illegal gambling. A “speak easy,” so to speak. The secret tunnels were dug at first during its original construction, and added to as needed during prohibition. It ran a block to the east and a block to the north from the basement, with small side tributaries into adjoining building basements. The entries were hidden behind a secret moving wall. The hotel basement also had a secret divider blocking more than half of its area, one half for hotel service and storage, and one half for gambling and other ‘speak easy-type’ activities. A warning light and bell were there to tell when the local constabulary was approaching, most of whom were already gambling in the basement.
I was about 7 or 8 the first time, but not only time, I saw this hidden adventure (that would be in the late 40s and early 1950s), long after prohibition, but it was still in a form of operation because gambling was illegal in Arizona and so was a second liquor outlet in the basement. That would be tax evasion and law infringement. But the adult baby sitter I was with (who was not above gambling or drinking or perhaps infringement) took me along on “shopping trips” and I with a few other young lads (also on shopping trips) would explore whatever we could when no one was looking. Later on, when telling these stories, everyone denied that the tunnels existed. No one ever denied the gambling or liquor. Only as an adult did I realize that perhaps some of the goings on, at the ends of those tunnels, were not covered by any federal statute of limitations, or the memory of organized crime bosses. A child’s story could be easily refuted. Even in the late 60s (I was in my 20s by then, and saw the tunnel entrance once again) there could be seen slot machines and green felt covered tables still in place, I was told by the then-owner they were not in use and were only collectors items. When he wasn’t looking my friend tried a nickel machine and hit a $2.50 jackpot, so he liked the way they didn’t work. The owner also claimed the tunnels that were not there were all filled in now, but I got a good fifty feet into one before he stopped me. I am neither a gambler or an embiber, nor an endorser of the speak easy, but as a child I really enjoyed an adventure sneeking around beneath the streets of my home town. To this day, people still deny they were ever there, or that I could have seen the secrets of the Beale Hotel. But I did. In the 40s and 50s a lot of unspoken adventures were seen by many children. Today, children have TV and video games.
So where is the art part, you ask? Well, it is up on the drawing board, as I begin a set of new desert artwork and Kingman Memories paintings. As I finish up the “Duluth” collection of art, the stories I am remembering from my wild west days has led to a desire to paint the desert images from that time before I forget it all. So some will be written, some sketched, some painted and placed in the western gallery coming soon to my blog. For now, I’ll just post a few stories.
Read the stories told about Andy Devine in Kingman, too. Just google Andy Devine childhood, or Beale Hotel, Kingman, AZ.
P.S. I didn’t know Andy but my wife and I saw him up close in an “Andy Devine Day” parade down Andy Devine Avenue (old Route 66). My uncle knew him, and my father met him. In a following post I relate my first real encounter with his movies in 1948.
|Route 66 information|
|Existed:||November 11, 1926 – June 27, 1985|