Tag Archives: Route 66

Capture Time in a Bottle


sun-bottle_web

Can you fry an egg on a rock in Arizona?  Well, you can melt a glass bottle, so!

Once contents are gone, the glass bottle has no value – toss the bottle. That is what people do!  That is why we find em’ out there.

This bottle was discarded, but not tossed, it was set down.  How do I know this? Because of how I found it.

I stumbled across this sun-melted and warped beauty in the high Arizona desert almost 55 years ago, in a canyon lying amongst ancient lava flows.  It was not far from the “Old Trail,” later the path of the famous Route 66.  I imagine it was “discarded by someone on a wagon train or mule or horse back rider, who stepped off the trail a hundred yards or so up that canyon for, well, for something.  Perhaps a campsite, perhaps just a pit stop.  Resting on some round rocks still protruding from washed sand, it sat in a natural heat oven amongst the rocks, in direct Arizona sunlight.  There was also a part of a tin can resting on the glass that left an impression in it.  Look closely and you can see the round impression in the glass (center image).  I wish I had saved it also, but there wasn’t much left of the can.  The bottle has started to turn blue as certain old bottles will do in Arizona.  If it were tossed it would have broken on the rocks, which is why I believe someone sat down and finished off its contents, put the lid back on with satisfaction I assume, and placed it there.

It slowly collapsed of its own weight as it softened under the Arizona sun.

There it rested for how many years I don’t know; perhaps it was lost 80+ years before I found it.  That was when I was a teenager of 15.  It has an alloy screw top which places it after the time of just corked bottles and before ubiquitous plastic screw tops.  The writing cast into the bottle is in English and warns against reuse of the bottle, so it was a controlled substance of some kind; rum or liquor of some sort.  It is 4/5 of a quart, which is an alcohol measure.

It has begun to turn violet from sun exposure and has since developed a crack that makes it very fragile.  Given that I have moved it over twenty times in five decades it is a surprise it is still intact at all.  I used to collect old bottles, going out into old settlements and ghost towns to dig for them.  Selling, trading, swapping them to collectors, keeping the pretty ones or unusual ones to use as painting props during a “still life” painting jag.

After many years an old tossed bottle has more value than any contents ever placed within it.  Now I have only a very few and not very valuable bottles; I consider this a favorite object find.  It is rare, even though others have found similar artifacts warped by the sun, but this one is unusual and I treasure it because I found it.

There are so many “things” of interest, too many to possibly ever paint or even consider to collect, and so we all must both curate and cull what we react to and carry with us on our life journey. This bottle is like several other “treasures” I have burdened myself with because, well, I don’t really know, I can’t seem to turn loose of it, just because.

Will I yet paint the impressions of ghost towns, or a lost soul in the desert sitting by his last bottle of rum, looking out at tomorrow’s promise and yesterday’s regrets?  I wondered at the bottle when I discovered it, looking all melted and wobbly; thinking it a rum bottle, had the bottle become an image, a sign somehow of the one who left it there?  I kinda doubt I will paint that, but the bottle already did tell a story.  The day I found it, images were conjured up, and carried for half a century.  Every time I handle this old bottle, I recall both the moment I discovered it and the moment my imagination saw stories emerge to explain it.  Wagon trains, cowboys and Indians, settlers on a new quest, right there within walking distance of my home.  Now with a blog I can try word painting it into your memory and you can help me carry it around for another 50 years.

The ghost towns of Oatman, Gold RoadChloride, White Hills, Jerome, are all worth exploring.  When I was a child they were fairly untouched; you could walk into stores that still had merchandise on the shelves, people just walked away from them.  After time they were striped of their treasures.  Wagon wheels and hitching posts went last.  Even today, you can find chandeliers made of wagon wheels, hitching posts still used in front of restaurants, and if you look close you will see lots of picture frames made of wood moldings captured from these ghost towns. Finally people had to be restrained by laws, or the very wood of the buildings would be taken too; but back then, no one cared much.  I used to gather a few boards to make old picture frames out of.  I still have just one such frame.  I sold many western art images framed in ghost town lumber. Mostly given to me by my uncle.

jmc/emc

Hualapai-pallet-knife_web HUALAPAI PEAKS

Acrylic on Upson board 9″x12″

This frame was originally  the crown molding from an old hotel lobby in White Hills ghost town.  My uncle owned the town back then, and we went there to target practice.  My parents, brother and sister, shot old bottles for target practice (doesn’t that make you ill?),  and I collected framing material. (I was “the good one” – my daughter’s favorite saying). The painting in this frame is of the Hualapai Mountains as seen from Kingman, AZ.  The Atchison Topeka & Santa Fe RR siding had some old crew cars stored there for several decades; the railroad runs right beside Route 66 and I just decided one day to go and paint them.  My wife and I pulled off Route 66 and had a picnic painting session there. The spot is now somewhat developed with a car wash and service garage, but if you walk around back it is still the same view as it was 45 years ago. The Hualapai Mountains, 14 miles distant, are an ancient volcano, and the town of Kingman is thought to set in a smaller caldera volcano.

All this because of a bottle!

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The basic ingredient in glass is sand; sand has iron in it and has a tendency to turn green when exposed to light.  The thicker the glass is, the more the edge has a pronounced green color.  Throughout time, different additives were used to stabilize the color, having varying effects.  Up to about 1915, the element of choice was manganese. Manganese exposed to ultraviolet sun radiation oxidizes it, giving a purple tinge to the glass.  Older glass becomes collectible because of this, and Arizona is a favorite place for turning bottles purple-blue.

Did you know that glass is always a liquid?  Over time, it sags under its own weight and window panes get thicker at the bottom than they are at the top.  That is why my bottle is all warped, because it is a liquid, made soft in the Arizona sun!

jmc/emc

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Route 66, Beale Street, and Wagon Road West


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.

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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.

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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.

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Route 66 information
Length: 2,451 mi
Existed: November 11, 1926 – June 27, 1985