All stops have been pulled in the effort to line Beale Street from end to end with vehicles at the July edition of Chillin on Beale Street. The thought of this street being transformed into a veritable parade of automotive history with glistening chrome, garish paint schemes, and desert patina on vintage trucks, the sidewalks bustling with people, and the recent spate of reflection on Kingman as it was has unleashed a torrent of memories.
The stretch of the pre 1952 alignment of Route 66 from Kingman to Oatman, as well as Boundary Cone Road to Fort Mohave and Silver Creek Road to Bullhead City, were my stomping grounds for a number of years during the late sixties and then again during the mid 1970s. During these years nobody went to Oatman unless they lived there and with the exception of the occasional lost soul, or those crazy enough to live in the vast desert of the Sacramento Valley nobody drove old ’66 on purpose. The section of the old highway between McConnico (Crazy Fred’s Truck Stop) and Oatman was pretty quiet.
The town itself had changed little from the period immediately after the bypass of 1952 when I started poking around there. It was largely a ghost town with a population of around fifty and the hotel bar/restaurant was the most lively place in town.
Even as late as the 1970s things were pretty quiet in Oatman. I made the mistake of letting boredom lead me to drive to Oatman for dinner one night after work and ended up with a bag of cheese puffs from the bar that were old enough to have been rejected by Clark Gable and Carol Lombard because the restaurant owner had decided to close for a few days to go fishing.
I am glad the tourist have kept the old town alive even though it meant trading the ghost town essence for Disneyland chic. If you want the ghost town experience without sacrificing the conveniences of the modern era, Oatman is the perfect place to while away a fun filled afternoon.
I suppose it was Goldroad that really kicked off my fascination with ghost towns. We used to picnic among the ruins when I was a kid. This was also the first place I ever explored on my own.
Most of the town had been razed during the 1940s as a result of a tax law that made it unprofitable for mining companies to leave buildings standing even if they were empty. Still, when I first ventured amongst the ruins there were all manner of remnants including portions of the old mill with a safe built into the concrete wall, and the cemetery.
The almost forgotten mining camp of Silver Creek further to the west also had a few substantial ruins worthy of exploration. Vandals, elements, and urban sprawl have now so completely erased all traces of the site I was unable to locate it when gathering material for the book, Ghost Towns of the Southwesthttp://rcm.amazon.com/e/cm?t=1968adventurer&o=1&p=8&l=bpl&asins=0760332215&fc1=000000&IS2=1<1=_blank&m=amazon&lc1=0000FF&bc1=000000&bg1=FFFFFF&f=ifr.
During these years of exploration Route 66 from the intersection of Boundary Cone Road to Golden Shores was little more than a gravel trail interspersed with broken asphalt. I once sat on a rocky knoll above the road for a full three hours watching an amazing Technicolor sunset unfold after a summer storm and never saw a vehicle. This was truly a forgotten highway.
As I explored the empty vestiges of these old mining camps it was never difficult for me to see them as boom towns filled with life, vitality, and enthused with an atmosphere of promise. I simply transposed the bustle of downtown Kingman circa 1977 onto their silent streets.
How different was a stay at the Beale Hotel during the 1970s from a stay at the Oatman Hotel in the 1920s? The street in front, Route 66, was a never ending river of traffic shadowed by false fronted facades that dated to territorial days. Everything the traveler needed was within walking distance, the sidewalks were crowded, there were no empty storefronts, and the bar downstairs where the locals gathered under the swirling fan always had cold beer to chase the desert heat from the bones.
During the mid 1970s, with the exception of the change in automotive styling made manifest in the river of traffic that flowed east and west on Route 66, I lived as a miner would in the glory days of Oatman, or countless other mining camps during the second or third decade of the twentieth century. After a shift at the mine in the old town of Stockton Hill, I would drive the long dusty road into town, wash the dust from my throat with a cold beer and unwind with a game or two of pool at the Sportsman, a dark, musty old pool room that had changed little in a half century and that has changed even less since then.
Then I would wander down Andy Devine Avenue, where the glow of neon cast colorful shadows over my battered old ’42 Chevy pick up truck, to my room at the Beale Hotel, wash the dust from my hair, don a fresh pair of jeans and clean shirt, and grab my hat. I seldom left my time capsule for dinner as the El Mohave was in the Brunswick Hotel, the Frontier Cafe was a few doors to the west, and Lockwood’s Chicken in the Rough was a short stroll to the east along Route 66.
On occasion, for the briefest of moments, Chillin’ on Beale Street and the Route 66 Fun Run seem to be windows into the world of old Kingman that I remember. If the July edition is successful, and the streets fill with automotive orphans, perhaps I will be able to stretch that moment into an evening.