He was the biggest little man I had ever met, a sawed off little fellow with a western styled hat perched high on his head that that kept his tanned and weathered face shaded. The short stature, the hat, and big spectacles presented an almost comedic look – right up until you looked into those eyes.
It was at that moment, if you had the sense God gave a shiny brown rock, that you knew trifling with Clyde McCune could be a very big mistake. When I turned east instead of west on Route 66 after leaving the Cedar Springs Ranch the shiny brown rock had me beat in the smarts department.
McCune was tough as nails, honest as the day is long, and cast a shadow that belied his size. He was the type of fellow this country sorely needs today but that has become as scarce as mechanics that can tune up your Hudson.
During the war he flew as a test pilot. In 1946, his wife’s illness necessitated relocation from Nebraska to Kingman where he found work as a butcher in Valentine, and then as an electrician.
In 1950, he and a partner, Don Dilts, made Route 66 history. The Department of the Interior had proposed construction of the Bridge Canyon Dam on the Colorado River to the north of Peach Springs. There was only road that could tie the remote dam site with the thread of civilization that was Route 66 – the Buck and Doe.
Dilts and McCune smelled opportunity. They purchased some property in the valley along the highway just to the west of the Buck and Doe. They built a garage, hoisted a sign that read Truxton Garage, and then Dilts added a restaurant and service station.
The dam never materialized but Route 66 ensured the venture was a profitable one. In fact, it proved to be so profitable that others joined them at the wide spot in the road and soon there were several motels, the Orlando and Frontier, several cafes including the Cattlemen and Frontier, stores, gas stations, garages, and signs that proclaimed this was the town of Truxton.
In 1952, McCune sold his garage, managed a trading post for the Truxton Canyon Indian Agency, helped write the legal code for the Hualapai Tribe, and in 1953, joined the Mohve County Sheriff’s Department. In that capacity he single handily took down an Indian sniper in the rocks above the Truxton Canyon Indian Agency that had brought traffic to a stand still on Route 66, was the first officer on the scene at horrendous wrecks between Kingman and Seligman, and was involved in countless high speed pursuits across the desert.
After leaving the sheriff’s department, McCune served as the justice of the peace and as a magistrate. For awhile he also served as an assistant to the coroner.
This was the fellow I crossed when the decision was made to turn east instead of west. When I made it to my destination, where ever that was, this was the fellow I hoped to bullshit into giving me another break.
As I had hoped, the time spent at the ranch had erased most traces of the sickly kid. It had also given me some much needed confidence but, as is often the case with youth, not with the temperance of wisdom.
I spent the resources of youth like a drunken sailor on leave. At the ranch I worked long and hard, not hard and smart, and embraced the cinematic caricature of the cowboy.
The scrapes with the law were minor ones that most were inclined to pass off as the indulgences of a young man that spent to much time in the company of cattle, hogs, and horses instead of people. Clyde McCune didn’t see it that way but he was a patient man that led many, including me, to mistake his kindness for weakness.
Many of us jokingly called him “let ’em slide Clyde.” After all, what kind of a judge would haul a kid in for drinking and driving, let him sit in jail for the weekend, haul him into his chambers on Monday morning, and offer to drop all charges in exchange for attendance to AA meetings? What kind of judge would even offer to pick you up and take you to the meetings? What kind of judge would overlook a third minor infraction in exchange for an apology, restitution, and just a bit of creative community service such as helping to paint the locomotive in the park?
Kingman was home, at least as close to a home town as I had ever had but a fresh start was sorely needed. There was security there, but there was also a bit of girl trouble in the form of an irate women who had served as the cook at Cedar Springs Ranch, and a bit of legal trouble as I was to be paying $50.00 a month on a fine but instead had been paying $25.00 accompanied by a litany of excuses. There was also the little matter of ignoring a summons to McCune’s court to explain these shortages in person.
So, choosing east instead of west seemed a logical one at the time. Now you have a better understanding of why I hinted the shiny brown rock might have been the smart one.
Now that Route 66 was bypassed, the limitations on the old Chevy imposed by the crush of traffic was no more. As I rolled east on the almost deserted highway, and past the equally deserted businesses along the way at the heady speed of 45 miles per hour with the warm breeze from the open windshield washing over my face, a plan to revisit Silver City in New Mexico began to form.
Over a bowl of chili and a cup of coffee shared with the Barker’s at the Frontier in Truxton, the idea gained merit and by the time I made the Black Cat in Seligman for a cold beer, it was set in stone. Now, imagine my surprise when I walked into that dark old bar, ordered a beer, and then, as my eyes adjusted to the dim light, saw Clyde McCune quietly sitting at a table sipping on coffee and smiling at me!
As it turns out, Clyde just happened to have been in Truxton visiting friends when I stopped at the Frontier. My old truck wasn’t the most inconspicuous thing, unless it was parked in a junk yard, and so, when I pulled out of the parking lot heading east, Clyde simply took to the road, passed me by taking a shortcut through Peach Springs, and then, after making an educated guess about my next stop, waited for me in Seligman.
All the youthful bravado and confidence seemed to have melted into my shoes when Clyde, in that deceptively soft voice, asked me to have a seat. Then he began to paint beautiful word pictures about my future as he saw it.
As he saw it, I didn’t play by the rules. But he accepted a bit of the blame for that as he allowed me to fudge in regards to strike one through four. As he told it, at strike six he knew that I wasn’t taking things seriously enough.
So, to rectify his mistakes, to ensure that I truly understood the importance of playing by the rules in the future, he was going to follow me to Kingman where I would be his guest for thirty days. Then I would pay my fine in full. Then, he suggested rather strongly, I make some new friends, and try again in any place that wasn’t Kingman. To drive his point home, he then smiled and said, “I think this would be better for you than serving 18 months and I know it will save the county a bunch of money.”
Well, the short version of the story is this. After serving as McCune’s guest, and after being separated from most of the money I had, I parted ways with my loyal old workhorse, the ’42 Chevy, in a manner that made it quite clear the old judge was right, it was time to find new pastures.
So, bright and early one morning, I had a friend give me a ride to where I-40 began on the east side of town, stuck my thumb out, and headed for New Mexico. There were, and are still, a number of lessons to be learned but never again would I mistake kindness for weakness.
But, perhaps, the most important lesson learned that day in Seligman was this, a man can only be tough if he knows how to temper it with compassion. A man can only gain respect if he is willing to respect those who don’t deserve it. A man can stand head and shoulders above the crowd even if he stands just five foot five.
Thank you Clyde McCune.

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