I was never quite sure why that big blue Cadillac tripped my trigger. I mean the thing was a land yacht big enough to warrant its own zip code. I could have sold the wheels, screwed a mail box to the front fender, and called it home.
There was just something in that sculpted body accentuated by the chrome, the light blue paint, and white vinyl top that fit perfectly with my growing hunger for a road trip to anywhere but where I was at and in the blink of an eye two one hundred dollar bills passed from my hand to the aged owner. With the title in hand I slipped behind the wheel into the glove leather white seats, slid the key with its gold Cadillac crest into the ignition, fired up that whisper quiet V8, dropped the transmission into drive, and pointed the old Coupe DeVille down the dusty drive way.
The job at the lumber mill had played out the day before my old Ford truck coughed up a cloud of black smoke and pitched a rod through the block. That was about two weeks before I found the old Cadillac and about two days before I had decided it was time to try my hand somewhere else.
So, I changed the oil, packed the wheel bearings, greased the chassis, tossed my worldly possessions into the cavernous trunk and less than twelve hours after making the purchase, rolled east on Route 66 with that Cadillac emblem in a chrome wreath perched on the prow pointing the way. There was no destination in mind as I had a pocket full of jack and the game plan was simple, drive until I found someplace interesting or until a lack of funds prompted finding employment.
My first stop was at the Whiting Brothers station in Ashfork to top off the tank. This was my first visit to the flagstone capital since the job at the quarry blew up, literally, but little had changed.
I made pretty good time having given in to the urge to see what the old car would do on a couple of occasions but it was well past dark when I rolled into Williams and checked into the Norris Motel, an old favorite of mine. It was a delightfully cool evening that seemed perfect for a long walk to Rod’s Steak House.
I didn’t really give thought to the interstate highway being built to the north of town that evening and am quite sure it never entered my mind that Williams, and the Arizona that I knew and loved, was about to change in a very big way. That evenings walk, as well as the morning walk to Old Smoky’s for breakfast, are frozen with clarity in my mind as that Williams was swept away with the opening of the interstate before my return two years later.
At some point between Williams and Flagstaff the idea had crept into my mind that it might be nice to see if old Harry Two Bulls was still hanging around the trading post at The Gap so I turned north on US 89 and as traffic was light to nonexistent, let that Cadillac fly. I first met Harry some years before at the 66 Club in Flagstaff after a rodeo and our paths had crossed often enough that a friendship of sorts had developed.
Harry looked as though he had studied hard to look the part of an Indian with his weathered and lined face shaded by a battered felt hat adorned with a handmade rattlesnake skin hat band and feather. He always wore a light blue, long sleeved work shirt and a stained vest, well worn Levi’s cinched to his thin waist with a hand tooled leather belt and tarnished rodeo buckle, and scuffed boots down at the heel.
As is so often the case the cover gave no hint of the story inside. Harry was a Navajo but his family left the res shortly before his fifth birthday and he grew up in the barrios of east Los Angeles. At 18, he enlisted in the Marine Corps, at age 19, as he told the story, he was freezing his backside off in Korea.
On his return, he set out to discover his Indian heritage, went home to Window Rock, signed on with the railroad, and, in his spare time, learned the fine art of being a saddle bronc rider on the rodeo circuit. That was our common thread as I too fancied my self to be a bronc buster.
Harry left the railroad with a pretty fair pension after an accident put in the hospital for almost six months and in a wheel chair for a year. With his railroad and rodeo days behind him he turned to learning the art of the silversmith and became a pretty fair artist.
That was his reasons for hanging around the trading post at The Gap. And that was why he was in Winslow when I last saw him.
So, with a two year old invitation to visit I rolled north through the forest onto the colorful plains framed by majestic mountains and stark knobs of stone. The trading post at The Gap hadn’t changed much since my last visit, in fact it probably hadn’t changed much in the last half century. There is something soothing to the soul to find places like that.
Well, as it turned out Harry hadn’t been at The Gap for awhile and the last anyone had heard he was selling his goods from a stand out near Tec Nos Pos. So, with no place else to go, I turned back south to the junction with US 160 and headed out onto the res through the technicolor world of the Painted Desert.
That old Cadillac sucked the fuel but it floated down the road with such ease it was almost as though I were piloting a yacht on calm seas. If the money would hold out I felt as though it were possible to drive forever with that old car.
As often happens reality soon crashed with blinding force into the dream and at some point, in the middle of absolute nowhere on the road between Tuba City and Kayenta, the Cadillac began to stumble and buck. That was just before the fuel pump gave up the ghost.
Well the good thing about times like that is decisions are not tough to make as the options are few. So, I pulled off the fuel pump, grabbed my canteen, locked the car, and began the long walk to Kayenta some twenty miles to the north.
At that point in time my youthful ignorance led me to attribute good fortune to luck rather than see it as blessings. I had walked less than a mile under that blazing late summer sun when an Indian family on the way to Kayenta for supplies stopped and gave me a lift. Even better, they said they could give me a ride back to the car the next morning and that I was welcome to stay with them at a cousins house that evening.
Well, long story made short, the parts house had a fuel pump, I had a good dinner and a good nights rest, made some new friends, and was back on the road by the next afternoon. The sun had yet to sink in the west when I made Tec Nos Pos but here to Harry’s trail was cold with the best guess being that he was living in Holbrook or Winslow, so I put my planned visit on the back burner and pointed the prow of that Cadillac to Durango.
I made it as far as Cortez before again changing my mind and following the wind into Utah. Now, in the dusty little towns that cling to the highways for life in that wild and inhospitable land drifters are seldom appreciated but are always wanted as there is always a need for a good hand at a service station or cafe.
I was sipping on coffee in a little cafe in Monticello when the conversation with the tired waitress aged beyond her years, as it often did in these tattered old cafes, turned towards work and what brought me to town. Well, as it turned out the job was an easy one with some pretty good benefits, namely a free room in exchange for duties as a night clerk but a dusting of snow on the Cadillac two weeks later had me on the road south faster than butter melts on the pavement in Amboy in July.
Few things filled me with the urge to hole up more than a dusting of snow or a good frost and in an instant the wanderlust was replaced by thoughts of a warm place to while away the winter. Well, at the time it seemed like a good idea but as it turned out El Paso, and Juarez, weren’t a very good idea.
But that, and the last ride of the Cadillac, are another story for another day.
Don’t forget to check back this weekend for part two of the Kingman Army Airfield story as well as our book reviews and travel tips.