He could have been anywhere between sixty and two hundred years of age. All I knew at the time is that he seemed to be older than rope. He looked like a piece of twisted, deeply creased sun dried leather and had a gruff personality to match. For a kid that was already overwhelmed by moving from the farms and forest country of Michigan to a place I had been warned about in Sunday school, old man Edgerton was downright scary.
My pa didn’t approve of idle hands. So, he decided I needed a summer job and had worked it out with the Ed of Ed’s Camp. My basic job was to help with his tomato, vegetable and melon garden. I was to help with weeding, irrigation, and other assorted tasks.
My day started at 5:00 A.M. with pa banging trash can lids just like us kids were in basic training. Then came breakfast. If he had time, or a reason to drive towards Ed’s Camp like hauling hay from farms along the Colorado River, I had a ride. Otherwise it was a bicycle trip, all uphill, of about five miles on what had once been Route 66.
I learned a lot that summer. But, sadly, I was to young to fully grasp the full scope of the opportunity. Ed seemed to have an aversion to soap, unless he was headed for town on business. And he was a man of few words. But he had a wealth of knowledge that he was will to share.
He was a geologist with an international reputation. He had first began work on Ed’s Camp when the highway out front was the National Old Trails Road. And he walked or driven most every yard of the rugged and foreboding mountains. Even better, he had taken a shine to me. I still remember him dropping by the house to drop off a battered copy of Incidents of Travel in Yucatan written by John Stevens in 1843. That book ignited an all consuming hunger for exploration and a childhood dream of becoming an archeologist.
A desert oasis on Route 66 in western Arizona courtesy the Mike Ward collection.
Aside from the work in the garden, Ed took me on prospecting adventures, to places where we would gather mineral specimens he could sell in his rock shop, and to historic sites. But I seldom heard all that he had to say, and paid attention to even less. As interesting as the adventures were, it was a job. And a job is place where you watch the clock, complain about the heat and dirt, and look forward to lunch.
Still it was that summer with Ed that led to my life long passion for the desert, for the empty places, and in time, to the years now referenced as the John Wayne period. I can trace my entire embracing of the romanticism of the southwest to that summer.
In the early 1970s pa packed up the family and headed for southern New Mexico where I found new opportunities for adventure, and learned more lessons about what it was like to be a working man. But wherever I go, whatever I do, I often find myself reflecting on the summer of Ed.
I can still recall snippets from his stories about traveling from Michigan to Arizona in 1919 or 1920, and the years when Ed’s Camp was a bustling oasis. And I can still recall the trip to Fig Springs, site of an old ranch and the world’s largest fig trees. That was where I poked amongst the ruins while he used the inner tube from the spare tire to repair the fuel pump. I should have paid more attention to that lesson!
It was Ed that first told me about Father Garces camping at Little Meadows, site of Ed’s camp, during his expedition in 1776. And it was Ed that showed me the mysterious fortifications in Warm Springs Canyon. He had served as a guide to the site for an investigative team from the Smithsonian Institution back around 1925.
Anytime I get to thinking about opportunities and opportunities lost, my thoughts turn to that summer. That long, boring, fascinating, hot, scary, exciting, and life changing summer.
I admit it. A great deal of my time is spent giving thought to the lives of long dead people and then meditating on what lessons can be learned from their mistakes, and successes. As an example, can you imagine what it must have been like to sell automobiles in 1905? “Sir, this is a fine automobile that will most likely provide several hundred miles of trouble free service, especially if you drive within the city limits as there really aren’t any passable roads beyond that point. It operates on gasoline that can be ordered from most any drug store. Yes, I realize that price is a bit steep. Yes, I know that you can buy one or two houses for that price but think of the prestige.” If selling a new car was a challenge, can you imagine what obstacles had to be overcome by a used car salesman?
Now imagine what it must have been like to be an automobile manufacturer. Henry Ford pulled it off, on his third attempt and with the help of Horace and John Dodge. David Buick, failed time and time again. To a lesser degree, so did Louis Chevrolet. Walter Chrysler and Charles Nash were the mirror image of Buick, all that they turned their hand to succeeded. Nash started by stuffing cushions for the Durant Dort Wagon Company and within a relatively short period of time, was the head honcho at Buick and GM before launching his own company.
When faced with a promotional challenge I often turn to the infancy of the American auto industry for ideas or solutions. Recently I hit a wall in regards to Jim Hinckley’s America, and as I have a new book due for release in a few weeks, this seemed an ideal time to step back and contemplate how best to market the entire package – me, the book and Jim HInckley’s America as a multifaceted travel network. What have I been doing right? More importantly, what have I been doing wrong?
Often the first course of action when faced with a challenge such as this is to take a very long walk, or two, to clear the head, process thoughts (turning off the cell phone) and come back to the problem refreshed. The process minus the cell phone seemed to have worked well for John Adams. Harvey Firestone, Henry Ford, and Thomas Edison were also famous for taking time away from projects to escape to the north woods of Michigan. All three men seem to have been relatively successful. Wouldn’t you agree?
The Cerbat foothills north of Kingman Arizona are laced with an extensive trail system, and vestiges from the areas rich history.
So this morning I met up with a very old friend who just happens to be an ex-brother-in-law, and we set out for a morning walkabout on the Camp Beale Loop Trail. The Cerbat Foothills in the area of historic Fort Beale, Beale Springs, Johnson Canyon Springs, and Red Ghost Canyon are a scenic wonder. The sense of history here is palpable. The springs here were of tremendous importance to the Cerbat Clan of the Hualapai people. Father Garces purportedly camped at Beale Springs during his expedition in 1776. Lt. Beale and his now famous camel caravan also camped at the springs. Fort Beale was an important outpost on the Beale Wagon Road as well as territorial era Hardyville-Prescott Toll Road. This was also the site of the first internment camp for the Hualapai Tribe.
The loop trail is also another example of the many treasures that abound in the Kingman area. And as a result, they are also a source of frustration as they remind me of what could be if the city had an aggressive tourism office with vision, with passion, and with an interest in building cooperative partnerships within the community as well as in the international Route 66 community.
As is often the case when friends that have more than a forty year history get together, it was also a stroll down memory lane. The scenic wonders of the desert, deeply shadowed canyons, tracking deer into the mountains, easy conversation, and a cool morning breeze was just what the doctor ordered. Now, let’s see if I am going to be a Charles Nash or a David Buick.
History is a lot like a good pot of stew. If we merely skim the surface, we miss the meat and potatoes at the bottom. This leaves the impression that the stew is a bit thin, and without a great deal of flavor. Then we tell folks that the stew wasn’t very good and the story is repeated until it becomes fact.
With the passing of time, even photos are not always enough to separate myth from fact. Recently the Route 66 Association of Kingman initiated an ambitious plan to partner with property owners in the historic business district to restore facades as well as historic signage. One of these projects was the Old Trails Garage owned by the Graves family. As historic research is something I engage in regularly, I was asked to assist in determining the date of construction and to find images of the garage that would allow for a more accurate recreation.
The earliest view of the garage was a photo post card from about 1918 in the possession of the Mohave Museum of History & Arts. However, something did not seem right as the garage was supposed to have been built in 1912 or 1914, and I didn’t see the Brunswick Hotel that was built in 1909. This was accredited to a bit of photo editing, common in many early post cards. Then with assistance from Steve Rider, a prolific collector of National Old Trails Highway era post cards, a similar post card was discovered but this one indicated a Needles, California location. (more…)