Friday, May 11, 2018

High Water

 Spring rain on a big snowpack is producing high water in the Montana rivers that drain out of the Rocky Mountains.  And that translates to a Missouri River flow that's much higher than median. In the graphic above, you can see how far above median it is at Great Falls.  The graphic below puts things into perspective.  Although the river is much higher than normal, there have been many years when the annual peak flow was at or higher than this level.

Thursday, May 10, 2018

King's Hill

King's Hill between White Sulphur Springs and Belt River Country in the northern foothills below seems easy if you look at a map.  But "on the ground" it's a whole different ball game.  It's really hard to imagine how that road "made sense" in the 1920's and pushed vehicles up and over in the 1930's.

We drove today's modern, way-too-high-speed-highway today (10MAY18) and were dazzled by the glimpses we saw of the Old Highway.  Highway engineers back then must have had a Wild & Crazy Imagination to see how they could get a road up and over King's Hill.  And motorists back then must have had a whole heck of a lot of trust in Montana Highway Engineers to get them up and over such an obstacle.  Truly amazing.

Livingston Signs

We've studied US 89 from bottom to top and we know where all the "Good Signs" are located. Livingston, MT, gets credit for have a fine cluster of righteous signs right across from the Old Depot. Way to GO, Livingston, for preserving these classic artifacts of Mid Century Americana! As Noted Highway Historian Demion Clinco says, "These Signs strike to our roots and are a connection to our Sense of Place in America."

Sunday, April 8, 2018

Prescott's Googie Gas Station

Prescott is  home to an iconic example of a futuristic 1960's architectural style now known as "Googie."  The Googie gas station is perched alongside old US 89 on the southwest corner of the White Spar Highway and Copper Basin Road intersection. (Typical features of Googie architecture included upswept roofs, curvaceous, geometric shapes, and bold use of glass, steel and neon.)

We queried members of the  "Celebrating Prescott History" (CPH) Facebook Group and received many interesting comments. Here's what we've learned so far.

The late 1950's, early 1960's removal of a natural hillside at the location appears to have been controversial among the local citizenry as it may have been one of the first such such hillside alterations in community history. In recent years, alternation of hillsides has become commonplace in the Prescott vicinity.

The Googie-style building with its two upswept wings soaring over the gas pumps is said by CPH  Member Stephen H. to have been designed by Prescott architect George Myers.   Prescott has always highly valued classic 19th Century architectural styles.  The community is known for its many Victorian and Territorial architectural examples.  We surmise the construction of this Googie-style gas station generated a fair share of community angst and "commentary."

One comment from CPH Member Kim K. said, "I thought that it was a travesty when it was built."  Architect Myers may have embraced the controversy that apparently swirled about his design.  Myers designed the controversial St. Timothy's Catholic Church in Mesa, Arizona. Myers is quoted in the December 19, 1982, edition of "The Arizona Republic" saying, "There's always 1 percent who can't accept change," he said. "I think anything worthwhile is controversial."

The gas station started business as a Phillips 66 affiliate and, according to CPH Member Jake B. may have been operated by Merle Kloefkorn. An auto repair garage was apparently part of the station in the 1960's. CHP Member David G. said, "I spent many an evening there when I was a teenager."

As of April 2018, business is operated by Woody's Food Stores as a combination gas and convenience market.

The structure and business is almost certainly the only remaining Googie building that has operated continuously as a gas station from its 1960's construction to the present day alongside US 89 from Mexico to Canada.  As US 89 Highway Heritage Tourism grows, this excellent artifact of the Googie Era is bound to be an  ever more popular stop.  Chances are very good that the building now qualifies for The National Register of Historic Places.  It will be interesting to see if officials from Woody's Food Stores are interested in pursuing Nat'l Register status for the building.

We wish to extend our sincere Thanks & Appreciation to the many enthusiastic members of the "Celebrating Prescott History" Facebook Group who provided their gracious commentary and various insights.  Our Facebook  "stats" show the post we shared on the "Celebrating Prescott History" group has reached over 2,000 people as of mid-Sunday (08APR18).

We will continue to attempt to determine more details about the design, construction and operation of the business.  We will also contact Woody's Food Stores to suggest they investigate getting the building listed on the National Register of Historic Places.  In closing this post, we'd like to share Prescott Artist Kuki Hargrave's excellent interpretation of this iconic Googie gas station.  We wrote a short  piece of "highway fiction" to accompany Kuki's fine art.  It is below the artwork.

"A driver has just powered his early Corvette through The White Spar Highway's 175 curves, He sits contented on the curb contemplating the powerful rush of machine through the chaparral-studded, undulating granite hills south of historic Prescott, Arizona, along old US 89."

(Art Copyright 2018 by Kuki Hargrave, All Rights Reserved. Used here with permission.)

Monday, March 5, 2018

US 89 Flagstaff to Marble Canyon - 1928

 The truck in the top photo is the year, make and model used and described as a "motor colossus" and a "juggernaut" in the story below.  It would have been capable of hauling 53-foot steel girders over the non-existence road. The the type of truck below was also used for smaller loads.  Both trucks were made by Fageol and we will have more information soon about the manufacturer and the contractor.

(Editor's Note: The article below was "discovered" as a scanned three-page typed document in the NAU Cline Library Special Collections. We have excerpted only the portion dealing with the primitive so-called road that existed between Flagstaff and Marble Canyon in 1928. This article is part of a larger effort to describe early US 89 from Flagstaff to Kanab after it was officially designated in 1926 and before it actually became a real, paved road in the 1930's.)

Whoever wrote this story know how to give wings to his words!  This poignant piece of purple prose provides an evocative glimpse of US 89 from Flagstaff to the Navajo bridge construction site in March 1928.  The unknown Fred Harvey author really earned his payday with this delightfully imaginative flight of fancy.

"In the middle of March, 1928, a motor colossus on ten wheels, dragging behind it a sturdy trailer, roared smoothly into the Santa Fe freight yard at Flagstaff, Ariz., swallowed fifteen tons of structural steel, and then headed away into the northeast on the first of many journeys that were to mean much to travelers from every corner of the world.

Glistening winter snowcaps on the 13,000 foot San Francisco Peaks looked down on the truck's departure. For the first few miles it slipped past bare brown fields bitten from the forest. The sun struck diamond fire from the windows of the lonely forest service lookout on the wind-torn summit of Elden as the road bent about the mountain's outthrust shoulder. Spirits of forgotten ages, roused by the deep-throated roar of the motor, stood silent spectators on the broken walls of a great prehistoric pueblo among the red shafted pines.

More easy miles among ranches and homesteads nestling in the sunny “parks” guarded by the black range of cinder hills and the reddish sulphur-stained cone of Sunst Mountain. Then in and out through the open glades of the Coconino National Forest and a long glide downward through thinning trees.

It is a fair guess that here even the driver of the juggernaut paused a moment to look about him. To the right straggling pines haired the dark flanks of O'Leary. To the left a grey cloud cap, breeding weather, hovered above the snow crests of the greater peaks, whose forested foothills swept away northward toward the Grand Canyon. Below spread a broad flat, dotted with the green black of cedars and pinons, where intrusion still raises little bands of antelope whose white tail puffs go sailing away over the sage—like wind-driven balls of cotton. Far ahead rounded and tinted volcanic cones broke a shimmering distance fenced by the banded rim cliffs of the Navajo country.


Thirty miles more to the next habitation...

Thirty miles where every one left civilization farther astern...

The immense weight of steel and machinery rolled smoothly over long levels where distant dust clouds marked the plodding passage of high-piled Navajo freight wagons, stuttered down steep inclines, nosed its way cautiously across sandy washes and pulled steep grades hot and steaming.

At Cameron Trading Post the Navajo ponies, standing droop-headed before a mud and dedar hogan showed mild interest. Lounging bucks and many-pettycoated squaws about the Post doorway watched the monster drink water pumped from the bottom of the deepening gorge of the Little Colorado, snapping black eyes registering the curiosity withheld from the dark, strong faces.

Cameron Bridge took the unaccustomed load in groaning protest. The tiny fighting life of the silent sand hills beyond gave over its hunting as the four geared wheels of the motor bit deep into the “natural” road.

Here in the Painted Desert was slow, hard going in a strangely beautiful and interesting region known by name to millions but as yet actually seen by few. Bits of a natural race track on firm, fossil-strewn sea beds ended abruptly in sharp arroyos or the cut banks of sand-floored draws. Now the road threaded the fractured trucks of petrified trees, now pursued its tail through the massed, impossibly-colored ash mounds of a volcanic “bad lands.” The painted walls of the Echo Cliffs draw closer as the mountains to the south and west became blue saw teeth on the horizon.


The huge truck ended this first of four months' continuous journeys at a mushroom growth of white tents and frame buildings one hundred thirty miles from Flagstaff. A few yards away a dull-red chasm split the earth. At the bottom snarled a leaping chocolate river. Beyond rose the yellow and green tinted talus of the Vermillion Cliffs. Here in the Navajo Indian country of northeastern Arizona, at the northern tip of the Painted Desert, and in a setting of amazing grandeur, was the one point in nearly six hundred miles where engineers had decided that the greatest natural travel barrier on the continent could be bridged.

That barrier is the Colorado River proper, born deep in southeastern Utah at the junction of the Green and Grand Rivers, and flowing thence through Cataract, Glen, Marble and Grand Canyon—the most stupendous series of gorges on the globe. Until this year, it has been unbridged for vehicles from Green River, Utah to Topoc, six hundred miles below on the western border of Arizona. There have been and are, only a couple of vehicular ferries and these uncertain at best and often dangerous and abandoned."

(Editor's Note #1 The truck photo at top is merely a "representation" of what the make and model truck in this story might have looked like. Members of the Old Truck Forum helped positively identify the make and model of the trucks actually used.  However, there are no known photos of the actual trucks themselves. Over 1,100 tons of steel were delivered.  Including other supplies, those early trucks made at least 100 round trips (and probably many more) when and where there was no real road.)

(Editor's Note #2: The actual details of the haulage vary from the sensationalized account above.  We excerpted narrative from the bridge's nomination form for the National Register of Historic Places.  Click here to see the relevant information about the actual haulage, as well as a source link to the Register form:

Sunday, March 4, 2018

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Thursday, March 1, 2018

The Palace Bar Fight Scene

Prescott's Palace Bar is without doubt THE most famous watering hole on US 89 from Mexico to Canada.  No other saloon even comes close. The Palace remains as popular today on Whiskey Row as it ever was throughout the establishment's 140 year history.

One of the many illustrious Palace legends took place when much of downtown Prescott burned in the historic 1901 conflagration.  Palace patrons are said to have picked up the entire bar and carried it across the street where they continued drinking while the fire raged on.

We were recently reminded of perhaps an equally enduring and true legend of The Famous Palace Bar Fight which was a memorable scene of the 1972 movie, "Junior Bonner," starring Steve McQueen. Back in June 1971, Prescott embraced "all things Hollywood" as famed Director Sam Peckinpah, movie stars and film crews used the community as a backdrop for the movie. "After a week of rehearsal, the 43 days of filming around Prescott captivated the town. "The bonding between the film company and the town was very special," screenwriter Jeb Rosebrook said. "I had been on locations before, but I had never seen this kind of thing between the town and the people doing the movie."
The famous Palace Bar Fight was probably more like a big party for all the actors and extras involved. "The way that fight worked was that Peckinpah had everybody there by about 8:30 in the morning to start shooting at 10," Rosebrook said. "He opened the bar and everybody had free drinks until about 9:30."Then the band started playing and we started dancing and fighting." 

At one time the bar fight scene was excerpted from YouTube and publicly available to watch.  However, it has been deleted so you will just have to watch the entire movie to see it for yourself.

Although many more stories and maybe even some legends are yet to be recorded in the future of The Palace Bar, it's highly unlikely that there will be anything to equal either the 1901 Fire story or the famous Junior Bonner Palace Bar Fight.