Northeast of Lake Havasu City on Interstate 40, smack dab in the middle of sprawling Yucca, Arizona, sits a tall, yellow and red sign. The ground beneath the sign is void of any structures. What sat underneath was bulldozed into oblivion several years ago. Concrete foundations remain, with faded lettering on the behemoth billboard reading, WHITING BROS.
At one time the Whiting Brothers had a profitable service station on this property along with a motel. For the record, there were close to one-hundred Whiting Brothers facilities throughout the country. Their simplistic motto was,
“Quality gas for less!”
‘Hard times’ hit this company below the belt during the 1970’s. One by one their petroleum stations closed doors. Economic weakness forced such upon a slew of Arizona businesses during the fuel shortage years. Tourism dollars took a terrible plunge because of increased gasoline prices. People drove as little as they could.
A few hundred feet away from the Whiting Brothers sign sits the remains of another motel and café. Mostly built of brick, these decaying buildings can still be seen from I-40. Thankfully heavy equipment hasn’t touched them; yet. Their time is undoubtedly limited.
A young Yucca resident that wishes to remain anonymous mentioned that a huge truck stop is in the planning stages. That’s all the information I could get out of her. Another resident informed me the truck stop rumor has been going strong for years.
It makes sense that a refueling station will ultimately end up in this area. Plenty of property is available for big rigs to park, plus there are several entrances and exits. A little widening and lengthening of the access road, including all entrance and exits would need to be done. Someone with sufficient political pull can make that happen.
Whiting Brothers in Arizona date back to the early 1900’s. The Whiting family moved to St. Johns, Arizona before the turn of the century. Edwin M. Whiting started his first business there in 1901. At an early age, son Edwin I. became a partner. They were highly successful timber and lumber tycoons. Both men were involved in the mercantile industry as well. The Whiting’s as a family were a tight knit group.
Edwin I. Whiting and his wife Ethel had 4 sons; Lee, Merwin, Virgil, and Farr. Lee died as an infant. Merwin was killed at the age of 15 in a horrific tractor accident. Virgil and Farr worked side by side with dad in the various family enterprises. The boys picked up Edwin’s hard work ethics. His moral and business standards also rubbed off. The trio were entrepreneurial go-getters!
Virgil and Farr were instrumental in making the company grow in leaps and bounds. When Edwin I. Whiting reached retirement age, the 2 boys took over reins. They found other avenues of revenue which included substantial real estate investments. The Whiting Brothers thrived. They gave back to the community much of what they took in. They were heavily involved in civic activity. The St. Johns community loved them dearly.
Things went well for many years until March 29, 1961. That’s the day Virgil and Farr Whiting went missing on a flight. They were flying from St. Johns to Phoenix on a business trip. Their twin-engine plane was discovered several days later. It’d cratered into the side of a mountain instantly killing both siblings. A severe storm with icing and turbulence was believed to have caused the crash. Virgil Whiting was an accomplished pilot having flown bombers during WWII. Evidently he misjudged weather on this trip.
Edwin I. Whiting announced after his son’s funerals, that son-in-law: Wilford Shumway, Sherwood Udall, and Darwin Grant would assume control of company holdings. Edwin I. Whiting died less than 2 years after Farr and Virgil perished. He was 80. The husband, father, and businessman is buried in Saint Johns Cemetery along with his wife and 4 sons.
Whiting Investments is now owned by Shae and Steven Shumway. They’ve carried the Whiting success story to a higher level where real estate development is concerned. Whiting Brothers gas stations are mere history. Luxury hotels seem to be the Shumway brothers forte. They recently built their eighth. This last hotel, a Residence Inn by Marriott, opened at Flagstaff in 2017. Perhaps Lake Havasu City will be their ninth?
When I drive past Yucca, Arizona I never fail to glance at that enormous Whiting Brothers sign. I also look for the Kenworth truck on a pole. Both are a bit faded since I first saw them in 1985.
If and when a new truck stop comes to Yucca, hopefully the Whiting Brothers billboard remains. The town mayor needs to address this. I assume Yucca has a mayor. If not, then someone needs to claim the title.
The Whiting Brothers sign is a viable landmark of the unincorporated town; Honolulu Club on the opposite side of I-40 being another. The way I view things: the sign, the truck, and the club (at least their sign) keep Yucca on the map. A brand new truck stop would make it more than just a spot!
The year was 1972. To the delight of many young men the Vietnam War finally ended; draft notices as well. Recent high school graduate Keith Stone wanted to be a tour bus driver. Seeing the country and getting paid sounded like a perfect career choice.
There came a day when he decided to go for it. Being a responsible employee, Keith gave his boss a one week notice. She proceeded to fire him. After Keith’s termination, the fast-food executive had a hard time filling empty shoes. Experienced grill managers are hard to find in Pueblo, Colorado.
First thing on his agenda was get a commercial driver’s license. It took a year to pass the test. Keith had a problem making sharp turns without hitting the curb or driving over sidewalks. It was a depth perception issue. He never did get things right. The savvy Mr. Stone slipped his instructor twenty-bucks and immediately solved the dilemma.
Keith talked to a man from California named Charlie Cobb. Mr. Cobb formerly drove a tour bus before hitting it big in Amway. The guy said as a driver he sometimes made a hundred bucks in tips. That got Keith’s attention. Keith Stone’s wallet had never seen the likeness of Ben Franklin. Money literally burned a hole in his pocket.
Charlie told Keith that to be a good tour bus pilot, and get decent tips, you need an act of sorts. Keith wasn’t sure what he meant. Charlie went on to explain that a driver has to know the history of places along the route. He gave the young man an example:
“Folks, the river we’re about to cross was the location of a major gold rush. in 1860, over 200,000 ounces of the precious metal was taken from it.”
Mr. Cobb explained to Keith that tourists want to be educated
“Have a joke or two up
your sleeve!”, he
advised. “And always know your audience!”
Keith Stone was eventually hired by Lost Wages Tours. The outfit ran a fleet of derelict buses out of Denver to Las Vegas. Most of their clientele were older retired people. A young baggage handler informed Keith the tight geezers seldom tipped. That bummed him out before remembering what Charlie Cobb said.
“You need to entertain
Keith Stone’s maiden journey consisted of a group of seniors from Fort Collins. They were an eclectic bunch of retirees. One gal said she’d won a thousand bucks on her last gambling trip. Keith instinctively took to the bus microphone, telling everyone that he got 50% of all winnings. That had them cackling like geese. He believed he was on the path to an easy hundred bucks.
The fully loaded bus pulled out of the depot at 9:00 and was on I-70 within minutes. Spotting a closed and boarded up cafe on the right side of the highway, Keith informed his passengers that the owner had been murdered in a botched robbery attempt several months back.
“Shot him in the head! You know that place served the best darn chili in all of Colorado. A real shame it closed!”
The passengers were exceedingly quiet upon hearing such gruesome news. It took several minutes for them to rejoin former conversations.
After being on the road for two hours, Keith asked for a show of hands on those needing to use the restroom. Nearly everyone raised theirs.
“We’ll be stopping at Santa Fe in two hours.” he told them.
“Hope those really needing to go wore Depends.”
When unsavory language flew from back of the bus, and a full can of soda hit the windshield, Keith decided it best to tell them he was joking.
“There’s a rest stop straight ahead. We’ll be departing for a fifteen minute break.”
Keith planned well for his grand finale act. This would be the ultimate tip gathering stunt. Everything was perfectly aligned. Keith smirked while thinking about it. His mind flashed back in time.
Twenty years previous, Uncle Joe Stone played a prank on Keith’s mom and dad that relatives still talked about. It was considered the joke of all jokes:
Keith’s parents were riding with Uncle Joe and Aunt Betty to Salt Lake City for a Stone family reunion. Everyone loved Joe’s sense of humor. Uncle Joe was the one that couldn’t cut the cake, yet he could cut cheese with the best of them.
Uncle Joe was driving his 1952 Lincoln to Utah. He’d just picked the car up in Baton Rouge from a reputable car dealer. A salesman there told him the automobile had been purchased new by Elvis Presley. Later on Joe discovered that Mr. Presley didn’t make it big until 1954.
Joe’s version of the story quickly changed. He told anyone who’d listen that the stately vehicle once belonged to Hank Williams Sr. A few family and friends actually believed Joe; having their photos taken in front of the car.
During their trip to Utah, unbeknownst to Keith’s mom and dad, the burly Uncle Joe placed a bottle of Coke inside a brown-paper-sack and stuck it between his legs.
Several miles down the road with Keith’s folks in the back seat, Joe began taking nips. He’d look in the rearview mirror before placing bottle to his lips. Of course Keith’s mom instantly noticed. She quickly jumped to conclusions as most women do. Husband Rod was dozing and didn’t see what was happening.
When they stopped for a potty break, Maggie Stone insisted that her husband take the wheel.
need a rest Joe. Rod can drive for a while!”
That fit perfectly into Uncle Joe’s plan. Him and Aunt Betty happily swapped seats. They were able to sleep the remainder of the trip comfortably in back. Rod Stone drove all the way to Salt Lake City including the return leg to Louisiana. Rod and Maggie didn’t find out they’d been fooled until years later. The couple found it hilarious.
Tucked between Keith’s legs on the tour bus was a bottle of Pepsi purchased from a neighborhood 7-11. It was hidden inside a brown-paper-bag. Keith Stone emulated Uncle Joe’s act to perfection instantly seeing results.
The whispering got louder and louder. There came a point when
a woman jumped up screaming for Keith to stop the bus.
“Let me off before you kill us all!”
Spotting a safe area to pull over, Keith Stone eased the big vehicle to a halt. Dust rose from all four tires. Opening the door, he started to inform the gal that she’d been punked. Before he could do so 41 passengers and a poodle abandoned ship. They refused to get back on.
These days Keith is back doing what he does best. The man’s old boss recently informed him,
“Experienced grill managers are hard to find in Pueblo, Colorado. Keith Stone, I’m glad you’re finally home!”
Extraordinary story about a Union soldier during the Civil War, and how his personal diary came to be lost during the Battle of Gettysburg, ultimately winding up in my hands.
interested in the American Civil War since birth. As a young man, Ken Burns’
documentary on the war only spurred my interest. Keep me supplied with large bowls
of buttered popcorn and I’ll watch it time and time again.
fought on opposing sides; the majority of them being Confederate soldiers. Grandpa Houston Hankins told me
stories about these courageous kinfolk. He said a few Hankins were teenagers
when they enlisted. GGG-Grandfather Stephen G. Hankins from Lamar County,
Alabama tragically lost 3 sons in the Civil War. Family history fascinates me.
One of my east coast ancestors, William Hankins, became a partner with gun-maker Christian Sharps in 1859. They produced Sharps & Hankins carbines and rifles used exclusively by Union troops. Early on I had the desire to own artifacts from this conflict. It made no difference whether the relics were North or South. I love holding history in my hands. Certain antiques talk to me. Thanks to an understanding wife, and assistance from Mr. Norm Flayderman, my wish became reality.
The late Norm
Flayderman is considered by many to be the expert
of experts when it comes to firearms and accouterments used in the Civil
War. His business, Norm Flayderman & Company, put out yearly catalogs chocked
full of such antiques for sale. It made my day when one of these books showed
up in the mail.
because I lived in Alaska, the catalog would arrive a week later than addresses
in other states. The items I sought were long gone. Because of this I called up
Mr. Flayderman to inquire on what could be done. Initially I talked to his wife
Ruth before Norm took the phone.
He must have
sensed the utter unhappiness in my voice during our 15 minute conversation. Mr.
Flayderman put me on his list of premium customers, although I’d yet to
purchase anything from his firm. From that point on whenever the catalog showed
up, countless hours would be spent poring over it. I don’t recall ever losing
out on a purchase after Norm did me that favor.
years I bought several antique weapons from him. Those items include a Sharps
& Hankins – Army carbine plus a pepperbox pistol. Various tintype and
daguerreotype photographs were obtained. One of my favorite collectibles were
signed Civil War Bibles.
bit, I picked up a pair of Lomen Brothers reindeer mukluks used by Admiral
Richard Byrd on his Antarctica expedition. I traded those for an 1863 Springfield
rifle excavated from a Williamsburg, Virginia battlefield. The rifle has shrapnel marks on it indicating
hot grapeshot from a cannon struck
the barrel and receiver. I still get strange feelings each time I touch this
weapon. Without doubt the soldier carrying it did not survive.
were made to Norm before his catalogs came off the press. He knew me as the
‘collector from Alaska’ although I’m sure I wasn’t the only 49th
state player. On my last conversation
with Norm, I asked if he had anything from the Civil War that begged for attention.
Norm knew what I meant saying that that he did.
a unique Civil War diary coming up for sale. It was written by a Union soldier named
Joseph Gilbert Barton. Mr. Barton served with the 14th Vermont
Infantry – Company I. They were a group of volunteer soldiers. Norm went on to say he’d been researching the
manuscript for years, believing there was something special about it that he
could not place his finger on. He told me he didn’t have time to continue
Flayderman was loyal to his other customers. He would not allow me to purchase
it before the catalog hit my hands. He
was as honest a businessman as they come. Norm told me to keep a lookout for
“Early bird gets the worm!”, Norm chuckled.
When that catalog
finally showed, speed-reading-tutor Evelyn Wood’s head would’ve spun as I
quickly thumbed through it. I scanned page after page at warp speed looking
intently for Barton’s diary. Finally locating the ad I called to check
availability. Norm wasn’t in yet Ruth told me the item was still for sale. I excitedly
asked her to,
“Mark it sold!”
When a well-insulated
envelope arrived containing the diary I began carefully poring over each hand-written
page. They were composed of ink on different types of paper. Norm included his
research notes from a yellow legal-size notebook in the packet.
Some of the words were hard to read without magnifying glass. A friend of mine, Fred Salter, along with the assistance of Terry Barton on the Barton family website helped transcribe things. This took some time. The finished project was well worth their effort. Gilbert Barton’s chronological records lined up precisely with other recorded accounts of the 14th Vermont’s wartime activities. Some of this new information was added to a website on the 14th Vermont Volunteers.
The journal begins with Pvt. J. Gilbert Barton entering the service. It mentions boring routines the troops went through getting ready for departure. Marches and drills were constantly part of the regimen. One of the more vivid entries is a detailed account on what Barton saw after his train arrived in Washington D.C.
at Washington today about noon. Before we got there (near enough to see the
city), the soldiers (myself included) were anxious to see the Capitol, as we
crowded to the doors of the cars for a sight. After taking dinner that was
prepared for us in a Soldier’s Boarding House, we rested a while & during
the time saw several VT soldiers. Steven Hazard was one of them. Old women and
raggedy boys and girls were around selling pies and cakes. I did not buy any
for fear of being poisoned.”
the 14th Vermont Infantry finding that they fought gallantly at
Gettysburg. What was very unusual about Gilbert’s writing was there was no
mention of such. In fact the diary’s last entry was dated March 13, 1863. The
first thing popping into my head was that pages were missing.
I spent hour
after hour looking for more information on Gilbert Barton going so far as to
send off for his military records. They didn’t offer anything more than what I already
knew. Eventually I placed the diary in my safe and moved on. That was over 30
recently I was searching for tax paperwork coming across the old diary. Taking
it out of its fireproof home, something told me to give things one more try.
For those having studied the American Civil War, you’ll know that Cemetery Hill and the Trostle Farm are the most significant landmarks in Gettysburg National Military Park. President Abraham Lincoln gave his famous Gettysburg Address there.
Many died on the farm grounds with graphic photographs showing the carnage. It’s remarkable that the Trostle farmhouse and barn are still standing.
When the 14th Vermont Infantry arrived in Gettysburg they had little time to settle in. Camped to the east of Cemetery Hill, records show the troops were instructed to double quick to an area under attack by Confederate troops. Double quick means dropping everything but gun and bullets and basically running to your position. This explains why Gilbert Barton lost his knapsack.
A knapsack back then is much like a backpack of today. It would’ve contained personal items such as Bible, photos, comb, tin cup, fork and spoon, metal plate, hardtack, writing utensils, paper, and in Gilbert Barton’s case, a copper stencil used for marking valuables.
After the Gettysburg battle ended someone picked up Gilbert’s knapsack and went through it. How this stencil ended up hidden in the Trostle’ barn is a mystery. My theory being the person finding the knapsack, intentionally ditched the stencil for one main reason. That stencil identified who the goods belonged to. For whatever reason, Gilbert’s diary was deemed worthy of keeping. It’s a miracle that the writings survived.
months leading up to the Battle of Gettysburg, the 14th Vermont Infantry
was always on the move. They were considered a part of the hard charging ‘Army
of the Potomac’. Wolf Run Shoals and Occoquan in Virginia were their staging
grounds the last few weeks. During this
time there would’ve been little or no time at all for Barton to make entries.
His last journal date reflects that.
Although Gilbert was eventually reunited with his copper stencil in 1890, the diary never did return to his hands. Norm Flayderman indicated he’d purchased it at an estate sale, and that the person selling it did not have Barton connections.
It was only
because of Mr. Flayderman piquing my interest that I ultimately purchased the
diary. It’s almost as if Norm knew I’d never give up on finding answers.
J. Gilbert Barton’s diary is a significant piece of Civil War and Gettysburg ephemera. Provenance seemingly popped out of the woodwork in solving things, although popped out of newspaper pulp is a more plausible term. Without the 1890 archived newspaper article I never would’ve figured things out.
Paper items, unlike guns, swords, and copper stencils have a limited life expectancy when subjected to the elements. The simplistic and fragile diary composed by J. Gilbert Barton is a miraculous Gettysburg survivor.
I should end things here but I won’t. If you’re inquisitive like me you have to now wonder,
“What happened to Joseph Gilbert Barton’s copper stencil plate?”
Your parents and
grandparents are fine. They say hello. Aunts and uncles echo the same. Several
friends give you thumbs up. Those furry and feathered friends of yours; they’re
romping around the mansion grounds. All ten of them miss you dearly.
I see you are doing well. Being upright is good. You’ve definitely been eating. That isn’t the case for millions throughout the world. At times you forget. I’ve blessed you with ample food. Remember those folks not as fortunate next time you complain about a cold burrito.
Looking over your
life history there were many times I shook my head. Your judgment between right
and wrong went haywire on numerous occasions. I had to get your attention more
than once. Still do. Often times with leather boot instead of woven sandal. Have
to constantly stay on top of you Mr. Hankins. You have some spiritual growing to
You’ve been concerned
about what’s going on in this world. Who isn’t? Do not be afraid. Things will
be okay. Until the day of reckoning, continue to pray for friends, family,
strangers, and enemies. Yes; enemies. Read your Bible. I know you’ve failed to
do that. There are people praying for your health Michael. Return the favor!
Wherever you go, know
that I’m with you. I see your every move. I know your inner thoughts and
secrets. Never forsake me. You asked me into your heart. I reside within. Each
time you enter a place where I’m not welcome do not fret. Man has neither the
power nor wisdom to keep me out. Those who rebuke my presence are fools. Vengeance
Using the Heavenly
scale of eternity, you’re less than an eye blink away. No one knows the year,
month, week, day, or minute. I know precisely the millisecond.
Michael, remember that
harsh words, verbally and written, cut deeper than a double-edged Gillette®
razor. That last line has you smiling. Yes, I have a sense of humor. You got
yours from me.
Follow my commandments. There are but 10. Even you should be able to remember that much.
I’m not sure why I was given Herman’s rifle. Glenn, Charlie, Andy, and Philip are the hunters in our family. They deserved the weapon more than me. These guys are lesser halves to Joleen’s four sisters. Joleen is my wife of almost 43 years.
animals and butchering them isn’t something I do. I hold no ill towards those
that choose such. My friends and family hunt solely for subsistence. In my
opinion, a grocery store meat-counter works great for harvesting steaks; the
best part being they come fully wrapped.
Several years ago for reasons unknown Joleen’s mom picked me as ‘keeper of the gun’. The prized weapon belonged to Bonnie’s late husband, Herman Freeman. For those needing specifics it’s a 1972 Sako – Finnbear Deluxe – .375 H&H Magnum. For folks needing less data,
“It’s a bear gun!”
I covet firearms for mechanical and historical significance more than anything. An ancestor of mine, William Hankins, was partners with Christian Sharps during the American Civil War. The two entrepreneurs teamed up to create the Sharps & Hankins Firearms Company in Philadelphia. I’m fortunate to possess several rifles and pistols they manufactured.
“If only those weapons could talk!”
Seeing Hankins stamped alongside Sharps is meaningful to me. Christian
Sharps is undoubtedly one of the finest American gun makers to ever live. The
Sharps & Hankins partnership lasted but a few years. Research shows them
going separate ways about the time William Hankins’ wife Elizabeth died in
1866. William didn’t live much longer. He passed away in 1868.
been intrigued by guns of the Old West. To own a Colt pistol or lever action
Winchester owned by Wild Bill Hickok, Bat Masterson, or Lucas McCain would set
my world on fire. The pinnacle of my collection is a U.S. surcharged Brown Bess
musket from the Revolutionary War. An original bayonet is still attached. The
weapon literally reeks of early American conflict.
I’ve never been attracted to sporting weapons where collecting is concerned. When Bonnie gave me Herman’s hunting rifle I was humbled, yet not sure what to do with it. The Sako didn’t fit with firearms I possess. Even so, I carefully placed it in my gun safe for protection. Every so often I’ll remove it to lubricate metal components including polish the stock. It goes back inside once this work is done.
One afternoon while reading a book on early Alaska gold mining a thought crossed my mind. Herman’s rifle possessed unique significance where Anchorage’s past is concerned. Much of the gun’s heritage I knew. Other data regarding the place it came from was obtained from Loussac Library newspaper archives.
Mt. View Sports Center began operation in 1961. It was originally located at 3130 Mountain View Drive. That’s basically a suburb north of Anchorage. Soon after opening, the store became a must stop for hunters and fishermen from all over the last frontier. Residents from Fairbanks, Kenai, Seward, and Glenallen came to shop. After arrival, many out-of-state visitors purchased firearms, fishing equipment, licenses, plus other sporting equipment. Business was brisk.
Early evening on January 21, 1976, when the store was closed, a fast moving fire broke out. Newspaper accounts show it was a major blaze. Bullets exploded from inside the structure blowing out front display windows. Most of those early explosions undoubtedly came from heated cans and bottles of reloading powder and cleaning solvent. There were so many blasts that merchandise ended up on a sidewalk and in the street.
in the AnchorageDaily Times mentioned police and firemen taking cover throughout
the ordeal. Bullets were ricocheting and pinging like those in a western movie.
I recall driving by as firemen mopped up the scene. It appeared nothing could
have survived. I was wrong!
father-in-law told me one evening he was going to a fire sale. All the
surviving items from Mt. View Sports Center were to be auctioned off. He was
eager to look things over hoping for a good deal. I accepted an invitation to
perspective none of the charred weapons looked salvageable. Most of them
appeared to be burned beyond restoration. Once vibrant and shiny, the bluing on
barrels and receivers was now tarnished from heat, smoke, and water. Herman
came upon the carcass of a rifle that caught his fancy. He took his right thumb
rubbing it over the floorplate. Silver inlay hid under black grime.
Removing additional residue, an artist’s representation of a strange looking animal with long round horns appeared. It was surrounded by botanical leaves. Herman believed it to be an African Waterbuck. I jokingly declared it a four-legged Phoenix. The gun’s wood stock was totally charred. Particles of black ash fell from several locations. I initially viewed the rifle as nothing more than burnt toast. My father-in-law saw different. Through his eyes he’d found a diamond in the rough.
auction was over Herman walked away with his prize. On the ride home I rolled
my truck window down along with opening a vent. An odor of doused campfire
permeated chilled air. My father-in-law was so elated in placing the winning
bid I doubt he noticed.
reasons, Herman realized the action and barrel needed to be inspected by a
professional. Alan “Jerry” Giradet of Lock,
Stock and Barrel gun shop was the best gunsmith in Alaska at that time. His
business on Muldoon Road was located in a building my father owned. Herman took
all metal components to Jerry for analysis. Mr. Giradet proclaimed the barrel
straight and true, with breech and action uncompromised by heat. Herman was
elated with the news.
thing accomplished in restoring the gun was removal of the charred stock. I
helped clean all metal components in diesel fuel to remove soot, smudge, roof
tar, and other contaminants. The metal was given a coat of WD-40 to help keep
it from further rusting.
He began working on these parts using fine emery and crocus cloth. Herman attempted to re-blue the action and barrel with subpar results. Lock, Stock, and Barrel once again came to his rescue. It took Jerry several weeks to perform his magic. The pieces looked good as new when finished. Mr. Giradet was an Army WWII survivor having learned his trade in the service. My father-in-law was a Navy veteran from the same conflict. Both men understood the importance of firearms where freedom is concerned.
during the restoration process Herman ordered a new French walnut stock. A good
deal of money was spent on that. When the box arrived there was not much inside
other than a slab of unfinished wood wrapped in protective paper. He chiseled,
shaped, sanded, and finally contoured it to fit the receiver. Herman consumed a
huge amount of time working on the stock alone. He’d sit in the living room
watching “All in the Family” while
a variable power Leupold scope and then having it bench tested by Jerry
Giradet, the Sako was ready for test fire. I rode with Herman on his airboat up
the silty Matanuska River until we came to a sand bar near the glacier. That’s
where we beached the craft. He walked a good distance before setting up a paper
target. I remained at the boat with sandwich, candy bar, and bottle of pop.
When it was time to shoot, foam ear plugs were inserted. I knelt while he went prone on the ground, using a tree stump to support the Sako. With each detonation of a brass cartridge sand jumped all around my feet. That’s how much concussion the big .375 had. Herman eventually walked out to retrieve his target finding all shots in the black. The scope crosshairs were dead on. Without question my father-in-law is the most accurate shooter I’ve ever met. Others say the same. Offered a chance to fire the gun I declined.
Looking back I still can’t say why I ended up with the rifle. Undoubtedly it was one of Herman’s most prized possessions. I’m probably the only person knowing full history and then some. Perhaps that was reason enough for Bonnie to choose me as custodian. There are no plans to sell the Sako even though it has significant monetary value. Calloused yet caring hands bringing the gun back to life are no longer here. Jerry Giradet and Herman Freeman have permanently left the building. In a few more years the heirloom will be passed on to another family member; handed off to someone hopefully understanding,
“It’s more than just a gun!”
* The biggest survivor of that 1976 fire is Mountain View Sports. The business is still going strong at a location on the Old Seward Highway. This story could not have been told without the relentless sleuthing of Diana Sanders, Pamela Painter Jones, and Kathy Sievert.
Tragic tale of an Army soldier and his prized automobile.
been a Mopar guy forever. It’s an addiction of sorts. That doesn’t mean I don’t
like Ford’s and Chevy’s. I’ve owned both, but I do prefer Chrysler over all
first Mopar was a wrecked, 1969 Plymouth Road Runner. A classmate at East
Anchorage High School, David Church, hit a telephone pole with it creating a
horseshoe imprint in the front bumper and grille. I installed the Plymouth’s
383 engine, 4-speed transmission, and differential into a 1954 Chevrolet sedan.
All other salvageable parts were stripped and sold. The transplant breathed new
life into my old Chevy.
after completing that project, a 1968 Dodge Charger R/T came roaring my
direction. I talked mom into buying the Dodge, with her taking my recently
purchased 1970 Chevrolet Camaro in trade. I was happy to be rid of the Camaro
as it was a tortoise in disguise. Slow & Steady suited mother just fine.
Charger served me well, although it had a ferocious appetite for high octane
fuel. City police seemingly placed it on their Most Wanted list. I was constantly
pulled over. Most stops were warranted, yet on the other hand some weren’t. My
Dodge looked fast sitting still!
In the summer of 1972, I spotted a gray 1968 Plymouth GTX on
the Glenn Highway. The car was jacked in
the back with extended spring shackles. The young driver wore a military-style-haircut.
His wife or girlfriend with infant children rode with him. I followed the muscle-car
into town for a closer look.
Weeks later I came across the same Plymouth on Ingra Street
at a red light. I was cruising in my Charger most likely having just washed it.
That was standard procedure on weekends. This time the Plymouth contained 3-male-passengers
instead of a woman and kids. The fellow riding shotgun took a long drag on a
cigarette, quickly flicking ashes out an open window. He glanced over pointing
a finger straight ahead.
A quick stoplight to stoplight race ensued with me severely beating
the crippled Plymouth. Most likely the GTX owner “banged gears” quite often.
His engine puked blue-smoke indicating something was amiss. The car was deathly-ill
in the oil-consumption-department.
Turns out, Boggs, the fellow owning the Plymouth, worked at
Fort Richardson with several soldiers I knew. His co-workers Don, Chuck, and
Jim turned wrenches at Wonder Park Texaco when they were off duty. I was
employed at the station during my high school years. I was a gas pump jockey.
My father and his business partner Isaiah Lewis owned the place.
Don Weber was the red-haired soldier who sold me his ’54
Chevrolet sedan. This was the car I owned a couple of years before the Camaro
and Charger. I drove it during my high school days. It was lifted on all corners much like a 4×4 truck. Don’s the only G.I. whose
last name I still remember. Chuck drove a fast 1970 Chevelle. Jim was his best
A fellow called Boggs stopped by on occasion to top off his
tank. Boggs owned the Plymouth that I
raced with my Charger. He’d talk trash with his buddies, Don, Chuck, and Jim, for
several minutes before leaving. Wonder Park Texaco was a favorite place for
Army and Air Force car fanatics to hang out. I lost contact with all these guys
after I graduated from high school.
Two years later an ad appeared in Penny Saver for a 1968 GTX. The advertisement mentioned it had a
440, a 4-speed transmission, and a Dana 60 differential. Price was $600.00. I
desperately wanted that Dana 60.
Quickly dialing the listed telephone number, a man gave me directions
on where to find it. He was at work and couldn’t meet me, yet seemed fine with
my checking things out. The address was a small log-cabin off West 15th
with a one-stall detached garage. The home was likely built in Anchorage during
Opening a rickety garage door, I instantly recognized the
Plymouth. No other GTX in town came close to it in appearance. It was the same
car driven by Boggs. Remnants of a military sticker remained on the front
bumper. Someone had made a poor attempt with a razor blade or knife to remove
it. Its Indiana license plates had been taken off and placed on the dash.
The car’s 440 Magnum engine was partially disassembled.
Cylinder heads, exhaust manifolds, intake manifold with carburetor, including
other parts were stashed in the trunk. The odometer read 110,000 miles indicating
the Mopar had covered lots of ground.
I stopped by Turnagain Chevron at Old Seward Highway &
Klatt Road where the seller was employed. Handing him cash, he presented me
with a clear title. The fellow was supposed to tow it to my house with his company
wrecker, yet weeks later the promise went unfulfilled. With help from my
brother-in-law, Gary Adair, we pulled it home using a rope.
All five ashtrays in the Plymouth contained cigarette butts. Smoking
was common for servicemen back in the day, and the seats and headliner reeked
of secondhand smoke and nicotine.
The person I purchased it from mentioned a sad story
associated with the GTX. Unfortunately,
he never relayed the specifics to me. A brief meeting to finalize our
transaction was the only time we met.
Searching for the guy many years later hoping to learn the mystery,
I couldn’t locate him. Even without his help I’ve uncovered information on my
own. It was an old vehicle registration that
eventually put me on the right track.
Undoubtedly Boggs had significant mechanical ability. I
assumed he was the one who built a clever gauge and switch panel, locating it above
the GTX rearview mirror. Much care was taken in the construction. Aircraft
quality stainless-steel tubing connected the oil-pressure-gauge to engine. A chrome
push-button switch was installed for starting. Tin work and riveting on the
panel was precise and professionally done. All electrical-wiring was hidden
As I previously mentioned, I purchased the Plymouth for its Dana
60 rear end. The beefy component was needed to go underneath the 1954 Chevrolet.
Plans were made to strip and sell all the extra parts. Over the next few years
the automobile sat underneath a blue tarp waiting to be dismantled. Fortunately,
that never happened. As more and more time went by, I decided instead to
resurrect the car.
Both fenders had rust, including the rear quarter panels. I
purchased new fenders from Anchorage Chrysler. They also supplied me with left and
right quarter panels. A body shop owned by a friend did the work.
Modifications by me include a supercharged 426 Hemi with
added 4-wheel disc brakes for improved stopping power. The transmission was
rebuilt, with a heavy duty Borg-Warner clutch and pressure plate installed for
durability. Well-worn seat covers were exchanged for new ones including new carpet.
I performed all the chassis cleaning with a wire brush and electric grinder.
There was plenty of hardened mud underneath. I needed a chisel to remove some clods. When
the project was done, I added a small United States flag to the rear window.
Something inside me said it was the proper thing to do.
The finished car wasn’t a picture perfect restoration by any
means. A buddy, Jeff Thimsen, repainted the body in gray-lacquer. Today, nearly
40-years after having been sprayed, it looks much the same as when Boggs owned
it. Aesthetically speaking, time and dust took a toll on the paint.
People snicker and sneer at the nicks, dings, and visible
body flaws. I refer to them asbattle
scars. But there’sa tragic ending to
this story, that remains macabre 44 years after it happened:
Boggs was going through hard times. Only 24-years old, the specialist fourth
class was a mechanic assigned to the 109th Transportation Company at
Fort Richardson. He had three small children and a marriage on the rocks. When
James’ young wife unexpectedly departed Alaska for Indiana taking the kids with
her, he became despondent.
January is a terrible place to be alone, especially for those with drinking
problems. Lack of sunlight and extreme cold can make life miserable and
depressing. Add to that the plight of owning a car that wouldn’t run. James was
without wheels at a time when he desperately needed them.
receiving orders in February transferring him to Fort Hood, Texas, Boggs became
emotionally unglued. He called his parents 5 times that Friday. Army officers counseled him hoping to calm
him down. Unsuccessful, they decided to leave him alone. Their decision was a
Late Friday night,
on February 8, 1974 after leaving a seedy 4th Avenue bar, James
encountered 2 people on the street. One of them he knew from Fort Richardson.
This soldier had a less than stellar military record having gone AWOL the
previous year. The young men came across as partiers looking for a good
time. That was a fallacy. They had devious
plans laid out instead.
Lots of excess alcohol was consumed that
evening. Drugs were used. Intoxicated, Boggs was intentionally led to a
secluded spot behind the Alaska Native Hospital. Easily overpowered by his “friends”,
they slit Boggs throat with a knife to near decapitation. Then they placed a
38-caliber pistol to James’ head and fired. Everything went according to plan.
soldier’s decomposing body was found several months later dumped in a pile of
snow and ice. Thankfully, his killer and his accomplice were caught and
prosecuted. An initial charge of first-degree-murder was surprisingly reduced by
the Anchorage District Attorney Joseph D. Balfe and Assistant District Attorney
W.H. Hawley to second-degree-murder.
According to court documents, presiding Judge Seaborn J. Buckalew Jr. seriously
questioned that decision. Court room records show he believed the killing was
The admitted killer, Gregory Allen Wolford, was
given the maximum 20-years behind bars.
Nicholas Lee Pelkola was sentenced to 6 years for his part. Neither
Wolford nor Pelkola served full terms.
Henry Boggs was a hardcore Mopar guy. His 1968 Plymouth GTX, next to wife and
kids, meant lots to him. Records show he bought the vehicle soon after entering
the service. Many G.I.’s purchased automobiles prior to being deployed. In
Boggs’ case, it was a 13-month tour in Germany.
1971, James and his family made the long 3,000-mile-trip to The Last Frontier. In
the 70’s the infamous Alaska/Canada Highway was still mostly gravel and mud.
Recently married, James and Hazel would’ve been nervous, yet, on the other hand,
extremely excited about their journey. Little did they know that in 3 years, James’
promising military-career would end in such horrific fashion.
this vehicle and finally learning its full history has been eye-opening. For me
it’s hard to fathom that I had known Boggs, never realizing he’d later been
killed. I hardly read newspapers or watched the news back then.
events sent the car my direction. Things weren’t intended to go that way. Most
likely after the Plymouth’s engine went sour, SP4 James Henry Boggs planned to
replace broken parts. He would’ve repaired
and then driven the Plymouth back down the Al-Can Highway to Texas, to
ultimately join his wife and kids.
“A Denmark beautician and his wife built that pyramid in hopes of obtaining eternal life.”
When friends and relatives stop by to visit us in Lake Havasu City, Arizona, my wife and I have a plan of sorts. Without question we’ll take them first to see the London Bridge. That’s a prerequisite. Tourists love to stroll beneath the structure marveling at European architecture and craftsmanship. Our guests are no different. While they’re walking and gawking I sit and wait. It’s amazing what a person can see and feel perched on a concrete bench.
I’ve tried to act as bridge expert while down there, telling more gullible visitors about a movie filmed in ‘The English Village’ called, The Boston Strangler. The majority of them know it’s a ruse, yet I’ve hooked a few unsuspecting believers. Occasionally I toss in the epic tale of a bridge worker named, “Chip”, who accidentally trapped himself inside the structure during reconstruction. Although grossly untrue, the statement warrants undivided attention from those listening.
It never fails that someone will ask if the poor man escaped. I tell them with straight face that being a stone mason, he eventually chipped himself out of trouble. It takes milliseconds for most to discover they’ve been had. Others never figure things out until my wife, Joleen, informs them. Taking our guests to dine at one of several restaurants on ‘The Island’ culminates my London Bridge tour. Someone has to entertain these people and I love doing it!
Breakfast at a swanky uptown diner is always included in our plans. There’s never been a visit where doggie boxes weren’t required. Out-of-town guests are constantly overwhelmed by the abundance of grub. They’ll say with utter amazement that they’ve never seen so much food on a plate. I won’t name the establishment yet will offer a clue, “Paw prints lead to the front door.” Having visitors bring their ‘boxes’ back to our place saves Joleen from having to fix lunch or dinner. I wasn’t supposed to mention that.
Time is put aside in driving friends or relatives around town before heading to Parker. A scenic cruise across the Parker Dam into California is a must. Donkeys are constantly on both sides of the road including the middle. It’s akin to McCulloch Boulevard during a Desert Storm Street Party. Although I know few pertinent facts about Parker, I create unique ones to entertain our visitors. On one excursion I informed friends from Alaska that Parker was named after Fess Parker; the infamous Daniel Boone actor. There was no reason for them not to believe my spiel. It sounded good enough that even Joleen fell for it.
A trip to Oatman, Arizona is generally reserved for the final day. I attempt to line things up perfectly so our visitors don’t miss the gunfight reenactment. That’s my favorite part of visiting this place, other than watching burros steal food from kids and elderly people. Much like a thirsty donkey, I enjoy grabbing an ice cold drink at ‘Judy’s.
An Oatman visit is the perfect opportunity to practice a little tomfoolery. I make sure to stand in front of onlookers when gunshots first ring out. Quickly dropping to the ground, I’ll act as if a chunk of hot lead struck me in the pelvis. Moaning profusely helps with the deception. At the sound of pain, some sucker will gasp, believing live rounds were mistakenly loaded and fired. Quickly jumping up I’ll proclaim it was only a ricochet. That garners a few laughs.
part of the skit, it adds unwanted drama to the gig. I’m sure the ‘Oatman Ghost
Rider Gunfighters’ find my stunt distasteful. On one occasion after being given
the evil eye by a couple of them, I ducked into the Oatman Hotel. That turned out sweet because I purchased a
jar of Arizona honey and an ice-cream cone while there.
There’s something peculiar about Oatman that nearly all visitors overlook. I’m not referring to the stench coming from the town’s public restroom. Tourists never fail to mention that. The peculiarity I’m talking about is the pyramid constructed on a hill directly overlooking Main Street. It sits directly on top of a mine shaft.
locals knowing about this pyramid, most people don’t notice or care. No one’s
ever asked me about the unique residence. That’s fine because I didn’t have an honest answer for them; until now.
was born in Denmark. The man spent a good portion of his early life in Paris,
Rome, Vienna, Madrid, and Majorca. He was an accomplished beautician in those
locales. Herman performed hair and makeup magic on actors, celebrities, shahs,
and other influential clientele. He eventually became bored, finding that
wealthy people were basically unhappy individuals. Being around them brought
Henning was a different kind of person. I don’t mention that in a bad sense.
Let’s just say he marched to the beat of a different drummer. He was an odd
fellow much like this writer.
note of going on a picnic with Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall. That seems to
be one of his more uplifting moments where dealing with Hollywood elite is
concerned. Henning journeyed to America in 1965 with wife Lydia to escape the
madness. Traveling across the U.S. they wound up in California before settling
in desolate Oatman, Arizona. They quickly fell in love with the place.
“They have everything so there isn’t
anything left to live for!”, he told a reporter.
I found the
majority of information regarding this couple in an Arizona Republic newspaper article by, Steve Daniels, dated October
8, 1985. Mr. Daniels arranged a short interview with the Henning’s for his
When Herman and Lydia relocated to Oatman he immediately began plans for a combination pyramid/home. Being a health consultant including beautician, Henning thought there were magical as well as spiritual powers associated with a pyramid design. Herman Henning was an advocate of astrology, metaphysics, architecture, and holistic healing all rolled into one. There’s no telling what else he rolled. During Henning’s interview reporter, Steve Daniels, disclosed that the man smoked generic cigarettes. The word generic has many connotations. We’ll leave it at that.
Local residents were not impressed with Henning’s undertaking. Rumblings were heard throughout the community regarding potential dynamiting of his structure. Such devilry had been done to a couple of businesses over the years. Townspeople thought the pyramid design would not blend in with ‘ghost town’ decor. Here tell there are still a couple of Oatman old-timers feeling that way.
Sun and weather have aged things to perfection. The 4,000-square-foot monstrosity from a distance appears much older than its 34 years. This helps it blend in with prehistoric buildings below. Wood trim appears to be cracked and warped. This same blemishing occurs to flesh. Lizard skin is often used to describe such. Overall though, the dwelling looks to be in great shape.
Henning’s pyramid faces true north. The slope of the walls has been perfectly aligned to 57 degrees, 52 minutes, and 12 seconds. Herman Henning informed Steve Daniels, that the alignment was to maximize effectiveness. The man went on to claim the pyramid made a big difference in his life. He didn’t elaborate other than say he could hear burros braying in the street below. Without question that’s better than listening to caged Chihuahua’s bark in someone’s backyard.
I wanted to interview Mr. Henning. The gentleman would be 97-years-old. An Oatman business owner told me that he’d passed away some time ago. I found no record of such. If Henning’s did depart this world, magical powers of the pyramid failed once again where eternal life is concerned. We saw that happen with the Egyptians.
Next time friends or relatives roll into Havasu, Joleen and I will make it a point to haul them to Oatman just like the others. With added history in my memory bank, I’ll be able to point to the hills and say with unquestionable intellect,
“A Denmark beautician and his wife built that pyramid in hopes of obtaining eternal life.“
either be impressed by my knowledge or call me a liar.
As I mentioned earlier, one of Herman Henning’s ultimate reasons for constructing a pyramid was to harness special powers from the heavens. Only Mr. Henning can say for sure if this worked. Unfortunately it appears he left town permanently. On a quizzical note, perhaps he’s merely lost in Oatman and can’t be found?
If Henning’s pyramid does generate unlimited energy, a portion of it might be tapped to help with the community restroom dilemma. Perhaps a few solar panels placed on top of the unusual building, with electrical wires extending downward to the brick outhouse could be arranged. Celestial current would then be utilized to power-up giant ventilation fans.
I’m absolutely positive should Herman Henning ever return home, and had to enter that public facility, he would not hesitate one iota in saying,