Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Death Valley in a '51 Powerglige - part 4 - Eichbaum Toll Road

Eichbaum Toll Road




It had been a long and eventful day and with having to turn back and check on the iron back home on my suggestion that it may have been left on, we found ourselves in Stovepipe Wells and not in Furnace Creek as setting winter sun turned the hills to brilliant gold. Since Stan Jones' campfire shindig wasn't until the next night, being behind the pace wasn't much of an issue. However, there was the issue of food and lodging for the night, and since it looked like some other folks were hunkering down nearby, we went back across the road to the general store where we met the proprietor Dave Frey who was happy to take care of our needs.

Considering how far the Stovepipe Wells General Store was from any competition, Dave's prices were quite fair. Smokes for mom and dad were still 25 cents, bread was .19, and a half gallon of milk for 45 cents. He even had sirloin at 76 cents a pound but mom decides on hot dogs, figuring we can roast them over the campfire Dave said he has for the guests every night.

Out back were the 'cottages', which were old military GP tents draped over a wood frame. Dave said he got the idea from living and working at Camp Curry in Yosemite and the tents they had there. As coincidence would have it, it turns out in conversation that back in the 1940's, Dave had also owned a small store and cottages right by our current place near Idyllwild. It went bust in '47 largely due poor roads leading there, and this was where dad and Dave really hit it off as neither could understand why people don't carry shovel and boards in their cars at all times.


Dad mentions the landmarks we've gone to and wonders where the next one, the Eichbaum Toll Road, might be. To this Dave said it was a funny thing, we only had to look back across the road and it was right next to the 'Burned Wagons' landmark about 100 feet to the right. Another funny thing about it said Dave was that the landmarks was all about this store's predecessor, old Bob Eichbaum and his toll road that opened up Death Valley to tourism back in 1926 and enjoy stay with Bob and his wife Helene at what they called 'Bungalette City' 


Old Bob got 'em with a toll going both ways, with a renaming to 'Mt. Whitney Toll Road on the other side of the overhead sign. The tolls stopped when the state took the road over in the 1930's.


At the campfire that night were Dave and his wife Louise, a half dozen French tourists who spoke no English, and us. With mom and dad's pianos at home (they each had their own) and fortunately my accordion as well, we had no instruments, so dad decides a little acapella sing along is in order and he launched into some Lefty Frizzell favorites with 'Long Black Veil' and 'Always Late'. To this the confused  French countered with Edith Piaf's 'La Vie en Rose' and the latest Gallic pop hit, the melody to a song we'd later know as 'Let It Be Me' from the Everly Brothers. A good time was had by all, and with the news that the Stan Jones event was just a day away, everyone was excited about heading to Furnace Creek for the event.

With a new block of ice in the cooler, we settle in, or rather mom and dad settle in the tent and it's decided that I'd be better off sleeping in the Bel Air.

Laying there in the back seat that night turned out to be feast for the senses, stoked like Dave's poker had just done livening up the campfire embers to flame. It was totally different than laying down in the back seat of a moving car. First, I found a little switch hidden halfway down on the herringbone cloth below the armrest behind the driver's door. It turned on the dome lights. Who knew? Couldn't wait to tell dad in the morning. Then there were the chrome strips crossing the headliner and emulating supports for a convertible top. Since I knew all GM hardtops had them, I wondered if Cadillac had more of the chrome strips. On average back then, the guy at the top of a company made about seven times as much as the guy at the bottom, and with Chevy, Pontiac, Oldsmobile, Buick, and Callilac, General Motors had a car for every step along the way.  Called hardtop convertibles then I was to learn later that the cars were actually convertible bodies and not sedans and that they'd simply weld the tops on after making the rest of the car.


Then there was the clock. The windup ticker sat up in the middle of the dashboard and in the quiet desert night, was really loud. I'd heard the Cadillac clock was now electric and thought how nice that would be, as it was becoming a bit like Edgar Allan Poe's 'The Tell Tale Heart' I'd just read. Then the action scenes from 'It Came From Beneath The Sea' where a '51 Chevy is chased across a bridge by a hideous giant squid play over and over in my head. The car didn't make it. And I'm in a '51 Chevy. Eventually, soothing thoughts began like Dave's mentioning earlier that the term 'dashboard' came from the wagon days and was the plank a driver would rest his feet on and used to 'dash' away the mud and dirt and such tossed up from the road and I fell asleep to a gentle breeze and yips of coyotes in the distance.



Plaque inscription:

NO. 848  Eichbaum Toll Road

In 1926, H. W. Eichbaum obtained a franchise for a toll road from Darwin Falls to Stovepipe Wells, the first maintained road into Death Valley from the west. It changed the area's economic base from mining to tourism and brought about the creation of Death Valley National Monument seven years later.

Location: 100 ft S of State Hwy 190 (P.M. 85.83), Stovepipe Wells , Death Valley National Monument


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