The Silver Bell Historical Society

Stories by Bobby Hunter

Move to Arizona

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  • In 1956, Dad was a West Virginia State Policeman. We moved from our hometown of Fairmont to Williamson, which was a redneck town on the Kentucky border. It was right on the Tug river, ground zero of the famous Hatfield and McCoy feud. Dad was the law in the area. When it became clear that he would eventually be transferred to other small redneck towns, he decided that he wanted better things for his family. His brother, our Uncle Jim, had been in the Air Force and, while in Arizona, had heard about the new mine in Silver Bell. In early 1957, we loaded up a big trailer (no Uhauls back then) and hitched it to our 1956 Oldsmobile, which Dad had bought new the previous September. Six of us piled in the car and made the cross-country trip (see photo). We had to stay at a place called “Choate Ranch” for several months, while they were completing the “new houses” in Silver Bell. The ranch was east of the freeway, which was also just being completed. We all thought it was a big wild west adventure. Finally, we moved into our “new” house, number 155. I remember playing on the big hills of dirt which were dumped in our yards, before they were spread out to plant lawns. 

Disneyland

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  • In 1958, Dad was still a fairly new truck driver. He kept banging his knee on a metal rail in the truck cab. He complained about it, but nothing happened. Frustrated, he finally took matters into his own hands. He got a welding torch and cut out the rail. He was suspended for three days. Guess where we went.

Oldsmobile versus Studebaker

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  •  Dad had bought our new family car, a 1956 Oldsmobile Holiday four-door sedan, before we left West Virginia. Uncle Jim was torn between a Corvette and a Golden Hawk. He finally bought the 1956 Studebaker Golden Hawk (see photo). Supercharged, it was quicker than the Corvette. Dad said they tested it once on a deserted stretch of Avra Valley road. They kicked in the supercharger at 120 mph, and it nearly tore their heads off. They got it up to 140 but were afraid to go any faster. (Top speed was about 160.) 

Model A Roadster

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  • Uncle Jim had a 1930 Model A Ford roadster. Dad and all of us kids used to pile in and ride out on the Old County Road. Once, we were out in the desert, and the car over heated. We all had to take turns peeing in the radiator to fill it up enough to get us back home. 

Summerall Brothers

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  •  Over the years, Dad had a couple of Dodge pickup trucks, an old bug eye 1948 and a 1951. We all used to pile in the back of the truck or Uncle Jim’s Model A (see photos), and explore the desert along the Old County Road. Often our group would include Uncle Marvin and our cousins, the Fryes. We would sometimes stop in to see the Summerall brothers, two old hermits who lived in a small shack. Dad said they lived on peanuts and beer. They would come into town off and on to stock up at the store. Once we stopped in to say hi, and Dad noticed a rattlesnake nearby. He was going to get a shovel, but they said to leave it alone. It wasn’t bothering anyone. 

Gila Monster

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Once we saw a Gila monster crawling up the side of our house. Uncle Jim grabbed it by the tail and put it in a large jar. (It was actually a Mexican beaded lizard.) He took it to the Desert Museum.

We played outside constantly, all day long. There were no video games or cable channels. There were only three major network TV channels (black and white) and, if we were lucky at certain times of the evening, and with the antenna turned just right, we could maybe get a fuzzy fourth public TV channel.

  • We were surrounded by high desert. There was even desert right in the middle of town. We ran and played in the desert day and night. I never remember seeing a rattlesnake or scorpion. We did have bees and wasps. I was bitten by a centipede at the pool once, no big deal.

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Skipper

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  •  Our neighbor across the street, Jerry Brown, had a little dog named Skipper (see photo). He was our constant companion while we were playing ball or running through the desert. He was a stray that they found and kept. He was a wonderful dog, except for one thing. If you pointed anything at him, even a stick, and acted like it was a gun, he growled and got very upset. We think he may have been shot at before. 

The Sandlot

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My brothers and I, along with the Sanchez kids and Jerry Brown across the street, were always playing baseball. When we didn’t go to the ball park, we would play in a little cleared out desert area behind their houses. There was a barbed wire fence running along what would have been first base and right field, so we all became right-handed pull hitters, always trying to hit into left field, to keep the ball from going over the fence. We had a makeshift backstop, made from pieces of sheet metal and bits of chicken wire. Our bases were old boards, or bricks or old pairs of stuffed jeans, whatever we could find.

Every Spring we had to clean our swamp cooler. Dad would climb onto the roof and lower the panels down to us kids. While he was cleaning the cooler, our job was to clean the panels. We would always save the old powdery white cooler pads to mark the baselines on our sandlot field.


We were always in need of baseball equipment. We would use a ball until the cover came off, then wrap it in black electrician tape and use it again. We used all wooden bats back then, and they would eventually break. And the taped bats would no longer stay together. One summer, we decided we needed a new bat. There was one for sale at the store. At that time, you could go into the store with a few coins and buy something. If you had a penny, you could buy a piece of bubble gum. A candy bar was 5 cents. A soda pop was 10 cents, but you had to pay a 3 cent deposit, which you got back when the bottle was returned. We combed the town looking for discarded pop bottles to turn in for the deposits. Finally, we had enough to buy the bat, $1.50!

Silver Bell Golf

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Another sport we learned at Silver Bell was golf. Larry Spence was our baseball coach one summer, and he was a golfer. He would take me and my brother Jimmy down to the old Silver Bell golf course, and we would play 9 or even 18 holes (see photo). The fairways were somewhat cleared out desert, and the greens were sand, with rakes to clear the cow pies out of the way.

In the late 1960s, Larry was elected to the Marana School Board and was instrumental in getting evening activity buses for the kids and limiting practices to 6 pm.

Go Karts

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When we were kids, we used to build soap box racers. We called them go karts, but they were just kid-powered pieces of scrap wood. We would straighten out old nails and reuse them. We used old toy wagon or tricycle wheels, whatever we could find. An axle was a piece of re-bar nailed to a board. Steering was with a piece of rope tied to the front axle. With enough pushing, we could get going fairly fast at the top of our sloping street. We made a brake lever from a board that was supposed to drag the ground. It was useless. Brakes were usually our feet or an obstacle we hit.

One Christmas, we got a real go kart (see photo)! And the Sanchez kids across the street got the same thing! For awhile, we had backyard races. Then we made larger race tracks along the alley and desert. Our racing helmet was a football helmet. The tires were solid rubber, with single wheel drive. We wore out more than one drive wheel.

Lil Abners

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 When we were kids, we all rode down to Lil’ Abners almost weekly, on the dirt road (now Twin Peaks Road) through “Rattlesnake Pass.” Dad and Uncle Jim would go to the bar (all there was then), and we would get our soda pops and go watch the rodeo. Eventually, they added a little dining area, complete with stone fireplace, which Dad and Uncle Jim helped build with stones they hauled down from Silver Bell. The fireplace and original bar are still there, and you can just make out the remains of the little rodeo arena to the north side of the property. 

School Buses

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 We usually caught the school bus around 7:30 am. Living at the top of the new houses, we were the first stop. If we got there early, we would set up cans in the desert and throw rocks at them from a high bank. We felt fortunate being the first bus stop. If we were late, we could always run down to the bottom of the new houses and catch the bus at the last stop. 

Grease Rack

 

I used to ride with Dad in our 56 Oldsmobile down to the old grease rack, just off the road below town, to change oil. He would start at the top of the road, near the mine office, and accelerate to about 100 mph before turning off. He said it was to warm up the old oil, so it would drain better.

Cowboys and bottles

 

As kids, we especially liked to play cowboys. We would run through the desert with our cowboy hats, stick horses and toy guns and holsters. My brothers, Tommy and Timmy, were still wearing diapers with their cowboy boots. Instead of guns, they carried baby milk bottles in their holsters.  

Pay phone

 

Before we got home telephones, we had to go to the store and call on the pay phone. It was a big event. Dad and Uncle Marvin would bring bags of change, and both families, the Hunters and Fryes, would ride over to make the calls, usually to our grandmothers or aunts and uncles back east.

Fly balls

 

We spent lots of time playing baseball at the ball park. One game we liked was catching high fly balls. A group of us would stand in the grass outfield, and one person would hit the balls for us to catch. The trick was to catch the ball either behind your back or with your arm between your legs from behind. Billy Richardson was particularly skilled at this.  

Baseball chicken

 

Another game we liked was during warm ups. We would pair up and start to play catch. We would gradually throw the ball harder and harder and move closer and closer together. Eventually, we would be throwing to each other as hard as we could from a very close distance, until someone chickened out.  

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Little League

 

In the summer of 1973, my brother Tommy and I got jobs as recreation aids for Pima County Parks and Recreation, at Silver Bell. Lucille Bourguet was the recreation supervisor. We hung out at the rec. hall and provided games and music for the kids. Our other duty was to coach the boys Little League baseball team. When we had our tryouts and practice, a little girl, Tina Snyder, showed up and wanted to play. We let her try, and it soon became apparent that she was as good as, if not better than, most of the boys on the team. She played second base. Our youngest brother Scotty was also on the team. We played lots of games in Tucson and, as far as we knew, she was the only girl in the league (see photo).

Olds window

 

My brothers and I often had mock fights. Sometimes we pretended to have weapons, and other times we had real weapons, usually rocks, since we always had plenty of ammunition. One day we were washing our Oldsmobile. I popped Timmy with a wet towel, and he grabbed a small rock and threw it at my feet. It ricocheted off the curb and hit the back door window of the car, cracking the glass. We all panicked and ran into the desert to hide. We knew we would eventually have to face Dad, when he got home. Being the oldest, I came up with a plan. We kept our bikes in the carport next to the car. The ends of the handlebars were at the same level as the crack in the window. We would say that we slipped while parking a bike, and it accidentally hit the window. Timmy would have to take the fall. It worked! Dad was not as upset as we thought he would be. We eventually confessed to Mom, decades later.  

We still have our family Oldsmobile, which Dad bought new in 1956. He could never part with it. We are restoring and driving it. And it now has new, un-cracked windows, for the first time in 50 years!

Newspapers

 

My brothers and I took our turns helping to deliver newspapers. The Mosers had the route, and we would meet at their house very early every morning, rain or shine, to roll and rubber band the papers. They had an old Rambler sedan with bald tires. Before we could head out on the route, Mr. Moser had to get out his compressor and inflate the tires. Mrs. Moser drove and knew every house that got a paper. We would drive down the alleys of the back-to-back houses. We would throw papers from our passenger side, and she would fling them with her left arm from her driver side, all while holding a cup of coffee and a cigarette and shifting gears.  

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Judo

 

In the late 1960s, we had a Judo club in Silver Bell. It was started by John Arnold, who was a student of Ken Carson of Rendokan Dojo in Tucson, the oldest Judo club in Arizona. Mr. Carson started Rendokan in the late 1940s. We were officially known as Silver Bell Judo Club (see image), but we called ourselves Ritsu-ryu Judo (Fighting School of Judo). Every few months, we would travel to Tucson to practice at Rendokan. Back then, many high schools and most YMCAs had Judo clubs, and there were monthly Judo tournaments in southern Arizona. We would go to tournaments in Tucson or as far away as Fort Huachuca or Nogales. I practiced a lot with Ed Fletcher. We had a small back room in the rec. hall, with a 10 by 20 foot mat area. We were always throwing each other into the walls, until we learned to control our throws. My brother Tommy was once Junior Arizona State Judo Champion.   

The blackout

 

In 1974, the first time I brought my girl friend Carol (now my wife) home to Silver Bell, we headed up one evening. I kept telling her that we would be able to see the town lights in the distance, but there were no lights. When we arrived at our house, everything was dark, except for a few candles. We were having a power outage. For awhile, my brother Tommy had her convinced that we lived that way, with no electricity!

Later, we had spaghetti for dinner, and Carol asked about the leaves (bay leaves) in the sauce. Tommy again had her thinking they were marijuana leaves.  

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Autumn leaves

 

My girl friend Carol (now my wife) was from the Philadelphia area. She was used to lots of autumn leaves on the ground, that they would rake into large piles and then play in. When we were visiting Silver Bell one autumn, she noticed a fairly small amount of leaves in our back yard. But she still raked them into a little pile and pretended to play, like back home (see photo). Dad thought she was crazy.  

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Sawtooth

 

On another Silver Bell visit, I invited my girl friend Carol (now my wife) to climb “Sawtooth” (Ragged Top) Mountain. We brought my youngest brother Scotty and his dog Moakie along (see photo). Moakie was constantly roaming or chasing something, until he would suddenly stop, and we knew he had a little thorn in one of his paws.

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Moakie

 

One of our dogs was a little mix named Moakie. He was actually my brother Scotty’s dog. For his size, he was one of the fastest dogs I have ever seen. He could catch squirrels and rabbits, and he could leap over our fence with ease (see photo).

My family moved from Silver Bell in 1975. Dad became a Federal Mining Inspector. He had just the right qualifications—he had been in the Army (in Korea in the late 1940s) and then the Reserves, he had some college, he had been a West Virginia State Policeman, and he had 18 years of mining experience. He spent three years in the southeast region, based in Little Rock, Arkansas. On the move there, he rented a Uhaul truck and towed his Volkswagen van. There was no room for Moakie in the truck, so they let him ride in the van. On the road, Dad said he kept getting funny looks from passers by. He finally realized that Moakie was sitting up on the drivers seat, with his paws on the steering wheel, as if he were driving. While in Little Rock, they had Moakie neutered. The same day they brought him home, still in bandages, he leaped over their six foot fence and was roaming the neighborhood.   

In 1978, Dad transferred back to the southwest region, based in Tucson, which included Silver Bell mine. Moakie contracted Valley Fever which, even with treatment (essentially the same medicine as for humans), can be 50% fatal in dogs. Moakie still lived to a ripe old age and is buried in a secret location near Silver Bell.

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Mom and Dad

 

Looking back on my years in Silver Bell, I feel incredibly fortunate. I became restless as a teenager and then went off to college. I didn’t appreciate it at the time, but I can’t imagine a better childhood, with hardworking and loving parents (see photo), and growing up in such a wonderfully unique place.