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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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).
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.