My dad bought our first television the week they hit the stores from stories that my mom told. I don’t remember because I was an infant at the time. The screen was small; you could cover it with your hand. She said that news of our new set spread fast, and the entire neighborhood crowded into our two-room apartment to watch shows on it. The crowd size amazes me because my great-grandmother’s apartment building didn’t have indoor plumbing, but it must have had electricity.
We didn’t need a TV Guide. We memorized the program schedule and could rattle off the shows for any given evening. The best night was Sunday. That was the night that Walt Disney’s Disneyland came on. They called it that between 1954 and 1958, it had various names after that. The gist of the show was always the same. Us kids loved that we could stay up an extra hour to see it—and maybe some of the Ed Sullivan Show if Topo Gigio was a guest.
The Disney show had four rotating themes. My siblings and I liked the cartoon week the best, but my dad enjoyed the westerns. They were either cowboy stories or a smooth-talking narrator explaining the west. He spoke differently from us. He didn’t have an accent as such—he had a drawl. He hung on to words so long they curled at the end—like the top of a Dairy Queen cone. His calm voice was soothing, and even at our young age, we knew that he wasn’t from Pittsburgh.
As I got older, I learned that the narrator’s name was Rex Allen. In addition to the Disney shows, he was an actor, songwriter, and singing cowboy. You may remember seeing his movies on Saturday morning cowboy shows if you’re as old as I am. (I don’t see a lot of hands out there in the peanut gallery, so you’ll have to take my word for it.)
After seeing this week’s picture, many of you have already guessed that he was born and raised in Willcox. I suspect that he’s their most famous native, and that’s why there is a museum for him along Railroad Avenue, across the street from a park with his statue. I can’t imagine anyone loitering in that park because the busy railroad tracks bisect it. It’s no place for a drunken hobo.
The tan building in the photo wasn’t built to house the Rex Allen Museum—it was initially the Schley Saloon. Sound familiar? It was the bar where Joseph Schwertner made his money—go back a read last week’s story. Two doors down, the building with the blue awnings is the Marty Robbins Gift Shop. You’re asking, “What’s he got to do with Willcox?” If you’re a boomer like me, you’ll remember the hit song Streets of Laredo that Robbins sang. Rex Allen wrote it. I think another Allen song that Arthur Godfrey recorded in 1948 is pretty catchy. It’s titled Slap Her Down Again Paw. It’s true; I couldn’t make this one up.
The grand white building between the museum and gift shop was a bank. It’s currently the Keeling Schaefer wine tasting room. One of at least three that Queen Anne and I saw on the avenue, and they may be the future of Willcox tourism. While the memory of Rex Allen and Marty Robbins appeals to my generation, there is no context for those that follow. So, the old cowboys’ draw may be on the wane.
However, wine is another story. A couple of decades ago, some adventurous vintners settled into the high grasslands of southeast Arizona. They saw that the conditions here would be an excellent place to plant vines—especially the well-drained soils of the foothills. The climate and geography are similar to parts of California’s central valley. New wineries are blooming from the little town of Elgin east to New Mexico.
Anne and I spent a couple of hours in Keeling Schaefer sampling and talking with the hostess. We found their offerings to be young and a little rough, but we did like a couple of whites and reds enough to purchase. There is an essence of the local soil in the wine—like the peat in a highland scotch. It’s a characteristic that you like or not. A word of advice if you go; sample at the tasting rooms and note your likes. Then stop at Safeway and buy the bottles at a more reasonable price.
You can see a larger version of Past and Future on its Web Page by clicking here. Next week we move on to a new project. Come back and see our next project.
Until next time — jw