Monday, June 26, 2006

Red Terror on Apache Trail

June 26, 2006 © Thomas J. Kollenborn. All Rights Reserved. 

The title of this story sounds like something out of the “cold war” between the Allies and the Soviet Union. This story actually predates the Bolshevik Revolution in Russia. A new era of transportation was introduced to Arizona Territory with the construction of Roosevelt Dam (1903-1911). The Apache Trail would witness a transition from team-drawn wagons to powered horseless vehicles. Even W.A. Kimball’s handsome new Concord stages in 1905 couldn’t turn the tide of change. When Kimball received his first new Concord stages on June 1, 1905, J.J. Holdren and Sons had already ordered their first gasoline powered vehicle.

While Holdren and Sons were waiting for the arrival of their first automobile a giant steam-powered traction engine [weighing] close to 16 tons made a trial run between Mesa City and Goldfield. It was soon decided these giant steam tractors would haul oil to Government Wells [where] it would be loaded into wagons for the remainder of the trip to the Roosevelt Dam site. The steam tractor was capable of hauling 140 barrels or 7,700 gallons of oil at a speed of 3 miles per hour.

When construction first started on Roosevelt Dam horses and mules reigned supreme over other methods of transportation on the Mesa-Roosevelt Road (Apache Trail). Millions of tons of materials and supplies had to be moved from the railhead in Mesa City to the dam site over this primitive road by today’s standards.

The Holdren Stage Line made daily trips to the Roosevelt Dam site, leaving Mesa City at 6:00 a.m. and arriving at Roosevelt at 6:00 p.m. The Holdrens ordered the automobile in hopes of shortening that time. Their plan was to operate the vehicle between Mesa City and Government Wells a distance of twenty-three miles.

The Holdrens purchased their automobile from the Knox Automobile Company, Springfield, Mass. It had a twenty horsepower gasoline engine and was capable of transporting fourteen passengers comfortably with a limited amount of baggage. The automobile weighed 3,500 pounds and was capable of speeds up to twenty miles per hour. The roads of the period would not support such speed. The car cost $3,000 delivered in Mesa City in 1905.

The Holdrens’ Knox was probably the first automobile to operate on the Apache Trail for the purpose of generating revenue. The automobile’s first trip was made on August 25, 1905. The trip from Mesa City to Government Well was made one hour sooner than by stage. The automobile made the trip in one hour and thirty minutes, a distance of 23 miles. Future road improvement further reduced this time to one hour.

The Knox was painted a bright red and soon became known as the “Red Terror” of the Apache Trail. The brilliant red color of the automobile could be seen from a great distance warning teamsters of an impending confrontation between the horseless carriage and horse drawn wagons. It is said by some Arizona historians the completion of Roosevelt Dam announced the introduction of the self-propelled vehicle to Arizona Territory. It would be almost a decade after the construction of Roosevelt Dam before automobiles really replaced horses as a means of transportation in Arizona.