As spectacular as is the Grand Canyon, the experience of a visit there is only enhanced by the observation, stories, and study of the people who in time past–or in time present–have moved through the area.
Making a unique contribution to the settling of the West was Fred Harvey who came to be known as the “Civilizer of the West.” Born in London, he came to America at the age of 15 and finally became a railroad man.
“He clerked for the first mail train and was a traveling freight agent for the Burlington. His fastidious English tastes revolted at the unpalatable dry biscuits, the greasy ham-leather and the week old coffee. The dirty, fly-ridden quarters and the all-too-prevalent custom of fleecing travelers ‘who wouldn’t be back anyways,’ made Harvey angry enough to change things.”
He established hotels and unique restaurants along the route of the Santa Fe through Kansas, Colorado, Texas, Oklahoma, New Mexico, Arizona and California. “Rivaling the good food and modern accoutrements that Fred Harvey brought to the West were his “Harvey Girls”–pretty, well-trained waitresses. The girls were recruited from good homes in the East and had a major part in taming the West. The Harvey Girls brought culture, refinement and romance.” Territorial News
The lovely El Tovar where Jerry and I had lunch was built in 1905 and was one of the original Harvey Houses.
I’ve already told you of Buckey O’Neill who was in great part responsible for bringing the railway to the Grand Canyon, and I promised a little tale about his cabin there. It stands along the main Rim Trail that Jerry and I walked to the village, and just outside his cabin is a placard–typical kind of thing that identifies the structure and gives a bit of its history. Jerry stood reading there, and I followed the short walk up to the cabin. It has those doors that are split so that the top half can swing open while the lower part is still closed.
The top half of the door was ajar, and because I wanted to see all the way inside, I swung the door completely open. They are really making this place look authentic, I was thinking, for there were clothes piled around the floor and a general appearance of dissaray. Something is not right here, I felt and then I noticed candy bar wrappers and other modern day notions…hmm.
I closed the door, walked a few steps to the other door of the cabin that was styled in the same way, swung it open and there stood a man. A television was playing, and his eyes were stuck on the screen, then slowly he lifted them and looked at me. He didn’t smile. I didn’t smile. I closed the door, turned around and walked to stand beside Jerry.
When Jerry reads this it will be his first knowledge of this dark secret. The reason I didn’t tell him is because he is always saying I wander off too much, and it is an accurate observation that I have been known to explore in places that were best left undiscovered. Truth be known, I just wasn’t in the mood to confess that evidently I had intruded into someone’s personal space.
Well, anyway, it wasn’t my fault, for there for nothing to indicate the cabin as being anything other than a historical building–the cabin of Buckey O’Neill. No signs, no warnings. Later, though, in some material I read that they sometimes rent out the cabin. …(sorry about that, somebody.)
The last person I want to mention is Earl, who was the host of our railroad car for the return trip to Williams. Probably in his seventies, it was obvious from the beginning of our little more than two hours together that he was an exceptional person. He was kind and loving. He bent low over the seats and hugged the children and told simple jokes. About 15 minutes out of Williams he pointed to a road where it intersected the railroad and told us he lived up that way in a small community.
“It’s a good place to live,” he said. “We look out for each other.”
Before we left the train he walked the full length of the car, shook hands with everyone there, and hugged the children again.
“Thank you for riding my car today,” he spoke into the microphone just before we pulled into the station. “Thank you. I love you. God bless you.”
Earl…I may never see him again…chance points to that…but somehow that Saturday evening, I believed him. I believe he has the capacity to really love people, people he doesn’t know and will likely never see again. For a couple of hours that Saturday as Jerry and I concluded our anniversary trip, Earl loved us, too. I think I love him back.
My devotional blog is here.