In the summer of 1968, my buddy, Bob Staich and I had been planning a trip to the White Mountains for a weekend of camping and fishing. We had heard about a back way to get to Show Low through Payson and up on top the Mogollon through the Heber/Overgaard area where State Route 260 transitioned to a graveled for est road. So this promised to be a great back road adventure. We loaded my brand new, 1968 Volkswagen Bug and headed for the hills.
It was a great day for traveling with a few, light clouds in Phoenix just as predicted on the weather forecast along with possible scattered rain showers forecasted for higher elevations. It was about time of year for the annual monsoons to move into the state. The Saturday morning traffic was light all the way to Overgaard. We both had Monday off, so we weren’t in a hurry which allowed us to enjoy the deep forest of Arizona.
Just as the pavement turned to gravel there was a dark cloud hovering overhead that greeted us with a flash of lightning followed directly by a clap of thunder. A few drops of rain sprinkled do that felt refreshing through the open sunroof, but then suddenly the clouds opened up and dumped torrents of rain on us. So much for the open sunroof. We battened down the hatches, so to speak, and plowed forward. Plowed meant more that just pressing forward on a very muddy road. The tires were actually pushing mud aside and leaving our tracks behind as the rain was still falling. One major benefit of the VW Bugs, besides the great gas mileage, was the placement of the engine over the rear wheels. This weight pushing down on the wheels gave it good traction which allowed us to zip through the muddy mush. We did do a lot of slipping and sliding but under some degree of control. It was great fun even though I saw in my rear view mirror the reddish brown mud that was splattered on the sides of my new VW, eclipsing the beautiful British Racing Green color. A good car wash would unearth that Beetle soon enough, so we didn’t hesitate to continue down the muddy forest road through the little towns of Clay Springs, Pinedale Linden, and finally to break out on pavement when we intersected US 60 on the edge of Show Low town limits. What a great ride! We would decide on Monday whither to take the mud slip & slide back home or the 60 through the Salt River Canyon.
Rather than stopping in Show Low, we decided to head up to the little towns of Lakeside and Pinetop to grab a bite to eat before heading to the higher elevation camp grounds. There was a little place called the Hill Top Diner in Pinetop that I have had great breakfasts before, so we thought we would give it a try for lunch. They served up a great cheese burger with French fries and fresh, home made pie for desert. We justified this banquet by considering we would be eating camp food for the next six meals.
After lunch we headed to the Indian Pine Gas Station and Convenience Store to buy our camping and fishing permits for the weekend and top off the gas tank. Between the edge of the road and the gas pumps, there was a giant ponderosa pine tree laying in display of this fantastic, natural resource surrounding these mountain top communities. It had been timbered somewhere high in the White Mountains and brought here because of it size. It was about four feet in diameter and thirty feet long.
Not far up the road we passed through the town of McNary where there was a large lumber mill with a lake to float the logs up to the mill. I had toured it with my family before when we had rainy days to wet to fish. I told Bob the story about my cousin Jim saving my brothers life, or maybe just from serious injury, when Rick fell through an uncovered, 24″ x 24″ square opening in the mills floor. This hole was a scrap lumber chute that led directly onto a conveyor that would dump off-fall cuttings into a chopper a few feet away. Rick was looking up at the amazing sawing process when he fell threw the floor; quick acting cousin Jim grabbed him before the conveyor that would have carried Rick off to the whirling cutting blades. That was a close call!