Thursday, March 8, 2018

A Bridge To The Future

Midgley Bridge is a vitally important link between The Past and The Future.  Midgley Bridge represents progress personified in all regards and aspects.  The fact that the bridge was completed nearly a year before it was dedicated speaks volumes about early Arizona State Highway Department politics.  Likewise, the fact that it was named for a living human being who helped plan the dedication and make a keynote speech also speaks volumes.  Arizona "Road politics" in the  1920's and 1930's was all about The Art of Back Scratching and W.W. Midgley was the consummate practitioner of that Age Old Skill.  He was so skilled in The Art he wound up with a bridge named after him.

Back in the 1920's and 1930's, it was ALL about "show me the money" when it came to building so-called "better roads."  Lip service didn't count.  Only the gravel, oil and asphalt laid down on the road meant anything.  Only another bridge, another culvert, another crossing of a dangerous arroyo meant anything.  If you didn't deliver the goods, you were worthless.

And that's what W.W. Midgley stood for.  He stood for Truth and Reality.  He called a Spade a Spade and everyone knew it.  Everyone feared The Major when it came to calling out the Spade.  And The Major delivered.  He put the Prescott-Flagstaff road on the  map as a GOOD ROAD, as they were wont to say back in the day.

And it immediately brought a new tsunami of "travel business" to the land.  People responded.  They heard and they came.  Like the  Governor said in his speech. "Good Roads Mean Money!" Everybody back in those days knew where their bread was buttered and they knew the term "Good Roads" was a pseudonym for "Money In My Pocket."

W.W. Midgley was a Master Crafter at the peak of his game when he skillfully guided the State Route 79 Association to gilded success in creating a truly international highway of worldwide fame.  The Major had no peer and that's why there's a bridge that bears his name.

In this website we hope to tell the story of the Midgley Bridge dedication and why it's an important Arizona historical chapter and what it meant and continues to mean in Southwest transportation evolution.  There's really no one other spot and event that captures the essence of why and how an obscure wagon road could be catapulted into a world renowned highway.

Major Midgley, we owe you a forever debt of gratitude for the legacy you brought to all of us.  The fact that a bridge is named for you is merely a small token in honor of your lasting contribution to our history.  THANK YOU, Mister Midgley!

Midgley Bridge Construction & Scenes

The Sedona Heritage Museum in Sedona, Arizona, graciously allowed us to use their archives photos of Midgley Bridge.  We are deeply appreciative of the Sedona Heritage  Museum's gracious hospitality.  THANK YOU!  Most of the scenes in this photo album were taken after the bridge was constructed.  But there are a few showing aspects of its construction.  We didn't include the cover photo of this website because we plan on doing a special celebration of the unknown men who built this historic structure.

Here's the link to the photo album:

Who was W.W. Midgley?

W.W. Midgley

By Platt Cline,  "Coconino Sun"  October 1939

"I was born in Minnesota, matured in California, and expect to die someday in Arizona," gives you the autobiography, in one sentence, of Major Wilmot Whitworth Midgley, Arizona's premier road-booster, in whose honor Midgley bridge in Oak Creek canyon will be dedicated Sunday.

The bridge dedication, a part of the ceremonies dedicating Highway 79 will follow a program of entertainment and speeches and a barbecue dinner at Sedona, starting at noon Sunday.  The Major will cut the blue and gold ribbons at 4 p.m. at the bridge entrance, officially opening it to traffic--the high point in a lifetime of boosting for better roads.

Most people have hobbies: stamp collecting, hunting, fishing, flower culture, etc.; Major Midgley's hobby, avocation, fancy and pastime is, and has been for many years, boosting for better roads.  The roads must start somewhere and end somewhere, but outside of that the Major doesn't particularly care, just as long as they are better roads.  He started his road boosting career many years ago at Pomona, California--first president of the Association of Chambers of Commerce of Southern California, later second president of the Arizona Good Roads Association, county supervisor in Yavapai County, at present president of the Highway 79 Association--always working for better roads.

The Major's story starts on March 17, 1872, at Excelsior, Minnesota, when the morning sun shone for the first time on the Southwest's greatest booster for good roads.  At the age of three the Major (he was called "Billy" in those days) moved with his parents to Gadsden, Alabama. His father was engaged in the pig-iron smelting business in Gadsden.  As far as we know, the Major never showed any inclination to go into the iron business; however, some of that iron of his father's went into the character of the Major; when the Major goes after a road-improvement appropriation, the legislators remember what Benjamin Franklin said, "there's nothing sure but death and taxes," and add, "northern Arizona's Midgley."

The Major graduated from high school in Gadsden, and in 1888 heeded the words of Horace Greeley and went west, where he not only grew up with the country, but had a substantial part to play in it's growth.

Besides his hobby of better roads, years ago the Major had a whole stable of hobbies, one of which--that of the National Guard--gained him his title of "Major."  It really should be Lieutenant Colonel, for that is the rank that the Major held in the National Guard in Pomona years before he moved to Arizona.

Settling in Pomona, the Major became one of the leading dry-goods merchants and a citrus farmers.  Enlisting in the National Guard, the Major was promoted step by step to the rank of Lieutenant-Colonel.  In 1905 the citizens of Pomona presented to him a fine beautifully engraved officer's dress saber, as a token of their appreciation of the work of the Major in the Guard.  He was instrumental in having an armory built at Pomona, and was commanding officer of the unit for several years.

The people of Pomona might well have presented him also with a souvenir steamshovel, for already Major Midgley was a name which meant a tireless booster for better roads.  He observed the ceremonies of dumping the first load of rock on the highway between El Monte and Puenta, California; that was the actual beginning of the improvement of the nation's ocean-to-ocean highway; Flagstaff's Main Street; Highway 66, the Will Rogers Highway.

In 1912, the Major moved to Valinda Rancho in the Williamson Valley near Prescott, where he engaged in the livestock business. While there the Major met Harold Bell Wright, the then comparatively unknown novelist, who wrote the famous story "When a Man's a Man" while visiting at the ranch.

In 1917, the Major moved to Clarkdale, where he renewed his interest in the National Guard.  It was here that he first engaged in the grocery business. 

He became second president of the Arizona Good Roads Association in 1920, during which he covered every mile of road in the entire state. He was also instrumental in bringing about the first drafts of the bills which created the State Highway Commission.

The grocery store here (in Flagstaff) was opened about 12 years ago (1927 +/-) with the Major's only son, Gerry, in charge.  The major moved here (to Flagstaff) 10 years ago from Clarkdale. (circa 1929).

The Major is a life member of the Elks Lodge, has been a member of Knights of Pythias and Masons for almost 46 years.  He served one tern as State Senator from Coconino County.  The Major has enough sharpshooter and expert rifleman medals to decorate a fair sized Christmas tree.

Not as active as he once was, the Major still keeps two pets; his horse, Captain, the last of a long line of fine mounts, and a police dog, Jimmy, also the last of a long line of dogs.

Everybody knows the Major' and all agree that he is a lovable character, a real booster, and the most desirable type of public-spirited citizen.

It is indeed fitting that the Major's lifetime of boosting for better roads should be observed and honored with the naming and dedication Sunday  of Midgley  Bridge.

Click here to read Midgley's Speech at the bridge dedication:

(Editor's Note: The above was transcribed from the original newspaper clipping on file at the NAU Cline Library Special Collections. Flagstaff's Most Famous Citizen, Platt Cline was a mere 28 years old when he wrote the above article.  He and his wife had moved to Flagstaff just the year before in 1938. Read an article written shortly after Cline's death in 2001 at the age of 90:
Archive Credit for this article goes to the Northern Arizona University Cline Library Special Collections, call number AHS.ND.854 See:;query=;brand=default

W.W. Midgley's Speech

By all accounts W.W. Midgley was humbled, proud and thankful for the naming of a bridge after him.  It is indeed very rare for any man-made landmark to be named for a living person.  Midgley helped organize the dedication ceremony and delivered a short but sweet speech.  A typewritten copy of his speech is on file in the NAU Cline Library Special Collections. (Call #:  AHS.ND.854)

"I am touched by your generous expressions of friendship and am deeply appreciative of the honor you have bestowed upon me in naming this magnificent structure the Midgley Bridge.  

W.W. Midgley
I am sure, however, you will not think me ungrateful when I say to you that my greatest satisfaction in the completion of this bridge and the beautiful highway of which it is a part, lies not in the glorification of Midgley, but rather in the fact that they are the realization of a dream-your dream and mine, and the dream of those sturdy pioneers of Coconino and Yavapai, who started the work we have finished.

Those early settlers were made of the stuff that heroes are made of.  It was their love of the beauties of nature and the handiwork of God, their vision, their untiring energy and their sacrifices that make accessible to us and to future generations this marvelous canyon of enchantment.  Without a survey, and with the crudest of tools, they mapped their course and left for us trails and roads that challenged the skill of the engineers and the accuracy  of the chain and transit.

They  pointed the way, and the Highway Department and the boosters of 79 have carried on.  This bridge closes the last gap in the highway that has already obliterated the boundary  between our counties and brought us closer together in a sincere and lasting friendship.  It has made Arizona's wonderland easily accessible to the people north of us and to the south of us.  

To my mind, it is destined to become one of the most popular highways in Arizona, and I hope to live to see the day when it is a part of a great International Highway serving all of the countries of the North America Continent.

In closing may I say again I appreciate your expressions of friendship.  I see before me many of my old neighbors and associates.  Their friends has been test and I know it is sincere.  And I want you to know that I cherish that friendship and value it higher than all the worldly good I can ever hope to acquire."

Click here to read a summary of Widgley's Life up to October 1939:

Governor Robert T. Jones Speech

Arizona Governor Robert T. Jones was the keynote speaker at the Midgley Bridge dedication October 8, 1939. Gov. Jones was a self-taught engineer and had a personal affinity for good roads.  His speech at the Midgley Bridge dedication filled 11 typewritten pages.  Much of the speech was political in nature and is not included here.  We transcribed the full text of the speech and placed it on Google Drive for those who may be interested. )
Gov. Robert T. Jones

"Mr. Chairman, Major Midgley, and guests---We have gathered here today to dedicate a road.  This road extends from Flagstaff to Prescott and is becoming one of the important roads in northern Arizona for business and pleasure travel.

I am proud and happy to take part in this dedication.  As Governor of the great State of Arizona, I am pleased to represent the state in my official position, and as a citizen I am proud to be with you today and to take part in this important occasion.

This is a great day for Arizona. Today we formally dedicate a road that is numbered on the maps as State Highway 79 and we formally accept it as a part of our great highway  system.  The importance of this event can be seen from the gathering here today.  You  have come from all over northern Arizona and from other sections of the state to pay  tribute to this road, to those who  have made it possible and to welcome it with open arms as a main artery of transportation that has served us well and will serve us with glory in years to come.

This road is more than a number.  It represents an achievement and a goal.  For many years you people of northern Arizona talked about it ----worked for it---fought for it---and today you have as a reward for your efforts one of the most scenic highways in America.  You are to be congratulated for those efforts.  These ceremonies here today are a tribute to you citizens of northern Arizona who have made this road possible.  Your work has been something to be proud of.

This isn't a long road in number of miles---only 90 miles or more, it joins Flagstaff, the county seat of Coconino County, with Prescott, the county seat of Yavapai County, crossing Oak Creek Canyon---Sedona---the Verde Valley---Clarkdale---Jerome---and Mingus Mountain.

But where, in all the world, can you find 90 miles of highway as colorful and as thrilling to travel.  It crosses through a mining belt---cattle range---rich mining region---heavy forests--and in Oak Creek Canyon it passes through some of the finest scenery in the world

This road has everything. Romance, history, industry, beauty!

World travelers have told me that Oak Creek Canyon is one of the most beautiful regions they have  ever seen.  The beauty of Oak Creek Canyon is becoming world famed and I predict that in the very near future it will be one of the places that every traveler will see in Western America.

We hear a lot about Zion Park in Utah and other scenic areas.  Oak Cree Canyon needs a good publicity agent, and it will be as famed as Zion or any other travel center in the West.  Here in the midst of all this beauty is fishing and everything that a vacationist could ask for.  It is a wonder road through wonderland.  

I would like to invite all the world to travel this road.  Come in winter---come in summer---come in spring--or come during these beautiful months of autumn and you will share with us the delightful experiences that  travel through such scenery affords.

State Highway 79 is a well-built road---built to stay. It is built to take care of the traffic needs of today---and for the increased traffic of the years to come.

In the development of our highway system from very small beginnings to the great system of highways we have today the work of some men stand out.

Here in Northern Arizona we have a man who has given years of time and effort to improve our highway system and to make our highways serve us better.

Today that man is the  honored guest at this celebration.  He is the president of the Highway 79 Association and to his efforts more than any other man are we indebted for this great highway that we formally and officially dedicate today.

That man is the Honorable Major W.W. Midgley of Flagstaff.  Major Midgley runs a grocery store in his home town, but it is safe to say he talks roads more than he does groceries.

And I'll bet he knows every mile of Highway 79 better than he knows the shelves of canned goods in the Midgley Store.

All of Arizona, not only northern Arizona, owes a great debt of gratitude for the work of Major Midgley in advocating for good roads and in lending such untiring effort to the construction of Highway 79.

Today we are gathered here from all over Arizona to pay our  respects to Major Midgley, and in his honor we name this fine bridge across Wilson Canyon "Midgley Bridge."

This beautiful masterpiece of steel and concrete and asphalt will stand here long after we are gone.  In the years to come thousands and thousands of our citizens and visitors from other states will drive over this bridge.  It will carry them swiftly and safely over this canyon, whether the stream below be small or whether it be a roaring flood.

Throughout all the years it will stand here it will carry the name---"Midgley Bridge," to remind those who come after us of a man who was first of all a good citizen, who  believed in good roads and who worked for good roads.

"Midgley Bridge" will be an inspiration for other citizens and it will be a constant reminder of the work of one man who gave a great deal to his  state.

As governor of this state and in behalf of all citizens of Arizona I declare this bridge "Midgley Bridge" in honor of a man who I am happy to be with today in dedicating this great highway.  I thank you.”

Midgley Bridge Dedication Entertainment

There were at least 123 entertainers at the Midgley Bridge dedication ceremony October 8, 1939. Event organizers literally went the extra mile to bring entertainers from the far flung corners of Northern Arizona.  Santa Fe Trailways donated two state-of-the-art, air-conditioned busses.  One bus picked up the Tuba City Hopi Band and the other bus brought in 32 Holbrook high schoolers.

Event records show that 123 entertainers were fed at the barbecue.  As Reg Manning quipped on his cartoon promo for the event, "Midgley Bridge will be dedicated to the music of umpteen different kinds of bands."  R.W. Wingfield even brought a group of Apache "Devil Dancers" from the Camp Verde Reservation.  Unfortunately, there are no known photos of any aspect of the dedication ceremony.  Photos of the entertainment would have been especially appealing.

The leader of one small group that  performed was nationally-renowned: Romaine Lowdermilk.  See this link for a look at how he described the music he and his musicians planned to bring:

We were able to photograph some of the event records regarding entertainment.  The focus on food and fun easily set this bridge dedication into a league of its own.

In the 100's of letters, documents and clippings contained in the archived record of the bridge dedication, there is only one post-event report pertaining to a performance of any of the entertainer.  The lead paragraph is especially snappy: "Snappily dressed in their Scotch Kilts, the Holbrook Drum and Bugle Corps, led by Drum Major Verne Seidel, played for a large audience in Oak Creek Canyon at the dedication of the new bridge and Highway 79, Sunday Oct. 8th."

Rather than burden this post with excessive photos of correspondence and clippings, we have created a photo album for any potentially serious students of this event.  It is located here:


Legendary cartoonist Reg Manning featured the barbecue
front and center on his graphical promo for the event.
 Food service is a time-honored way to draw people together  and help them celebrate an occasion in fitting style.  From the very "git go" of planning the Midgley Bridge dedication, the organizers envisioned a Big BBQ would equate to a Big Draw.  Much time, effort and angst went into the food service aspect of the dedication.  Sam Quindt, "an oldtime Army man," agreed to handle the BBQ after he was given assurances that his expenses would be covered even in the event of bad weather.  Sam waas in charge of feeding the men of CCC Camp F-19 at the Prescott Fairgrounds.  Sam was known far and wide around Yavapai County as "THE" man to feed a large group of people "right & proper."  
Sam Quindt had many Friends involved in the bridge dedication planning.
There was never any  doubt that San was going to do the barbecue.
Bridge dedication organizers seriously thought at least 2,000 people were going to attend the event and they went so far as to tell Sam he might  be feeding as many  as 2,500!  Meanwhile organizers worked to secure the Hart Ranch fields as a place for BBQ attendees to gather while listen to the scores of entertainers.
Unfortunately, the weather didn't cooperate and the BBQ turned out to be a Big Money Loser instead of the Big Draw everyone hoped.  Sam wound up "only" feeding 693 people.  The BBQ lost $250.17.  While that doesn't sound like much, consider that adjusted for inflation $250 in 1939 money would be $4,400 in today's 2018 dollars.
All of the pre-event promo prominently featured the barbecue.
The graphic above was part of a full page at in the Flagstaff newspaper.

A cold fall rain storm dampened event attendance.  Newspaper reports estimated the total attendance at 1,000, far short of the 2,000 to 2,500 organizers had hoped for. The ink on some of the registration sheets is stained from raindrops.  A few of the attendees took time to write the word "COLD" next to their name on the registration sheet.   Event organizers were undaunted by the weather and called the dedication a great success.  Sources for all materials in this post are located in the NAU Cline Library Special Collections, Call #: AHS.ND.854