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Lincoln Highway - Brothels, Pony Express, & Shutrees

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Below is the 1915 Automobile Blue Book description of the road between Fallon and Austin.


Fallon to Austin, Nev. - 118.5 m.

Via Salt Wells Ranch, Frenchmans and Alpine Ranch. This is a section of the Lincoln Highway. As the mountain ranges in this part of the state run north and south the Lincoln Highway is compelled to go over the top of them, making numerous rather steep grades. There are several long stretches without water on this trip and the tourist is warned to take on full supplies before leaving Fallon. Fair dirt road to Salt Wells. Here an 8-mile flat is crossed which will be absolutely impassable in wet weather and tourists are warned not to attempt it after a rain, although it will be pretty fair in dry weather if the freight teams have not cut it up to any great extent. After leaving 8-mile flat the road is rolling and hilly with a few sandy stretches, but as a whole is very good. After leaving Alpine Ranch no water is obtainable for 50 miles. Austin lies half way up the side of the mountain and the grades are very steep approaching it.


According to the 1915 Good Roads Annual, the State of Nevada spent zero, zippo, nada, on roads in 1915. It was all up to counties, which you may be certain weren’t big spenders. And there were no federal matching funds. So imagine the road in 1915!


Salt Wells was a stop on the Lincoln in 1915. Perhaps the bladeless windmill in the photo below marks the site of the wells. The buildings in the photo housed until recently the Salt Wells Villa brothel. The facility was closed in 2004, but according to local newspaper accounts, there is some interest in reopening it. The place was closed when we stopped for this 2005 photo.



Salt Wells Villa Brothel


I want to include here a photograph on the Lincoln taken in 1915, very likely in the same place. It is part of the wonderful collection at the University of Michigan Library, Special Collections. The University of Michigan Library does a great and much appreciated service.


The image is "Near Salt Wells” 1915, the year of our Automobile Blue Book quote above cautioning that freight wagons may cut the road up. This is a freight wagon. It looks like a load of hay and railroad ties, or perhaps bridge beams. A close look to the far right shows the Salt Wells.



Salt Wells 1915 (University of Michigan, Special Collections)

Now remember the comment above about the road being cut up by freight wagons? This photo is taken in the dry season. Look at the ruts cut onto the road by the horses and wagons! And at the dust.


When you encountered one of these rigs in your auto on the old Lincoln, who do you think detoured off the road into the sand to get around? Let me assure you, it wasn’t the teamster. If you saw him coming, and in this landscape you could, you hoped to find a bit of firm ground to pull off. If you met him on a mountain curve, you did the backing down.


I can’t resist including another photo from the University of Michigan collection taken between Fallon and Salt Wells, in 1915. It should speak for itself.



Stuck Between Fallon and Salt Wells, 1915 (University of Michigan, Special Collections)

The next identified stop on the old Lincoln was at Sand Springs on the north side of the road. (If you want an interesting view of the dunes and the old Pony Express Station, go to Google earth. The station is at 39.2910, -118.4182 and the dunes will be very evident to the north east. The “Loneliest Phone in America” stands at the turn off US50, drawing its power from solar cells. You can see the reflection of the tower on which rest the solar cells. I have included a shot of Sheila, Rose of the Road calling home.



Lonliest Phone in America


The huge sand dune on the horizon is used for recreational purposes. Most people today take the turn off US50 and then pass by the most interesting site within fifty miles without paying attention. About .8 mile from the turn off US 50 on the road toward the dunes is the road to the 1860 Sand Springs Pony Express station. It is a short walk from the parking area to the station.



1860 Sand Springs Pony Express Station

Believe it or not, the station is not much different today than it was 137 years ago, probably in good part because it was buried until the 1970’s under sand, and thus protected from both the elements and the sub humans we call vandals.


Sir Richard Burton wrote in 1860 of a stop at Sand Springs Pony Express station:


"Sand Springs deserved its name. Like the Brazas de San Diego and other mauraises terren near the Rio Grande, the land is cumbered here and there with drifted ridges of the finest sand, sometimes 200 feet high and shifting before every gale. Behind the house stood a mound shaped like the contents of an hour-glass, drifted up by the stormy S.E. gale in esplande shape and falling steep to northward or against the wind. The water near this vile hole was thick and stale with sulphury salts; it blistered the hands. The station house was no unfit object on such a scene, roofless and chairless, filthy and squalid, with a smoky fire in one corner, impure floor, the walls open to every wind, and the interior full of dust. Hibernia, herself, never produces aught more characteristic. Of the employees, all loitered and sauntered about desoeuvre's as cretins except one, who lay on the ground crippled and apparently dying by the fall of a horse upon his breast bone."


It is often said that photos don’t do something justice. This is the case here. It is difficult to get the feel of the site in a photograph at midday, and I have never been there except in full mid day light. When you visit it alone it takes on aura of the past that is hard to shake. The sand, the wind, the fireplace where the man lay dying, are all there, and the walls are probably about as high in most areas of the building as there were in 1860. It makes you wonder what the fellows who kept the station felt when they heard a noise in the night and knew that some pretty angry Indians were around.


I have included a 3D photo to give the structure some dimension. You can see the sand dune in the background. To view in 3D stare at the side by side photos and slowly cross your eyes until a third image in 3D appears in the center.



Sand Springs Pony Express Station in 3D


One Pony Express rider tells the following story:


"One day I trotted into Sand Springs covered with dust and perspiration. Before I reached the station. I saw a number of men (Indians) running toward me, all carrying rifles, and one of them with a wave of his hand said, 'All right, you pooty good boy, you go.' I did not need a second order, and as quickly as possible rode out of their presence, looking back, however, as long as they were in sight, and keeping my rifle handy."


Pony Bob Haslam, in his famous ride (see quote in Cold Springs description below), may have saved the life of the sole man at the Sand Springs station during the Piute uprising in 1860. On his west bound ride, he found the Cold Springs station in ruins and the station keeper dead. When he reached Sand Springs he convinced the fellow there to ride west with him to the relative security of the station at Carson Sink. Good counsel.


The next place on the Lincoln, Frenchman’s, is long gone. All that is left are a few rusty auto parts scattered on the ground, and what appears to be a water pipe. It is a little sad, as Frenchman’s looms large and prosperous in old photos and on old maps.


The 1924 Lincoln Highway Guide notes;


Telephone, gas, oil, meals, lodgings.


This was originally a freighters' station, but M. Bermond, (the "Frenchman") the proprietor, has built and fitted up splendid rooms, and will serve such a meal as you might expect on Fifth Ave. in New York.


Water is hauled several miles to supply this station and a charge is necessarily made for it.


Somewhere along the stretch past Frenchman’s is a rare shutree, the limbs sprouting shufruit. I don’t recall the milepost but it is on the left (north) side of the road near Middlegate and you can’t miss it.


Scientists have been unable to fully explain how this rare species propagates, and why one would be found so far from others of its species. One theory is that a shuseed somehow stuck to a truck or auto passing one of the other trees of this species in another state. Somehow the shuseed was dislodged and took root on the loneliest road in America. The other theory involves aliens.



A Shutree near Middlegate


Going westbound you now have a choice. You can take the old US50 road (now NV 722) which is the newer Lincoln Highway (1925) or the newer US50 road which is actually the older Lincoln Highway (1913). Confused? Don’t be.


I would take the US50 as far as the Cold Springs Pony Express Station (about 9 miles) then backtrack and take NV 722 which is for my money the prettier and more evocative drive. Besides, it has little traffic.


On the left of US50 at about 8.7 miles past the intersection with NV722 are some impressive ruins of the Cold Springs Overland Stage station and not far beyond, some of a telegraph station. It is sad that it has been necessary to fence in the stations, but judging from the damage to Sand Springs in just the three years between my visits there, fences with razor wire are the only thing that touches the psyche of the vandal.


Across the road on the right is a dirt road to a kiosk and a trail to Cold Springs Pony Express Station, still undamaged when we last visited it in 2003. The walk to the station is about 1.5 miles one way on a flat surface. But beware the hot sun on your head. Don’t take the walk without a suitable hat and at least a bottle of water. You could be sorry.



Cold Springs Pony Express Station where Pony Bob found the station keeper killed


This is the place where Pony Bob found the station keeper killed. Quoting his story:


"After remaining at Smith Creek about nine hours, I started to retrace [westbound] my journey with the return Express. When I arrived at Cold Springs to my horror I found that the station had been attacked by Indians, the keeper killed, and all the horses taken away. I decided in a moment what course to pursue — I would go on. I watered my horse, having ridden him thirty miles on time, he was pretty tired, and started for Sand Springs, thirty seven miles away. It was growing dark, and my road lay through heavy sagebrush, high enough in some places to conceal a horse. I kept a bright lookout, and closely watched every motion of my poor pony's ears, which is a signal for danger in Indian country. I was prepared for a fight, but the stillness of the night and the howling of the wolves and coyotes made cold chills run through me at times; but I reached Sand Springs in safety and reported what had happened. Before leaving, I advised the station keeper to come with me to the Sink of the Carson, for I was sure the Indians would be upon him the next day. He took my advice, and so probably saved his life, for the following morning Smith Creek was attacked."


Back track now the nine miles to NV 722 and take it to Austin by way of Eastgate. When we were there in 2005 there was a Lincoln Highway marker on the gate. The ranch house was empty.




Eastgate Ranch House


The bunkhouse(?) walls are covered with the names and initials of Lincoln Highway drivers of the past. I have read the building's stones were moved here from Middlegate, which diminishes its provenance a bit, but doesn’t diminish the pleasure of perusing the old names and dates carved in its walls.



Eastgate Bunkhouse(?) Wall



The 1924 Lincoln Highway Guide states that Eastgate offers “…meals, lodging, gas, oil, drinking water, radiator water, camp site. A fine place to camp.”


Next Stop, Austin and the famed International Hotel




Keep the Show on the Road!

Edited by Keep the Show on the Road!
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Thanks once again for the information KtSotR. I am making notes on the map and highlighting the points of interest. Although, with my 14 year old son coming along I may not spend much time in Salt Wells.


Your explanation on the US 50\NV722 confirmed what I had thought. The copy of the LH strip map that I have shows the LH following present day US 50 with a dashed roadway marked "Under Construction" where NV 722 is. My 1941 roadmap shows US 50 following present day NV 722. I believe I will opt for NV722 when the time comes and make the short detour to Cold Springs.


Great stuff! Keep it coming!

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