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As evidenced by the recent 120 degree temperatures in British Columbia, this is a summer of broken records. And it is just getting started.

But as hot as it is, just imagine living in Bagdad, California in 1912. In 1883 it was established as a railroad siding and supply point for mining operations in the nearby Bristol and Bullion Mountains. By the first years of the 20th century, the Mojave Desert oasis had morphed into a small village. There was even a Harvey House restaurant.

The town, now reclaimed by the desert, was given a bit of notoriety over the years. In the 1988 film Bagdad Cafe chronicled a fictional story that took place at the towns café that had opened in the 1940s along Route 66.

But in November 1914, a quick, brief downpour put the oasis on the front page of newspapers throughout the world. That rain broke dry spell that had started on October 2, 1912.

In the summer of 1915, the then 21-year old Edsel Ford and some college buddies set out on an epic odyssey. They drove from Dearborn, Michigan to the Panama Pacific Exposition in San Francisco, California. As with thousands of tourists that year they followed the National Old Trails Road as it provided access to the wonders of the desert southwest.

They arrived in Kingman, Arizona at midnight on Friday, July 16. His journal entry for the following day notes, “Stayed around town all day until 4:30 on account of heat. Arrived at Needles, California 8:30 P.M. Slept on porch of hotel. Heat very oppressive.”

The following day they prepared their car for desert travel and stocked up on supplies. They set out for Barstow at 6:15 P.M. They would not arrive until 7:00 A.M. the following morning. Ford’s journal notes unrelenting heat, a flat tire, and “rocky but fair roads in the desert.”

In the summer of 1917, another record setting season, San Bernardino County, California issued a warning for travelers. A Mojave Desert crossing on the National Old Trails Road and Ocean to Ocean Highway was deemed unsafe. “Woman and children will not be permitted to cross the desert by auto between Needles and Barstow during the present hot spell …”

Published in 1946 by Jack Rittenhouse, A Guide Book to Highway 66 provides tips that indicate little had changed in thirty years. “In the hot months, it is advisable to make the drive from Needles to Barstow, over the Mojave desert, either in the evening, night, or early morning hours. In any case it is advisable to carry extra water for the car.” As an interesting historic side note, in Needles, Kingman, Barstow, and Ludlow, many motels offered special day rates for those that intended to cross the desert at night.

A century ago people survived, people endured the months of summer in the desert southwest. Fortunately, today here in the Colorado River Valley and western Arizona, for air conditioning service or installation, the professionals at Airzona Heating and Colling Solutions are just a phone call away. And that means we can face the heat of summer with a smile.

Written by Jim Hinckley of Jim Hinckley’s America


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