Think of it as Old Tucson Studios Lite.
Before it was Trail Dust Town, the three-acre conglomeration of Western-style buildings on East Tanque Verde Road was the site of a movie set for a never-completed 1951 Glenn Ford film.
In 1960, with the backing of a small group of businessmen, W. Howard Hamm, a man of many talents, developed the acreage, turning it into an 1890s-style dining and entertainment attraction featuring a mix of Victorian, Mexican and Western-type architecture.
During its 50-year history, the horseshoe-shaped commercial center has been used to film an occasional commercial; host weddings and community events; debut theater productions; and entertain families who come to watch stuntmen shoot it out in mock gunbattles.
Soon after Trail Dust Town opened, however, the battles turned all too real. The weapon of choice: dynamite.
In 1963 and '64, Trail Dust Town was at the center of a mini gangland-style war purportedly over vending machine concessions. The town was the fifth establishment within eight months to be targeted by bombers in what police called an escalating "power struggle" between mob families. The bombings were not sophisticated. Typically the fuse was lit and the dynamite was tossed onto the roof of a business. Most bombings were conducted after-hours, but the Trail Dust Town incidents occurred while the restaurant and theme park were open. It was also the only bombing in which someone was hurt.
Though the bombings stopped, it wasn't the end of Trail Dust Town's woes.
In November 1971, Pinnacle Peak, a steakhouse in Trail Dust Town, burned to the ground. Arson was suspected. The owner of the restaurant, Agro Land & Cattle Co., not only rebuilt the restaurant, but purchased the rest of the town, too.
In 1973, brothers Andy and Mike Kautza were hired to sculpt the giant boulder topped with a stage coach that now signals the entrance to Trail Dust Town.
As residential and commercial properties were developed on land surrounding the tourist attraction, Trail Dust Town became a business hub that included a bank, a hair salon, clothing and jewelry stores, an art gallery and an upholstery shop. Over the years many of the businesses in Trail Dust Town gravitated back toward Western themes. As the town celebrates its 50th anniversary, it is undergoing a renovation.
Rae Whitley, director of the town's Museum of the Horse Soldier, is overseeing improvements to the property, including creating expanded and historically accurate attractions to showcase Chinese and American Indian culture in Tucson.
"It's going to be an edu-tainment center," Whitley said, "where you can come and be educated and entertained at the same time."
W. Howard Hamm
A man of varied talents, W. Howard Hamm was the man who built Trail Dust Town.
"I thought Tucson was booming and needed to hold onto some of the atmosphere of the Old West," Hamm said in a 1985 Tucson Citizen article.
Born on a family farm in Pratt, Kan., Hamm studied at the Kansas City Art institute. A lifelong artist, he specialized in images of Native Americans, the Sonoran Desert and the Kansas prairie.
After doctors discovered, in 1939, that Hamm had a heart defect, he was advised to move to a drier climate. An ad in the Kansas City Star caught his eye: A new florist shop in Bisbee was looking for a manager. The promise of a job was all the motivation he needed to move to Arizona. After a couple of years he moved to Tucson, where he made ends meet by pumping gas; running the poster department for Consolidated Vultee, a firm that built military aircraft; and working as head draftsman for Davis-Monthan Air Force Base.
After creating Trail Dust Town, he moved south and started the Southwest Traildust Zoo near Bisbee, which was in operation until 1975. At one time, the zoo had the largest collection of reptiles in Arizona.
Hamm died died April 14, 2000, in Wickenburg. He was 91.
His mama named him Harold Francis Stoffel, but the self-proclaimed marshal of Trail Dust Town preferred to be called Tombstone Slim - just Slim to his friends.
Slim took it upon himself to make night patrols of Trail Dust Town beginning in the early 1960s. No one asked him to keep an eye on the place. He just did. And he did it with flourish, usually decked out from head to toe in black Western wear, a .44 on his hip. Sometimes he'd roam the property during daylight hours dressed in a custom-made buckskin get-up complete with fringed sleeves and a coonskin cap, à la Daniel Boone. The duds were a birthday gift from one of the faux Western town's restaurateurs.
Slim became such a fixture at Trail Dust Town that the management provided him with room, board and a small salary to keep up patrols and assist shopkeepers with bank deposits.
A painting of the 6-foot-2 Slim still hangs in Trail Dust Town's Pinnacle Peak steakhouse.
The town's marshal patrolled the dusty streets for almost 30 years. He died of pneumonia at the local veterans hospital. He was 89. In keeping with Slim's love of the Old West, he made his last ride in a horse-drawn hearse to his final resting place at Evergreen Cemetery.
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