His nickname was Cash & Carry. That descriptor spoke
volumes about C.C. Pyle, a sports promoter, an opportunist, and an avid believer in the old adage about selling the sizzle and not the steak. Some time in 1927, Pyle cooked up his most ambitious scheme to date, the First Annual International Trans-Continental Footrace.
Perhaps it was Pyle’s reputation for organizing sporting events, or his ability to sell that reputation. Perhaps it was an eagerness to market the newly minted US 66 as the Main Street of America. In any case an endorsement and sponsorship from the U.S.Highway 66 Association served as the green light for the promotion of the race, its development, and an aggressive solicitation for sponsors. With cash prizes, including a $25,000 first prize, offered to the top ten contenders, Olympians, marathon runners, and very desperate people, more than two-hundred of them, from throughout the world ponied up the exorbitant $100 entrance fee and registered to participate in the sporting event of the century. One of these entrants was a nineteen-year old Cherokee boy from Foyil, Oklahoma, a community bisected by Route 66.
The race commenced on March 4, 1928, at the Los Angeles Ascot Speedway. Soon sports writers dubbed it the on Derby. The all star cast of participants from the international sports world, and the fact that entrants ranged in age from sixteen to sixty-four years of age provided ample fodder for the masterful Mr. Pyle to hype the event and to whip up a frenzy of interest. As the contestants neared the Oklahoma state line, it became an underdog story of epic proportions – Andy Payne had claimed the lead over professional and seasoned runners.
The race ended before roaring crowds at Madison Square Gardens in New York City on May 26, 1928. Payne claimed first place with a time of 573 hours, 4 minutes, and 34 seconds. Profits proved elusive for Pyle but he had plans for an even bigger event the following year. Not only did the second race fail to draw the media attention of the first one, it proved to be an even bigger bust financially.
However, for the U.S. Highway 66 Association and communities along the Route 66 corridor, the race provided a tremendous promotional boost. One of those towns was Kingman, Arizona. Recently a search through the archives uncovered several images from this historic event. The race was but one of many events that put Kingman in the international media spotlight between 1914 and 1930.
In the fall of 1909, the first in what would become a series of epic auto races commenced in Los Angeles. The finish line was the territorial fairgrounds in Phoenix. With each annual race, and ever more challenging courses, the media attention increased exponentially. The fact that some of the most famous drivers of the day participated soon made the Desert Classic, dubbed the Cactus Derby, one of the most popular races in the world.
The race of 1914 was the final one. The course followed the National Old Trails Highway east across the desert, through Oatman, Kingman, and Seligman, turned south at Ash Fork, continued through Prescott, and then down Yarnell Hill and into Phoenix. The headliners for the event included Barney Oldfield and Louis Chevrolet. The son of William Durant, founder of GM, also drove in the event. It was a headline grabbing event throughout the world, and Kingman was at center stage for a brief moment as the racers made a pit stop here.
In 1925, Buster Keaton, one of the most famous comedians in the world and an acclaimed director, set up headquarters at the Hotel Beale. He was in town to film Go West at Tap Duncan’s Diamond Bar Ranch north of town. As an historic footnote, the climatic final scene was filmed at the intersection of Seventh and Broadway in downtown Los Angeles. On November 11, 1926, this would be designated the western terminus for US 66.
Edsel Ford made an overnight stop in Kingman during his 1915 holiday along the National Old Trails Highway. He stayed at the Brunswick Hotel. Charles Lindbergh was a frequent guest at the Hotel Beale in the late 1920’s. He was here to oversee development of Port Kingman, the cities first commercial airfield, a part of his pioneering T.A.T. airline.
Kingman may have been a dusty desert town on the fringes of civilization, in the eyes of the world but in the first decades of the 20th century when tens of thousands of adventuresome “automobilists” were discovering the wonders of the southwest, and a highway signed with two sixes was being marketed as the Main Street of America, it was a crossroads. The past, present, and future all intersected here. Dreamers, celebrities, and future celebrities all rolled though town, a few even stopped long enough to call Kingman home. That, however, is a story for another day.