Column No. 53

You are invited to Ruby

Bob Ring, Al Ring, Tallia Pfrimmer Cahoon

October begins this season’s Pima Community College tours of the Ruby ghost town, so we thought we’d tell you more about the tours in the words of co-columnist Tallia Pfrimmer Cahoon who hosts the visits to the old mining camp.

From previous columns and our recently published book you know that I lived in Ruby from just after birth in Tucson to the age of nine (1938). My father was an engineer, responsible for building the pipeline to bring water from the Santa Cruz River, 17 miles through the Atascosa Mountains to Ruby and for improving the efficiency of the Eagle-Picher’s Company’s Montana mining operation. I kept up a lifelong interest in the history of Ruby and its residents, and in 1994, after a career as an educator, I jumped at the opportunity to host tours of my former “hometown.”

Pima Community College (PCC) tours of Ruby started in the summer of 1990 at the suggestion of Arivaca resident Francine Pearce, who hosted the tours until I took over in October 1994. Since then I have had the privilege of sharing Ruby with over 550 people! Two of those people were my co-columnists Bob and Al Ring, and as they say, and with the pun fully intended, the rest is history.

The night before each trip, I call all registrants to "introduce" myself and to remind them of the items that they need to have with them on the tour, i.e., lunch, plenty of drinking water, perhaps a camera and depending on the time of year, a coat or jacket. Ruby's elevation is 4, 219 feet.

Departure time for the 12-passenger van from Tucson is 8:15 a.m. Tucson registrants meet at PCC at 401 North Bonita. We travel south on I-19 to the PCC Branch in Green Valley at the Community Learning Center, 1250 W. Continental, to pick up additional people at about 9:00 a.m. We continue south on I-19 to Ruby Road, exit 12, west on highway 289 about nine miles through the wooded areas of Mesquite and White Oak Trees to Forest Service Road 39. This route takes us through Pena Blanca Canyon; here we meet a dirt road that will take us over the massively beautiful Atascosa Mountains and down into Ruby, some 25 miles from the I-19 exit. South along the dirt road in the valley we see the location of the very old and still operating Bear Valley Ranch. Forest Service Road sites along this route include: Atascosa Peak, Pena Blanca Lake, and the Sycamore Canyon recreational area. To the south we see distant mountains in Mexico.

Arrival time in Ruby is approximately 11:30 a.m. The first Ruby site that we talk about is the Pool Hall or "Country Club." The group then gathers in front of what used to be Dr. Woodard's office and hospital. We discuss the mining and milling operations, Dr. Woodard's office as well as the hospital, the bunkhouses, mine superintendent Grover Duff, and the home where his family lived. We go into the house to talk about how Ruby residents carefully furnished their homes. We also discuss the construction of the tents, their size, why, when, where and how they were built to house hundreds of people in the 1930s.

On our way down the hill to pick up our lunches in the van, we also discuss the concrete rock building that served as the office safe, the company office, and what we called the "cistern/swimming pool."

By this time it is about 12:30 p.m. so we have our lunch break, usually under the ramada down on the mine tailings. History discussions continue through lunch and I identify sites no longer standing. Participants have time to walk around and take pictures.

One of the lunchtime discussion topics is the mining exploration tunnels that were opened up in various areas of Ruby. Some of the bachelors who were then Eagle-Picher employees would set up housekeeping in these tunnels in place of living in one of the bunkhouses and having to pay rent. Furnishings in the tunnel would include a small area rug, a table, some chairs, cots, a wood stove and some cooking utensils.

After leaving the tailings, we visit the site where Case's Place, the popular confectionary once stood. Then, it's on up to the school house, to the adobe remnants of the Ruby Mercantile where the infamous storekeeper murders took place in 1920 and 1921. Next we visit the nearby concrete jail, then the adobe remains of the Pfrimmer home, where I lived until we left Ruby in 1938.

By now, it is nearing 3:00 p.m. as we make our way back down the hill to where the van is parked. We leave Ruby and head west toward the old Austerlitz mine, where some Eagle-Picher employees lived in homes that were once Army barracks. Our route continues west though Oro Blanco Nuevo, Noon's Corral and on through the rolling grass-covered hills, into Arivaca and to what was once the Arivaca Pool Hall. This was the place that Rubenos, Arivacans and people from the surrounding areas frequented on the weekends.

Just north of Arivaca we stop at the well-known Sourdough Bakery to purchase delicious sourdough bread, pecan bars, brownies, lemon bars, biscotti and other delicacies.

Continuing towards Amado, I identify the Cerro Colorado Mountains and talk about the silver mining that took place there in the 1800s. We pass by the old Marley Ranch that has been in existence since I was a small child. I point out the Sopori (Sobaipuri Indians) Wash as we cross; then, down the road we stop at the Grotto on the Sopori Ranch to talk about local history. Our last stop is Kingsley Brothers' Service Station (now Cow Palace) where, at one time there was a lake, always with several ducks on the water. Return time to Green Valley is about 5:00 p.m. and arrival time back in Tucson is approximately 5:30 p.m.

Being involved in a tour activity with all types of people over the years, I always encourage questions. One question that has been asked more than once is: "How did you get to Nogales and to Tucson to shop … horse and buggy?" I wonder just how old they think I am! Ha! Another surprisingly frequent question: “Is this really the way to Ruby? (asked with some apprehension) During the last tour season, we discussed the book on Ruby that was in-progress. Many people expressed happiness that the history of the area was being documented and asked: “When is the book coming out?” A couple of people were so interested that they offered their services as early readers.

The schedule for tours of Ruby is included in the current PCC Activities Community Campus Catalog, page 65. The first tour this season is Thursday, October 27th. The ususal schedule is one or two tours per month from October through May. Cost is $79.00. Those with questions or interested in participating in a tour should call PCC in Tucson, 520-206-3952 or, the college in Green Valley, 520-625-5063.

I thoroughly enjoy being involved with these Ruby tours and feel so very fortunate to have been able to be associated with such an activity and with sharing the area's history with those who also have an interest. You are cordially invited to join me on a future tour.

Tallia Pfrimmer Cahoon takes visitors to the mining ghost town of Ruby in this 12-passenger van.

Next Time: ALONG THE RUBY ROAD Arizona Territorial Geologist William Blake  

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