John Osterman Shell gas station, Historic Route 66, Peach Springs, AZ, built 1932

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The Hualapai Indians nominated the Peach Springs Shell Station for the National Register of Historic Places and were accepted in 2009. Recently, it was placed on the register. The Hualapai Indian tribe owns the station these days and plans to restore it and start pumping gas again. They received a great from the National Park Service to do so. However, Oscar Ostermann built the gas station in 1932, not his brother John in 1927. At the same time Oscar built the new gas station, he built the Peach Springs Auto Court next door.

Swedish sailor John Osterman wanted to captain his own ship. In 1914 he set sail around the world, as was required by the Swedish Merchant Marine, but on a German ship. His ship was interned at Santa Rosalia, Mexico on the Baja Peninsula at the beginning of World War I. He jumped ship, ferried across the Gulf of California, made his way to Nogales, crossed the border into Arizona, and followed the railroad north to Phoenix where he went to work in a dairy. He hated the work. When the dairy shipped its cows, and John north, to summer pastures near Flagstaff, he took off and hopped a train to San Francisco with the intention of going back to sea. The railroad cops threw him off at Peach Springs where the largest body of water was a dry wash.

He stayed, worked on a ranch, became a citizen, and was drafted when the United States went to war. After World War I, he returned to Peach Springs, opened a small gas station, and quickly developed a reputation for honest work. He would tow a car day or night. He stocked Ford parts, particularly springs–six were delivered daily from Los Angeles for folks who busted theirs on the rough road. He persuaded his brother, Oscar, to join him, sold him the gas station in 1925, and moved to Kingman. A year later the highway department designated the road in front of the gas station U.S. Highway 66, and then moved it a block north six year later. Oscar needed a new building: he built a jagged Alamo.

He poured a two-story concrete frame, four bays wide, and filled it with concrete block, formed to look like quarried stone. By 1920 the reinforced concrete frame had come into general use in large industrial buildings–flour mills and factories, but it was unusual to see one on such a small scale. He housed his office and work room in the west half of the building and the garage in the east half. He provided a second-story sleeping room for the help behind the stepped facade over the garage. He finished it with a wide, spreading canopy that covered the pumps.

Peach Springs is located on U.S. Route 66, which brought large numbers of cross-country travelers through the town for decades until Interstate 40 was built and opened to traffic some 25 miles (40 km) to the south in 1978. Peach Springs was at one time a western terminal of the Santa Fe Railroad, with a road house, shops, a Harvey House restaurant, and a stage coach line. The Shell station in Peach Springs dates back to the 1920's and is one of the continuously operated stations to be found on all of Route 66. Other buildings of interest are the Hualapai Wildlife Office and the new Hualapai Lodge, which houses a great restaurant and small gift shop. Just west the Grand Canyon Caverns on Route 66, the highway meanders into the lands of the Hualapai Indians, a reservation that encompasses more than a million acres, including 108 miles of the Colorado River and the Grand Canyon. Peach Springs is about 12 miles west of Grand Canyon Caverns and is the tribal headquarters for the reservation. The "People of the Tall Pine” have been occupying these lands for more than 1,400 years, where the west rim of the Grand Canyon and the river below, has long since provided food sources and medicinal needs to the tribe. It was from the Haulapai's west rim, that the earliest visitors accessed the wild Colorado River below. In the early 1880s, the railroad established a water station on these lands and called it Peach Springs, for the many peach trees found around the spring that fed their steam engines. Soon the small settlement reportedly had ten saloons but no churches or schools. When Route 66 came through, Peach Springs offered several cafes, motor courts and tourist businesses to the many travelers of the road. Though little is left of Route 66 era landmarks, Peach Springs provides access to one of the last undeveloped sections of the Grand Canyon. The town has one lodge, the Hualapai Lodge, and a small grocery market, but no gas station. It is the nearest town to Hualapai Hilltop, which is the trailhead from which hikers descend the 8 mile (13 km), 3,000 vertical foot (900 m) trail to the town of Supai, Arizona, from which the renowned Havasu Falls and three other waterfalls can be visited. Peach Springs, Arizona served as inspiration for the fictional town Radiator Springs in the Pixar movie Cars,which depicts to some degree the losses that it and many other cities along Route 66 faced after they were bypassed by I-40. Peach Springs is the home of the little-known "Peach Springs Oscillator," an excellent indicator of the non-service, non-information based areas of the U.S. economy. Located on the transcontinental main line of the BNSF Railway, formerly the Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe Railway, trains roll through Peach Springs approximately four times per hour when the economy is strong. As it weakens, train frequency drops, providing the frequent Peach Spring visitor an excellent, early indicator of economic slow down.

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Photo details

  • Uploaded on June 14, 2011
  • © All Rights Reserved
    by Mean Mister Mustard
    • Camera: NIKON COOLPIX L20
    • Taken on 2011/05/12 05:29:26
    • Exposure: 0.002s (1/620)
    • Focal Length: 6.72mm
    • F/Stop: f/5.500
    • ISO Speed: ISO64
    • Exposure Bias: 0.00 EV
    • No flash

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