Small towns are special because of the people who reside there. Meet some of Arizona’s most charming characters who are adding flavor and style to their communities and making them more interesting places to live and visit.
Jay Gammons, Gammons Gulch, Benson
Tucked away in the rolling hills outside of Benson is a recreated Western town – Gammons Gulch – built to serve as a movie set and living museum. Every building is a gem; many constructed from salvaged materials and packed with artifacts. Lumber used to build the town hall comes from an 1882 flourmill in the nearby town of Safford, Arizona. Elsewhere, you’ll find doors from Wyatt Earp-era Tombstone, some with original wavy glass panels.
Creator Jay Gammons grew up in the movie industry and put his considerable skills to work building highly individual and operational sets, even making his own adobe bricks. Visitors to the Southern Arizona attraction can learn the stories behind Gammons’ impressive collection during one of his educational and highly entertaining tours. While there, they may even catch a familiar sight: Gammons Gulch has been the setting for dozens of movies and television shows, such as “Wild West Tech” on The History Channel.
Angel Delgadillo, Historic Route 66 Association of Arizona, Seligman
When the interstate system replaced Route 66 in the mid-1970s, small towns all along the Mother Road began to wither. Seligman, in northwestern Arizona, was one burg that teetered on the edge of ruin. Town barber Angel Delgadillo wouldn’t let that happen. He believed people still yearned for travel at a slower, more deliberate pace.
Delgadillo and other business leaders formed the Historic Route 66 Association of Arizona, the first of its kind. They lobbied the state to have their portion of the old road designated as a historic highway – and lo and behold, they succeeded. Other states soon followed. Today, the 90-year-old Delgadillo moves through his Route 66 gift shop wearing a smile as bright as neon, posing for photos and chatting with crowds that travel from around the world to meet the man who saved Route 66.
John Moore, Wild West Junction and mayor, Williams
It’s hard to imagine John Moore has much free time on his hands. As owner of Wild West Junction in Williams, near the Grand Canyon, he’s often greeting guests at the Long Horn Saloon or Branding Iron Restaurant. When not exchanging pleasantries, he serves as the mayor of Williams. And, if all that’s not enough, each day he swaps lead with the notorious Cataract Creek Gang as alter ego Marshal John B. Goodmore, entrusted with keeping the Grand Canyon Railway safe from would-be robbers.
It was, in fact, Moore who organized the Cataract Creek Gang in 1989 to add an element of excitement to the newly restored Grand Canyon Railway. Each day the gang attempts to rob the train and holds mock gunfights downtown on summer evenings. Yet, at the end of the day, it’s the tall marshal in the white hat who sets everything right.
Paul Winer, Readers Oasis Books, Quartzsite
Paul Winer performed for more than a million people during his 25-year career as a musician. Yet, as owner of a sprawling bookstore in Quartzsite, he may be best known for what he hasn’t done – put on pants. For the past 25 years, Winer, now in his mid-70s shows up for work pretty much au natural, save for a skimpy thong and sandals, earning him the moniker, Naked Bookstore Guy.
Before that, Winer played boogie-woogie piano as “Sweetie Pie,” during the 1960s. He still does the occasional concert in Quartzsite to packed houses and even bangs out tunes on an old piano in the middle of Readers Oasis Books. He’s very gracious about posing for photos, too. So, if you’re looking to liven up a selfie or family portrait, problem solved.
Dr. Jay, Tombstone Walking Tours, Tombstone
In Tombstone, it’s difficult to distinguish between the past and the present. History is close to the surface here. Dr. Jay helps visitors step through the flimsy veil separating eras, allowing them to see the violent but intriguing heyday of Tombstone. Dressed in period garb, Dr. Jay leads walking tours along the streets where the Earps and Clantons once strode.
Visitors rave about the fun, funny and informative tours. It’s a chance to learn about the founding of Tombstone and what life was like in the boomtown, including the surprising cultural diversity. Learn where the famous gunfight actually took place and about the bloody aftermath it inspired. Dr. Jay, who has appeared as a historian on the television series “Gunslingers,” shares all the vivid tales. Keep a tight grip on your cell phone during the tour; you might forget what century you’re in.
Top photo: A reenactor and his mule parade down Tombstone's main street during the town's annual Wyatt Earp Days in May. (Credit: Newport 653)