The Angel of Ash Fork: Fayrene Hume continues her contributions to Ash Fork history and families
Editor’s Note: This article was reprinted with permission from Route magazine. The original article can be read HERE.
On any given day in Ash Fork, Fayrene Hume is outside pulling weeds or picking up trash along the side of the roads. At 85, Hume doesn’t care if the townsfolk call her children in town to express their worry or surprise. Hume has lived a life that has been beat to her own drum, and the town of Ash Fork is darn lucky.
Nowadays a blink-and-you-miss-it town, Ash Fork is tucked quietly between colorful Williams and quirky Seligman along Route 66 and the current Interstate 40. The small community is known as The Flagstone Capital of the World and is home to five flagstone yards, numerous ranches, mining, and is now on the radar of a new generation of Route 66 travelers. The Mother Road through Ash Fork continues to serve as the main road through the town (though it’s now called Park Avenue), and a handful of historic buildings pay homage to its glory days of Route 66 and its railroad and quarry history. Ash Fork has become a bit quieter these days, but there is still ample life there yet.
On many days, Hume walks among these historic buildings and old portions of the pavement to keep the town looking sharp for visitors who travel on Route 66.
Born to an impoverished family on a cotton farm in Arkansas, Hume was born with work in her veins. Even as a toddler, she helped her family by hauling jugs of water or picking vegetables out of the garden.
As an adult, she helped create the wildly popular Ash Fork
Historical Society and Museum, which attracts 80 to 100 visitors a day. She and other volunteers made the mannequins at the Museum by hand, painted the displays, and built models.
Hume was relentless in having Ash Fork recognized as a Route 66 town when it was left off the map, and she has no intention of stopping anytime soon.
“We have a good group of volunteers,” she said of the small army of volunteers who keep the Ash Fork Museum open to visitors. But Hume knows that she still needs to lead the charge.
From cotton to quarry
Hume was born on July 22, 1937 to Frank and Nettie Martin on a cotton farm near Wilmont, Arkansas. One of nine children when she was born, her mother would bear five more children after the family moved to Ash Fork.
“I had two brothers who were older, but now I’m the oldest one left,” Hume said. “I had hardworking parents who taught us the value of work. We would [toil] from sunup to sundown, and by time you were 4 or 5, you had a job, even if it was carrying jugs of water.”
The Martin family lived with no electricity or indoor plumbing. Hume’s mother pickled 300 quarts of vegetables each summer to help the family survive through the winters, and every child pitched in where they could.
“I know what it is like to be very poor. When we moved to Ash Fork, we moved to a house that had indoor plumbing. My mother said she thought she had died and gone to heaven because we had an indoor bathroom.”
Hume’s grandfather suffered from severe asthma, and in 1946, he traveled west to Arizona to see if the weather there could save his life. Hume’s two older brothers made the trip with him, traveling from train stop to train stop until finally landing in the railroad town of Ash Fork.
Ash Fork remembered
Two years later, he came back to Arkansas for a visit, and the entire family decided to join him in a new state and a new life.
“My brothers went out the summer before to work in the quarry out there. My parents decided to pile 15 of us up in a pickup and move out there,” Hume said. “It was me, my parents, my siblings and an aunt and uncle. My father made a canopy over the back of the truck and we all piled in.”
Hume, who was 13 when the family moved on July 4, 1951, had rarely been off the cotton farm where she grew up. Though the family had visited Oklahoma to see relatives, she had never traveled before. The people they passed had never seen anything like this family either.
“There were 15 of us. People were just looking at us like we were the Beverly hillbillies. We would stop at a gas station to put some gas in and people would stop and take pictures of us. They had never seen anything like us,” shared Hume with a wry laugh.
“We stopped along the road and just slept there, on the ground, no tent, maybe a blanket. When we were all packed up one morning, a truck came along, lost control and drove right over where we had been sleeping! It would have wiped us all out. We had guardian angels watching us.”
The trip to Arizona took nearly four days. For a girl who had never lived in an urban area, Ash Fork offered a fascinating change for the teenager. She was timid about the move at first, but once the family arrived, she was delighted with her new home.
“I loved it when we got here. You walked to school and to your friends’ houses. Ash Fork was a boomtown at the time.”
A town of the times
Like many towns along Route 66 in Arizona, Ash Fork was a railroad town full of cowboys and rail workers. The same year that the railroad arrived in 1882, a man named
Thomas Cooper Lewis opened the town’s first business, and in 1883, the first post office was established, making Ash Fork a true town.
Those early days were wild, especially since no law enforcement existed at the time. Rowdy men and chaos plagued its streets, leading to gunfights and vigilante justice. But the railroad brought growth to the budding city. Cattle and sheep ranches popped up along the countryside, and local flagstone was soon quarried to build churches, schools and public buildings.
“Ash Fork was a stagecoach stop before the railroad came. It was a stop between Flagstaff and Prescott,” said
David Cox, longtime member of the Ash Fork Development Association and Historical Society.
“The town was originally located on the other side of the tracks on the north side,” said Cox. “When it burned [in 1893], it was a big fire. There was no electricity at the time, so everyone used kerosene lamps. It didn’t take much to start a fire, and all the buildings were wood, so if you got any wind, the whole town was wiped out.”
Facing its first major challenge, the town birthed its “never say die” attitude and rebuilt on the opposite side of the railroad tracks, where it stands to this day.
By the time the 1930s rolled around, rock quarries were the economic driver in Ash Fork. In fact, “until the mid-1990s, ‘rock doodlers’ still lived on their rock claims around Ash Fork,” said Cox.
“I’m the pastor of the First Southern Baptist Church of Ash Fork, and one of my first weddings in the ‘80s was for a rock doodler. That’s what we called the rock workers. It used to be a tradition that when a rock doodler got married, he had to push his bride around at least one block in a rockhand track, which is what they hauled rock in.”
A surprising new chapter
The stone industry grew, and Ash Fork proclaimed itself to be the “Flagstone Capital of the World.” Fayrene’s father and brothers went to work at the quarry soon after arriving. When she was 15, she met one of her older brother’s friends, a friendly fellow named Lewis Hume.
“My oldest brother who was five years older knew him and we met at a carnival in town. He was a very sweet and kind man. I felt safe around him,” Hume said. “Once, we walked to a movie together, but we were never alone together. My brother gave me permission to ride with Lewis to a party, maybe a mile ride. We didn’t know much about each other, but he told me that he cared for his mother, and that she came first.”
If her parents were aware of the budding romance, they certainly were not prepared for what came next. As the family headed out to attend the famous rodeo in Prescott, they gave their daughter permission to ride with the 20-year- old Lewis.
“We [only] knew each other for about three months. He was a fourth-generation Ash Fork native, and on the way to the rodeo, we passed my parents’ car and decided to just keep going and elope,” she said. “We went to Salome and the justice of the peace married us there for free. We got married on July 4, 1953. I still have never been to a rodeo!” she laughed.
Hume became close to her new husband’s mother, who was a single mother of six children. Her new mother-in- law worked out of her home doing laundry for the railroad workers.
“It was a struggle for her. I was married to my husband for 62 years and I was tight with his mother. We had our first son, Roy Thomas, in 1954. Lewis came after in 1960 and Kurt was our third son, born in 1971. They all still live right here in Ash Fork.”
Finding a job in Ash Fork was never a problem for Hume. At the height of the Route 66 popularity, the town was a popular stop for travelers. She worked at one of the five restaurants, but the traffic supported motels, service stations and more.
“It was always very, very busy. We would have 20 or more railroad guys come in for lunch, and all these people who were traveling to California. Some of the people would have all their belongings on one vehicle, kind of like us when we first moved out here. Everyone had a big canvas water bag hanging off the side of their car to get through the desert in California. I loved talking to people who were headed out to California.”
But, like many towns along Route 66, the good times were coming to an end. The railroad moved out in 1960, and overnight, 11 families left to follow the jobs. Another big fire burned down most of the buildings in Ash Fork in 1977, and when Interstate 40 was built around the same time, the blows to Ash Fork kept coming.
“Ash Fork almost died,” said Cox. “On Main Street, we had 16 or 17 gas stations and 12 hotels, but after I-40 was built, that went way down. Ash Fork had 4,000 to 5,000 people, but then it got down to around 400 to 500 people. Everyone just left.”
Hume’s husband worked for the railroad but did not want to move. Instead, he became a supervisor at the state highway department, which was located in the exact same building that currently houses the Museum.
“In 1979, when I-40 opened, the restaurants, motels and service stations couldn’t survive. It took away people’s jobs,” said Hume. “Even though I-40 is real close, it’s not the same as when Route 66 went through the middle of our town.”
Today, Ash Fork survives, thanks mostly to the quarries and the stone companies in town.
The little museum that could
In the 1980s, Hume’s husband worked out of a small historic building in Ash Fork. The Arizona Department of Transportation decided to move Lewis’ office to nearby
Seligman, and the historic office threatened to go the way of the iconic Fred Harvey Escalante Hotel. Opened on March 1, 1907, the Mission Style of Spanish architecture hotel was closed in 1948 and was demolished in the 1980s.
“That broke everyone’s heart. We tried to call the governor to stop it, but it was private property,” said Hume. “When my husband had to move the office to Seligman, he told me to get busy and get the old building on the Historic Register so it wouldn’t be torn down. We did get it on the registry in 1989.”
Hume and a group of volunteers immediately started working on building a museum for the town. Despite the passionate help, the task took longer than expected. The building actually belongs to the county, which leases it for something like a $1 a year to the Museum.
“We had one volunteer who was an artist and seamstress and historian who was in her 90s,” Hume said. “We had to buy mannequins, but they were so expensive. She said, ‘No way! We’ll make them all.’ We did. Only two mannequins in the Museum were bought. The rest we made. “
Hume’s daughter-in-law, Rosemary, who is married to her son Roy, also helps with the Ash Fork Historical Society and Museum, but she actually met Fayrene first.
“I always said that I married Roy for his mother,” Rosemary said, with a smile. “I had moved to Ash Fork to teach, and Fayrene was very involved in the committees at school. I spent a lot of time with her and didn’t even know she had an older son until he came back from the Air Force.”
In 1977, Hume asked her oldest son Roy to accompany Rosemary to a school dance, and it was love at first sight.
“We only went out once or twice, but we married a couple of months later,” Rosemary said. Hume’s new daughter-in-law became involved in the efforts to save the historic building and open the Museum.
In 2000, The Ash Fork Historical Society and Museum opened its doors, thanks in part to the Ash Fork Development Council. To this day, the Museum is staffed by volunteer labor only, and because it doesn’t charge admission, donations and the gift shop are its only income.
The Museum includes the railroad history, the quarry history, the first jail cell (which was located in a railroad car), Native American history, geology, Route 66 memorabilia, military history and more.
A replica of the Escalante was included at the Museum, and it still draws visitors who have heard legends about the old hotel. Vintage cars seem ready to roar back to life.
“Every day we are open, and we get 80 to 100 visitors a day,” said Hume “I still volunteer there too. My children and grandchildren volunteered during the summers, and they loved it. We have events like Pioneer Days that bring the community together.”
Yet, despite the success of the Museum, Ash Fork was forgotten when Route 66 experienced its revival in the early 1990s.
“We kind of got left off the map. They jump from Williams to Seligman, and it hurt our feelings more than anything else,” Hume said. “I joined the Route 66 Association, and we hosted one of the meetings here once. I think some people were jealous of our museum, but we still don’t have the bus traffic like Seligman does.”
Hume’s husband passed away five years ago at the age of 82, but Hume continues to dedicate herself to the Museum, which has been open for 20 years now.
“If you see anything happening to promote Route 66 in Ash Fork, it is all Fayrene’s hard work. She is not shy to speak her mind and has a strong vision,” Rosemary said. “Her husband was a fourth-generation Ash Fork native, and his grandfather was actually one of the first businessmen in town. He was very proud of that. It was her love for her husband and her love of history that made her work so hard for the Museum. I believe it’s her most proud accomplishment.”
From a poor cotton farm in Arkansas to the founding of a historical museum along iconic Route 66, Hume keeps on as one of the busiest and most passionate advocates for her quiet Arizona town. It is people like Hume who, in many cases, keep the history of Route 66 alive across the 2,488 miles of beautiful tarmac.