Beeline Takes Residents Down Memory Lane

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For the past 133 years, there has only been one way to trek from the Rim country to the Valley the road now known as the Beeline Highway.

When all four lanes of the Sunflower Bypass, the last major improvement scheduled for the Beeline, open in late April or early May, the highway will be faster and safer than ever before.

But there are those in the Payson area who vividly recall another Beeline Highway. Here are a few of their memories.

Marshall Manley

In his youth, Marshall Manley regularly drove up and down the Beeline, but he only really remembers one trip.

During World War II, Manley now an 80-year-old Star Valley resident was a member of a club that regularly sponsored trips to Camp Geronimo for Phoenix shoeshine boys. Manley was one of the group's adult leaders.

The trip up was beautiful, uneventful and long, Manley remembers, and the bone-rattling effects of the unpaved washboard road didn't wear off for hours after the drive had ended.

It was the trip back that Manley could have done without.

"We were right near Sunflower when the kingpin popped out of the car's right front wheel," Manley says. "That was it. We were stuck there. We just sat there overnight, chatting and sleeping and waiting for someone to come buy and either pick us up or relay the message that we needed some help."

Someone eventually relayed an S.O.S. to a mechanic, who drove to the then-godforsaken spot and fixed the tire in about three minutes flat, he says.

"The happy ending is that we survived. If that kingpin had come out almost anywhere else, we would have veered off a cliff. Or into a cliff. It was a very dangerous road."

Anna Mae Deming

"I was born and raised on a cow ranch in Star Valley, and my mother was in the tubercular sanitarium in Phoenix," recalls lifetime Rim Country resident and National Weather Service observer, Anna Mae Deming.

"When we'd leave the ranch to go down there on the Beeline back then we called it the Bush Highway we'd leave at about four in the morning. The road was as crooked as it could possibly be. There were four kids in my family, and all four of us would get carsick.

"Then we'd take the Apache Trail into Apache Junction, and that would take almost eight hours.

Nobody ever traveled on that road without getting flat tires, but nobody worried about it much, either. The mail stage came and went from Globe to Payson daily, so even if you didn't have a spare tire, you didn't worry too much.

"After I grew up, the road was still rough and slow, but a little faster. It would take five or six hours to get to Phoenix. My husband, Jim, along with some other men, decided we needed a better road," Deming said. "They finally succeeded. And sometimes I'd like to wring all their necks when I see all this traffic up here."

Stan Brown

Local historian Stan Brown says that, unlike most current residents, he didn't discover Payson via the Beeline, but on gravel roads back in 1963.

"My wife and I had a couple days vacation and wanted to explore the back country. So we tossed our toothbrushes into the car and headed out from our home in Pheonix to travel the Apache Trail."

After traveling for nearly a full day on the most rugged roads past Roosevelt, into the Sierra Anchas, the Chamberlain Trail, Christopher Creek and Kohl's Ranch, Brown said, "We were grateful beyond words for the Beeline, because at that time it had been paved for five years. It was wonderful to have found this little bit of heaven, and a road that would allow us to come and go as often as possible."

Beeline timeline

1868 Construction begins on Reno Road to facilitate the transportation of military troops between Fort McDowell into Camp Reno in Tonto Basin.

1920s Bush Highway, an unpaved road that begins as an extension of Power Road in Mesa, is built across the Salt River to Fountain Hills. It becomes the first leg of what will become the Beeline Highway.

1937 A group of Rim country citizens, headed by Alf Randall, begins a nearly two-decade lobbying effort to widen and reroute portions of the old Bush Highway and create a paved road to Payson.

1950s Randall's group is joined by Maricopa County Supervisor Jim Hart. Hart interceded with the Salt River Pima and Fort McDowell Yavapai tribes to build a diagonal road running northeast of Mesa toward Payson. Hart was killed in a one-vehicle car accident returning from Payson in February 1960.

July 19, 1958 The newly paved highway from Phoenix to Payson opens and, despite its many twists and turns, is officially dubbed the Beeline. Until this date, travelers were told to follow the ruts and "go wherever you can get through." The four-hour drive is cut down to two hours.

1969 A stretch of the Beeline south of Payson becomes the first to be widened into four lanes. Other stretches follow over the years, passing lanes are added, and dangerously narrow passages are widened.

Sept. 5, 1970 Officer Gib Duthie of the Department of Public Safety is killed in an automobile accident at the Sycamore Creek Bridge while attempting to assess flood damage.

1983 ADOT widens 2.3 miles of the Beeline 20 miles south of Payson at a cost of $5.3 million.

1990 Another 5.2 miles are widened and improved, from State Route 188 to Rye, at a cost of $15 million.

1991 The 5.7 miles from Shea Boulevard to the Tonto National Forest boundary north of Fountain Hills are widened at a cost of $20 million.

1992 Nearly one and a half miles between Four Peaks Road and Sugar Loaf Road are widened at a cost of $1.1 million, and three miles between Sugar Loaf Road and Mesquite Wash are widened at a cost of $10 million.

1993 A second northbound lane is added to the 6.4-mile stretch from Mesquite Wash to Sycamore Creek at a cost of $8.9 million.

1993 to 1996 Thirty-eight automobile drivers and passengers died on the Beeline, earning it distinction as one of the deadliest roads in the state. As traffic has quadrupled since 1980, accidents and injuries have increased by 25 percent every four years.

Aug. 15, 1995 Department of Public Safety Officer Bob Martin, who spent the majority of his 27-year career on the Beeline, was shot and killed on the road he patrolled.

1996 The 11 miles between McDowell Road in Mesa and Shea Boulevard in Fountain Hills opens following an expenditure of $14.7 million. Two new southbound lanes were created, and the northbound lane was rebuilt.

1997 Another 11 miles, between Four Peaks and Sycamore Creek, is widened to four lanes. New bridges are built at Mesquite Wash, Pine Creek and Sycamore Creek.

1998 A five-mile length of road winding north to Sunflower gets the four-lane treatment.

April/May 2001 The last seven miles of two-lane highway are widened to four lanes, bypassing Sunflower and completing the 33-year Beeline Highway project.

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