Crossing the flooded Tonto Creek is going to be easier for Tonto Basin residents thanks to the generosity of the Mazatzal Casino and Tonto Apache Tribe.
For more than 50 years, residents and supplies have been shuttled across the creek in a 1943, 2-ton Army ammunition carrier, known as the "Old GI."
George Cline bought the vehicle to use on his ranch and to get across the creek when it was flooded, according to Peggy Cline, who was married to one of the pioneer's descendants. Cline is a bookkeeper with the Tonto Apache Tribe and has lived in the Tonto Basin area since 1981.
In the 1970s George Allen Ewing started driving the Old GI to bring in groceries, gas and medicines and transport the people stranded on the east side of the creek when it flooded.
"We carried just about everything," Ewing said. About 10 or 12 people could fit in the vehicle.
Now a new GI is available for creek crossings, a 1967 Kaiser 5-ton 6-by-6, purchased with a contribution from the Mazatzal Casino and Tonto Apache Tribe.
"After those people died (in the Jan. 4, 2005 flood), Ivan (Smith, chairman of the Tonto Apaches) asked what they could do to help," Cline said.
At first, making repairs to the Old GI was discussed, then it was decided to buy a replacement vehicle.
"They told us to pick out what we needed," Cline said.
The vehicle arrived last weekend and Ewing started delivering school children in the new GI earlier this week.
High school students and working residents are delivered at 6:30 a.m., then at 8 a.m. the elementary students are taken across the creek and brought back from school starting at 3 p.m. Other residents are shuttled across as Ewing's work schedule allows, Cline said.
"It was kind of scary at first, but it was nice," said Reina Socarras, 11.
"It was bumpy," said 8-year-old Ashley Ford.
About 20 people can fit in the new vehicle, Ewing said, and it drives real well.
The residents of Tonto Basin are gathering at 11 a.m. Saturday, Feb. 19 at The Butcher Hook to say thank you the Mazatzal Casino, Tonto Apaches and Ewing.
There will be time for visiting, a barbecue is planned at noon and there will be a program by Official State Historian Marshall Trimble. A moment of silence for those taken by Tonto Creek, a blessing and a christening also will be part of the event.
For more information, call Marc Kaplan, Mazatzal Casino marketing director, (928) 474-6044, ext. 158; Norma Cline, Butcher Hook manager, (928) 479-2226; or Peggy Cline, (928) 474-5000, ext. 107.