By Betsy Quinn
Volunteers from the community made the Winkelman Pancake Breakfast on the Old Bridge a pleasant way to spend the a Sunday Morning and start off Earth Day.
More than 120 people attended.
The Pancake Breakfast also offered menudo in addition to pancakes, sausage and scrambled eggs. The food was terrific, but the visiting was even better. Some groups stopped just for the breakfast and a short visit, while for others it was a trip down memory lane.
Billy Smith, a 1987 graduate of Hayden High School now living with his family in San Tan, related all the memories the Bridge brought to mind as he looked over the Bridge to the Gila River flowing below. Smith says the Bridge remains the same, except it was paved with blacktop and open to traffic when he was growing up in Winkelman. Known then as ‘the shortcut,’ local residents and teens would use the bridge as an alternate to the Highway.
The biggest change, said Smith, is how low the Gila River is now. Smith fondly recalls jumping off the bridge into the river below for a swim. Smith related the Bridge was the gathering place on weekends and after school for many locals in those days. While pointing out a turtle below in the river flowing along the current, Smith says in those days kids would follow along the banks to the spot where the Gila and San Pedro rivers met downstream, making one wonder if the turtle was headed for the same spot, or if the rivers even met today with the waters so low. Smith also recalls cable carts that used to traverse to highway, which are now long gone.
Another former resident had a trip down memory lane that goes even further back. Patrick Romero, now 84, currently lives in Kearny with his wife of 14 years, Nettie. Romero is quite spry for his age, and his eyes light up with fond memories of riding a burro over the bridge in the late 1930s. Romero says the locals in the 30s also enjoyed jumping from the bridge to river below and then racing against the current to a nearby cliff.
Romero says in those days the Bridge was along the main roadway; there was no Highway 77, only the Railroad. Romero recalled how the old roadway wound through the mountains to the Christmas mining community. Romero says he remembers how dangerous the road was, with cars having to honk at sharp curves and allow only one car to pass along the narrow road.
Romero related the story of two men visiting family in the Christmas community one year. Romero says the men came over to Kearny to socialize one evening, but never returned to Christmas. After a few days of backtracking and searching, their car was found in a wash, both men had drowned after their car had plunged off the narrow roadway. One can still see remnants of the now mostly abandoned roadbed while driving along Highway 77 north of Winkelman.
Also on hand was Tom Chesnut of Tucson. Chesnut provided lively music and singing. Chesnut says he really enjoys spending time in Winkelman. Wolfgang and Dianna Mueller of Globe also enjoyed the bridge breakfast. Mueller is the new Mineral Curator at the Bullion Plaza Museum in Miami and Dianna is an Artist who has her work for sale and display at Cobre Valley Center for the Arts in Globe.
Fledgling politician Wenona Benally Baldenegro and her campaign manager Rueben Romero were on hand taking the opportunity to meet and greet the public. Baldenengro is a first time democratic candidate for Arizona Congressional Disrtict 1, U.S. House of Representatives. Baldenegro says she has been behind the scenes for many years and is now committed to representing rural residents of District 1. Citing her efforts to help rural communities obtain affordable housing and become educated about how to obtain, manage credit, and stay credit worthy, Baldenegro, who graduated from ASU, has a Harvard law degree. She has worked with the Democratic party on the Obama campaign and co-chaired Gene Reyes campaign last year. Her background also includes working in the Nonprofit and Healthcare policy analysis sectors. Baldenegro is endorsed by the United Steelworkers of America and Machinists unions. Her husband’s grandfather, lifelong copper miner Roberto “Betito” Cruz, was President Local #886 Union in Hayden and officer of USW Local #886.
The proceeds form the Pancake Breakfast event will go towards placing a commemorative plaque on the site. The Winkelman Bridge is recognized on the National Register of Historic Places for its architectural and historical significance.