The early November rainstorm rolled across Death Valley and the Amargosa Desert, turning the pale blue morning into a steely gray, but Beatty’s residents didn’t break stride.
A little rain wouldn’t rust the antique cars and Turtle-waxed hot rods that lined up for the Beatty Days celebration and parade, and a slick road would only add a little drama to the annual bed races.
It would take more than precipitation to slow the party in the town, located 100 miles northwest of Las Vegas on U.S. 95.
My 12-year-old daughter, Amelia, who has plenty of reasons to cheer after surviving cancer, served as the “Junior Grand Marshal” and rode with her folks in a 1915 Coca-Cola red Model T. Our driver was the Model T’s proud owner, 80-year-old Harold Mann.
Costumed cowboys and dance hall girls with nicknames like “High Pockets” and “Starr” delighted the crowd by staging more shootouts in two hours than Dodge City saw in 20 years. During Beatty Days, the gunfighters shoot blanks, and neither the bikers nor the bar dogs bite.
If the town looks like it’s surviving the recession with a sense of humor, there may be a good reason for it.
Being just to the left of the middle of nowhere, Beatty is too far from Las Vegas to suffer from the home mortgage crisis — many residences are on wheels — and is close enough to Death Valley to attract European and American tourists.
Times have been better. Gasoline prices could be lower. The Barrick Bullfrog Mine is closed these days. And it’s possible the lack of fluid credit financing has put on hold some of the town’s more ambitious commercial ventures.
But there’s the fact Beatty serves as a comfortable roadside oasis for travelers and tourists.
“People still want to get off the road at night when the weather’s bad or to get out of the heat,” Motel 6 manager Dawn Navarre said. “We have a great location for that.”
Not all rural Nevada towns have it this good. Despite a sharp rise in the price of gold, some small towns are so desperate for sources of steady employment that the prospect of the creation of the Yucca Mountain nuclear waste repository is enticing. If you think the nuke waste dump would be dangerous, you haven’t tried living off the fat of the land on the edge of the Amargosa.
For some others, the prospect of the construction of a state prison doesn’t just mean there’s a new place to visit the renegade relatives. A good penitentiary in the backyard provides good jobs with health benefits and pension plans where such things are hard to come by.
So far, Beatty hasn’t gone that route.
Las Vegan Bob Ott has lived in Southern Nevada 30 years, but he found himself reminiscing about his Ohio youth after making his first visit to Beatty Days.
“This is what I call old Americana,” Ott said as the storm clouds boiled over just after the end of the parade.
Richard Stephens was attracted to the town 32 years ago when he accepted a teaching job at Beatty High School. Now retired, he works part time as a correspondent for the Pahrump Valley Times.
“I’m not sure I’ve seen that much of a change in Beatty,” Stephens said later. “Obviously, the town was booming more when we had the large mine operator here. But I don’t think we’ve seen as much of it (the recession) here. There aren’t as many people here with big mortgages like you have in Las Vegas. …
“I can remember thinking for years, ‘How in the world can people afford these huge houses?’ Now I know, they couldn’t. They were strained beyond the limit.”
Meanwhile, Beatty gets by. And since the Wal-Mart and Smith’s Food King opened in Pahrump, supplies are only 70 miles away.
Pat Getter of the Las Vegas Valley Model A Ford Club was smitten with Beatty.
“We love it,” she said. “Everyone is so friendly. I just hope it doesn’t rain on our parade.”
She didn’t get her wish. And by the time the annual bed races commenced, the streets were slick with chilly November rain.
But Beatty is surviving just fine, rain or shine.
John L. Smith’s column appears Sunday, Tuesday, Wednesday and Friday. E-mail him at Smith@reviewjournal.com or call (702) 383-0295. He also blogs at lvrj.com/blogs/smith/.