About the Water Tanks
If Kingman had a foundation, it would be the railroad. The town is named for Lewis Kingman, a survey engineer for the Atlantic & Pacific Railroad. In early 1882, near the site of the current railroad depot, a railroad construction camp was established. Within a few months a small tent city known as Middleton Siding was established at the site to provide services to railroad crews, to prospectors and speculators scouting the area for mining opportunities, and to ranchers and farmers.
Before the end of the year a sampling works had been established as well as chutes and pens for cattle and sheep along the railroad. And on March 28, 1883, there was celebration as the first train came through Kingman and continued west to the site of bridge construction on the Colorado River.
The first recorded reference to the rough and tumble frontier community as Kingman comes from the October 1882 issue of Alta Arizona published in nearby Mineral Park. “The sampling works at Middleton, hereafter named Kingman, allows miners to bring ore to a location on the railroad for shipping.”
Conrad Shenfield was a railroad contractor with vision who recognized the immense possibility for profit in the small tent city along the railroad. He acquired the 160 acre “town site privileges” at the siding and began surveying and selling lots.
He published an advertisement in the Alta Arizona that was published on January 27, 1883: “For particulars as to prices of town lots in Kingman address C. Shenfield or C.W. Middleton, at Mineral Park. A perfect title given soon as the patent for the 160 acres upon which the new town is located arrives from Washington.”
There was, however, a small flaw in Shenfield’s get rich quick scheme, a technicality if you will. The town site location properties being sold were owned by the United States government, not the railroad. He was selling lots that he didn’t own.
Somehow, he was able to rectify the problem and he received the properly recorded deed on June 9, 1886. Meanwhile he had surveyed and platted a large square of 34 city blocks cut in half from east to west by the main line of the Atlantic & Pacific Railroad. Front Street, now Andy Devine Avenue/Route 66 ran parallel to the tracks on the north, and South Front Street, now Topeka, ran on the south side of the tracks. The center point was land designated for a depot.
Meanwhile the railroad continued to develop infrastructure in Kingman including sidings, a warehouse, depot and loading platform, and water station for the locomotives. In about 1910 these water tanks, painted black, were installed to accommodate new, larger steam engines. They became a dominate feature of the city’s skyline.
The Atchison, Topeka & Santa Fe Railroad that had acquired the Atlantic & Pacific Railroad, pioneered the use of diesel electric locomotives. In May 1936, the Santa Fe Railroad Super Chief passenger train with diesel electric powered locomotive began operating between Los Angeles and Chicago.
By 1953 the railroad had updated almost its entire fleet, the steam powered locomotives were retired from service, and ownership of these tanks was transferred to the City of Kingman for use as storage for the fire department. The tank facing east on Route 66 was painted silver, and a notation promoting 1,000 Miles of Shoreline, a reference to Mohave County’s Colorado River frontage, was added.
By 1986, the rusty and leaking tanks were listed as a liability. Betty McBrayer recognized their historic significance and initiated a campaign to save them from demolition, and then their restoration that included its now famous Route 66 shield and welcome to Kingman message.
The colorful mural depicting a vintage locomotive bursting from the tank, a popular photo op for Route 66 travelers, was funded by the Route 66 Association of Kingman as part of their public arts initiative. It was completed by mural artist Dan and Vicki Louden. Dan Louden has been painting murals, hand painting scenes and stripes on semi tractors, and lending his talents to public arts projects since the late 1970s. Work on Route 66 includes murals at the Wagon Wheel restaurant in Needles, California, at the Ramada Inn and Dunton Motors Dream Machines, also in Kingman.