Chapter 8: A Tough Job to Finish

Back in the early 1900’s there weren’t many labor laws in the books, to protect workers. And the Pacific Coast Borax Company was just one of many employers who took full advantage of this lack of protection.

In 1907 the Tonopah and Tidewater Railroad laid a narrow gauge spur off their main line, about 5 miles south of the Nevada state border. At the junction of this spur with the main line, a town arose that was first called Amargosa, but later renamed as Death Valley Junction. Its population never exceeded 400, and today it’s 4 or less.

The railroad spur led southwest about 6 miles, to the Lila C. borate mine. The Pacific Coast Borax Company hired men to load borate ore onto the railroad’s freight cars. They were hired for specific periods of time, and paid by contract. Under the terms of the contract, if they quit, were fired, were disabled, or killed before their contract expired, they wouldn’t be paid.

It was grueling, backbreaking labor, with long, cruel hours. And the working conditions were not safe. Many men were injured and disabled, and thereafter abandoned by the company. They were left unpaid and penniless. Some men were even killed in accidents. Many simply quit, due to exhaustion, and departed unpaid. But those with enough stamina to complete their contract received a lucrative payout. It was enough money to tempt strong, healthy men to sign on and take the gamble.

In 1924, the borax company decided they needed a bunkhouse for the workers, and a hotel for visitors and prospective investors. And so they constructed the Amargosa Hotel. It was a Spanish colonial style, U-shaped structure, with a large plaza that allowed for ample parking of horseless carriages, and horses with carriages.

The Amargosa Hotel, as it appeared in 2007.

At the north end of the structure, they built Corkill Hall. This became a social center, and was used from 1924 to 1948 for recreation, dances, and other gatherings by residents of the Amargosa Valley. During those 24 years, lonely desert rats drove for many miles, on a regular basis, just to socialize and be around others.

But in 1948, all that ended. Corkill Hall and the Amargosa Hotel were abandoned and left to fall into labefaction under the elements of the harsh Mojave desert climate. And for the next 19 years these ruins would lay dormant.

Until the arrival of a very odd lady.

This is the latest installation of my series, The Amazing Amargosa. Come on back in a few days for the next installation, entitled, Chapter 9, Part 1: The Ballet Dancer . Click here to read the previous installation. Click here, to start at the beginning.

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