Originally Published: November 24, 2010 10:24 a.m.
A long, steep hill, a burned out clutch, and a generous dump truck driver in 1947 brought together two of Arizona's historical families - the Trimbles and Cordes'.
Little did 8-year-old Marshall Trimble, traveling with his family from Phoenix to Ash Fork when their 1936 Ford broke down, know at the time that he would become the Official Arizona State Historian, and 63 years later return to Cordes for a book signing of the seven history books he penned.
"We broke down coming up Antelope Creek Road from Bumble Bee, and a highway department dump truck towed us into Cordes Station," Trimble said on Sunday, surrounded by admiring fans. "We were here three days while Henry (Cordes) was waiting for parts. We romped all over the hills and played cowboys and Indians and went exploring."
A Hollywood producer could not have created a better setting for the book signing and barbecue than the ancient buildings and antique cars and trucks at Cordes. Even the blustery weather added to the ambience.
John and Lizzie Cordes bought the original saloon and stage stop in 1886 after a drunken customer murdered the former owner. When the Trimbles stumbled into Cordes, which is about seven miles south of Mayer, it had grown from a saloon to a hub of commercial and social activity that included Henry's repair shop, boarding house, restaurant and ranching business.
Cathy Cordes, who is Henry's great-great-granddaughter, re-opened the store after researching her family's fascinating history. Other historians now use her as a source of information.
It was her interest in history that led her to attend a Phoenix dinner theater two years ago that featured Marshall Trimble. Someone introduced her to Trimble, and she could not believe what he told her.
"He told me about the breakdown story, and I had never heard that before," Cathy said. "He was so sweet. He worked the story into his stage show, and then invited Ricky (her son) and me up on stage."
As State Historian, Trimble spends a lot of time traveling around the state.
"He just walked into the store a couple of months ago and said, 'I haven't been in this store since 1947,'" she said explaining how she managed to get the most sought after history speaker to spend his Sunday with his wife, Vanessa, at old Cordes.
While Trimble signed books and fielded questions, Cal Cordes, Henry's brother, sat next to him. The two traded stories about old-timers they both know, Arizona history, what happened to so-and-so, and traded quick one-liners that kept the crowd chuckling and laughing.
"We met at the Palace (in Prescott) years ago during one of his shows," Cal said. "But we never got a chance to sit down and pull each other's strings like today."
While pulling each other's strings, they discovered each shares a passion for baseball. Trimble played semi-pro baseball after high school, and Cal is a legendary Prescott High School coach.
"I rode the Peavine Railroad in 1951 to Phoenix to see the New York Yankees practice. I went to get Joe DiMaggio's autograph," Trimble said.
However, he "froze" when DiMaggio walked by. Years later, a fan of Trimble's sent him a DiMaggio autograph.
Trimble fondly remembers growing up in Ash Fork, and visits whenever he can.
"I loved growing up in Ash Fork. It was such an innocent world then," he said. He authored the "Images of America" series about Ash Fork. "Prescott was like New York City compared to Ash Fork."
The title of "official" historian started with another popular Arizonan - Sharlot Hall.
"She was the first, but her title then was Territorial Historian," he said.
Trimble is not sure how long he will remain as the state's ambassador. Scottsdale Community College, where he is Director of Southwest Studies, pays his salary. Otherwise, Trimble feels certain the Legislature would have cut his position years ago when the state's economy started to nosedive.
Whatever else he does in the future, he has one goal he is adamant about achieving - making Arizona's title, "The Grand Canyon State," official.
"I always assumed it was official because you see it on everything," he said. "And a few years ago, a little girl wrote and asked if I would try to get it made official. That's when I found out it isn't."
He has tried, but so far the Legislature has dragged its feet. "It wouldn't cost them a cent," he said in exasperation.
Trimble patiently, and with a characteristic twinkle in his eyes, talked history Sunday a stone's throw from where the 1800s murder happened that ultimately led to him knowing the Cordes family.
"This was just a thrill to have him here," Cathy Cordes said. "And he promised he would come back."
To read more about Trimble, visit marshalltrimble.com.