Motel From Hell
Tonopah, Nevada - 1970s

Tonopah is in Nye County, the third largest county in the nation. Its mining heyday didn't happen until 1900 when prospector Jim Butler discovered more than enough rich outcroppings to start a major boom. The town that sprang up was called Butler. Its riches benefitted the big companies, not the ordinary miners.

In 1905, the Postal Service opened a post office, dropped the name Butler, and labeled the place Tonopah.

Most mining towns in the Silver State had a couple or three names but not Tonopah. It is supposedly an Indian name that means "small spring," "hidden spring," "brush water springs," "greasewood spring," "little water," and "water brush." Take your pick.

Somewhere around $121 million in gold and silver were taken from the ground. Called Queen of the Silver Camps, the busiest years were from 1900 to 1921. Today, its economy is based mostly on tourism.

Tonopah's riches, like most mining communities, were up and down for decades. Mostly down but the town still tenaciously hangs on with a population of roughly three thousand. It is half way between Carson City and Las Vegas on the west side of the state and is often the site of various state meetings. It was a good solution to the long mileage where a trip inside the state can easily be more than four hundred miles.

We drove the 276 miles from Elko to Tonopah to attend a state meeting in 1975. My wife and I had reservations at a motel in town.

After checking in, we went to our room. First, we saw a not unusual notice of the time taped on the front of the television. Back then cable had not reached all communities in Nevada so most reception was by antenna. The note read: "Do Not Adjust Television." In our travels we had seen the same warning often. We didn't, of course, touch the set.

I went into the bathroom and there, taped to the mirror, are two more messages. One had a large arrow pointing up to a cardboard box on the top shelf of the closet. It said, "Do not use towels or wash cloths to clean cars and windshields." Inside the container were several rags.

The other warned, "Do not use towels to remove makeup. Please come to the office and we will give you special makeup removal pads."

I thought, for a moment, there might be another notice that we should use toilet paper more than once for the sake of economy. Thank goodness there wasn't. I would have ignored it anyway.

From the main area, my wife called, "Come see this."

There, taped to the bedside table, is still another note. This one stated, "We are having problems with our washing machine. If you see little black spots on the sheets do not worry. They are harmless."

We pulled back the top sheet. Yep. We had little black spots on the sheets.

Having dark spots on the sheets, no matter how harmless, were a bit much to take. Ah, those were the good old days. That was more than thirty years ago.

In all fairness, the motel, since then, has undergone a complete renovation. We would, if ever staying in Tonopah, book a stay there. The place looks great and there aren't any unusual instructional notes posted in the rooms.

Sources: Author's personal experience;  Nevada Place Names by Helen S. Carlson, University of Nevada Press, Reno, 1974; and is an excellent site to find out more about Tonopah (history section written by local historian Shawn Hall).

©Copyright 2008 by Howard Hickson.

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