Blast From the Past
An Arizona museum complex gives visitors a glimpse of the Old West
By Paulette Dininny
What do a designer of high-end restaurants, private homes, country clubs and design center showrooms and a Native American artist, blacksmith and builder have in common? They’re building a complex that’s right out of a movie — except this one is interactive. At Wild West Junction in Williams, Ariz., 30 miles west of Flagstaff, visitors can eat, shop, sleep, be entertained and otherwise sample the Old West.
Friends Mike DuCharme and Jay Redfeather (above) share a lifelong fascination with the Old West. They attended many cowboy and gun shows together when they lived in the Los Angeles area. DuCharme is also an avid collector of Old West memorabilia, so the two decided to go into business together and create a place to house the collection. On the grounds of an old motorcourt motel, Wild West Junction was born.
DuCharme’s vision, experience and a collection acquired over 35 years combined with Redfeather’s artistry in nearly every medium from pencil to iron is turning the old motor-court motel into a unique attraction. During the day, the two are at work building and planning the site’s latest phase. At night, you’re likely to find them dressed in authentic period costumes, singing with the Junction Bandits in the Typhoon Saloon or talking with visitors.
“It’s gratifying to hear so many compliments,” Redfeather says. “Not that we’re on an ego trip, but we are proud of what we’re building, and everyone seems to really appreciate the details — the trim work, the colors. So many Europeans and Asians think the Old West is alive and real, and when they come here to the Junction, they think they’ve found it.”
Wild West Junction was originally conceived as a stand-alone museum, but along the way the plan got bigger. The Territorial Museum has cleverly designed vignettes of a barbershop parlor, saloon, chuckwagon and gambling. There’s even one featuring Chinese opium-smoking objects, harkening back to Williams’ wilder days when opium dens were in the basements of main street buildings. On display is a rare working saddle by world-renowned saddle maker G.S. Garcia as well as movie memorabilia and Southwest history artifacts. One of the retail shops sells Western goods from the 1920s to the 1960s. You’ll find singing cowboy and rodeo memorabilia, dinnerware, pottery, Indian arts and crafts, Western art, vintage clothing and textiles and more. At a working blacksmith shop visitors can have a branding iron designed specifically for them.
Historical re-enactments on the grounds are good fun for young and old alike. One Wild West Junction skit features a couple of rowdy cowboys who tangle with the sheriff and a carpetbagger and end up shooting up the town and “blowing up” the jail.
One memorable tourist visit was by a mostly male group from Thailand who were highly entertained by the staged gunfight and “went crazy” when they saw the old-fashioned courthouse, says Jan Shirley, general manager. “They all piled onto the steps and had a group photo taken with some of the cowboys,” Shirley says. “It turned out they were Thai judges.”
Like any labor of love, the project hasn’t been without its pitfalls. While Redfeather jokes that the hardest part of the project is “working with Mike,” he also notes that skilled labor has been hard to find. And, adds DuCharme, “It’s such a large individual project that the financing has been the biggest challenge.” But the time and effort DuCharme and Redfeather continue to put into the project is worth it, they agree, when they see visitors enjoying themselves. “They seem to relive their childhood,” DuCharme says.
DuCharme and Redfeather have a Chinese restaurant in the works. Its name — Hop Sing — is a throwback to the classic Western TV show Bonanza. A dinner theater is planned, as is a “Hitching Post” where you can be married, christen your child, renew your vows or hold other events.
As for what the partners plan to do when they finish Wild West Junction, DuCharme responds, “What we wanted to do all along — smoke cigars and drink whiskey!” Redfeather adds, “And dress in our cowboy clothes.”
If You Go:
Wild West Junction
321 E Route 66
Williams, Ariz. 86046
Office: (928) 635-4512
Fax: (928) 635-4228