Pueblo West (image courtesy John Wark)

In the land of McCulloch

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The entire development of Pueblo West branches off from McCulloch Blvd. Over one road and onto another the town expands into an abundance of mostly homes and small-businesses that sit upon land that was once nothing but a plain of dirt, desert critters and one man’s vision of the future.

It is virtually impossible to navigate through the community without travelling over McCulloch Blvd at least once. Everyday, the nearly 30,000 residents of the Pueblo suburb go about their business, moving back and forth over the often under-construction road, which is named after a local legend.

Anyone who grew up in or around Pueblo West has most likely been exposed to the tale of a man named McCulloch who founded the famously “Planned Community” and then left.

The seemingly obscure man does not have existing roots in Pueblo West. Robert Paxton McCulloch, the man responsible for Pueblo West, was born in Missouri to a wealthy family in 1911.

He attended college at Stanford University and went on to marry his high school sweetheart, Barbara Ann Briggs.

An aggressive entrepreneur, he founded McCulloch Engineering Company where his employees built car engines and superchargers. After selling the company, he founded another one, McCulloch Aviation, which later became known as McCulloch Motors Corporation.

In 1943, McCulloch founded a company bearing his name and led the chainsaw industry for several years with his invention of an innovative lightweight model. The first of its kind, operation of the 3-25 chainsaw only required one person. The company is still in existence today and has since expanded to tractor, brush cutter, hedge trimmer, and snow and leaf blower sales

When McCulloch seemed to grow out of evolving machinery he started growing towns.

He founded four different cities during the ‘60s and ‘70s– Pueblo West; Lake Havasu City, Arizona; Fountain Hills, Arizona; and Spring Creek, Nevada.

Each city, of course, has unique characteristics and a specific culture created by the people who have lived in them since McCulloch’s work, but there are several striking similarities in each. For example, the familiar idea of a “planned community” is a defining characteristic of Lake Havasu City and Spring Creek acts as a self-sufficient suburb of Elko, a larger Nevada city nearby.

Self-sufficient as they are, the cities are relatively small and were all at one point viewed as “lunchbox” or “bedroom” communities.

This essentially means that big industry is left to larger nearby cities while the planned communities were places for residences and recreation.

You pack your lunch in the city and take it home in your lunchbox. You work in the living room and go to the tucked-away bedroom to sleep.

When Pueblo West was founded in 1969, the modern city of Pueblo had already been officially and completely incorporated for 75 years and much of the town’s industry belonged to Colorado Fuel and Iron Co. People who moved to Pueblo West had to commute to their jobs in Pueblo, or at least get their lunch there.

Many of the first citizens of the town had children who attended school in adjacent counties or on the other side of Pueblo County. Since Pueblo West is considered to be part of Pueblo County, high school-aged students were officially designated to attend Pueblo County High School.

It wasn’t until 1974, when Pueblo West Elementary School was built, that its youngest students could attend school closer to home. Middle and high school students had to commute until 1984 and 1996 respectively when Pueblo West Middle School and Pueblo West High were established.

In its early days, Pueblo West was so desolate McCulloch had to build the Pueblo West Inn to temporarily house potential investors.

Self-sufficiency did not come without work, and new citizens had to commit to making McCulloch’s vision a reality.

All four cities have grown tremendously since McCulloch founded them, and many citizens are now able to work in their communities. Larger cities nearby generally have more industry but “lunchbox community” lunches can be packed a little lighter these days.

In addition to being self-sufficient without considerably large industry, the four towns are all home to bodies of water that, in a number of capacities, give citizens options for recreation.

Lake Havasu City’s recreation also focuses largely on its lake, which runs into the Colorado River.

“Lake Havasu City is a destination for boaters, water sport enthusiasts, hikers, nature lovers, car enthusiasts, military veterans and history buffs,” said Lake Havasu’s mayor, Mark S. Nexsen. It’s a description that could easily be used to describe Pueblo West, too.

In addition to Lake Havasu’s 52,000 citizens, the town brings in 775,000 visitors annually.

“It’s easily accessible by major highways and a short drive from Los Angeles, Phoenix and Las Vegas,” Nexsen said.

Fountain Hills has a lake at its center as well and, as its name suggests, a notably large fountain is surrounded by rolling hills. The fountain built by McCulloch’s corporation is so prominent it is considered one of the largest in the country.

Perhaps the most famous structure McCulloch is responsible for, though, is the London Bridge located in Lake Havasu City.

After acquiring the land that would eventually become Lake Havasu City from the U.S. government, he bought the bridge from London and had it moved to the city, brick by brick.

“The London Bridge took three years to dismantle, transport, and reconstruct block by block. The London Bridge, which crosses a 930 foot long man-made canal on the Colorado River, was opened in October of 1971 with elaborate fanfare: fireworks, a parade, entertainment, celebrities, and dignitaries such as the Lord Mayor of London,” Nexsen said.

It still stands, and is a major tourist attraction in the city, which was McCulloch’s goal all along.

The Pueblo West Inn, today known as the Sunhaven Apartments, has a piece of the bridge sitting on the property in the form of a bench.

The presence of the bench is little known in Pueblo West, except for longtime residents. It was previously located in the structure’s only breezeway, with a sign marking its presence. Today it sits outside unmarked, in front of the very same breezeway.

McCulloch could not have planned for the slew of pop culture references surrounding the bridge, most remarkably a 1985 horror film starring David Hasselhoff.  The plot of Bridge Across Time includes the spirit of Jack the Ripper stowed in a London Bridge brick releasing its murderous tendencies on the citizens of Lake Havasu City.

The smallest of the four cities McCulloch founded, Spring Creek considers itself an association rather than an official town. It consists of three housing divisions, which combined hold 5,420 privately owned lots. As consistent with McCulloch’s theme of development, the community is gathered near a lake that serves as a main source of recreation for locals.

Today, Pueblo West is a thriving community with more than enough room to grow. During the 2010 census, it had almost half of the 60,000 of citizens McCulloch originally planned for at 29,843.

In a 1975 interview with United Press International, McCulloch projected that the U.S. population would increase dramatically by the year 2000. His solution for an eventual housing problem caused by the boom was to create new communities, and that he did.

“Today’s lifestyle calls for balanced environments where people can live near their work and leisure activities,” he said.

McCulloch died two years after the interview in Los Angeles, but his communities continue to thrive as places of water recreation, pieces of the London Bridge and packed lunches.

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