The history of the Cabaleros Del Sol- As retold by charter members Schuy Lininger and Stub Ashcraft………
In the mid 1920’s, two doctors named Huett and Kline who specialized in the care of tubercular (TB) patients saw the need to begin touting the great dry heat of Tucson as the perfect place to be for people with lung problems. This need along with the desire of Tucson business people to get more people to visit and move to The Old Pueblo eventually evolved into an organization called the Tucson Sunshine Climate Club. Many years later, the visitors & Convention Bureau was added to the professional heading.
For the next 37 years (1926- 1963), the Sunshine Climate Club grew as the premier organization to bring and develop new business to Tucson. The organization was funded in part by both the city of Tucson and Pima County. Some of the greatest early “City Fathers” of Tucson served this group.
As the Chamber of Commerce grew both the City and County decided to quit funding the Sunshine Climate Club as they felt there were some overlapping between the two organizations. So in 1963, two key people- Frank Drachman and Roy Miller convinced the entire Board of Directors of the Sunshine Climate Club to dissolve their Club and become a standing committee in the Tucson Chamber of Commerce. The group would be call the Caballeros Del Sol and Roy Miller (who ran the J.C. Penney store downtown) would become the first El Jefe.
They put sunshine in cans, models in cactus “bathing suits” and Tucson in the underwood of every travel writer in the country.
“Nobody did the things we did to promote tourism” says C.L. “Stubs” Ashcraft, general manger back in the ‘50s of the old Tucson Sunshine Climate Club.
Who else would:
: Scoop out the tops of two saguaro cactus arms, fashion them into a “bra”, and have the end result modeled by a local high school girl?
: Welcome the Cleveland Indians to town with smoke signals from atop “A” Mountain?
: Get the superintendent of Saguaro National Monument to draw beer from a cactus?
How you gonna get “em out to the desert? With sunshine, sex and rootin’ tootin’ atmosphere. For 40 years, that was the winning formula used by the Tucson Sunshine Climate Club to bring visitors to town- until a merger put an end to all the good times.
It began with a rivalry. “By 1920, Phoenix’s population was the larger than Tucson’s, says Roy P. Drachman, general manager of the Sunshine Climate Club, 1939- 1945.
Naturally says Drachman, this “annoyed” a few Tucson businessman. So car dealers Monte Mansfield and L.C. “Jessie” James decided to form an organization to promote tourism.
In 1922, the Tucson Sunshine Climate Club held its first meeting. Far from feeling usurped, the Chamber of Commerce welcomed the move, says Drachman. “There was a lot of overlap. Many of the same members served on both boards”.
Money came from local businesses, which bought up memberships, and from the city and county, which helped pay for advertising in publications across the country.
Back then, Tucson was still considered a health mecca. “I think we spent more money in the American Medical Association Journal than any other publication,” says Drachman.
When he took over as manager in 1939, Drachman hired two photographers, Chuck Abbot and Robert Burns, who took pictures of prominent folk visiting the desert and then sent the photos to various news organizations, where they received wide play. “We had a clipping service,” says Drachman. “We kept big sheets of brown paper covered with clippings we got back from photos we had sent out.”
The club also co- sponsored a modeling club, using high school girls, mainly from Tucson High, to sell the Old Pueblo.
“We’d put them in a pair of boots, shorts, shirt and a hat and send them out in the desert with Ray Manley,” says Ashcraft. “We’d put them up against a cactus or in a field of poppies, anything for publicity.”
The Club’s finest hour for cheesecake however, probably came during Drachman’s reign. “We hollowed the tops out of a saguaro cactus and made a bra,” says Drachman.“Then we took prickly pear cactus pads and cut all the thorns off and hung them on wire for a skirt. Then we put a model from Tucson High in that outfit and took her picture. Life magazine printed it, full page.”
By the time Ashcraft came on board as the general manager in 1952, the publicity machine was in high gear. “I used to lie awake at nights thinking of things to do.”
Such as passing out cans of “sunshine.” Or posing a model in a $ 3,500.00 pair of mink “jeans”. Or having the Cleveland Indians pull a stagecoach with their manager on board, cracking the whip. Naturally all of this was photographed for play in the Eastern papers.
Ashcraft’s golden moment may have come in 1955, when a group of travel writers arrived in town on a junket sponsored by American Airlines.
“First thing we did was take them downtown and get them outfitted with jeans, shirts, boots and a hat,” says Ashcraft. Then they took them to the Forty Niners Ranch for a party.
“The next morning, most of these folks had hangovers like you couldn’t believe,” says Ashcraft. “Then we got them up on horses for a ride to Saguaro National Monument. By the time we got them there, their tongues were hanging out by a mile.”
What the writers didn’t know was that a chuck wagon filled with draft beer had been set up at the monument. Standing next to the chuck wagon was a mannequin in a squaw dress, and next to the mannequin was a saguaro cactus, with a thin tube running through it. The tube was a conduit, allowing beer to flow from a keg in the chuck wagon to a spigot on the outside of the cactus.
“After we got there, we had John Lewis, who was the superintendent of the monument, give this talk on the flora and the fauna of the desert,” says Ashcraft. “It was the most boring thing you had ever heard. Then he bent over and the mannequin’s hand fell on the spigot and the beer started to flow. You should have seen the eyes of those travel writers.”
As with most of the club’s stunts, this one, says Ashcraft, followed the script “right down to a gnat’s eyebrow.”
Such was not the case, however, the day the club welcomed the Cleveland Indians to town with a smoke- signal greeting.
“Every year when the Cleveland Indians came to town for spring training, we tried to top what we had done the year before,” says Ashcraft. “So I thought, ‘Ah, let’s welcome ‘em with smoke signals.’
“I went down to Indian Village Trading Post. They had an Indian there who did sand painting, and I said, ‘Freddy’ – I don’t remember his last name- ‘Do you know how to make smoke signals?’ He said yes, ‘Sure,’ so we arranged it.”
Ashcraft also arranged for American Airlines, which was bringing the team to town, to fly directly over “A” Mountain where the signals would be sent.
The day arrived. “It was a nasty damn day, recalls Ashcraft. “The wind must have been blowing about 100 miles per hour. And of course we had invited the local press and photographers there. Ray Manley was there and for some reason he had brought along a couple of old tires. It never dawned on any of us the consequences of what we were about to do.
“So we got the fire started and Ray threw the tires on it and the black smoke started pouring out. Then the sheriff’s car came up the road, its lights blinking. They didn’t want to come all the way up, and they were hollering at us to come down. We were scared to death.
“Well, people were calling all over. “A” Mountain used to be a volcano and people thought it was erupting again.
“Anyway, the time came for the plane to come over. Freddy has the blanket. Here comes the plane. Freddy and his friend put the blanket down over the tire- and it burned a hole right in the middle of the damned blanket.
“I said, ‘Freddy, what in the hell happened?’ He said, ‘I forgot. We were supposed to wet the blanket.”
In 1962, the Tucson Sunshine Climate Club merged with the Chamber of Commerce Industrial Development Board, in an effort to strengthen the chamber and do away with duplication of effort. “That killed the club,” says Ashcraft.
But not its past deeds. “When we started out, we were getting the tourists,” says Ashcraft. “They liked it and came back as winter visitors. Then they decide to retire here. We had businessmen come here, decide to have a convention, then relocate their businesses here. Now, there isn’t the Western atmosphere anymore.”
Asked if perhaps the Tucson Sunshine Climate Club did its job to well, Ashcraft sits and reflects by the pool of a midtown hotel, a hundred feet away from the rush of the traffic along Alvernon Way.
Finally, the words come: “If I could do it all over again, I wouldn’t do it. I loved the Old Pueblo.”