This story originally published by the Verde Independent on May 12, 2016
Don Robertson, 73, may not be the King of Jerome, but he does live in his own little kingdom atop the tiny historic mining town.
Robertson is the owner of the Gold King Mine and Ghost Town which sits about a mile above Jerome.
His Kingdom started out with one building — a boarding house used by miners — and a love for engines and trucks. Robertson built his dream with two bare hands, monkey wrenches and elbow grease.
Thirty years later, it has grown into “a dream come true,” explained Robertson.
Build it and they will come. Haul it, fix it and grease it – and they will really come.
That’s what Robertson has found out. Visitors are now flocking from all around the country and Europe to see Jerome’s keeper-of-the-gold, his carriages and his merry minstrels who work for him.
From the sky, Robertson’s ghost town looks like a child’s playland with hundreds of tiny toy trucks scattered among tiny buildings in a sandlot.
But a closer look reveals that the hundred trucks, cars, tractors, service trucks and buses lined up around the property are very real and very “rare.” Some are restored, but many are rusted have been saved from extinction and are getting a second chance at life.
Most are International trucks, Fords and Studebakers that date back to 1902. One thing can be said about Robertson’s collection, “you can’t see anything like it anywhere else,” explained Mike Caruso, one of Robertson’s five employees.
But Robertson is the one that has collected all the vehicles, hauled them to Jerome from all over the country and even had to yank them out of fields and canyons to save them.
Now there are about a dozen buildings, some small sheds that Robertson has hauled to Jerome or built. One is a gas station that he hauled form Humble.
The ghost town property was actually a suburb of Jerome called Haynes, but it disbanded, he said. The Haynes Copper Co, discovered copper and gold on the property and the entrances of two
mines are part of the visitors’ experience.
Robertson said there were a number of mines in that area and “between them they produced copper, silver and gold.” One mine at his ghost town went straight down 1,200 feet and the other mine went straight into the mountain about 100 feet, he said. He said they mined them in the early 1890s and early 1900s.
Robertson said besides the gas station building that he had to haul over Mingus Mountain where it almost took up the whole road, he brought a small “country schoolhouse” from Flagstaff to the property.
Robertson estimates that he has about a 100 trucks and other vehicles. He finds his vehicles all over the country, but points out “I don’t do on-line” when looking for collectables.
“Sometimes it don’t’ take nothing to get them running,” he said. “Fire ’em up and make sure they have oil pressure and drive it.”
His oldest and most rare vehicle is a 1092 Studebaker Electric and is proud of his Studebaker race car that he built to Indy specs.
Robertson plans on counting the number of trucks he has someday, but it’s an impossible task because something else comes up or people keep interrupting him with conversation, he said with a smile.
Beyond the trucks, Robertson has sawmills and has been sawing lumber and selling boards locally.
And then there is Big Bertha, a huge gas engine that Robertson rescued from a mine in Arizona. He says it’s one of the largest gas engines in the state that gear heads or anyone can start up.
Video of Big Bertha and the Robertson’s ghost town are all over YouTube, explained Caruso. Gear heads all over the world see them and come visit, he added.
Robertson added variation for his guests with petting animals and a gold panning area.
Visitors range from tourists, local residents, schoolchildren on school trips to groups of motorcyclists and gear heads. Robertson also hosts a successful Volkswagen bus-gathering each year in his parking lot and has had rock festivals there. Quite a few people have gotten married on the property because of the beautiful views of Sedona in the background, he added.
“It’s a learning experience,” Robertson said of his ghost town. When kids come here, they see Big Bertha and the pistons are exposed and they learn and see how it works.
Robertson said he learned to work on machines on the farm where he grew up and “you become a mechanic and welder.”
Robertson says he hasn’t “had to” sell any vehicles.
“Some of them are quite valuable,” said Robertson. “I don’t collect the common stuff. I try to collect the ones everyone else don’t have.”
When asked what will happen to his Kingdom when he his gone, Robertson said with a smile, “I don’t know. I get asked that more often. I must be looking older.”
Well you can watch Robertson at his ghost town or look for him at the Jerome Fourth of July Parade when he drives his race car down from his Kingdom.