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In March 1968, Phoenix air conditioning king Bill Goettl got a call. Arizona frontier novelist Zane Grey’s cabin on the Mogollon Rim outside of Payson had been broken into, defaced. Rare Grey memorabilia was gone. His reaction, according to a newspaper account, was red hot rage, “in living color.”
Ironic, since the Goettl family was, and still is, associated with keeping cool (“…but it’s hard to spell,” as the ads say).
Why was the air-conditioning pioneer so upset about a minor break-in more than a hundred miles away? The answer says a lot about what makes Goettl unique to Arizona.
There were a mind-boggling 17 Goettl siblings, all born to an Austrian couple who’d immigrated to Ohio. The kids discovered Arizona in 1932 when John Goettl came here to cure lung problems in the then-pristine Valley air. Five of his brothers eventually followed, including Bill.
Unusually self-reliant and inventive, the brothers saw blistering desert heat as an opportunity. They established five businesses in Phoenix, four with the Goettl name, all of them in metal-working and cooling. Gust and Adam formed Goettl Metal Products Corporation in 1939 and began the seemingly permanent tendency to rhyme their name, coining the slogan, “If it’s made of metal, call on Goettl.”
By 1940, they invented the very first air conditioner/evaporative cooler combination.
When the Second World War brought hundreds of thousands of military personnel to the state, the Goettls were poised to do what they did best: pursue opportunity relentlessly with a combination of determination, passion and technical skill.
Bill started a new company with his brothers, International Metal Products Company, or IMPCO. By 1948, with Americans and their economic might spread throughout the post-war world, Phoenix-based IMPCO was the leading evaporative cooler manufacturer on the planet. Adam Goettl alone held more than 100 patents in cooling technology.
Thousands of military families decided to stay after the war, and as housing pioneers such as John F. Long made ownership affordable, the enterprising Goettls were once again ready.
Endless tinkering had improved their “piggyback” evap cooler/air conditioner into a highly reliable, fairly easy to manufacture machine, perfect for Phoenix middle-class budgets: the less expensive evaps cooled and refreshed indoor air during dry months, and the more expensive a/c worked during the humid monsoon season. (And their products last. When my wife and I bought our first house together in Phoenix in 1995, it came with a Goettl piggyback. We kept it running for another three years.)
As the go-go 50’s unfolded, the Goettls nimbly engineered their way ever upward. In 1954, they introduced a “waterless cooler” that used a condenser coil to remove heat, a primary, pioneering development in a/c technology. Goettl’s often-patented air conditioners were soon a Phoenix staple and then nationally known. In just a few years, Goettl became the leading air conditioning contractor in the United States. As the 60’s economy roared, the company was installing as many as 40,000 residential units per job in the Phoenix area alone, with clients such as Del Webb’s Sun City and Hallcraft Homes.
Their relentless inventing never stopped. In the 70’s, Bill was awarded a patent for inventing what he called the “Solar Heat Collector Building Roof,” technology that forms the basis of solar water heaters to this day. An electronic air filter was another 70’s innovation.
It was Bill who emerged as the family’s public presence. He was everywhere: judging “Beard Contests” at the State Fair, hosting “varmint calling” sessions at the Goettl Auditorium at the company’s 20th Street and Indian School headquarters (still there; it’s now the corporate offices of Leslie’s Pool Supplies), and speaking at local commencements.
He was a founding member of the Phoenix Giants baseball boosters club, a founding member of the Phoenix Jaycees Charitable Foundation. He was elected to the Salt River Project Board. He ran committees to re-elect Superior Court judges at a time when the Court was small enough that judges were known by name. He was once lauded for trying to find a place in his company for a complete stranger whose failing eyesight had cost him his driver’s license.
But he saved a great deal of passion and his apparently endless energy for the outdoors. Bill Goettl loved Arizona’s natural beauty and regularly carved out time to spend in the wilderness. The son of Austrian immigrants even nurtured a soft spot for western lore of the cowboy-and-Indian variety.
But he was no armchair romantic. To the surprise of no one who knew him, Goettl formed one of the state’s first search-and-rescue organizations. He became a member of the Gila County Sheriff’s Posse at a time when that meant hard riding and a lot of sweat. He grew into a first-class hunter, bagging all ten Arizona big game animals – with a bow and arrow. He was an Arizona Sportsman of the Year and received the Arizona Game Trophy in 1973, in the days when such a thing got your picture in the paper.
So Goettl may very well have seen something of himself in Zane Grey, a fellow Ohioan and hunter who loved the Arizona wilderness and romanticized it in trademark fashion. Grey was inspired to launch a Western-themed writing career after honeymooning at the Grand Canyon in 1904, thereafter spending weeks at time hunting in the Arizona backcountry. Twenty four of his 62 novels were based in Arizona, including his most famous work, “Riders of the Purple Sage.” The public ate them up. By 1920, Grey’s books were outsold in the US only by McGuffey’s Readers for children and the Bible.
By then he also had a spacious “cabin” at the edge of the Mogollon Rim, with a giant living room dominated by a stone fireplace, and a roomy veranda from which to enjoy the view and of course, write.
Famous and well-off, Grey lived a rigorous, outdoorsy life of travel and sport, hunting and fishing from California to Florida. Like most people who fall in love with Arizona, he fretted about despoliation. “The Navajo are doomed” by excessive tourism, he once wrote, and he thought more roads made it too easy for newcomers to acclimate; he believed people had to earn Arizona’s acceptance through a certain stringency of body and spirit.
An impetuous man prone to depression, Grey left Arizona in 1929 after a spat with state officials over hunting licenses, vowing never to return. He never did.
In the late 30’s, just before his death, he wrote that he “owed everything to that beautiful country,” and averred he “was not as faithful (to Arizona) as I should have been.”
Much later, family friend Mildred Johnson of Payson said of Grey, “He was too complex a person, his interests too diverse, to belong to any one place. But if one’s home is where you find your ladder to the stars, then he belonged in Arizona.”
Bill Goettl came upon the ruins of the cabin long after Grey’s death, finding it abandoned, dilapidated; its roof collapsed into “a thicket of twisted lumber.” It broke his heart, and he determined to save it. After eight years of negotiation with the spread-out and none-too-easy-to-get-along-with Grey family, Goettl finally purchased the site in 1963.
He tackled restoration with typical whirlwind gusto. Taking advantage of his high profile, he publicly asked for old photos of the cabin to rebuild it accurately. He begged for anyone who had the smallest piece of Grey memorabilia to donate it for eventual display. He worked on the site personally, raising joists and setting window frames. He paid for wells and even built a new road to the site from AZ 260. The renovations alone cost him $70,000, more than $500,000 in today’s money.
Remarkably, Goettl never had any intention of realizing a dime for all this. His plan from the beginning was to restore the site as a tribute to Grey’s life and open it to the public at no cost.
The resurrected cabin opened in 1964, the year Goettl’s neighbor, friend and fellow outdoorsman Barry Goldwater was the Republican presidential nominee. It became one of the Rim Country’s most popular destinations; visitors came from all 50 states and dozens of countries. Winston Churchill signed in. So did Dwight Eisenhower and Anwar Sadat. The cabin was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1974.
Following the 1968 burglary, Goettl wanted carefully chosen caretakers living on the site. He hired Richard Haught, the son of Babe Haught, one of Grey’s hunting guides. Later, cowboy and artist Mel Counsellor, a Rim Country legend in his own right, took over as caretaker with his wife, Beth.
Bill Goettl died in 1979 at just 64, having packed at least twice that many years of action into his time on earth. The cabin continued to be a draw, the Counsellors charming visitors with anecdotes, tours, and artwork created on the spot.
By 1990, the Goettl family was planning to develop the cabin as an art museum and nature trail when within a matter of hours, the Rim’s most deadly natural disaster changed everything.
On June 25, a flicker of lightning started a small brush fire near Dude Creek. The collapsing thunderstorm generated outflow winds, and the Dude Fire was on.
In six days, it devoured 37.5 square miles of Rim Country forest, destroyed 60 homes and killed six Arizona firefighters. It was a stunning disaster. Benumbed survivors soon realized another treasure was lost that week: Bill Goettl and Zane Grey’s cabin burned to ash, with just the stone chimney and a few stone porch pillars left standing. 27 years of reclaimed Zane Grey magic was gone for good.
Or so it seemed.
Payson-area residents spent the next 15 years raising money and creating plans to rebuild a replica of the cabin within the city limits. “We spent hours looking at Beth Counsellor’s photos with magnifying glasses” trying to recreate the cabin precisely, said Dick Wolfe, a Payson Town Council member who chaired the effort.
The group ultimately raised $200,000 for the job and recovered the cabin’s chimney and foundation stones, the only recoverable remnants. “It was tough finding material and furnishings,” Wolfe added, but when the recreated cabin opened in 2005, he felt confident it was a good replica.
The Zane Grey Cabin now stands adjacent to the Rim Country Museum, near a statue dedicated to the memory of the 6 firefighters killed in the Dude Fire. There is an admission fee.
The original cabin site, 21 miles east of town, has been given over to residential development. Nothing of Grey’s presence there remains.
As for Bill Goettl, Payson residents remember his love of the area and his impact on the Rim Country. In 1980, more than 200 people, including former Arizona Governor Jack Williams, dedicated a monument in Goettl’s’ memory at Kohl’s’ Ranch. His wife, Juanita, performed the unveiling. Their daughter Linda wrote the inscription:
“In loving memory of William H. Goettl. With his own sweat and blood, he restored Zane Grey’s cabin. Bill was an Arizona outdoorsman, conservationist and pioneer in the Arizona air conditioning industry. A true man of the West, he was happiest on the open range. An invaluable citizen, he is loved and missed by his family.”
“His life could have been longer in years but never in quality.”
Where I was raised a woman’s word was law. I ain’t quite outgrowed that yet. – Zane Grey, Riders of the Purple Sage