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The Fred Harvey Company and the Southwestern Indian Detours 1925-1940s

Updated on November 6, 2018
mactavers profile image

I've lived in Arizona for 68 years (Tucson, Glendale, and Sedona). I love writing about Arizona history, antiques, books, and travel.

Fred Harvey Tour Car at Grand Canyon

Fred Harvey Tour Car and Tourists at the Little Colorado River Gorge Grand Canyon Arizona
Fred Harvey Tour Car and Tourists at the Little Colorado River Gorge Grand Canyon Arizona | Source

The Fred Harvey Company

Travel in the Southwest before the Fred Harvey Company set high standards was dismal. Places for travelers to stay and eat were few, and when found, they offered greasy, tough and some times spoiled foods. Accommodations were often filthy, temporary, structures. Meanwhile, the Southwest was being promoted by adventurers, photographers and artists, but there were few amenities to attract wealthy travelers. Once hotels like the El Tovar was built at the Grand Canyon in 1905, as a partnership between the Harvey Company and the Atchison, Topeka, and Santa Fe Railroad, the Harvey Company began organizing entertainment for guests which included information on the culture of the Hopi and Navajo peoples and area tours.

Tours for railroad travelers were taken to a new level when the Harvey Company formed a new touring company called Indian Detours which allowed travelers to leave the train and take tours lasting from one to three days into "Indian Country" which included the Indian Reservations of New Mexico and Arizona which to most travelers meant touring in wilderness territory. Normally the trains stopped three times a day for meals, but leaving the train and the Fred Harvey hotels would provide a whole new experience. The Indian Detours promoted travel to places that even the most well traveled had never been.

With the shortages of World War I behind, In 1925 plans were being made for the Indian Detours Company which included travel pamphlets with romantic language targeting discriminating travelers who wanted to see "painted canyons and giant masterpieces of stone in an alluring corner of the United States." The tours boasted superior motor service. Those travelers who signed up for the Detour tours, were called "Detourists" or in some cases "dudes." The Indian Detours officially began in May of 1926.

The El Tovar Hotel South Rim of the Grand Canyon Arizona

The Fred Harvey El Tovar Hotel circa 1910, Grand Canyon Arizona
The Fred Harvey El Tovar Hotel circa 1910, Grand Canyon Arizona | Source

Fred Harvey Company Cars Buses Drivers and Guides

Keeping in line with luxury, the fleet of Harvey open touring cars were Cadillacs, Franklins, and Packards. Several sources reported that the Packards didn't last long on the rough gravel roads after 30,000 miles. Surprise inspections were made by Major Clarkson, a former British military officer, who was in charge of the Harvey fleet. Maintenance records were kept on each vehicle and while one driver rolled his car and died, no tourists were ever seriously injured. At the end of each Detour, the driver made a check list report and made sure that the car or bus was properly washed. In addition to the Harvey cars, the yellow coach buses were added that could carry from 18 to 25 passengers.

The drivers (male) and couriers or guides (female) were qualified by the education, social background, character, personality and knowledge of the Southwest. A hiring preference was given to those who knew languages other than English. The drivers and guides were required to pass four months of training. In addition to field trips, a Harvey Company advisory board included training on archaeology and Southwestern arts and history. Other training courses were given by members of the Indian Bureau, the National Park Service and the U.S. Forest Service. Emergency training was required and the drivers were tested on their mechanical skills as roads were terrible and any automotive services were few and far between.

The female guides wore colorful Navajo style blouses over skirts, but jodhpur style pants were permitted if the Detour required hiking. The guides wore hats with the company's signature thunder bird logo on the, squash blossom necklaces of heavy silver and Navajo concho belts. The drivers wore cowboy clothing reminiscent of the early film star cowboys of the 1930s and were required to be neat and clean shaven. Drivers had to follow the strict rules of no drinking or smoking on the tours and were instructed not to pay any special attention to female "dudes" on the tours. Most women who became guides were strong, independent gals from the Western states. The guides received regular updates from the company on tour information.

The Indian Detour Rates and Trips

Hopi Village at Oraibi Arizona circa 1910
Hopi Village at Oraibi Arizona circa 1910 | Source

The Indian Detours Rates and Trips

In Arizona, most of the Detours originated from the El Tovar Hotel on the south rim of the Grand Canyon, or from the La Posada Hotel in Winslow. The most popular tours in Arizona were to the Cameron Trading Post, the Petrified Forest, the Painted Desert, the Hopi Pueblos and the Navajo dwellings in Canyon de Chelley.

The Indian Detours Company was headquartered in Santa Fe, New Mexico near the La Fonda Hotel. Tours also originated from the Harvey hotel the Castaneda in Las Vegas, New Mexico and the other New Mexico Harvey hotels, the Alvarado in Albuquerque, the Ortiz in Lamy, and the Navajo in Gallup. The most popular New Mexico detours were to the Indian Pueblos, such as Taos, San Ildefonso, and Santa Clara. The Indians welcomed the tours as a chance to sell their pottery and other crafts. It was customary that the Pueblos would hold a portion of a ceremonial dance for the tourists. Other New Mexico detours visited the ruins at Puye and Frijoles and visited the old Spanish village at Truchas.

The longer three day detours included accommodations at the Harvey hotels but did not include meals. In the 1920s most detours cost between $3 to $10, and by the 1930s most tours averaged $14 per day. The Great Depression Era in the 1930s reduced the number of people who could afford to travel and by World War Two, gas rationing was enforced. After World War Two, the roads in the Southwest had improved and most people preferred to drive their own cars. Attempts in 1947 and again in 1953 were made to update the detours on tour buses,, but the times had changed. While the Harvey Company Indian Detours Company was not the only company offering similar tours, it certainly was the most successful of its kind.

In the history room at the Bright Angel Lodge at the South Rim of the Grand Canyon, their is an exhibit on the Harvey Girl Couriers that includes one of their uniforms and some wonderful photos of the Indian Detours.

© 2011 mactavers


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    • mactavers profile imageAUTHOR


      7 years ago

      Thanks for the comment. I'll check out the article.

    • profile image


      7 years ago from Texas

      Good article, too bad much of the culture is now abandoned or hidden away. Here's a Hub about Santa Fe where they are working hard to preserve the Puebla culture

    • mactavers profile imageAUTHOR


      8 years ago

      Thanks for your interesting and personal comment. The Indian Detours were such a wonderful way for people to see the American West when it was still so rugged. I know that the Harvey Co only picked fine employees, so you can be very proud of your grandfather.

    • profile image


      8 years ago

      Great article. My maternal grandfather worked for Hunter Clarkson, and later, his brother Jim for many years. He joined the company in 1929 as a driver and worked his way through the ranks to eventually become general manager of what came to be Indian Detours Transportation Co. in it's later years. He served until his retirement and the ultimate demise of the Detours in 1970 after it was acquired by Gray Line.

    • mactavers profile imageAUTHOR


      8 years ago

      Yep, We Westerners owe a lot to Mr. Harvey and Fred Harvey JR. In addition to the Fred Harvey postcards, I have started collecting some of the jewelry that he had made for his Southwestern arts gift shops. Thanks for your comment.

    • WesternHistory profile image


      8 years ago from California

      Voted up. Very interesting hub.Fred Harvey probably did more than anyone in promoting the American southwest as a travel destination.


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