Fredda Stevenson sized up the despondent young man who’d slunk into her remote watering hole on U.S. Highway 50. He was thirsting for beer and, as Stevenson learned, advice. His new bride, he grumbled, had blown all their cash on slot machines in Reno. Then they’d sped east through 100 miles of sagebrush and hills as dark and lumpy as mud pies. They camped down the road from Stevenson’s bar, near a large cottonwood tree that had inexplicably thrived in Nevada’s badlands. The couple started quarreling.
She threatened to walk home. He snatched her shoes, hurled them into the cottonwood’s branches and said: Go ahead. Try. He stormed off with the car and ended up two miles away, at Old Middlegate Station. He polished off two beers before listening to Stevenson’s sage counsel: “You want to be married for the rest of your life? You better learn to say ‘I’m sorry’ now.”
As Stevenson told it, the groom shuffled back and apologized. Then, at his bride’s insistence, he hurled his own shoes into the tree. That was the late 1980’s.
The roadside spectacle provided Middlegate — a 17-person cluster of RVs and modest homes — with an identity, and weary drivers with a rare and towering landmark on the 280-mile stretch of highway known as the “Loneliest Road in America.” The shoe tree was something in the middle of nothing.
On Dec. 30, 2010, under an inky sky, one vandal, or maybe more, downed the tree with a chainsaw. The roughly 80-year-old cottonwood toppled into a gully, its branches jutting out like arms trying to flag down help.
All of the above writing for this post was done by Ashley Powers for an article in the L.A.Times in Feb. 16, 2011.
The shoe trees are all over the world. Some have stories and others are mysteries, but why would someone take one down?