If you enjoy driving Arizona’s scenic highways, you may often wonder why we honor certain people by naming roads after them, such as the Senator Hardt Highway. Read on, and you will wonder no more, at least about that one.
August Valentine “Bill” Hardt was a champion of rural Arizona, a hardworking long-time legislator who got things done. After a variety of jobs, including vacuum cleaner salesman, road grader, underground miner, and sporting goods store owner, Hardt entered local politics in the 1950s and the state legislature in the 1960s. Eventually, he dedicated more than thirty years of service to Arizona’s rural citizens. He claimed that a guardian angel sent him to Arizona instead of California, and those who have benefited from his legislation would agree.
Hardt was born in 1906 on a farm in south central Texas, on the outskirts of Hondo, just west of San Antonio. His grandparents on both sides were part of a large wave of German immigrants who came to the Republic of Texas in the early 1840s, back when it was still an independent nation. Their farm wasn’t that far from Mexico, so Hardt said by his first day of school he spoke more German and Spanish than he did English.
No Texan is named August
From there, Hardt used his gift for gab to sell vacuum cleaners door to door in Colorado and Nebraska. In his autobiography, Hardt said that was an important phase of his life, because that’s when he changed his name. One day he went for a walk and wound up at a free dinner and show for young people at the Methodist church. Hardt said when he told him he was from Texas and his name was August Hardt, the M.C. shouted, “No, no Texan is named August. This is Wild Bill Hardt from Texas,” like the cowboy movie star William S. Hart. The name caught on with all his new friends, so he figured, “why not?” and started signing his name A. V. “Bill” Hardt, much to the surprise of his German kinfolk back in Texas.
Hardt owned and operated the Unique Sporting Goods store in Globe for nearly 30 years. Bill Hardt was an avid outdoorsmen and related well to everyone.
Not long after that, the Great Depression hit, and no one was buying; so Hardt headed back to San Antonio. Walking down a Bandera street one day in Bandera, Texas, he said a “guardian angel” walked up to him and told him about the CCC, the Civilian Conservation Corps. Hardt enlisted on April 20th, 1933. Everyone thought they were going to California, but when the train got to the station at Bowie, Arizona, the orders had changed. They were transferred to a smaller train, and were on their way to Globe.
Hardt worked with crews of local and out-of-town boys to create Forest Service roads in the White Mountains of Northern Arizona. It was during this time that he met his wife and began a family. And when road work got too cold, Hardt went to work for the mines in Globe. That is, until the lay offs began..
Dealing Cards beats mucking at the Mines
Hardt had a lot of ambition though, and was sharp enough to land on his feet every time. This time it was an unusual opportunity for a man who would eventually win many awards for public service. Even as a teenager, Hardt said he could I could never pass up a bet. So when Globe Smoke House owner Tom Wanslee offered a job as a card dealer, it seemed only natural to take what he could get. Soon he was making more than he had as mucker at the mine.
Despite doing well as a dealer, when Hardt got a letter from Inspiration Copper inviting him back, and he took it. Even his good friend Wanslee agreed that dealing cards was no job for a family man. Hardt began working on contract with the Mines, which meant long hours, but lots more profit. By1946 he was earning top wages, plus bonuses. Away from work, Hardt built a house in Globe and, about the same time, overheard someone balk at the price for Wanslee’s place. He snapped it up before the original buyer could make up his mind. Then Hardt bought the nearby barber shop and beauty parlor, and even started a loan business, but eventually the card games and pool tables gave way to sporting goods.
Hardt said he had always been an ardent fisherman and big game hunter, and his idea to sell equipment and supplies was “an instant hit.” He opened Unique Sporting Goods where the store the Unique Loan Company had been. Hardt said that from the day he opened in 1953, the sporting goods store never failed to grow, so he dropped the other businesses to focus on the best enterprise. (Photo of STORE. The Unique Sporting Goods Store served the Globe-Miami area and resident outdoorsmen for nearly 30 years)
By that time, Hardt had been getting a lot of experience with public speaking from his involvement in the Lions Club, Knights of Pythias, Oddfellows, and Elks. The club men were community leaders, and Hardt said that when he was elected mayor, five of the six city councilmen were members of the Pythian Order.
Entering Politics in the 1950’s to fight for Globe’s Water supply
Hardt got into politics in the late 1950s because his concern for Globe’s inadequate water supply and the administration’s failure to pass a bond issue. He said they needed to get women to vote, since water was more important to them. His ability to work out compromises convinced local politicians that they needed a man with his skills and community concern in office. Hardt was elected to the Globe City Council in 1958, and the council asked him to run for mayor in 1960. His focus on public services got him re-elected for two more terms.
After eight years in Globe politics, Hardt ran for the Arizona House of Representatives. When Senator Clarence Carpenter passed away, Hardt ran for his seat in District 4, and remained there for almost three decades. John Gregovich was the mining companies’ favorite in that election, but he dropped out and Hardt won. Writing about Gregovich in his autobiography, Hardt said, “He was a real gentleman, not a rough-neck like me.”
At this time many people became concerned about living conditions and health issues of the farm workers. Hardt said more active Democrats often had to team up against old line party leaders, such as Senator Harold Giss, in order to pass socially responsible legislation.
Hardt remembered one time when Governor Bruce Babbitt got very angry with him. “He called me a ‘stubborn old bastard’ and almost ran out of the office. Fifteen minutes later, he was back. He just stuck his head in the door and yelled, ‘I mean that respectfully, sir.’”
In addition, Hardt helped increase rural employment by funding Shoen Dam to prevent flooding in Navajo County, repairing Lyman Dam and River Lake Dam in Apache County, and providing financial aid to help rural counties pay for AHCCCS (state health care). As an avid sportsman, he also supported game and fish projects throughout his legislative career, and acquired funding for colleges in Payson and Thatcher.
A team player, Hardt acknowledged the mutual support of representatives Polly Rosenbaum, Jack Brown, and “Bunchie” Guerrero, among others, who all worked on each others’ bills to get them passed. At times, his Democratic colleagues may have wondered about the accolades he received from Republican legislators, “but they also know that I never voted against any of their bills that were reasonable, and I always stood with the Democrats on every bill when they took a caucus stand,” Hardt said.
During Hardt’s last term in the legislature, the Arizona Mining Association commissioned a bronze bust of Senator Bill Hardt and placed it on the third floor of the Senate building. But perhaps the highest honor, the one that would keep his name forever in the minds of those in he served, came in 2004. That is when the stretch of Highway 188 between U.S. Highway 60 and State Route 87 was officially named Senator Hardt Highway. The dedication ceremonies were attended by former Governor Rose Mofford and longtime Arizona legislator Polly Rosenberg, then 102 years old.
By the time he passed away in 2001, Hardt’s life spanned the most rapidly changing time in U.S. history, from the beginning of the industrial era, through two world wars and the Great Depression, to man walking on the moon. He held a wide variety of jobs and positions, and was never afraid of a hard day’s work. “Having worked in the lumber camps, the copper mines and finally my own business, the Unique Sporting Goods store in Globe, gave me an insight that helped me to relate to the needs of the people of my district,” Hardt said when he retired in 1996, taking with him the title that fit him best, “Mr. Rural Arizona.”
UPDATE: Bullion Plaza Museum and Cultural Center now hosts a Senator Hardt room.
This article was first published in the Fall issue of GlobeMiamiTimes
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