Las Vegas Sun

February 21, 2019

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Drinking in the past


Las Vegas businessman Noel Sheckells loves the Old West enough to spend $1 million to preserve a piece of it.

Sheckells, who owns a chain of personal loan offices, is the new owner of the 93-year-old Pioneer Saloon and all of its fixtures, right down to the 19th-century cherry wood bar and pot-bellied stove.

The saloon, where actor Clark Gable awaited news of his actress wife Carole Lombard's fate after her plane crashed into nearby Mount Potosi in 1942, was on the selling block for 14 months. The Hedrick family of Goodsprings had operated it for more than 40 years.

Located on State Route 161, seven miles northwest of Jean and 35 miles southwest of Las Vegas, the Pioneer Saloon, one of the nation's oldest stamped-metal tin structures, looks pretty much as it did in the early 20th century.

Sheckells says he'll change only one thing about the place: In order to allow smoking in the event that the Nevada Clean Indoor Air Act is upheld, he'll close the kitchen that used to put out sandwiches and pizza so gamblers can still smoke and feed the slot machines, which are the saloon's primary revenue generator.

It seems fitting that the Pioneer Saloon would continue to allow smoking, as Gable accidentally burned cigarette holes into the antique bar top after he dozed off while awaiting news that Lombard had been killed.

The bar today is patronized by townsfolk, bikers and tourists from as far away as England and Japan.

Oh, and the ghosts of Lombard, an old miner and a poker player who was killed during a 1915 game in the saloon, if you believe the locals.

Residents of Goodsprings, population 275, say they're thankful the saloon will remain open because it is vital to keeping the small community alive.

"The Pioneer is a rallying point for the people who live here," said Sam Van Horn, a Goodsprings resident since 1982. "Movies ('Miss Congeniality 2') and TV shows ('Ghost Hunters') have been shot in the bar and celebrities like Willie Nelson have visited the place."

Founded in the 1860s and built on 1.5 square miles, Goodsprings was named after cattle rancher and prospector Joseph Good and initially was called Good's Springs. By the 1890s, Goodsprings had become a significant silver and lead producer. After World War I, mining declined in the area and so did the town.

However, in recent years, real estate speculators have purchased parcels in Goodsprings in anticipation of a projected building boom in the wake of the proposed airport being built at nearby Ivanpah.

Don Hedrick, 60, said he put the Pioneer up for sale in part because his children did not want to take over the business. Sheckells, 49, has three sons who are in business with him, and a 9-year-old daughter.

Las Vegas business broker Mike Webster, who oversaw the Pioneer's sale, said Hedrick wanted to make sure the bar was sold to someone who had the same passion his family had in running the place. So much so, Hedrick knocked $350,000 off the asking price to sell it to Sheckells.

An application was submitted to state officials in September to have the Pioneer placed on the state's registry of historic places, which Sheckells said is an initial step to getting the building on the national registry.

Sheckells says he plans to add replicated 19th-century bar stools and an antique pool table as well as better insulation to the drafty structure. And he plans to upgrade the back room minimuseum that features photos of Gable and Lombard and news clippings of the famous local air disaster.

"This place is not about making money - I have other businesses that make money." Sheckells said.

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