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Roots of Tucson warehouse connected to a family tree

Roots of Tucson warehouse connected to a family tree

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Funny how one story leads to another - though not necessarily in chronological order.

So consider this a prequel to my story about Tucson Warehouse and Transfer, which ran a couple of months back.

While the article detailed the history of the business, which began in 1892, there was no mention of the family that owned it for much of that time.

The name was Wakefield, though family ownership actually goes back to Colin Cameron, who bought the business and renamed it Tucson Transfer Co. in 1906 after selling his cattle ranch in Santa Cruz County and moving to Tucson.

"He wanted something to do," says Tucsonan Mary Ann Kinder, who is Cameron's granddaughter. After Cameron died in 1911, his daughter, Mary Wakefield, and her husband, Walter J. Wakefield, became the owners of the business.

Employees numbered three or four at most, each paid about $10 a week. Then again, the fee to move a piano: 60 cents.

Freight came in on the railroad, with beasts of burden then hauling it to various destinations around town. Clydesdales pulled the heaviest loads, with mules and horses picking up the lighter loads.

Naturally, the transfer company had its own horses, kept at a corral at its last location, 110 E. Sixth St.

"I christened the last colt born on the place. I named it Pal," says Mary Ann, who came to live with her aunt, Mary Wakefield, in 1929. A year earlier, Mary Ann's mother - and Mary Wakefield's sister - had died in California.

"I had no idea what was in store for me," says Mary Ann, who was only 9 at the time. "I was my aunt's only child, and we lived at 4 Paseo Redondo, in Snob Hollow, though we never liked that name."

Eleven years earlier, Mary Wakefield had become a widow when her husband, Walter, died in 1918 at the age of 38. She was now in charge of the business, with Harry Harpham serving as manager.

"He worked as a young man sweeping the floors," says Mary Ann. "He went off to World War I. When Walter passed away, my aunt asked him to come back."

By 1922, the business - with the word "warehouse" now tacked onto its name - had moved to its Sixth Street location, and horse-drawn wagons were being replaced with trucks.

Mary Ann remembers the ice house, built in 1936. "We had no refrigeration, not even a swamp cooler. My aunt would bring watermelon and put it where the ice was stored."

In 1948, Mary Ann married Al Kinder Jr., who was stationed at Davis-Monthan Air Force Base. Before long, he too was working in the family business. "He worked with Harry Harpham. When Harry died, Al became manager," says Mary Ann.

The couple would have three children, a daughter, Jean, and sons Colin and Albert III.

Born in 1949, young Albert would be the one to help carry on the business, starting with the proverbial floor-sweeping in 1963.

"I worked summers all through high school," says Albert Kinder. In 1970, he began working full time at the warehouse.

By then the company was well-known for its expertise in heavy hauling - whether it was moving kilns to the Arizona Portland Cement plant, hauling huge electric shovels to the copper mines or moving a diesel engine to Douglas.

"When they were shipping planes out of D-M to Israel in 1963, we crated up the planes at a hangar we used as a warehouse across the street," says Albert.

Over the years, the four-story warehouse would store everything from cars to grand pianos.

"They used to unload the cars off the railroad, and an elevator was built for taking the cars up for storage," says Albert.

As for those pianos: "We had to be careful about storing pianos, because the buffalo bugs (carpet beetles) would eat the felt," says Mary Ann. "We inspected them carefully before they came in."

The warehouse also stored liquor and other items when businesses went bankrupt, says Mary Ann. "The cops would bring it in so it wouldn't disappear."

Most unusual thing they ever stored: a computer used to make counterfeit money. "The cops brought it in," says Albert.

Long a franchise for the Mayflower Co., Tucson Warehouse and Transfer sold its vans and furniture-moving equipment to Kachina Mayflower in 1985.

By then, the writing had long been on the wall. Harry Harpham had died in 1968, and Mary Wakefield followed in 1971. The 1970s, says Albert, "were crummy financially." More competition was also moving into town.

In 1989, the family sold the landmark building to Mark Berman, who now operates Benjamin Plumbing Supply at the Sixth Street location.

"This business meant so much to us," says Mary Ann, whose husband, Al, died three years ago.

It was Al, she says, who loved giving tours of the building. "He called it 'History 101.' "

Bonnie Henry's column appears Sundays and Mondays. Reach her at 434-4074 or at bhenry@ azstarnet.com, or write to 3295 W. Ina Road, Suite 125, Tucson, AZ 85741. Blog: go.azstarnet.com/bonniehenry

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