Robert P. McCulloch, a Missouri native, never let grass grow under his trademark saddle oxfords. Well, except when in September 1963, Arizona’s Mohave County Board of Supervisors passed a resolution establishing Lake Havasu City—McCulloch’s brainchild city—under its first governing body, Lake Havasu Irrigation and Drainage District. The word irrigation relates to agriculture, and little agriculture happened on the desert brown acres McCulloch had purchased to create his new town. Never one to run out of ideas, he brought in sod and farmed the grass on Pittsburg Point. And then, he transferred that green grass to lawns around the town’s first hotels and in Wheeler Park.
Born in St. Louis the grandson of John I. Beggs—who made his fortune by putting into service Thomas Edison’s electrical power plants in cities around the world, and manufacturing and selling electric trolley cars, and also founding Milwaukee, Wisconsin’s public utility system—Robert Paxton McCulloch had entrepreneurship in his blood. In1925 he and his siblings inherited his grandfather’s wealth. But that was only a springboard for the energetic and visionary McCulloch. After graduating from Stanford University, he married Barbra Ann Briggs, daughter of Stephen Foster Briggs of Briggs and Stratton, the world’s largest manufacturer of air-cooled gasoline engines that prospered in the lawn mower and garden tractor markets.
McCulloch started his first manufacturing endeavor, McCulloch Engineering Company, in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. The company built racing engines and superchargers. While in his early 30s, he sold the company to Borg-Warner Corporation for $1 million. In that day, he could have retired on that amount of money. Instead, he started McCulloch Aviation, and in 1946 changed his company’s name to McCulloch Motors Corporation. Building small gasoline engines, he competed with his wife’s family and with Ralph Evinrude, who led the market for boat motors. Although the testing of an outboard boat motor first lured McCulloch to Lake Havasu in the middle of the Mohave Desert, he had found his niche in 1948 with the first chain saw bearing his name. He further revolutionized the concept with a one-man, light weight chainsaw. Ever expanding his entrepreneurial bent, he started McCulloch Oil Corporation in the 1950s to pursue oil and gas exploration, land development, and geothermal energy.
Also in the 1950s, McCulloch developed a centrifugal supercharger, a product that in 1956, he named Paxton Superchargers. Cars such as the 1954-55 Kaiser Manhattan and the 1957 Studebaker Golden Hawk and the Ford Thunderbird F-type had McCulloch’s superchargers. His invention was also used as a CO2 Scrubber on Navy submarines. His company produced one prototype automobile, the Paxton Phoenix, a convertible with a hard top that retracted over the trunk. The 1953 vehicle promoted alternative fuels and had a proposed steam engine. The division was sold in 1958, becoming Paxton Automotive. The firm is still in business.
Although his founding of Lake Havasu City may be best known because of his purchase and rebuilding of London Bridge in a dry desert before diverting a channel of Lake Havasu under the antique bridge, Robert P. McCulloch also founded Fountain Hills, Arizona; Pueblo West, Colorado; and Spring Creek, Nevada. In 1971, the same year the London Bridge officially opened, he built in Lake Havasu City the J-2 Gyroplane, a hybrid combination of helicopter and airplane that was easy to fly and could take off and land on a driveway. The aircraft was tested by NASA pilot James Patton in 1973, but McCulloch’s dream of “an airplane in every American garage,” the market for the 100 airplanes he manufactured never materialized. That particular dream did not fly.
McCulloch continued his diverse business endeavors, inventions, and developments. At age 65, he died in Los Angeles on February 25, 1977—a tremendous loss to his family and America’s world of business.
Traveling in their motorhome several months each year, Arline and her photographer husband, Lee Smith, make their permanent home in Heber Springs, Arkansas. She currently is a presenter for Workamper Rendezvous, sponsored by Workamper News. Arline has dozens of magazine articles published, as well as five books: “Road Work: The Ultimate RVing Adventure” (now available on Kindle); “Road Work II: The RVer’s Ultimate Income Resource Guide”; “Truly Zula; When Heads & Hearts Collide”; and “The Heart of Branson”, a history of the families who started the entertainment town and those who sustain it today. Visit Arline’s personal blog at ArlineChandler.Blogspot.com