In 1921 Stephen A. Ragsdale, also known as “Desert Steve” and his wife Lydia, founded the town of Desert Center. Steve came across that area by accident when his car broke down on a business trip in 1915 to Los Angeles from Arkansas where he was living at the time. He ended up near a place called Gruendyke’s Well, which was merely a hand-dug well by a prospector named Bill Gruendyke. While waiting for his vehicle to get repaired, he was offered a place to stay, food and water by Gruendyke.
When he drove back by the Well, Ragsdale bought out Gruendyke, and then moved his family to the remote area. They had a small shack built for them to live in and had a lean-to constructed and to be used as a repair garage. They used a Model-T truck as a tow car and hand pumped gas from a 55 gallon drum. The town was 50 miles in either direction from any other town. Lydia would serve food and drinks to any travelers that ended up in their town which Ragsdale named “Desert Center”. After the road to Desert Center was moved to a better location, they added a concrete café, adobe gas station with an enormous garage, a market, post office, and wood cabins for weary travelers to stay in with a large swimming pool to cool off from the scorching summer heat.
Because of Ragsdales unconventional ways, he had a cleaver way of advertising. Some of his ads were “U Need Us – We Need U”; “Our Main Street is 100-miles long”; “We lost our keys and can’t close”; “No Drunks. No Dogs. We prefer dogs”; and a favorite of mine, “Free Room and Board Every Day the Sun Doesn’t Shine in Desert Center”, “If You Don’t Believe Me, You Can Go To Hell, or Visit Me in Desert Center in August! Nuf sed, Steve”. To get a teacher in his town, he got an auto mechanic with a large family to work there bringing enough children to warrant the county to approve of hiring a teacher.
In 1950, things didn’t go well for Steve. He was accused of fooling around with an employee of his causing him to leave Desert Center in shame. While he lived in his log cabin, his three sons continued to run the place. Eventually his son Stanley bought out the town and added some of his own features, a hamburger stand and Stanco gas station. Stanley ran the place for decades while his dad, Desert Steve, died in 1971.