Las Vegas (KLAS) — On a Sunday morning in April 1909, an engineer pushed 31 orange cars from the railroad station at Kelso to Cima, a steep 19-mile stretch that was later Becomes California’s Mojave National Monument.
There was one steam engine in front of the Union Pacific line and two behind it. When the roof on the main engine (the roof on the furnace box) fell, the ensuing explosion threw the engineer and his firefighters 40 feet from the cab.
That’s when, according to history, concussed and dizzy engineer Harley A. Harmon decided he had enough of the train stuff. Years later, an old-timer recalled, the bombing “put him straight into politics.”
Harmon envisioned Las Vegas’ growth when it added the Las Vegas and Tonopah Railroad in 1906-07, stopping at the mining towns of Beatty, Bullfrog, Rhyolite and gold mine. He may not have seen modern Southern Nevada, which honors his contributions, especially in the political arena, with the naming of Harmon Avenue (a little over 10 miles from Spring Valley to the east to Boulder Highway) and Harley A. Harmon Elementary School.
So, goodbye, rail. Politics in newly formed Clark County seemed like a safer career choice.
Harmon’s father, a lawyer in Kansas, moved the family to Los Angeles in 1901. In 1903, at age 23, Harmon ran unsuccessfully for Los Angeles City Clerk.
In Las Vegas, where he landed on railroad opportunities, he found social and political success with his gift of conversation, his friendly demeanor and his persuasive style. Berkley Bunker, one of Southern Nevada’s early settlers who became a U.S. senator, said in the oral history project at the University of Nevada (Reno): strong man.”
Perhaps the best example of persuasiveness came in 1908 during the state convention in Pioche where Lincoln County split into Clark County. Voting deadlocked, and at the end of a long day, Harmon approached wealthy Ed Clark, a prominent businessman who wanted to found a new county (no, not the guy named after Clark County; that was William Andrews Clark). Harmon convinces Clark to come and buy a case of whiskey, telling him he’ll do the rest.
Harley E. Harmon, Harmon’s son, told KPNR the next day in his “Las Vegas I Remember” series that the stalemate had been broken, with hard-line opinions no doubt softened by alcohol. A few months later, the Nevada Legislature approved the split of part of Lincoln County into Clark County.
When Las Vegas was incorporated in 1911, Harley A. became City Clerk. He passed the bar exam in 1919 and was elected Clark County District Attorney in 1921, a position he held until 1934. He twice ran unsuccessfully for the Democratic nomination for governor. After his second defeat, newly elected Democratic Gov. Richard Coleman named Harmon chairman of the Nevada Public Service Commission.
He was also a member of the Colorado River Commission, which acquired water and power rights associated with the Colorado River and the Hoover Dam.
As district attorney, Harmon was credited with addressing illegal crowds who had come to the valley due to the construction of the Hoover Dam. In 1931, Harmon and Assistant U.S. Attorney Roger Foley successfully prosecuted five murders, resulting in four death sentences and one life sentence, according to history. Violent crimes related to dam workers have decreased, remembering many old-timers.
John F. Cahlan, a newspaperman for 34 years beginning in the late 1920s, including a stint as editor of the Las Vegas Review-Journal, in an interview with the University of Nevada’s Oral History Project Remember, Harmon and Foley had these five murder charges, “one after the other. They convicted five of them and sentenced them to death, so they didn’t get into more trouble with community murders.” (more accurate The statement is four death sentences, one life imprisonment).
Harmon died in 1947, after speaking at a Young Democratic rally in Reno. “I would like to die for the Democratic Party,” he said at the end of his fiery speech, according to the Review Magazine.
He then sat down, fell to the floor, and died of a heart attack at the age of 55.
Note: East Avenue was originally named Harmon Road after Harley Harmon. Its name was changed in 1956. Later that same year, the Harmon name was added to the current road. source: “Asphalt Memories: The Origins of Some Street Names in Clark County,” Mark Hall-Patton. with murders in the community.