The Nevada town with worst luck but the most unique name
When it comes to agricultural scams — of which the town of Metropolis, Nev. is the best known — few others can measure up to the promotional fervor that surrounded the hamlet of Tobar, once located about 20 miles southwest of Wells.
The town was founded as a Western Pacific Railroad construction camp in 1908. It soon gained its name in the most unusual fashion. One of the first businesses to open in the camp was the Rag Saloon.
To advertise the establishment, a crude directional sign was painted and nailed to a stake near the railroad tracks. Others who saw the sign mistakenly thought it was the name of the town — and that’s how Tobar — or To Bar — came to be named by railroad officials.
According to the late Elko historian Howard Hickson, by 1910, the community had some 16 homesteads who were all dry-farming. Within a year, Tobar had a population of 75 with 20 dwellings and a post office.
In 1914, a Salt Lake City real estate broker, A.B. Hoaglin, began promoting the town with slick — and less than truthful — brochures and flyers that proclaimed Tobar as an agricultural Garden of Eden that “offers the biggest business opportunities in the West.”
Printed materials described Tobar as the place “Where the Big, Red Apple Grows,” and made outlandish statements regarding the region’s suitability for growing wheat, potatoes, oats, alfalfa, vegetables and fruits.
In his advertisements, Hoaglin claimed 50,000 acres would be cultivated and the community would soon have a population of more than 3,000 people.
Some 40 to 50 families were persuaded by the hyperbolic promises to settle in Tobar. By 1916, the town had a two-story hotel (the Hotel Tobar), a boarding house, two saloons, several stores, a school and a newspaper.
Like nearby Metropolis, the area, however, did not have great agricultural potential and very little rainfall. A lack of viable crops as well as an extended drought that was followed by an invasion of jack rabbits — the same curses that doomed Metropolis — combined to cause the town’s rapid demise.
In 1918, the U.S. Post Office changed the name of the town to Clover City, but the railroad refused to accept the new name, which resulted in some confusion. Finally, in 1921, postal authorities bowed to the railroad’s pressure and changed the name back to Tobar.
Regardless of its name, Tobar was a monumental failure. By the 1920s, most of the farmers had abandoned the region and in the 1930s the hotel closed. The post office shut down in 1942. Four years later, the railroad abandoned the town and the Clover Valley Store closed, which was Tobar’s last business. Nothing besides a few foundations remain today.
According to Hickson, perhaps the town’s postscript was an incident that occurred near the site on June 19, 1969. A train carrying bombs to be shipped to Vietnam exploded a mile west of the old townsite.
And with that, he cracked, “Tobar went out with a bang.”
The site of Tobar is located 14 miles south of Wells on U.S. 93. At that point, turn left and continue four miles to the site.
For information, go to http://www.ghosttowns.com/states/nv/tobar.htm.
Rich Moreno writes about the places and people that make Nevada special.