2011 — Prescott, AZ
Merwyn "Mert" Davis
Birth date: September 13, 1932
Death date: January 01, 2011
Mert Davis, Cowboy, or...what?
You would have rarely found Mert Davis in anything other than one of his many cowboy hats, cowboy boots and cowboy shirts and pants. You just know that he had to be born in the back of a chuck wagon or next to a campfire out on the range. Actually Merwyn Culy Davis was born in Pendleton, Indiana in 1932. He was next to the youngest in a family that included 6 boys and 4 girls. His mother, Amadeo, was a typical mother of the time that cooked, quilted, sewed and guided the development of her large family. His father, Dean was a very successful inventor and when Mert was four moved the family to Oak Park, Illinois to build his first factory in Chicago. Mert's father became a successful businessman and eventually owned two factories that manufactured electrical coils. Everyone can thank Mert's dad for inventing the early mercury switch. Dean's success was reflected in the large house designed by a student of Frank Lloyd Wright that his father bought for the family. Mert’s house was the only house in the neighborhood that had its own ballroom on the third floor. He had fond memories of the dumbwaiter the kids loved to ride in. However, due to his father's business interests and travel, Dean was frequently away and spent limited time with his children.
Although some of Mert’s older brothers worked in their father's factory, Mert was too young. Unfortunately, an auto accident ended his father's life when Mert was ten years old. Mert continued his schooling until his junior year in high school. After quitting school his first jobs were as a tree trimmer and laborer for a bricklayer. 1950 marked the start of the Korean War and at the age of 18, he and two buddies as a patriotic move joined the Navy. Following boot camp and radio school, Mert was assigned as Radioman on the Icebreaker, USS Atka. He traveled to Greenland and then Antarctica as part of the last of Admiral Byrd's South Pole expeditions. Mert used to say two things about that adventure: “It was really cold, and leaving the ship to drink beer on the ice pack, you had to drink your beer fast before it froze!" Mert remained in the Navy for four years and in a remarkable chain of rapid advancements, at the age of 22, Mert left the Navy as a first class petty officer.
Once out of the Navy, he did what many young men do, he bought his first car, a 1955 Ford Crown Victoria, and in 1956 got married. He also went to work for his older brother who had opened his own coil manufacturing company in his garage. Mert was the only employee and remained there for about 4 years. When Mert left, there were about fifty employees and the company was doing well. Mert found work in another larger coil company, Ensign Coil, located in Chicago IL. He remained there for approximately 4 years. During that time he opened (started) two branch companies for Ensign Coil that were located in Bellevue, IA and Cascade, IA. He later was offered a partnership opportunity in another coil company. The company was heavily in debt and Mert had no money. So he struck the deal to assume half the company's debt in exchange for half the ownership. The company prospered due to his better management and because he was able to personally design and build revolutionary coil making machines at a fraction of the cost of purchasing them. Mert's coil making machines gave them a huge edge with their competition. By the late 60’s he had a growing desire to be on his own. So he gave his portion of ownership to his partner for a token amount with the understanding he would not compete against Mert, or do business with his customers. Taking some of his coil making machines with him, Mert headed west to Arizona.
After arriving in Arizona, he looked around and found a small building in Arizona City which is near Casa Grande and started the M. C, Davis Company. He had acquired a contract to manufacture coils for the Shure Company. At the time Shure was a major maker of stereo cartridges for record players. Mert's small number of employees, using the machines that Mert had designed and made produced millions of coils for the Shure Company. The M. C. Davis Company also made coils for a brand new product called bubble memory for computers. His customers included IBM, Intel, AT&T, Motorola, Rockwell etc. Once again, Mert's secret was that his coil machines could produce coils at a fraction of the cost than that of other coil machines.
As his business grew, Mert enlarged his factory several times. He then created a factory across the border in Agua Prieta, Mexico to handle the increased volume of business. Traveling between his Arizona and Mexico plants allowed a new turn in Mert's life. He decided to take up flying and bought the first of four planes he had owned over the years. About that time Mert’s marriage of 25 years ended in divorce. While running his business in Arizona City, he frequently found brief moments to go to Casa Grande and pal around with his friends in a local watering hole. At one of these gatherings, Mert met a striking young woman who was part of that crowd and had also just ended her marriage. Her name was Shirley Espe. One evening, when the partying broke up, Shirley found that someone had cut the cables and stolen the battery from her car. Mert offered to drive her home. For more than 30 years Mert and Shirley were soul mates.
One trip to his Mexico factory stood out in Mert's memory. He chose to spend a night in The Gadsden Hotel in Douglas, AZ. The Gadsden was referred to as “the Last of the Grand Hotels”. Its past grandeur was evident but long past. He was told that in the old days, hotel guests stood on the rooftop and witnessed border gun battles involving Poncho Villa. In any event, Mert fell in love with the place and after a long night of partying he bought the Gadsden Hotel. Mert found as owner, it was a costly venture and quickly sold it. He told his friends, "Never buy a Hotel when you have a hangover." The Gadsden is still there should anyone venture to Douglas.
With the introduction of the 8-track players and the gradual demise of the phonograph, Shure's demand for Mert’s coils declined. Mert and Shirley also decided it was time for something new. So in 1983, after selling his coil company, Mert bought the CV Ranch and his first cowboy hat. Mert and Shirley moved to his 20,000-acre ranch, which is located about 30 miles north of Prescott. This ranch had been purchased as a tax shelter back in 1971. He vaguely remembered being told that under his new ranch land there was lots of water. Later he added to his ranch and bought a 30,000- acre ranch that adjoined the CV known as the CF Ranch. Mert and Shirley worked shoulder to shoulder with their ranch hands improving the ranch, creating their ranch home and raising cattle. Mert built an air strip and got to fly his plane out to far flung locations during 'Round Up'.
At one point the CV Ranch was home to about 700 cows. Due to the limited natural feed available and local state lease land regulations, it took about 60 acres to feed one cow. Mert later decided to try raising buffalo on the CV Ranch. Their buffalo herd grew to about 60 head. A few trophy hunters paid Mert to hunt buffalo on his ranch. However, because buffalo were so hard to control and keep penned on the ranch, Mert and Shirley with their cowboys had to install 10 miles of electric fence. They finally decided to get rid of the furry beasts and sold them to some Wyoming buyers. On the day the buffalo were to be shipped to their new homes, the cattle trucks arrived to load the herd; they discovered that two of the buffalo were missing. The trucks had to leave without the missing two. That afternoon Mert and Shirley were driving into Paulden when they saw the errant beasts walking down the highway. Shirley said they were probably heading for Wyoming. But Mert quickly learned they were heading the wrong way and could create a major danger to the people living in the area. So with the help of their ranch cowboys, the ornery critters were herded back to the CV. Mert called a Chino Valley butcher and sold the animals for meat. In their current living room, you'll find the mounted head of one of those buffalo. Moral: Don't miss the bus!
In the meantime, Mert bought several more ranches as family investments in northern Arizona. These were bought and later resold in small parcels. During this time, while living at the CV Ranch, Mert and Shirley had many adventures. They built a car for Shirley: a 52 MG kit car. In 1987 they bought land in Colorado and built a log home which they visited during breaks in the winter. Mert invented and built a new machine. It was a Tenon machine which greatly reduced the time and labor of handcutting log ends. They named the new machine 'Woofer' and say it was Martini-inspired while playing PacMan. Mert gifted his Woofer to the grateful contractor building his new log home.
During a visit to Prescott's City Hall Mert happened to mention that he had a lot of water under his ranch land. The city of Prescott was looking for an additional water source for the growing city and they approached Mert to consider selling his CV Ranch. Lengthy negotiations followed and the sale was almost made. But the city changed its mind and decided to buy a neighboring 5,000-acre ranch for its water. Mert was puzzled that Prescott bought a 5,000-acre ranch when they could have had his 50,000 acres for a similar price. Within a couple of years, Mert found a new buyer for the CV. Mert and Shirley then left Ranching behind for a new lifestyle. Mert and Shirley lived on the CV Ranch for 15 years.
During the time when they were trying to sell the Ranch, Mert and Shirley had been shopping around Prescott for land to build a new 'city' home. They settled on the Ranch at Prescott. In 1997/98 they built their first home in the Ranch on Windspirit Cr. They found they really liked living there because of the wonderful people they met. In 2003, Mert needing more garage space for his much loved machine shop (their first Ranch home didn't have space for one), So Mert built a new home on Moonridge Cr. It should be added that Mert and Shirley installed many 'special' decorator items in their home that they designed themselves and Mert made in his machine shop.
Mert considered himself “retired” and always looked with modest pride at what he accomplished. He was amazed by the good fortune life had dealt him.
There are stories about Mert's philanthropic activities, but he was reluctant to discuss them. However, when pressed, he admitted that he had a strong desire to give something back and had a special interest in helping the local Food Bank. At one time he offered to buy land and build the Food Bank a new facility. However, the PV City officials and Food Bank administrators couldn't agree on where to put the new building. So Mert merely wrote them a check and let them decide. Mert continued to support the Food Bank efforts along with other charitable organizations.
Besides being a successful businessman and rancher Mert, like his father, was a successful inventor. In addition to the various coil manufacturing machines and tools he invented, as a rancher he designed and made a new kind of portable corral. It worked more efficiently while branding cattle because the corral shrank as they branded cows with no need to keep rounding them up. Working together Mert and Shirley also designed and patented an attachment that made it easier to take off cowboy boots.
Mert’s more recent interest was collecting antique cars. He had to enlarge his multi-car garage that is attached to his machine shop to accommodate his six lovingly restored automobiles. Mert and Shirley found life enjoyable and rewarding at the Ranch. Throughout the area they had a wide circle of friends that were entertained at Mert and Shirley's yearly summer Roundup Bar-B-Q. Mert had five children from his first marriage and had made sure that each of them had benefited from all of his ventures.
So the question remains: Mert Davis, Cowboy, or…..what?! He may not have been born and bred a real cowboy, nor has anyone ever reported seein' him slappin' leather in anger, but Mert sure looked like a cowboy! He owned a cattle ranch, done a bunch of branding, been on a lot of cattle roundups; “rode” a horse and.... given enough rope, he could probably have lassoed a cow.
(Written by Joy and Phil Alvarado)
In friendship and with love, Paul and Barbara Connolly, Prescott, AZ.