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July 8, 2005


The madam with a heart of gold


Editor's note: This is the second installment in our two-part series focusing on the history of prostitution in Nye County, mostly Tonopah. This part is a true story of one of the trade's most interesting women.

Mary "Bobbie" Duncan Himes was born June 25, 1915, in Billings, Mont. She died in Tonopah Oct. 29, 1989, and is buried in the Tonopah cemetery.

Bobbie, as she was known throughout central Nevada, arrived in Tonopah in 1941 from Wisconsin. At first, she did not care much for Tonopah, but quickly grew to love it. She got a job working in a brothel in the red-light district. She moved to Wyoming at one point during World War II but soon returned. She spent the remainder of her life in Tonopah. Following her return from Wyoming, she married Bill Himes, who ran the Pastime Club on Main Street.

The original Buckeye, as Bobbie's bar and brothel was known, was in its own way an architectural gem. It had plenty of atmosphere - not the artificial kind we see everywhere today, but the real thing. It would have made a wonderful movie set.

As noted earlier, the building had started out as a one-story frame house. Patrons entered the Buckeye through the original home's front door. This opened into the living room, which served as the brothel's parlor. The parlor was sparsely furnished with a couple of overstuffed chairs and a sofa that had all seen better days. Centerfold drawings of curvaceous, scantily clad women from Esquire Magazine - this was prior to the Playboy centerfolds, which featured photos of live models - were tacked to the walls.

Off the north end of the parlor, in the direction of the front door, was a small bar with a half-dozen or so bar stools. Shutter-type windows provided a view to the west. Patrons sat with their backs to the windows. The bar room was small and had a homey, cozy feeling. Off the parlor to the east were two or three bedrooms, which the girls occupied and where they entertained their patrons. A kitchen was located off the bedroom area. I believe Bobbie occupied a trailer that stood behind the house.

Bobbie was a good businesswoman and, over the years, the Buckeye made money. Apparently, she saved some of it. In early 1963, Bobbie undertook a major expansion and remodeling of the entire establishment. She bought an expensive new large doublewide mobile building about 45 feet long. The interior consisted of one fully trimmed-out room.

The doublewide was set flush against the front of the old joint and a beautiful bar was constructed inside featuring hammered copper trim. The new building became a combination parlor and bar. A large sliding glass door served as the front entrance and beside it stood a huge state-of-the-art jukebox.

Perpendicular to the new bar/parlor, flush against the north wall of the old place, Bobbie placed another new trailer that featured a hallway and four or five rather small, but nicely furnished, bedrooms for the girls. When the remodeling was completed in June of 1963, the Buckeye was considered the most luxurious brothel in rural Nevada. Once Bobbie had finished with the brothel, she converted the old house into luxurious living quarters for herself.

In mid-June of 1963, four girls were working at the Buckeye. All were quite fond of Bobbie and wanted to do something special for her. They knew her 48th birthday was drawing near and decided to throw a surprise party for her. They planned it down to the last detail. There would be decorations, food (a variety of hors d'oeuvres), and lots of champagne. Her many friends in the area would be invited and sworn to secrecy. All of this, of course, would have to be done without Bobbie becoming at all suspicious.

A couple of hours before the party, Bobbie would have to be lured away from the premises so the parlor could be decorated, food set out, and gifts stacked. The party was schedule to begin at about 5:30 p.m. on June 25.

Vera, among all the girls working at the Buckeye at that time, was probably closest to Bobbie. Bobbie had known Vera for several years. They were good friends and got along well. When the big day finally arrived, all the arrangements had been made and everything was set. The plan was for Vera to lure Bobbie away from the Buckeye hours before the party was to begin with the excuse that she needed a ride downtown to take care of some business and do some shopping.

At about 3:30, Bobbie drove Vera downtown in her Cadillac and waited patiently as Vera made up one excuse after another about things she had to do. The longer Vera could keep Bobbie away, the more time the girls, along with a couple of men from town who were helping out, would have to accept the food and champagne deliveries, set the food out, and decorate the place with balloons and colored paper streamers.

Vera's stalling worked. They finished setting up and guests began to arrive. Soon, 60 or 70 guests were there, including many of Tonopah's leading citizens, mostly men, but a few women. The parking lot was packed.

By 5:45, Vera couldn't stall Bobbie any longer, and they headed up the hill. Just past the summit, Bobbie turned the Cadillac off Highway 6 and onto the dirt road that led to the parking lot. When she saw the many parked cars, she exclaimed happily, "Oh, my, business is going to be good tonight."

"Yes," Vera replied, trying her best to keep a straight face. Bobbie parked the car and she and Vera walked into the bar. "Surprise! Happy Birthday!" everyone shouted. "Happy Birthday!" Bobbie gasped, raised her hands, and covered her face. She was nearly overcome with emotion.

The party warmed up fast. After singing Happy Birthday, Bobbie blew out the candles on her cake. Early on, there were testimonials for her. Guests toasted her character and her warm heart. Many noted the affection and love felt for her in the community, and her importance to life, not just in Tonopah, but also all over central Nevada.

Right off, Bobbie declared that drinks were on the house for the night. Most people started with champagne; quite a few soon switched to their beverage of choice. Many guests stayed for only an hour or so, but a sizable number stayed on into the night, with the majority consuming more than their fair share of the O-Be-Joyful. None of the girls took a man back to a room that night - it was a holiday! There was laughter, dancing, and good conversation. It was a grand party; they never get any better. People who were there say they can still hear Ray Charles on that wonderful jukebox singing about lost love.

In 1987, 24 years after Bobbie's surprise party at the Buckeye in 1963, another surprise birthday party was held for her in Tonopah - this time, at the Tonopah Convention Center. It was her 72nd birthday. The affair was well attended. Numerous testimonials to her friendship and character were offered, as they had been on that evening so many years earlier. One toast said, "All of us would like to think we have as many friends as Bobbie has ... Bobbie, we hope you live as long as you want to." Bobbie was presented with a plaque, as the Gateway Gazette said, "In appreciation of her generosity and support of the youth and the community as a symbol of her endless supply of heart to a town that recognized her worth." She lived two more years.

Bobbie would have turned 90 this summer. The Buckeye has been closed for many years.

Thanks to Bill Metscher, Allen Metscher and Eve LaRue of the Central Nevada Museum for their assistance with research for these last two columns.

McCracken is the author of A History of Pahrump, Nevada and 11 other books about Nye County published by the Nye County Press. Send questions and comments to

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