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200 MPH on Mrs. Orcutt's Driveway

200 MPH on Mrs. Orcutts Driveway

By Bob Jaussaud

In 1984 “Car and Driver” magazine launched a heavily modified Pontiac Trans Am down Mrs. Orcutt’s Driveway at 204 mph. This was not the first high-speed run down her driveway, but was the last for “Car and Driver.” A disgruntled neighbor finally chased them off with a shotgun. Prior to that (starting in the 1970’s) they accomplished 100 mph in a Cadillac Seville before it lost a bumper, 160 mph in a Trans Am before the engine melted down, and a 196 mph run before a piston seized and the Trans Am became a 50 foot long fireball.

So how could all these high-speed runs happen in a little old lady’s driveway? It’s an interesting story. Mrs. Orcutt lived in Newberry Springs. In 1964 when surveyors were surveying for Interstate 40 their route cut directly across Mrs. Orcutt’s original driveway, which connected her ranch to Old Route 66. According to a “Car and Driver” 2005 article, Mrs. Orcutt (understandably not wanting to be cut off) “fired off letters with attached photo to her state representatives, to California Governor Edmond G. Brown, and to President Lyndon Johnson, pleading for her own exit or a new driveway to the nearest exit. The letters spoke of a grand business venture including a wild game refuge, a beautiful 100 unit desert retirement home for senior citizens, and the expansion of her business (called the Littlest Lumberyard and by all evidence a dollhouse supply operation), thus providing employment for many people out here.” She also wrote to Ladybird Johnson and I bet that’s what actually got results. At any rate, the government decided to build a road from Mrs. Orcutt’s property to the Fort Cady Road I-40 overpass. This 4.1 mile long government road is officially named Memorial Drive. However, since Mrs. Orcutt’s home was the only property served the road is locally known as “Mrs. Orcutt’s Driveway.” It was a long, straight, paved road and a natural speedway.

So who was Mrs. Orcutt? She was born Margaret Alberta “Bonnie” McMains in 1909. Her father, W. E. McMains, was evidently very wealthy as he owned a large, three story Chevrolet dealership in Richmond, Indiana. Bonnie was 39 in 1948 when she married Kenneth Forest Orcutt, a man 10 years her junior. He owned Golden State Chinchilla Farms in Manhattan Beach, CA. Unfortunately Kenneth died at the young age of 34 in a plane crash, only five years after their marriage. Bonnie’s father died that same year. I suspect dealing with her grief is why Bonnie moved to Newberry (as it was known then). Ironically her only brother, Wren McMains, died in a 1959 plane crash.

So Bonnie Orcutt bought 100 acres in Newberry in the mid-1950’s. In a 2023 YouTube video, Newberry Springs local historian Paul Deel was interviewed about his recollections of Bonnie Orcutt. His memories revealed a lot about the lady. Evidently Bonnie first lived on her Newberry property in a travel trailer. In fact, her adobe home was constructed around that very trailer and she continued to use it as her bedroom. After Bonnie passed away someone removed the trailer and that is evidently why a substantial part of her adobe home has fallen away. Paul also recollected that when he visited Bonnie her living room was a conservatory where he remembered seeing a baby grand piano, a harp and he thought a cello. He believed that she had once been a concert pianist. He also remembered Bonnie was a good shot and, in fact, there were still gun ports on the remaining walls of her home when Sue and I saw it last Christmas Day.

Although Bonnie was a small woman, she was no shrinking violet. She had a quarter mile long lake constructed around her home that supposedly included an island where she raised chickens. In 1967 she decided Newberry should modify its name and sent off a letter to that effect to the postmaster general’s office in Washington, D.C., and the springs name (Newberry Springs) sprang forth. She envisioned building a home for unwed mothers and held motocross events to raise money for the unfortunate girls (how that worked with the wild game refuge is anyone’s guess). She also talked about creating a senior retirement center. Sadly Bonnie Orcutt passed away long before her many plans could be fully realized. Her dreams, home and driveway are now abandoned. ~ Joeso

 

1984 Car  Driver
Driveway
Gun Port
Orcutt home after trailer removed
IMG 5821