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A Grandfather Larger than Life!

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My grandparents, John and Mary Furrer, were huge influences on our family. They met when my grandmother was just 12 years old. They married right before WWII….and after the war, they settled back down in Long Island New York and started a family.

My grandfather was a wonderful artist. Apparently, when he was just 14 years old, Walt Disney had wanted him to come and work for him in their design department. But- his mom would not hear of it. Can you imagine? (I am sure I would have not been here if that would have occurred!)

He had a flare for building things with his hands. He built many buildings and homes in the Long Island area. He hung out with many well known designers too. My mom remembers going to James Monts’ design center grand opening party once when she was a little girl. I wonder who was at the party? She said they had a truck load of rice brought in and everyone walked on the rice that had been placed on the floor. One can only imagine!

In the 1950’s the family relocated to the desert southwest of Arizona. They settled on A Mountain and my grandfather built the most amazing house up on the hill. It still stands today. Then- in the 1960’s, they moved to Picacho Peak, Arizona. This was a small area between Phoenix and Tucson. It was there that my grandfather, with the help of his immediate family began to build his lifelong dream. He painstakingly started to build by hand, an amazing World War I museum/restaurant/gas station.

He had collected WWI vehicles and memorabilia from all across the country. Our family would go up on the weekends and help out in the restaurant. It was my first “job”…I remember writing out an order slip for a cup of coffee- it was a whopping 10 cents! We used to ring up orders of hamburgers, fries and shakes up on the old antique cash register, serving ice cream cones and helping pump gas for the customers. The building was two stories tall…The upper floor was their home and the downstairs was the restaurant and museum and gas station. My grandmother ran the inside and my Grandfather and my Uncles worked the gas station, repairing vehicles and curators in the museum.

He was also in the process of building a huge army hat out of cement- that would eventually be the final home for the museum. (yes…that is not a typo) They had a children’s arcade, where you could use real machine guns to knock down clay figures of tanks and such. We had birthday parties as kids and we would ride in army tanks in the desert. It was AWESOME growing up!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Sadly, the museum and the dream were shot down in one fail swoop. There was a tax disagreement with our grandfather and the State of Arizona…which led to the land being taken away from my grandfather. This happened back in the early 1980’s.

I recently was given some amazing photos of this time and wanted to share them with you. I believe this would have been something very special had he been able to continue and finish building this amazing place. Remnants still remain on that hill outside Picacho Peak. Our family and my sisters and I share wonderful memories of our childhood growing up there. Sadly all the items are long gone- but the experience lives on!

Johannah Back
I have been a picker\collector\decorator my whole life. I grew up in an eccentric family of artists and collectors. I studied Interior Design- but never finished my degree, as being a mom of two amazing children always seemed to close the door on my college pursuit. I know what inspires and motivates me.

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