LOURDES GARCIA-NAVARRO, HOST:
For sale, a whole town in Nevada. Commute, pretty reasonable, it's about an hour from the Las Vegas Strip. It's called Cal-Nev-Ari. And it's off a lonely stretch of Highway 95, surrounded by distant mountains and endless desert. If you can afford the $8 million asking price, you'll get the air strip, a motel, the diner and the town's only casino. NPR's Danny Hajek went to visit.
DANNY HAJEK, BYLINE: The casino glows with a dozen old slot machines. There's a smoky bar, and Patsy Cline sings on the jukebox. This place has character.
DEBBIE AGUILERA: So can we get you a drink?
HAJEK: Waitress Debbie Aguilera brings over water fresh from the Cal-Nev-Ari well. That well is what started this close-knit town, thanks to the couple that landed here 51 years ago, Nancy Kidwell and her late husband, Slim.
NANCY KIDWELL: There was nobody here but Slim, me, our dog and a cat.
HAJEK: This was once a dusty air strip, an abandoned military runway. The Kidwells, both aviators, dreamed of building a town around it. And under what was known as the Pittman Act, they could as long as they could prove they were self-sufficient. So the couple searched for water 30 miles away, in the Colorado River.
KIDWELL: We held our water in the back of a pickup in four 55 gallon drums.
HAJEK: After installing an irrigation system and growing 20 acres of barley, they got their land patent. And just like that, Cal-Nev-Ari was put on the map. But back then, there weren't any visitors at the new casino except a few burglars, who broke open the slot machines only to find the Kidwells had no money.
KIDWELL: If we'd have defaulted on our loan, we'd have walked out of here with the clothes on our back, and that's it. Nobody ever thought we'd make it.
HAJEK: So they found a new angle, the air strip. Cal-Nev-Ari became the first fly-in casino town in the state. This little desert outpost started to grow. Nancy shows me around in her white Lincoln Town Car. We pass the Blue Sky Motel, with a neon vacancy sign and a tiny convenience store. About 350 people live out here, lots of retirees and pilots - Neat rows of mobile homes with yards, prop planes parked in driveways.
KIDWELL: It's probably the last town that's ever been pioneered. It's an opportunity that doesn't exist anymore.
HAJEK: Since she pioneered it, she's in charge. If anything goes wrong, Nancy's phone rings. She manages all of her employees, bartenders, volunteer firefighters, the chef. Bob Shawn is cooking French toast in the diner. He doesn't think of Nancy as the boss.
BOB SHAWN: She's like a mother to me. And you know how moms can be. Bob, you don't look like you've been sampling the food too much (laughter).
HAJEK: Nancy loves her job, but it's exhausting. At 78, she's ready to call it quits.
KIDWELL: I'm not going to be here forever. And I have to provide for the future of this town while I'm still able to do so.
HAJEK: She's hired a broker from Vegas. He's got potential buyers but no deals yet. Well, there is the occasional bid from locals, like Foster Aguilera.
FOSTER AGUILERA: I kind of offered her an option to buy it, give her 300 a month and, you know, pay her off in, like, 600 years. But she wouldn't go for it.
HAJEK: Joking aside, not having Nancy run things makes folks nervous. Chef Bob Shawn says he's worried about his job.
SHAWN: It's not my business how she's going to do it. But they don't know if they'll just add on or get rid of the place, close it down, bulldoze it down. You don't know.
HAJEK: The good news, Nancy's not going anywhere. More than anything, she wants to relax and enjoy the Cal-Nev-Ari sunsets.
KIDWELL: You can see so far, you know. It's just, I don't know - just - I guess if I've been here 51 years, I must like it.
HAJEK: Midnight back at the casino, a few stragglers hang at the bar. Over in the corner, Dick and Dolly Miller sit side-by-side at the slots. I had to ask them.
If you guys hit the jackpot tonight, would you put a bid in for the town?
DICK MILLER: No.
HAJEK: Too much work, they say.
DOLLY MILLER: Everybody loves Nancy. And she deserves a break.
DICK MILLER: She's a hell of a gal.
DOLLY MILLER: Yeah.
HAJEK: Danny Hajek, NPR News, Cal-Nev-Ari, Nev.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "I FALL TO PIECES")
PATSY CLINE: (Singing) I fall to pieces.
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