Old Times and Old Timers

Albuquerque’s Clyde Tingley:
A Diamond in the Rough.  

Certainly one of the most colorful, interesting and enduring politicians in the history of New Mexico was Clyde Tingley. He served on the Albuquerque City Commission continually from 1916 to 1934. He was governor from 1935 to 1938, after which he returned to the city commission where he continued to serve until 1953.

There are not many folks in the state’s annals who held public office continually for more than 35 years, not even former Governor Bruce King.

Tingley accomplished a great deal during his years of service, but he did not do it with much in the way of polish and grace. He was inflexible and demanding in his approach to public affairs, he was unschooled and he was a machine politician. All of that stirred considerable resentment against him, except among voters who consistently reelected him.
Upon the occasion of being told that he was setting a bad example for the youth of Albuquerque, Tingley is reported to have said, “I ain’t goin to quit sayin’ ain’t!” He was undaunted by charges that he was undignified and a disgrace.

Tingley was born near Springfield, Ohio, on January 5, 1881. He arrived in Bowling Green, Wood County, Ohio, sometime after the turn of the century where he worked as a machinist for the Graham Motor Car Company. It was in Bowling Green that he met and courted Carrie Wooster, the daughter of a prominent farming and oil rich family.

Carrie Wooster’s father died of tuberculosis in the early 1900s, and Carrie herself contracted the disease. She and her mother moved to Albuquerque to seek treatment in 1910 and Clyde followed in early 1911. Clyde and Carrie were married in Albuquerque on April 24, 1911. But they did not sever their ties to Ohio.

The farms in Wood County fell to the ownership of Clyde and Carrie, and in fact became known as Tingley Farms. The crops were cultivated on shares by local farmers. Clyde made frequent trips to Ohio and was remembered in Bowling Green as a friendly man, down to earth, and a great talker.

The Wooster money, and the Wooster Farms, provided Clyde with the financial resources necessary to pursue a career in politics. He began by being elected to the Albuquerque City Commission in 1916. He was consistently reelected until 1934 when he ran for, and was elected, governor. While Albuquerque did not have a mayor in those days, Clyde, as chairman of the commission, bestowed the title upon himself.
Clyde, and Carrie, too, could often be found at the railroad station where they would greet all manner of celebrities who stepped off the train to stretch their legs. They ranged from Charles Lindbergh and Albert Einstein to Mary Pickford, Rudolph Valentino and Ronald Reagan. It was not uncommon for the Tingleys to be photographed with the famous of the day. No modest shrinking violet was Clyde Tingley.

His lack of modesty is demonstrated by the number of monuments he named, or had named, for himself: Tingley Coliseum on the State Fair Grounds, Tingley Drive in southwest Albuquerque, Tingley Beach on an artificial lake, also in southwest Albuquerque, and Tingley Field, Albuquerque’s baseball stadium from 1938 until 1968. A grove of trees on old U. S. Route 85, north of the town of Bernalillo, used to be called Tingley Park. Clyde had a reputation for getting things done, and he was more than willing to take the credit.

As Governor, Tingley maintained a close relationship with President Franklin Roosevelt. Because of it, he was able to secure large amounts of Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) and Works Progress Administration (WPA) money for New Mexico, but mostly for Albuquerque. With these funds Tingley was able to assist the University of New Mexico in its rapid growth during the late 1930s. The airport terminal was built, as were buildings at the State Fair Grounds and the railroad overpass on Albuquerque’s Central Avenue. It was also during this time that a number of federal offices were established in Albuquerque and the old Federal Building was constructed in the downtown area at 5th and Gold. Tingley was also instrumental in the alignment of old U. S. Route 66 through Albuquerque.

Clyde and Carrie were also responsible for the creation of the Children’s Hospital at Hot Springs (now called Truth or Consequences) in 1937. In this case, the people of Hot Springs voted to name the facility for Carrie Tingley. The Tingleys had no children of their own, and Carrie spent much of her time raising money for the Children’s Hospital, and collecting toys which she delivered to the children at Christmas time.

The rapid growth of Albuquerque and New Mexico following World War II led to the closure of the Tingley era in politics. By 1947 his brand of power-brokering and machine politics was repudiated and his influence was broken. He continued in public life for a few years, but his dominance was at an end. Clyde Tingley died in 1960, less than two weeks shy of his 80th birthday. Carrie died the following year. But as long as Tingley Coliseum and Carrie Tingley Children’s Hospital exist, the Tingleys will be with us.