The bustle of waitresses, the hum of conversation, and the clatter of dishes serve as background music as Kathy Hendrickson rushes into the restaurant for an interview about her new business, Southwest Detours. She has dramatic flare and while she isn’t wearing her Indian Detour costume, it’s easy to picture her in it: a burgundy Navajo-style velvet shirt, long dark green skirt, and silver Concho belt, boots, and a dramatic wide-brimmed dark green hat with a bronze hatband sporting the official Indian Detour silver badge. Her attention to detail lends authenticity to her presentations as a tour leader. And she loves the look.
Like restaurateur and hotelier Fred Harvey, Hendrickson is a natural born entrepreneur. She has a knack for talking to people and connecting with them. She also knows it takes more than having a knack for working with people to be successful. Being well prepared is essential.
“Allan Affeldt started the ball rolling by asking me to organize the Las Vegas Harvey Girls (like he has at the La Posada with the Winslow Harvey Girls), and do the tours. I took it to the next level, you could say, by starting my tour business,” Hendrickson said.
“Allan asked me to do tours at his two properties, Plaza Hotel and Castaneda Hotel. I had a conversation at the UWC to promote and do tours there. We started out calling them Harvey Girl Tours, but later put the tours all under the umbrella of Southwest Detours, which made better sense, since I do a lot of the tours on my own. When I have groups with 10 or more folks, I call on a Harvey Girl to help, or if someone requests a Harvey Girl to go on the tour.”
The Castaneda and Montezuma Castle were Fred Harvey properties back in the day, and both used the services of Harvey Girls, dignified young women who were prim and proper, efficient, and dependable. The uniform of crisp black dresses with starched white accents at cuff and collar, and overlaid with a white apron, sent a clear message that the customer was first and service was paramount.
Hendrickson said she loves the Harvey Girls and the role they played in history. “They are charming, but that persona didn’t speak to me. And then I found out about the Fred Harvey Indian Detour Couriers. Now that appealed to me!
“Fred Harvey started the first chain of hotels and restaurants with an emphasis on quality and service. When train travel was slowing down in the early part of the 1900s, the Harvey Company began to explore ways to get people to the Southwest. The company promoted tours for railroad travelers that allowed them to leave the train and take tours into Indian Country. In 1926 the Indian Detours Company formed. It was only around for about ten years, but in that time the couriers – all highly trained and well-educated women – took thousands of people on adventures all over the Southwest. I looked at that history, that costume, and said, ‘That’s what I want to be!’”
Hendrickson officially launched Southwest Detours in March, and has already shepherded nearly 400 guests through the three historic properties. And she is just the person you want to lead your tour. She starts with scripted talking points, but does everything she can to make your tour unique and entertaining.
“I have two kinds of people on tours,” she said. “Most are not historians, but some are pretty knowledgeable. The knowledgeable guests sometimes ask questions I can’t answer despite all the research I have done. I like those questions. They help me add more to my knowledge base. I do a lot of reading and I’m always adding new information to keep the lectures fresh. I don’t want to say the same thing all the time, and I want to make sure what I do say is factual.”
Hendrickson is learning the business one day at a time. She has had a few surprises, but is not deterred. “I want to expand out and do tours in the surrounding area, but right now I’m putting my emphasis on Las Vegas. It’s more than going from one property to another. I talk about the history of Las Vegas, and take guests around to the neighborhoods where there are Victorian homes. I usually have one or two Harvey Girls with me when I have a group of ten or more. I’ve only lived here three years, but guests like it when someone like Martha Johnsen (a Las Vegas native and Harvey Girl) is along. She can fill in with what it was like growing up here.” Other members of the Las Vegas Harvey Girls in addition to Johnsen are Dee Clark, Becky Johnson, Virginia West, and Pam Buethe.
As the Detour Courier and company owner, Hendrickson – in addition to leading tours – is responsible for booking groups, overseeing development of the company, and creating interesting presentations. She said her affiliation with CCHP as a board member and volunteer has been valuable.
“It is through the CCHP archives and resources at the World College that I have learned new information about these properties and Las Vegas. It gives me more to talk about,” she said.
“After a recent tour Martha pointed out that we are like ambassadors for Las Vegas. And she’s right. We bring people to town, usually they stay over, eat in our restaurants, shop in our stores, and leave with a good feeling about Las Vegas. You can’t beat that!”
Kathy and Bill Hendrickson moved to Las Vegas after visiting here over a four-year period. “Bill wanted to live in a small town in Northern New Mexico. I wanted to live in a small town and close to Santa Fe. Las Vegas is perfect and we love it.
“Owning a tour business allows me to expand to other places in and around Las Vegas, but I do focus on Las Vegas since that’s what most folks want to tour. The Castaneda Hotel, Montezuma Castle and Plaza Hotel are the most requested.”
Southwest Detours’ subhead is, “Your Pathway to Adventure.” For your adventure contact Hendrickson at 505-459-6987, or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org. Tours vary in size from three to four people, up to a busload of 50. Fees available on request.