Fire Consumes Bud Kenworthy's Home and Business, Leaving Nothing to the Imagination

updated 07/25/1988 AT 01:00 AM EDT

originally published 07/25/1988 AT 01:00 AM EDT

People driving from Phoenix to Las Vegas used to stop at Nothing to get a beer or soda pop, maybe a taco and a tank of gas. But now, after a July 4 fire swept through the tiny Arizona desert community, destroying its only business and the mobile homes of its three permanent residents, there is nothing left of Nothing.

The man who named Nothing—it's not a real, incorporated town, just a blip on the landscape aside U.S. 93—is Richard "Bud" Kenworthy, 57. He bought the combination store and gas station on five acres of rock and cactus in 1977 from a trucker. Bud and his wife, Arleen, now deceased, had been driving through the area and had fallen in love with the brown-and-beige hills, the burnt-orange earth—the nothing that was and the Nothing that might be. "I'd run a motel in Winslow about 14 years," says Bud. "Then I'd worked for my brother-in-law, Keith, in his liquor store in Coolidge. But I got burnt-out with it. Arleen and I wanted to live as far into the mountains as we could and still make a living."

It was after the deal with the trucker was closed—Bud laid out $65,000 for the place, which was then called Noname—that Nothing came to mind. Bud was in a saloon in nearby Bagdad when a fellow told him that Noname had nothing to recommend it. "He said there's nothing there," remembers Bud. "No phones, no people, no services, no nothing. So I figured since Noname had nothing, I'd call it Nothing."

The fire on the Fourth broke out like a skyrocket. Bud was lying down for his usual afternoon nap. Keith Wilkerson, 56, the brother-in-law who joined him in the Nothing enterprise, was out on a tow job. Betty Auzza, 50, the tacostand cook who doubles as Bud's girlfriend, had gone shopping in a neighboring town. "I couldn't sleep," says Bud. "So I walked to the store, ate a couple of hot dogs. Then my friend Junior Hernandez, who'd drove over from Bagdad to celebrate the Fourth, hollered, 'Your house is on fire!' "

Bud hurried back to his house trailer, grabbed his property deeds, picked up his dog, Twister, and threw him outdoors, then tried to save his business from the flames, which were racing through the brush and grass, through the store and into one of the trailers. Thirty feet away, the taco stand, the last two mobile homes and a couple of junked cars also went up in smoke. Soft drinks, beer, lottery tickets, candy bars, toiletries, Nothing T-shirts and sun caps all came to grief. "I just couldn't save the business in time," says Bud, who believes the fire was started by faulty wiring in one of the trailers. "It was pitiful. It burnt for an hour, hot as you can get."

Temporarily unhorsed, Bud is looking forward to getting back in the saddle again. Once the electricity is rehooked—he's hoping this weekend—he will open the van Hernandez has loaned him and begin hawking the beer, chips and Nothing T-shirts he has been buying in Phoenix and Wickenburg, 60 miles away. Friends have donated a refrigerator, clothes and food; since the gas pumps and underground tanks survived the flames, Bud and his buddies expect to repair the damage and get back to selling gas in a week. People far and wide have reacted with sympathy. "I'm sorry to hear about Nothing," says Marion Wade, proprietress of the Burro Inn, the lone business in Nowhere, 70 miles to the east.

"People have come from 75 miles away to help us," marvels Betty Auzza. In part, the outpouring of support can be chalked up to Bud's reputation as an altruist. "He helps everybody," says Leny Parish, a songwriter and musician who lives nearby. "He even gives money to people on the road who've shot their wad in Vegas." There are also those who feel strongly about Nothing itself. "I've met people here who are more sincere than anywhere else," explains Keith Wilkerson. Bud couldn't agree more. "Nothing," he says, "is the real spirit of the West."

—By William Plummer, with Linda Marx in Nothing

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