Fame and Fortune, Obscurity and Poverty on Route 66

From its inception dreamers, entrepreneurs, gypsies, con artists,

and visionaries were attracted to Route 66 resultant of the near constant hype and publicity. It was the highway of dream for travelers as well as for those looking for a way to make a dollar. It was the road of boundless opportunity, and, for a few, a highway paved with gold.

Ed Edgerton came from Michigan shortly after WWI. A doctor recommended suggestion that he find a drier climate and the lure of riches in the gold mining boom town of Oatman prompted his westward migration.

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Death on the Double Six

Over the years death has come in many forms on iconic Route 66. The

highways realignment or construction of a bypass was often the death knell for communities and businesses. The ever increasing flow of traffic, including broken down Model A Fords and powerful new Buick Roadmaster sedans, on a highway peppered with narrow bridges that left no room for error, as well as blind curves, steep grades, long stretches without a shoulder, and gas stations that offered a free six pack of beer with every fill up of the tank all contributed to the moniker “Bloody 66.”

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A wreck on Route 66. Photo courtesy the Joe Sonderman collection.

 

Shortly after WWII, two brothers opened a service station in western Arizona. Using a homemade wrecker to fulfill a contract with the state to remove wrecks from the highway, they soon discovered that there was gold in the tangled wrecks, broken glass, and carnage. Within twelve months they were able to pay cash for a brand new truck with Holmes wrecker body. Within three years they had three trucks and operated three shifts.  Continue reading

PARTNERSHIPS, PROMOTIONS, AND AVOIDING THE MINOTAUR IN THE LABYRINTH

In a recent interview I was asked if Route 66 was a mirror for my career as

a writer. The answer was no. The National Old Trails Highway makes for a better analogy; it was knit from a network of historic trails, the course for the “highway” often changed between Tuesday and Thursday, it was always rooted firmly in the past but served as a bridge to the future, and it enjoyed a modest degree of popularity.

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Right out of the box I sold my first feature article, written on a 1948 Underwood typewriter, to a major national publication. This was followed with a period of cranking out local interest stories for a couple of rural newspapers, the writing of a few features for national publications, a short stint as associate editor for Cars & Parts (before they went out of business). Next came the books. At each and every stage, partnerships served as the foundation.

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Come away With Me, Lucille In My Merry Oldsmobile

Who first took to the roads in a horseless vehicle will most likely always

be a bit of a mystery. Likewise with exactly who first pinned the term automobile to the horseless carriage. Even the year is an unknown but by the early 19th century a few daring, or crazy, visionaries and inventors were terrorizing their neighborhoods with steam powered carriages. However, it would be the mid 1880’s before the concept of a road vehicle driven by any means other than the horse was given serious consideration.

An argument could be made that the American automobile industry was born in 1877. That was the year George B. Selden obtained patents for a horseless carriage with internal combustion engine. Interestingly enough, he did not actually build an automobile, or even a functioning prototype, until 1905 when a lawsuit necessitated that he do so.

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Front Street, latter Andy Devine Avenue in Kingman, Arizona. In 1915, Edsel Ford stayed at this hotel during his odyssey along the National Old Trails Highway. Photo courtesy Mohave Museum of History & Arts. 

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Fame, Fortune, Obscurity, and Immortality

Reading A. Lincoln, a most fascinating biography about

Abraham Lincoln, watching the Trump presidency take shape, composing notes and research for a book about murder on Route 66, the quest to create brand recognition for Jim Hinckley’s America, writing an article about the tragic life of David Buick, and the loss of two friends this year led to a bit of reflection. Magnifying my thoughts about the brevity of life and how much time we spend chasing fame and fortune in a futile hope that we can gain a dubious form of immortality from our accomplishments was a small photography expedition this afternoon.

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I suppose some of this darkly shaded reflection is rooted in these times of division, uncertainty, and transition. In this, there is a sense that I am not alone.

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Every Second Counts

I am now within spitting distance of sixty. No matter how

hard I squint, fifty isn’t visible in the rear view mirror any longer. One lesson learned many, many years ago is that every second counts. Part two of that lesson is this – with the passing of each year, the awareness that every second counts increases exponentially. Linked with this is an old adage that the older one gets the faster time goes. I am not familiar with any empirical evidence that provides validity to this statement but can attest to the fact that the world flying past the windows is quite blurred as of late.

Yesterday, or so it seems, it was Monday. Between then and now there has been a few meals shared with friends, the recording of several new podcast episodes and the publication of one (Jim Hinckley’s America podcast), completion of the rough draft for another book and initiation of the writing of the first chapter for another one, a few meetings, a revamping of the blog format (did you notice that there is now a tip jar in the top menu bar and in the sidebar for those wanting to leave a little something for the storyteller?), and another Facebook live program.

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My dearest friend and I in the home of the late Willem Bor, and his charming wife Monique. Our first meal in the Netherlands was enjoyed in their home.

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Another Day, Another Adventure in Jim Hinckley’s America

A rare B-17 at the former Kingman Army Airfield, and an

early morning conversation with internationally acclaimed artist Gregg Arnold, photographer Herberta Schroeder of Wind Swept Images, and Michelle Drumheller who is organizing a family reunion for the family of pioneering rancher Tap Duncan, that is how my day started. In short, another day, another colorful adventure. This is Jim Hinckley’s America. If that seems like a plug, well, I suppose that it is.

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In retrospect it started simply enough. I wanted to write, to share the history of the American auto industry as well as tales of adventure on the road less traveled in the hope that it would inspire people to do a bit of exploring. After the publication of a few dozen feature articles for various magazines, I had an opportunity to write a book. That had been a dream since childhood and so I wrote a little book about the Checker Cab Manufacturing Company.

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That was followed by an interesting project that carried the odd title of The Big Book of Car Culture. In essence this was a Jerry Seinfeld type of project, a book about nothing. Jon Robinson and I wrote short stories about everything auto related from the history of highway striping and speedometers to Route 66 and Harley Davidson.  Continue reading

GOING TOPLESS ON ROUTE 66

This morning I enjoyed a brief but interesting discussion

with KC Keefer, the brilliant videographer behind the Genuine Route 66 series and a series of videos on forgotten places such as the Painted Desert Trading Post and Glenrio in partnership with Dr. Nick Gerlich. The topic of conversation was Route 66 as a catalyst for economic development and revitalization in rural communities. As that has been the subject of recent Jim Hinckley’s America blog posts as well as Facebook live programs, I found his insights and thoughts to be particularly relevant.

In building the foundation for economic development in a community, tourism as a primary component is a very poor choice. However, tourism should always be considered a component in the creation of an economic development plan, especially in a community that has Route 66 as the main street through its historic business district. Additionally, in these communities all marketing should include a Route 66 element. The popularity of the road will magnify these type of initiatives. often with tremendous results.

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As important as Route 66 in in regards to marketing or revitalization initiatives, myopic focus on what Route 66 was can be as detrimental as not using it at all. It is imperative that a community also focus on the future. As an example consider the embryonic Route 66 Electric Vehicle Museum in Kingman, Arizona. In addition, Route 66 should also be utilized as a means for showcasing the unique attributes of a community. If a town can blend these components in a single package, and has the leadership needed to get community buy in, it will be transformed, regardless of rural location or size.  Continue reading

RIDE THE WAVE OR DROWN

Why do some communities along Route 66 thrive, and

others continue the decline precipitated by the highways bypass. Why is Pontiac or Cuba a destination for legions of international travelers as well as entrepreneurs? In regards to tourism development, why do some communities such as Kingman or Tucumcari move forward at glacial speeds or even stagnate even though their tourism related assets far outnumber those found in Pontiac or Cuba? Why is Seligman a beehive of activity but Ash Fork flirts with becoming a ghost town?

On numerous occasions I have addressed these thoughts and related issues in blog posts. In recent years I have also made numerous presentations on the subject in various communities, and assisted with the development and marketing of events. However, over the course of the past year my involvement with tourism as a catalyst for economic development has broadened. It has included a stint as a marketing development consultant for Ramada Kingman, a role I now play for Grand Canyon Caverns, and some representative work for the City of Kingman. I am also involved with the innovative Promote Kingman initiative, and proudly serve on the economic development committee for the Route 66 Road Ahead Partnership, formerly the Route 66: Road Ahead Initiative steering committee.

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