It was a fascination with the infancy of the American automobile industry, men like Henry Ford, David Buick, Walter Chrysler, Charles Nash, and Louis Chevrolet, and curiosity about how my grandfather fit into the puzzle that initially kicked off my writing endeavors. At some point my obsession with America’s highways, back roads, and their history kicked in. Then the two interests began to merge.
The result was travel books peppered with tales of Barney Oldfield racing across the Mojave Desert on the predecessor to Route 66 in the 1914 Desert Classic “Cactus Derby” race, automotive articles seasoned with tidbits about the intricacies of operating a V8 powered Ford truck loaded with produce over the Cajon Pass in 1936, and interviews with Jay Leno about the eccentricities of the Checker Cab Manufacturing Company. In retrospect, I suppose all of this writing, all of this research was an effort to gain a better understanding of my grandfather, a man who was more than sixty years of age when my father was born in 1928, and the world he lived in.
My dad knew little about the man behind Hinckley Boulevard near Jackson, Michigan. He knew even less about the extensive patents, many automotive related, the bathing beach resort at Vandercook Lake, or the photograph of my grandfather on the front porch of the Hinckley Boulevard home with Henry Ford.
To begin my search and quench the curiosity all I had was an inquisitive mind and a growing number of broken strings. There was the Hinckley Meyers specialty tool company in Jackson, the specialty contract work for Henry Ford at the machine shop in Vandercook Lake, and the mill race many now think of as a stream, the receipts for automotive repairs incurred in Albuquerque on a business trip to Los Angeles from Jackson via automobile in 1919, and a box of yellowed automobile titles for a Jackson, an Essex, a Packard truck, and a Hupmobile.
Business trips by automobile to Florida and California seem to have been a regular part of my grandfathers life in the post World War I period through the late 1920s. Why by automobile and not by train? Did he have business interest in New Mexico as Albuquerque seems to have been a regular stop?
As the years progressed and my writing endeavors led me on various paths to new discoveries more pieces to the puzzle were uncovered. More often than not, the pieces themselves were missing pieces.
Patriot and Republic trucks in the late teens and early twenties utilized Hinckley engines. Was there a connection?
Fledgling attempts at automobile production by David Buick began in Jackson. In his employ was a machinist named Fred. Then, in an unrelated search, I found this tantalizing tidbit buried in a genealogy report.
“The 1900 US Census enumerated him as Fred P. Hinckley (given age 33), the head of household at 304 West Morrell Street, Jackson, Jackson County, Michigan, on 1 June 1900. Also living in the household was, his daughter, Fern Hinckley (given age 11) . Fred was employed as a Machinist.”
The 1920 census reflects a bit more prosperity in the life of Fred P. Hinckley. “The 1920 US Census enumerated him as Fred P. Hinckley (given age 53), the head of household at 410 Hinckley Road, Summit Township, Jackson County, Michigan, on 6 February 1920. Also living in the household was his wife, Helen Hinckley (given age 51). Fred was employed as a Manufacturer of Machinery.”
Fred was also a land developer, an inventor, and kept a Buick in storage in Los Angeles. He was also political and in 1920 ran for County Road Commishoner with the need for iron bridges and all weather roads his primary platform.
For years my search into the life and times of Fred P. Hinckley has simmered in my mind as the cornerstone for a book. Not a myopic biography about an obscure figure from history that may or may not have played an important role in the societal evolution of America through industry but a book with him serving as the window into the transformation of a community, Jackson, Michigan, and the way a nation did business.
http://rcm.amazon.com/e/cm?t=1968adventurer&o=1&p=8&l=bpl&asins=0932826830&fc1=000000&IS2=1<1=_blank&m=amazon&lc1=0000FF&bc1=000000&bg1=FFFFFF&f=ifrThis would be similar to the wonderful book written by David Lyon,
The Kalamazoo Automobilist. However, it would also be a book about a nation transformed by the automobile as chronicled through Fred’s trips to California and Florida.
There are still to many loose threads to weave that tapestry. So, I turn to the project at hand and weave the colorful story of America’s most famous highway that will manifest as the first volume of a Route 66 encyclopedia and atlas.