I have always felt that in one aspect horses were a better idea than automobiles, at least when they give you trouble they can be shot and the neighbors can be invited over for a barbecue. Not so with automobiles, when they are down you are either stranded or left with a huge paper weight in the driveway.Such were the thoughts on a grand Route 66 odyssey that soon took on the aspects of a Biblical disaster. This particular adventure involved a 1988 Ford Crown Victoria Country Squire station wagon, the first big father/son trip, my first book contract, and a host of unexpected detours. It started with the acquisition of a beautiful, one owner station wagon. With the exception of some peeling clear coat the 49,000 original mile car was immaculate. Receipts provided evidence that the owner had religiously taken the car to the Ford dealership for service every 3,000 miles. The Michelin tires were almost new, the ash tray was spotless as were the seats and carpet. The extra seats under the cargo floor retained the original factory plastic covers as did the jack. So, even though the car was almost thirteen years old, I peeled off twenty-five one hundred dollar bills and exchanged them for the title. My general rule of thumb is to buy new belts and hoses with every used car purchased but this car came with a new set stashed in the side cargo compartment, an added bonus. Now, at just about the same point in time I accepted a contract to write my first book, a profile of the Checker Cab Manufacturing Companyhttp://rcm.amazon.com/e/cm?t=1968adventurer&o=1&p=8&l=bpl&asins=158388100X&fc1=000000&IS2=1<1=_blank&m=amazon&lc1=0000FF&bc1=000000&bg1=FFFFFF&f=ifr. A video of the interview I had with Jay Leno about this book is found below. As it turns out the surviving vehicles built by Checker are quite rare. In fact when I wrote this book there were less than twenty existent vehicles known to represent the period between 1922 and 1958. So, when I learned the first ever gathering of Checker owners and enthusiasts was being scheduled for an event at the Gilmore Automobile Museum in Kalamazoo, Michigan, an event that would include many of the early models including the only known 1940 Model A, there was little doubt where my vacation time would be spent. As further incentive my dad lived in Jackson, about sixty miles to the east. In my mind a thirteen year old son, a station wagon, twelve days off, and an excuse equaled road trip. Here was a perfect opportunity to introduce my son to the wonders and excitement of legendary Route 66.Well, even though the Ford was like new, I packed the wheel bearings, changed the belts and hoses, serviced the transmission, rotated the tires, flushed the radiator, inspected the brakes, and topped off the rear differential. This was hands down the nicest vehicle I had ever owned for a road trip. With camping gear and luggage on board we bid adios to my dearest friend as daylight began chasing the darkness west and pointed the Ford east. In Peach Springs we made a stop for breakfast, in Seligman we stopped for a cold drink, a restroom break, and to say hello to Angel. In Williams I topped off the tank as an excuse to stretch the legs. When driving Route 66 it seems almost sacrilege to hurry. It was a delightful late spring day that encouraged stops and meanderings at Meteor Crater, Holbrook, and Winslow. My destination for the day was Santa Rosa, a bit of a push but one I felt was obtainable by around seven or eight that evening. It was near Chambers when I first noticed the back window on the tailgate was going dark. A bit of investigation revealed a transmission leak of sizable proportions. The underside of the chassis was dripping, the exhaust smoking, and the tail gate was soaked. So, I added the spare quart of transmission fluid and set my sites on Gallup with the faint hope of finding a garage open on a Sunday afternoon. Well, we made it and found a Pep Boys that was open and that had a rear transmission seal in stock. Several hundred dollars and a few hours later we were back on the road but with curtailed expectations as to destination. We weathered the gauntlet of traffic in Albuquerque and called it a day in Moriarty with dinner at the Rip Griffin Truck Stop and then a nights rest at the Super Eight Motel. The next morning we walked down the road to find 5:30 was to early for breakfast at the cafe and so returned to the truck stop. We loaded the gear and even though I had topped off the tank in Gallup decided to fill up here and then shoot for Vega or Amarillo. It was a cool morning so I let the Ford warm up a bit before slipping the transmission into reverse. Well, reverse was imitating neutral and so was drive. This wasn’t a good way to start the day. I let the car run for a while with the dip stick removed in case there was air in the system. Then I shut it off and added a half pint of transmission fluid. Success! I put the Ford in reverse, backed from the parking space, slipped it into drive and rolled east on 66. I say rolled because within about a block, drive began imitating neutral. So, I got the car off the road at the Sunset Motel, and repeated my earlier procedure. Again, success!We stopped at the supermarket, stocked up on lunch supplies, and hit the road in high spirits. It was somewhere between Santa Rosa and Tucumcari that the u-joints began to clang and vibrate. We limped into Tucumcari, found a shop, and parted with another couple of hundred dollars. Still, it provided time to gain an intimate knowledge of the town and its association with Route 66 as I am quite sure we walked from one end to the other while we waited. The walk gave me time to think about the situation. I am always amazed by how often our prayers are answered by a God who sounds just like us, especially when He is in complete agreement. So, with completion of repairs I kissed the carefully planned budget goodbye and turned west. I had phoned ahead so my wife could purchase two airline tickets and make rental car reservations. With our only stops being for fuel I hit Kingman late that evening and the next morning headed for Laughlin to catch a flight to Minneapolis. As it turned out this was another grand adventure that included a run in with airport security, a ferry ride across Lake Michigan, and an excellent car show where we met some of the most wonderful people. All of that, however, is a story for another day.As to the Ford, we drove it for nine years after this debacle without a glitch. In that time we made trips to Denver and Utah, throughout California, on deer and elk hunting expeditions, and all over New Mexico. Then we gave it to a family in need of transportation. It is still on the road. There were a couple of valuable lessons learned on this adventure; don’t place your confidence in vehicles, make sure you know the difference between God’s voice and your own, and things happen along the way so just make the best of it and enjoy the ride.
Jim Hinckley's America is a grand adventure on the back roads and two lane highways. It is an odyssey seasoned with fascinating people, and memory making discoveries. As made evident by the publication of fourteen books on subjects as diverse as diverse as Ghost Towns of the Southwest, The Illustrated History of the Checker Cab Manufacturing Company, Travel Route 66, Backroads of Arizona, and The Route 66 Encyclopedia, I enjoy sharing adventures and helping people plan for their own memory making journeys.