The post today will be a bit shorter than usual as I am still fighting a miserable cold and there are a multitude of loose ends to tie up before our annual New Years road trip. But to make up for this I promise lots of exciting news. So, lets get started. The latest issue of 66 The Mother Road, a free, full color electronic magazine is now available. If the latest issue is a hint of what we can expect from the publishers, John and Judy Springs, in 2012, it will be a very exciting year indeed. The next item of note pertains to the latest book from Joe Sonderman, Route 66 in Oklahoma. All of Joe’s books are welcome additions to the library and this one continues that tradition. Joe partnered with Jim Ross, one third of the Three Musketeers of Route 66 in Oklahoma, for this work. So, you not only have treasures from Joe’s vast collection of vintage postcards and photographs, as well as his extensive knowledge of the subject, you have some of Jim’s as well. If you have an hour or two to spare you can stroll down memory lane from Chicago to Santa Monica on Joe’s website. You may also order signed copies of his books through this site as well. On June 7th, Tucumcari will be the place to be. Wheels on 66, a part of the New Mexico Route 66 Motor Tour celebration kicks off its first year in grand style. The last item of the day is does not fit our time of good news. In fact, it is the flip side of the coin. Roy Dunton, a prominent businessmen in Kingman whose association with Route 66 includes working at his uncles shop in Goldroad during the 1930s, transforming the Kimo Cafe into Mr. D’z Route 66 Diner, and operating the Chevrolet, Ford, and Edsel franchises in Kingman along Route 66, had his home burglarized over the holidays. Missing is a very rare commemorative Body by Fischer coach and figurines, one of 6,000 produced. The family is offering a $2,000 reward for information leading to the recovery of the item. I will post pictures as soon as possible but if you have any information the family may be contacted at 928-279-4629 and the police department number is 928-753-2191.
On more than one occasion it has been noted that in my head I am still 20 but the reality often intrudes on the illusion. I am quite sure there are other individuals that suffer a similar disconnect between the perception of age and the reality. It is not always a physical shortcoming that kicks the illusion of youth to the curb. A few years ago I was writing a feature on the unique Automobile Driving Museum in El Segundo, California for Cars & Parts when a pristine AMC Pacer brought me up short. Standing before me was a bulbous blue and chrome manifestation of my true age. I had worked on these cars when they were late model trade ins, and now they were museum exhibits!
San Fidel, New Mexico – Geezerville
In recent years this line of thinking has become more prevalent, another sign that Gezzerville is my next stop. I am quite sure this is caused by something more than advancing age, creaking joints, and ear hair. To a large degree I believe it is the speed with which the world is changing that may play a large role in this. After all, if I take but a moment to stop, to think, and to look around me, there is very little evidence of the world I once knew. Perhaps this is also a reason I have such a fascination with Route 66 and the empty places. It might also explain my quest to travel that road in a vehicle older than I am. Simply consider the technology behind this blog post compared to what it was when I sold my first feature article in 1990. That article was written on a 1948 Underwood manual typewriter using paper, and carbon paper. The photographs were taken with a 25 year old, 35 mm camera. The article, with photos, was sent first class mail and it took four weeks to receive a response, via first class mail, and an additional two weeks for receipt of my check. Phone calls weren’t really an option, as I was not home during the day and did not having an answering machine. However, I did have a rotary dial phone. You may ask, just how old are you? Well, I remember with clarity my dad paying .19 per gallon for gasoline on a trip through Mississippi and the first time gasoline was paid for with money from my pocket, it was .29 per gallon. In late 1964 my dad purchased a year end close out Ford Fairlane. He asked about the availability of air conditioning as his plans were to move from Michigan to Arizona in the next 18 months. After numerous phone calls, the dealer informed dad that he could not find a vehicle so equipped but he could order one and have it in about four weeks. On one of our trips across Kansas in about 1966, we stopped for gas and ended up being investigated by the local police. The suspicious activity was in dad trying to pay for the fuel with a one hundred dollar bill, something not often seen when a tank of gasoline cost less than six dollars. After driving a wide array of battered old trucks and cars, I made the decision that with the money being earned at the mine a new truck was in order. So, in late 1980, flush with cash, I stepped into the showroom at Busby Chevrolet in Silver City, New Mexico, and purchased a three year old 3/4 ton Chevrolet truck, fully loaded, with camper, for $2,995.00. This was quite a step up from the first car purchased with my hard earned money – a 1964 Rambler American station wagon for $225.00. And the price paid for that Chevy stands in stark contrast to the $3,000 paid for a ten year old Jeep Cherokee in 2008. Even the lexicon has changed. As an example, when I was a young man “gay” meant happy, not … I refuse to resort to “back when I was a kid” or “those were the good old days” even though the current era often has me looking back at the truly cockeyed 1960s and 1970s with wistful romanticism. I still adhere to the adage that when ever you are alive, it is the best of times, it is the worst of times. If it were just the popping joints, the thicker glasses, the receding hairline, and the price comparison on getting a set of partials, I might be able to keep the illusion of youth going just a bit longer. However, when combined with the dramatic and sweeping changes of the modern era maintaining that illusion becomes a chore unto itself.
At the risk of seeming a bit pompous, I have always considered the writing of books and feature articles, as well as the photography that gives them depth and color, and the exhibits derived from the expeditions behind the stories, to be a sort of sacred honor. Each published work, each photographic exhibit is another opportunity to provide five minutes of fame to an obscure figure that changed our world through innovation or inspiration, to instill a hunger for knowledge or a road trip, or to inspire a future photographer or author. In the writing of my first book, a profile of the Checker Cab Manufacturing Company, I pulled aside the cobwebs and cast aside the shadows that obscured one of the most interesting stories in American automotive history. I was also able to bring Morris Markin, an impoverished Russian immigrant that epitomized the American rags to riches saga, from the darkness of obscurity even if it was for but a brief moment. As is often the case, the book was merely a foundational element in bringing this story to light. Built upon this endeavor was an article written for Hemmings Classic Car, and, almost a decade later, an interview with Jay Leno. At the bottom of this column is a link for the video of that interview. It was in the writing of a monthly column, The Independent Thinker, for Cars & Parts, that I was able to bring an entire cast and ensemble from the shadows and into the lime light. Each month was a voyage of discovery, for me as well as the reader, as I told the story of Ralph Teetor, the blind inventor of cruise control, Francis and Freeland Stanley, the brothers behind the famous steamer and the prolific inventors that laid the foundation for Eastman Kodak, and countless others that transformed the world with their contributions to the development of the American auto industry. In recent years, the majority of my work has been focused on the forgotten and empty places, and the road less traveled. In Ghost Towns of the Southwest, I nudged Tombstone from center stage with the telling of the tale about Lake Valley, a town founded on a silver discovery so rich miners lamps were used to melt the silver from the walls of a cavern, and Shakespeare, a town founded on lies and hoaxes. This book also awarded me the unique opportunity for broadening the scope of focus on the history of the southwest. I accomplished through the telling of stories about cities such as Gran Quivira, a modern metropolis before the arrival of the Spanish conquistador, and the towns established by the colonists that followed them. It is my writings, and related photography, about Route 66 that has provided the greatest opportunities for adding depth and context to a popular subject, and for providing promotional opportunities for those individuals along the highway that keep its culture alive and flourishing. As a result, it is these endeavors that have provided the greatest satisfaction, and that have served as endless opportunities for meeting some of the most amazing people of the modern era. Now, on the cusp of a new year, I am about to embark on the greatest promotional adventure yet undertaken. Would you care to join me? First, if you have a small business, or you are the curator of museum on Route 66, and it would be of promotional value to have me stop by on our tours this year please let me know. And if you would like a really unique promotion for your business, we are still looking for a few sponsors for the Route 66 tour that kicks off in October at Cuba Fest in Cuba, Missouri with the launch of our latest book, a Route 66 encyclopedia and atlas. If you would like to join us on our Route 66 adventures and cruise all or part of this storied highway, drop me a note or check the schedule page for updates. This iconic old road is truly perfect for those who love cruising in time capsule style, as well as for those who prefer something a bit more modern, or in their own creations. We will kick off the new year, if my dearest friend and I can shake our colds, with a trip to Amboy and the climbing of the crater. Along the way we will photograph the segment of road from Oatman to the Colorado River, with emphasis on the natural beauty of the wildlife refuge, this will be for the Route 66 in Mohave County exhibit being developed for the Powershouse Visitor Center. The exhibit will officially open in July. However, it will be opened in stages with the first segment going on display in about March. Pending jury duty in Prescott during the first week in February has necessitated putting a few of the things I fill my weekends with on hold. Still, arrangements are being made for me to be at Book Works in Albuquerque on February 25. Also on the schedule for 2012 – the Route 66 Fun Run in May, the big events in Tucumcari tied to the New Mexico Mother, the international Route 66 festival in Victorville in August, and, of course Cuba Fest in Cuba at the end of October. As the schedule fills, I will provide updates.
With the advent of digital photography the world has been inundated with the haunting images of empty cafes, gas stations, motels, and houses that line Route 66 from the metropolis on the shores of the inland sea that is Lake Michigan to the metropolis on the shores of the Pacific Ocean. Just as penny post cards with images portraying the ruins of ancient Egypt once lured tourists to the sands of the Sahara with promises of mystery and wonder, the images of the ruins of Route 66 now lure travelers who seek the wonders of a lost civilization from the modern era. Each of these fragile, fading edifices stand in mute testimony to the high cost of progress, and the speed with which the tide of progress swept across the 20th century. They are also monuments to irony as the progress that spawned Route 66, the progress that transformed the ruts of the Santa Fe Trail in towns like San Juan into a highway, and that gave rise to these once prosperous endeavors, is also the progress that rendered them obsolete and swept them from center stage.
Route 66, from its very inception, was always unique. Few things attest to this more than its popularity today, almost two decades after it officially ceased to exist, and the reverence given its ruins and empty places. In part, this is resultant of the unwritten rule that states with time, virtue obscures faults, frailties, and shortcomings. The high school football star who dies much to young is never remembered for his hazing, his arrogance, or parties by the time the 20th reunion rolls around. And in part the reverence is spawned by a morbid curiosity tinged with fear as these are the ruins of a lost civilization and that civilization is ours. Moreover, the progress that swept the world they were anchored to away with the speed of tsunami, is moving even faster now that a new century has dawned. I treasure the quiet and empty places along Route 66. In them I find solace, and a reminder that dreams, aspirations, and grandiose plans are little more than a Mariposa Lilly that springs forth after an April rain in the desert only to be swept away by the harsh dry winds of May. These once vibrant places that are now so quiet I can hear my own heart beat never let me forget that gifts and talents are to be used to brighten the world if only for but a short time. These empty places, especially amongst the ghosts along Route 66, also keep me grounded with the knowledge that I only have a supporting role in the grand epic we call life on planet earth. Who today remembers the exploits, the accomplishments, the loves, or the passion of Don Trinidad Romero today? His grand home, and the town of Romeroville in New Mexico that embraced it, are now less than historic footnotes and yet less than a century has passed since the Main Street of America funneled traffic through town.
Empty places of any time or place give me this grounding. But only in the empty places of Route 66 are the ghosts of the past familiar old friends, as they are the ghosts of my past. If I stand quiet on a cold winters night among the ruins of a Whiting Brothers station in New Mexico, I can still here the clicking of the pump as it measured the gallons, and my dad telling me that we should be home for Christmas as there was less than five hundred miles to go. On the gentle breeze that danced around the fading remnants of a desert trading post, I could hear the faint laughter of children set free from the confines of the sweltering, steaming old car, the exasperation of the father as he made a fruitless effort to restrain them with the promise of a cold bottle of pop, and the harassed mother as she made her contribution to the fruitless efforts of the father with fear laced admonishments about snakes played against the backdrop of a clanging bell as another car pulled to the pumps. And if I closed my eyes, and listened carefully, the voices became those of my dad, my sister, and my mother, the clean windswept desert air became tainted with the smell of an overheated Chevy, and in my minds eye we were young again, and Dad’s Chevy was a well worn used car, not an antique. Empty places are magical places, for those who will take the time to listen. Empty places on Route 66 are magical places where memories light the darkness with the glow of garish neon, and the imagination transforms the empty, broken asphalt with its dust filled cracks into an endless stream of Hudson’s and Studebaker’s, Fords, and De Soto’s, Diamond Reo’s and Federals, rust colored jalopies and gleaming Packard’s.
Christmas, 2011, is now history and the last week of the year is unfolding. That means we (my dearest friend and I) are less than seven days away from our annual excursion into the desert for reflection, mediation, celebration and picnic, our way of closing out one year and welcoming in another. This year we decided to combine our sojourn with a bit of a Route 66 road trip. So, by next Tuesday we should be able to scratch “climb the crater at Amboy” from our list. To say the very least, in our relationship that has spanned almost three decades the months between November 2010, and December 2011 have been the most exciting, most rewarding, and most challenging yet encountered. But our trials pale in comparison to what many of our friends and acquaintances have endured.
Author and historian David Clark, and Jim Hinckley, at the Route 66 Museum in Berwyn, Illinois.
The high points of the year are numerous and include the first road trip on Route 66 east of Springfield, Missouri with my dearest friend, and meeting some amazing and wonderful people along the way such as Connie Echols and Jane Reed in Cuba, the Mueller’s in Tucumcari, Michael Wallis in Amarillo, Rich Dinkella, Joe Sonderman, Mark Spangler, and Dave Clark in Chicago. The low points include a few health issues that magnified the increasing awareness I have passed the half way point in this thing we call life, the loss of two immediate family members in the space of two weeks, the loss of a very good friend, and the deepening divisions in this great nation that cast a pallor over 2012. Like breaking rays of the sun through storm clouds were the visits with friends old and new throughout the year. We were fortunate to have several opportunities for sharing a meal with Dale Butel of Route 66 Tours from Australia, as well as with fascinating members of his tour groups, and a delightful dinner with Dries and Marion Bessels from Holland, their group, my son, his wife, and our grand kids at Redneck’s. Mirroring the personal life was the writing and photography career in 2011. The triumphs and frustrations were many in 2011, but in more than twenty years of striving toward the goal of becoming a writer when I grow up, it was the most rewarding. In November of 2010, a two year game of phone tag and schedule changes culminated in two interviews with Jay Leno, and a visit to his incredible mechanical menagerie. Promotion for the latest book, Ghost Towns of Route 66, kicked off at the International Route 66 Festival in Amarillo in June, and went into a second printing in October. I beat the deadline for the grueling Route 66 Encyclopedia & Atlas project by ten days and, after almost six months or preparation and negotiation, had the two book deal for 2012 shelved until further notice as a result of the current economic climate. I received notification of this, as well as a summons for jury duty at the federal court in Prescott, in the days and weeks before Christmas. In November, notification was received that my dearest friend and I had been selected as the photographers for the Route 66 in Mohave County exhibit, a state centennial project being developed for the Powerhouse Visitor Center in Kingman. Earlier, I had received notification of nomination as photographer of the year for True West magazine. A bittersweet episode on our Route 66 adventure in October encapsulates the year quite well. My dearest friend, Dean Kennedy, Rich Dinkella, author and historian Joe Sonderman, and I were enjoying a delightful breakfast seasoned with animated conversation at Zeno’s, a Route 66 institution.
From left to right, Dean Kennedy, Rich Dinkella, Jim Hinckley, and Joe Sonderman at Zeno’s.
Permeating the entire meal was a sense of loss resultant of the knowledge that Zeno’s was closing its doors in a few short weeks. The meal ended in somber tones after an emotional visit with the owner. A quick peek into the crystal ball provides mist shrouded hints that the year 2012 will be more of the same, though I hope we may avoid the depths of sadness that accompanies the loss of friends and family. There is the excitement of an Albuquerque book signing in January that will will entail a train trip and an almost twenty four day of being on the go overshadowed by the spectre of jury duty that could derail my carefully crafted spring schedule. This is till the daunting task of the final edit, and caption writing, for the Route 66 encyclopedia but the reward with be an opportunity to use the books debut and promotion to shine light on the city of Cuba in Missouri and their inspirational efforts to transform the community by building on the resurgent interest in Route 66. Of course, that means we will have to endure the trials and tribulations associated with a delightful fall journey along Route 66, something we will strive to do without to big of a grin. In June we have been invited to Tucumcari to participate in that cities celebrations, a part of the New Mexico Motor Tour on Route 66. Now, if I can just figure out how to make the slightest of detours for a visit with Fran at the Midpoint Cafe in Adrian, Texas, fit into that schedule, we will have a perfect road trip. I suppose the old literary line, the best of times, the worst of times, will suffice as a descriptor for 2011, and, quite possibly, 2012.