I have long had the impression life (at least my version of it) is comparable to having a job in the circus where responsibilities include being the juggler, animal trainer, cage cleaner, clown, ring master, truck driver, and lion tamer. For the afternoon show it is imperative to be able to overcome a fear of heights, or the sudden stop at the bottom in the case of a fall, because you work without a net. First, there is the day job that supports the writing habit and that keeps gas in the Jeep as well as beans on the table. My hours spent there often remind me of cage or stable cleaning. What you find in the straw may come in different colors but it all seems to smell about the same. In addition, it seems like half the time is spent in mind numbing tedium while the other half is spent trying to avoid being kicked in the head or eaten. Next comes the quest to become a writer when I grow up. This is the part where I often have the distinct impression that in some darkly sinister manner my eternity is being spent in a one man circus with crowds under the big top that number in the single digits. At this late stage of life there is little to do but press on. In years past (when I was much younger and the odometer hadn’t quit working after the third trip around) it was much easier to reinvent myself and change course. I recently told my dearest friend that if by some strange quirk of fate we were to win the lottery, I would keep pursuing the dream of becoming a writer until we were broke. Then even this very thin gossamer dream was shredded when sh informed my that first we would need to buy a ticket. Still, I really can’t imagine a more enjoyably way to while away the years or a more elusive dream to pursue. Even better, I am fortunate enough to have some to enjoy the adventure with.
Dominating the forefront of writing related endeavors are forthcoming promotional adventurers that include the Wheels on 66 event in Tucumcari in June, the Route 66 Fun Run in May, a trip to Cadiz in May to meet with Dale Butel and merry band of Aussies, and, of course, the carrot at the end of the stick, Cuba Fest in Cuba, Missouri in October. On one of these little jaunts across the heartland of America, I will need to make a slight detour to Michigan as my dad is closing in on 85. Still, in all honesty, the greatest reward derived from my writing and photography is not financial gain, accolades, or praise. It is the people I meet, the people I can inspire, and the people that I can share the adventure with. From that perspective, I just may be the most fortunate man in America. And now, in the center ring …
This past weekends snow is fast retreating up the slopes of the Hualapai Mountains as the temperatures race toward the seventy degree mark. Our brief interlude with winter has been replaced with the spring before the next storm.
The historic Wigwam Motel in Rialto, California.
For some folks the warm temperatures of spring, and the thick blossoms on the fruit trees inspire an overwhelming urge for house, office, and yard cleaning as well as gardening and similar endeavors. For me it creates an almost uncontrollable urge to bask in that great American past time, the road trip. To be honest, every season creates that urge for me even though it is the months of spring, summer, and fall that take it to a fever pitch. There is just something so exhilarating, so soothing in these adventures that I must admit an almost hopeless addiction to the sound of tires on wet pavement, the smells of an isolated service station on a warm summers evening, the thrill of new discoveries, road side fruit stands, quirky attractions, classic motels where the neon is as a beacon casting its glow across the black pavement of the highway, and that fresh coffee in a little diner where farmers, truckers, and road warriors gather to chase away the cobwebs of sleep.
Dead River Bridge near the Painted Desert Trading Post in Arizona.
Though I am chomping at the bit for a run down some lost highway or dirt track through a desert wilderness where buttresses of stone dominate the horizon, it is the highway signed with two sixes whose clarion call sounds loudest. With clarity I hear the call to join a merry band of Australians led by Dale Butel as they trek across the Mojave Desert, to motor east to Tucumcari and join in the celebration of Wheels on 66, to roll past the dazzling brilliance of fall colors on a shade dappled road that twists its course through the Ozarks on the way to Cuba Fest, and to savor some ugly crust pie at the Midpont Cafe. With the exception of the northeast corner of the nation, most of Florida, and a large chunk of Washington state, I have traveled the highways and byways of this nation with enough regularity that a map is seldom needed (with the exception of Jerry McClanahan’s EZ 66 Guide). I have even been privileged to explore back rods from Arizona to Wisconsin, from Alabama to Nevada and I have found each to be filled with wonder and special charm but only one entrances, captivates, and fuels an insatiable appetite to explore time and again, legendary Route 66. After more than a half century of traipsing up and down that old road it would seem that I would tire of it but this is not the case. With each journey, with each adventure I have found the road is a chameleon. Today it is a congested source of frustration, tomorrow it is a pleasant, empty road that flows gently across the vast landscapes. Fire erases the last vestiges of the Beacon Motel in Missouri and a few miles away in Cuba, the Wagon Wheel Motel rises like a Phoenix from the ashes.
Dan Rice and Chris Durkin
However, the true secret to its allure, and addictive charm is not the small towns or cities, the historic sites and museums, or the landscapes through which it passes but the people who give it life and vitality. It is the people who come from the very corners of the earth to seek its wonders and the people who drive it to work, it is the people like the Mueller’s and Connie Echols, Rich Henry and Dan Rice, John and Judy Springs, the Lehman’s, Gary Turner, and Rich Dinkella that keep the legacy alive. Spring is here. Road trip season is at hand and the road is calling. If you need more incentive than that may I suggest perusing the latest issues of 66 The Mother Road (link at the top left column in the Route 66 information segment). And don’t forget our contest as well. See you on the road –
In a recent interview I was asked why my books and writings focus so deeply on obscure moments in history, historical unknowns, and forgotten places. At the risk of sounding overly smug, my answer was simple – why. That little word is the catalyst for most everything I write. Why did the National Old Trails Highway, and the first alignment of Route 66 follow the twisted and torturous course through the Black Mountains of Arizona when there was a “valley bypass” that followed what is now the course for I-40? Why did Benjamin Briscoe feel that offering a V8 engine in a car manufactured with laminated paper mache body panels over wood framing was a good idea? Why did he feel that one headlight mounted in the center of the radiator shell was sufficient? In the grand scheme of things the answer to these and similar questions may seem irrelevant. However, there is the curiosity factor, the one that led people to stop at Two Guns even though they new in their heart it was a rip off and the one that leads people to seek obscure alignments of Route 66 or the runs of the Painted Desert Trading Post. And there are those historical questions that contain the answers to our modern problems or that at least can prevent us from duplicating mistakes. Case in point, to big to fail, a concept conceived to justify the federal governments role in subsidizing the auto industry with tax payers monies. Surprise! This very term was drummed up during the Hoover administration, and expanded upon in the Roosevelt administration, to keep banks afloat in Michigan which in turn kept the auto industry limping along. Then, as now, the devil was in the details. Consider Roy Chapin, Commerce Secretary under Hoover, President of Hudson, an automobile manufacturer, and a board member of the Guardian Group, an investment corporation tied to the banks that were bailed out. See any similarities here? Contrary to how history is often portrayed, it is not a dry, dusty, dead subject. It is the thread that links the past with the present and the present to the future. It is a road map, guide book, and inspiration. Even when history is presented in a proper context and is made exciting, as in the fabulous book, David Crockett by Michael Wallis, we often end up with a thick delicious soup that has yet to be stirred. The best ingredients are hidden at the bottom of the pot. In this book by Mr. Wallis, we are transported into the very world of David Crockett, a period so artistically woven from word pictures you can smell, touch, taste, and feel this long lost era. And yet we are left wondering about the lives of his obscure contemporaries. And so my focus is often on those obscure people, their lives, and the obscurity of their colorful lives. That is why I feel compelled to write about men like Ralph Teetor, the blind inventor of cruise control, or the Ghost Towns of Route 66. And so the answer is simply, why.
The fun just never ends. Life just seems to be a never ending swirl, at very high speeds, that blend trials, tribulations, and grand adventure into a dizzying sensory extravaganza. As noted previously, last week we were enjoying delightful spring like weather. Then came the weekend and a snow storm. This morning the air was just cold enough to make the morning commute to work via a 1.5 mile walk quite invigorating. By mid afternoon the sun was out and it was warm enough to make a sweater somewhat uncomfortable but yet still cool enough that a sweater was needed. Meanwhile, I understand that in Chicago it was hovering around 80 degrees.
The storm prevented my accountants return from California so the tax preparation scheduled for yesterday has been rescheduled to some evening this week. To ensure the week is filled with delightful and thrilling escapades of a similar nature, I will be discussing the closing of my mothers estate with an attorney as well. The day started with a completely clogged bathroom sink and flurry of good, bad, potentially bad, and potentially promising email exchanges. All of them fueled the frustration that comes from current state of existence in limbo. There is a pending book contract, currently on hold. The publicist and I are working on a summer promotional schedule but first we will need to evaluate the current reprint status for Ghost Towns of Route 66. The marketing department informed me that orders for this book as well as a couple of others is escalating but the reprint is delayed. I arrived at the office twenty minutes before opening to find several customers who had arrived early in the hope that they would be the first ones in the door. As it turned out their eager anticipation was quickly dampened as I have a commercial customer every Tuesday morning whose schedule dictates an earlier than opening pick up. I was open and ready for business by the scheduled time but a few issues with down units, and one extraordinarily fussy and nit picking customer slowed the exodus from Kingman, Lake Havasu City, and Bullhead City to Kingman. During lunch I composed notes for an exciting new project, a mile by mile guide book for the segment of Route 66 between Crookton Road and Topock on the Colorado River (the longest remaining uninterrupted segment of Route 66) that will be published in an ebook format.
My hope is to be able to tie the first segment of the research (a drive from Crookton Road to Kingman) in with the photography of wildflowers for the Route 66 in Mohave County exhibit and another project that requires photographs of the black footed ferret in the Aubrey Valley west of Seligman. With the recent spat of rain and snow, if it stays warm all week, the flowers should be pushing up by next week which means road trip and picnic. The day at the office ended much as it began, with customers rushing to beat our closing time. But there was a delight surprise that balanced the day out quite well, my dearest friend stopping by to give me a lift home. Now that I stop to think about it that last half hour was my life in condensed form. There are the blessings made manifest in the fact I have a job, in my dearest friend, and in the beautiful day. There is the turmoil of the lives I interact with that are as whirlpools, and the turmoil of my life that acts as whirlpools for those around me. Somewhere in between is that peace and serenity that comes from the assurance that this is life at its best. This is simply a life where trials, tribulations, and grand adventures are woven into a rich, diverse, and colorful tapestry that exudes a pulse stirring vibrancy.
Before turning to the topic of the day, weather, I would like to call your attention to the gift shop page (tab under heading photo). Utilizing the security of Paypal, we now have available autographed copies of all four of my travel guides. In the coming weeks we will be adding select prints. I am not attempting to stampede anyone to ordering books. However, I would be remiss if it were not noted that I have only six copies of Ghost Towns of Route 66 remaining available and it could be a few weeks before my next order arrives. If your order is delayed, I will notify you immediately. Now, the big news maker, our snow storm. Most of the last ten days were delightful with temperatures hovering around seventy degrees. On Friday we had one of our “breezy” spring days with winds whistling in gusts exceeding forty miles per hour. On Saturday afternoon it began to rain and hail. That evening it snowed and then it cleared up, and snowed some more on Sunday. For the uninitiated, that is situation normal as far as late winter and early spring goes here in Kingman. I have seen storms such as this occur as late as the first weekend in May. My wife’s grandfather, a born storyteller, claimed that when he was working in Chloride during the 1940s, they had 2 foot of snow in mid May.
Storms of any kind add stunning beauty to the vast landscapes. Winter storms with a dusting of snow on the mountains transforms everything into something truly awe inspiring. The great thing about the snow in Kingman is that we usually get just enough to enjoy the stunning beauty of the stark desert frosted with snow framed by majestic snow covered mountains. It is also just enough to remind me why I choose to live here rather than Minnesota, or Michigan, or Montana, or Wisconsin. With most snow storms it only stays on the ground for a day or so and seldom do accumulations exceed four or five inches. However, Hualapai Mountain Park 12 miles south of town, and everything 15 or more miles east of here, usually takes a pounding during these storms and as a result, I-40 and Route 66 are often closed. The one exception was back in 1978. We had almost a foot of snow and temperatures stayed below freezing for a week. As luck would have it, I was care taking an unfinished house on Oatman Road (the pre 1952 alignment of Route 66) and working at a sawmill in McConnico at the time. As the snow has a tendency to vanish rather quickly around these parts, my dearest friend and I rushed out shortly after sunrise to see what unique views we could capture. Specifically we wanted some photos of the old wagon road at White Cliffs with a rare dusting of snow. These will be submitted for the Mohave County exhibit being developed for the Powerhouse Visitor Center, a state centennial project. I will post the results of our little expedition later this week. In addition, I will post a few others taken this morning at the site of Fort Beale and along segments of Route 66. A couple of quick, unrelated notes. Does anyone out there know of any surviving Studebaker Scotsman models? Last but not least, this bout of much needed moisture, and the expectation of warm temperatures in the next week or so, should result in a stunning display of wildflowers soon. You will have to be quick as they seldom survive long but I will keep you posted.