Author Jim Hinckley talking about Route 66 with a New Zealand tour group at the Hackberry General Store.
THIS was a near perfect weekend. The only thing that might have made it better would have been if the thick clouds shrouding the crown of the Hualapai Mountains that provided visitors with quintessential Arizona backdrops for their photos had also dropped a bit of rain on the parched desert.
On Saturday, after a few hours at the office, we were privileged with an opportunity to visit with Wolfgang Werz of the German Route 66 Association and a tour he was leading, and to enjoy some barbecue and hang out with friends at the first edition of Chillin’ on Beale for 2014. Today it was a Route 66 cruise, time spent with my dearest friend, and meeting with a tour group from New Zealand in Hackberry.Counted among the many blessings in my life is the opportunity to see Route 66 through the eyes of our foreign visitors as a result of the books I write. After spending fifteen minutes telling the story of Hackberry, I answered questions and was fascinated by what these first time visitors will be taking home as memorable moments.The breadth and diversity of the nation was a list topper for the Kiwi travelers. The people met along the way and the generosity shown seemed to be a close second. The empty places also made a lasting impression. The cost of progress in disrupted lives made manifest in the quiet streets of Glenrio or Texola, the ruins of Two Guns, or the tumble down remains of John’s Modern Cabins was a subject of much discussion. As is often the case, the half hour allocated for the stop turned into one hour. Still, I heard no complaints from the visitors or the tour guide. The shade dappled tables at the Hackberry General Store were tailor made for our visit. A slight breeze and temperatures hovering at the eighty degree mark ensured I had a perfect stage.
copyright 2014 Jim Hinckley’sAmerica
More than three decades ago, after a hard days work at the Cedar Springs or X-Bar-One Ranch, I would often stop at this old store for some cold beer, a bag of Bull Durham, rolling papers, and a few snacks. At the time I was receiving my mail up the road at the post office-Union 76 station in Valentine. Not much thought was given to the store, or the road out front being anything special. In my world dusty relics and time capsules were as much a part of life as horses, flies, vast Arizona wilderness landscapes, sweat stained hats, or the battered old ’42 Chevy truck that provided me with transportation. With completion of I-40, and the bypass of Route 66, the store died quickly. Revival commenced with the arrival of an eccentric hippie who presented the impression that time had stopped shortly after the music at Woodstock. I am a fairly tolerant sort of fellow but Bob Waldmire was a different sort of animal, not the type of person seen in my social circle of cowboys, wranglers, cat skinners, truck drivers, and general redneck hard cases. Still, Bob was special, a man who truly did march to the beat of a different drummer. I am quite glad that I had the opportunity to develop a friendship of sorts. His departure left the future of the hackberry Store in doubt, but not for long. The Pritchard family has transformed the old store into a near perfect snap shot of the era of Route 66 renaissance. Vintage junk and cold soda pop hearkens to my early memories of the store, and countless others like it all along the highway decades ago.However, as with most places along the double six today, there is a thin veneer of Disneyland as well. If done right this too enhances the sense of experiencing life on Route 66 during the highway’s “glory days.” Here it is done right. Evidence of that is found in the throngs of people who stop, which gives the added impression that Route 66 was never bypassed. Perhaps the only real difference is that those who stop today are more likely to speak with an Australian or New Zealand accent, or talk German, Italian, French, or a dozen other languages.In forlorn old Hackberry, as well as Amboy, Truxton, Afton, Cuba, Litchfield, and dozens of other towns between Chicago and Santa Monica, Route 66 truly is the crossroads of the past and future. It is also America’s longest attraction.