Today’s post, metaphorically speaking, is being written at the crossroads where I have a wonderful view of the abyss. On paper the task of getting down to the brass tacks is relatively easy but the harsh reality is that I seem to be caught somewhere between a rock and hard place.
Paralysis is not an option as there is the very real possibility that my struts will be kicked from under me at any moment but jumping from the frying pan into the fire wouldn’t solve much of anything. I seem to be at that place where you are damned if you do and damned if you don’t, at least temporarily.
I am a proponent of playing the hand your dealt but when there is dealing from the bottom of the deck, and the deck is stacked against you, options to even the odds need to be considered. Is it time to sit tight, fold, up the ante, or go play bingo?
No one has ever accused me of being the sharpest knife in the drawer. Still, I like to think that I am smart enough to pour pee from a boot if there are directions on the heel.
Simply put, I am at ground zero when it comes to the Chinese proverb about living in interesting times. For me, times are about as interesting as they will ever be.
The ever increasing popularity of Route 66 is becoming quite the magnet for folks selling all manner of get rich quick schemes in various disguises. More on that in just a minute.
Last week I developed an interesting pain in the heel that seemed to intensify by the hour. Of course, I am on my feet most all day so I thought that had something to do with it. The good news is that I learned a new medical term – plantar faciitis.
Now, I have heard of folks that shoot themselves in the foot to alleviate the pain of a migraine headache but I don’t adhere to that school of thought. Still, I have to admit that the pain in the heel didn’t seem as bothersome after I twisted my other foot getting out of a truck, and then latter dropped a trailer on top of it.
Fortunately I had most of the weekend to stay off my feet by occupying myself with the writing of the first chapter for a new book, having breakfast with Bill at Rutherford’s, a new face for an old place on Route 66, watching a movie with my dearest friend, having a quick lunch with John Springs at Mr. D’z, and another round of barbecuing buffalo burgers on the back veranda, which were washed down with Bison Beer, a treat from my son a few weeks ago.
More years ago than I care to count, I was working on the powder crew for an underground mining outfit that turned out to be quite the boondoggle. Well, long story short, with increasing regularity there was a delay in the receipt of paychecks.
One day the portable toilets were repossessed for lack of payment. As it turned out our paychecks were then a full ten days overdue but just that morning the promise was made that we would be paid to date by Friday and that all financial problems had been resolved.
I count the loss of the two weeks pay as one of the cheapest lessons ever learned. It is not a lesson that needs to be relearned, I hope. Today I kicked off the morning with a visit from Dale Butel, Daniel, and Paul, always a great way to start a day. The rest of the day… None of this is to say things are that bad but they are truly frustrating. In the grand scheme of things I am rather blessed, after all I have friends from all over the world who take time to stop by and say howdy, I have a tremendous friend to share the adventure with, and with the exception of my current impression of Chester from Gun Smoke (see, I really am that old), the health is holding out in spite of some long, hard miles. Even though I have yet to reach the levels of impoverished Miss Hillary who is paid a mere $225,000 for beating her gums, it still amazes me that folks will pay me to tell stories and tell them where to go. I am rather curious to see where this leads in the future. As we are on the subject of gum beaters, I need to say a few words about silver tongued, sharp dressed snake oil peddlers. First, I am not referring to politicians but to the sharks who are being drawn to Route 66 resultant of its popularity. Caveat emptor. I recently received a call from a friend and Route 66 business owner who had been approached by a company that develops and distributes rack cards. They were told that I had provided the contact information and that I was also endorsing their services. Perhaps I am a bit more trusting than is prudent. Still, rest assured I would never provide a company with your personal contact information without approval. Before signing on, joining, or jumping on any band wagon ask for references, check the references, and check to be sure that claims of endorsement are true. The Route 66 community is unique, has special needs, and is to a large degree an extended family. We watch out for each other. So, if you encounter a snake oil salesman put the word out and help shut them down before someone gets hurt. Last but not least, while certain business practices have universal applications, Route 66 does not lend itself well to one size fits all solutions. If the salesman doesn’t have a clue why people choose the Blue Swallow Motel or Motel Safari over a Holiday Inn Express, or why people will travel half way around the world to explore a dusty abandoned roadway baking under a broiling desert sun, do you really think that their offer of providing a beneficial service or product is valid? Remember, shyster used car salesman live by a simple creed, the key to success is sincerity and once that can be faked the rest comes easy.
Meanwhile, as the City of Kingman prepares for the Route 66 International Festival and I get serious about work on the next book, the ebb and flow of activity along the old double six is reaching a fevered pitch.
Author Jim Hinckley autographing books for clients of Australian based Route 66 tours.
Dale Butel is once again on the road heading east toward Chicago where he will meet with the summer tour group and commence another memorable Route 66 adventure. He and his wife, Kristi-Anne, run a tight ship and as a result their Route 66 Tours are quite popular with folks from the land down under.
Visiting with Dale and his crew, and having the privilege of speaking with each tour and answering questions, is always one of the highlights of our summer season.
Rich Dinkela, AKA Roamin’Rich is off on another two lane adventure. This time its a bit off Route 66 but his adventures are always a source of inspiration for a road trip. The link is for his YouTube channel.
Several years ago my dearest friend and I were privileged with an opportunity for an adventure with Rich and a few friends in Missouri. That quest for a long lost motel that included a wonderful breakfast at the now vanished Zeno’s with remains a favorite memory of the Show Me State.
Acclaimed collector, author and radio personality Joe Sonderman, and one of our breakfast companions at the now famous Zeno’s breakfast, has released two books this year. We always look forward to an opportunity for a visit with Joe and this year the bonus is that he will be traveling to the Route 66 International Festival in Kingman with his charming wife.
Joe’s first release this year was the latest in a series from Arcadia Publishing. Route 66 in Illinois, was a joint project with archivist Cheryl Eichar Jett that would be a valued addition to any Route 66 enthusiasts library. It should be noted that Cheryl will also be a featured author at the Route 66 International Festival.
Meanwhile, the Brenner’s are moving forward on bringing new life to the Roadrunner Lodge in Tucumcari and the Greer’s are engaged in a similar endeavor with the Frontier Motel and Restaurant in Truxton. It may be a bit late in the season before either property is ready to again welcome guests but both will be delightful additions to the Route 66 community.
As more people discover the odd blending of Haight-Ashbury minimalist lifestyle and classic American mom and pop free enterprise capitalism that is building a business on Route 66, many old properties are being given a new lease on life. To assist in this Ron Hart of the Route 66 Chamber of Commerce is now listing business that are for sale on the chamber website.
Even though the chamber of commerce is basically a one man show, it is rather amazing how much is accomplished for the Route 66 community. After the recent tornados in Baxter Springs and Quapaw, Ron launched a Route 66 Cares initiative as a fund raiser for communities devastated by natural disaster.
It is my sincere hope that Ron will move forward on endeavors to make this a true chamber of commerce for the Route 66 community. Ron will be a speaker at the Route 66 Crossroads of the Past and Future conference at the Route 66 International Festival.
In addition to a delightful publication provided to members the federation is also the publisher of very popular EZ 66 Guide for Travelers by acclaimed author Jerry McClanahan and the Route 66 Dining and Lodging Guide. Both titles are available through the federation’s on line store.
With all honesty I can say my dearest friend and I never travel Route 66 without copies. As a bonus, Mr. McClanahan provides his contact information in the guide and is readily available to answer questions or sign copies if you stop by his gallery in Oklahoma.
Festivals and events, tours, and new books, it seems there is always something going on along Route 66. If your unfamiliar with its allure and charms, perhaps this summer would be an ideal time to make a voyage of discovery. And if you see the old road as a familiar friend, perhaps this summer would be an ideal time to become reacquainted.
The Dead River Bridge west of the Painted Desert Trading Post.
Okay, this afternoons post will be relatively short but I would be willing to bet that you will find it interesting, and I hope, just a bit inspirational. After all, how often will you have an opportunity to enjoy a Route 66 adventure that includes guided tours along an inaccessible section of the double six that winds through some of the most stunning landscapes in America and a stop at the legendary Painted Desert Trading Post?
This, however, is only the beginning of what promises to be a fun filled week under the
desert sun along America’s most famous highway. There is also the music of the Road Crew with special extended hours on Friday evening as well as a reception on Thursday, and on Saturday night, the Reunion, an unprecedented display of electric vehicles, the dedication of the Route 66 Walk of Fame, an exhibition of acclaimed Route 66 authors and collectors as well as Route 66 association representatives, special tours at Grand Canyon Caverns, a guided walking tour of the Kingman historic district, a wide array of vendors, tours to Grand Canyon West Resort, museum tours, special events in Seligman, two day conference on the future of Route 66 featuring acclaimed author and speaker Michael Wallis as well as electric vehicle proponents, Route 66 association representatives, and historians, not one but three car shows, tours of an award winning distillery, wine tasting at a Route 66 winery, a film festival, and …
The transformation of Route 66 commenced long before most of us were born. In February 1927, a group of visionary businessmen created the U.S. Highway 66 Association and launched a promotional campaign that marketed this highway as the Main Street of America.
As a foundation upon upon which to build this promotion, they had portions of the National Old Trails Highway. This pioneering highway established in 1912 followed the dust filled ruts of the historic trails that transformed the nation, especially in the southwest.
Today Route 66 is more time capsule than highway. However, it is not just a dusty time capsule where remnants from the era of the tail fin, the Edsel, and the station wagon are preserved. There is no need to turn your town into a cheap imitation of Disneyland. Preserved all along the Route 66 corridor are vestiges from centuries of American societal evolution and that needs to be the primary point of focus when evaluating ways your community can utilize the resurgent interest in Route 66 as a catalyst for development or redevelopment.
Think of your community as part of a rich and colorful tapestry, and Route 66 as the thread that ties it together. Take that analogy a step further and look at Route 66 as the thread that ties the past with the future.
Atlanta, Illinois utilizes the historic nature of the architecture in its small business district as a backdrop for an electric vehicle car show. Yukon, Oklahoma is the host city for the largest Czech festival held anywhere in America. Winslow utilized a song and the restoration of a condemned hotel to transform the city. Tombstone had Doc Holliday, Wyatt Earp, and a gun fight near a corral that was over in the blink of an eye. Holbrook had Commodore Perry Owens, the Hash Knife outfit, and the Bucket of Blood Saloon. They also have one of two iconic Wigwam Motel’s on Route 66, the award winning Globetrotter Lodge, and the city serves as the gateway for the Painted Desert and Petrified Forest.
For years Holbrook, as with many communities along Route 66 in the desert southwest languished and faded under the desert sun. The tide, however, is turning. A major Route 66 event is now under development. What ensures this Route 66 themed celebration will be unique is the unprecedented partnership with the National Park Service that will provide enthusiasts an opportunity to tour sections of the double six that are not readily accessible. The city of Holbrook is tapping into unique attributes and resources, and tying them to Route 66. Cuba, Missouri translated its history into colorful murals and in the process transformed the city into a Route 66 destination. Lexington, Illinois transformed an abandoned section of highway bordered by a corn field into a time capsule, and in the process made the city a destination. Creative thinking, however, is but the first step. Step two is leadership, an individual with the vision of Elon Musk, the tough minded diplomatic tenacity of Teddy Roosevelt, and the hard driving determination of General Patton. Simply put, ideas are worth about ten cents a pound. Creative thinking and leadership, however, are still not enough to transform a community into a destination for travelers, for businesses owners, or families in search of a place to put down roots. The leader will need to be an individual who knows when to speak softly and when to use the proverbial big stick. With these components in place, a template for transformation can be completed and implemented. Ideas can be made manifest in a wide array of innovative projects. Remember, you don’t build a house by ordering trusses and lumber without first having a budget, financing, and a place to build. 1) Develop and enforce zoning regulations with a focus on the long term. Is it possible to utilize eminent domain regulation as a means to prevent demolition of an historically significant structure that is key to your long term vision as Albuquerque did with the El Vado Motel? 2) Is it possible to amend or create zoning regulations that allow for development of a carrot and stick approach to property renovation? As an example, notify property owners that their building represents a threat to public safety and that the cost of demolition will be passed on to them through direct collection or liens placed against other properties they may own. However, if they will secure the property from squatters and renovate the street facing facade the order for demolition will be rescinded. 3) Can funds be set aside to assist with this carrot and stick approach by providing matching funds grants for facade renovations? 4) Is it possible to provide tax incentives for renovations or for businesses relocating to the area? 5) Can a partnership be developed between the chamber of commerce and the city for the funding of a goodwill ambassador to attend events and promote the city? 6) Can senior citizen volunteers be organized as a welcome wagon and can they be subsidized with a monthly coffee allowance? Imagine the reputation developed when visitors stop in a restaurant and have a friendly local buy them a cup of coffee. Imagine what this could do to spark a sense of community and community purpose! 7) Are there opportunities for pooling promotional resources with neighboring communities? Can shared history be utilized to develop attractions with neighboring communities? Can something such as an old rail bed or abandoned highway be developed as bicycle or pedestrian trails linking communities? Can events be developed in conjunction with neighboring communities? 8) Museums are plentiful all along the Route 66 corridor. Can your community create a unique museum or attraction? Pontiac has the Pontiac-Oakland Museum that is now a destination unto itself. Elk City has the National Route 66 Museum that is coupled to a farm and ranch museum. How about a living history museum that includes a tour along a dirt track that served as the course for the National Old Trails Highway and Route 66 in a Model A Ford or where working cowboys brand cows or where Native American artisans work? 9) Is it possible to involve the communities youth through city sanctioned beautification projects? 10) Can the chamber of commerce sponsor contests that encourage service sector employees to be knowledgeable about area attractions and history? Dream. Share the dream. Inspire others to dream. Create partnerships. Work toward seeing the dream made manifest and continue the tradition of transformation that is the history of Route 66.
Tourism in general is a very poor foundation upon which to build a communities economy. However, in the process of transforming the community into a destination for tourists it becomes a place that people want to live, to raise families, and to open businesses. This process of transformation can also serve to build a unified sense of community and community purpose.
This is not to be confused with turning a town into a low budget imitation of Disneyland. Visitors, especially Route 66 enthusiasts want an authentic as well as unique experience. This is especially true along the Route 66 corridor where a primary draw for legions of international fans is the opportunity to experience the romanticized vision of America as it was, as well as the America that is.
In spite of the swelling tsunami of international fascination with Route 66, most communities along that highways corridor have yet to grasp the potential for development and redevelopment this interest represents. A few have misinterpreted it and a scant few have properly harnessed it.
Seligman, Ash Fork, and Williams in Arizona make for excellent case studies. Williams thirty five years ago was a faded old town of empty store fronts. Today it is a thriving community with a tangible sense of vibrancy and excitement in the air. However, with the installation of zip lines over its historic district and similar endeavors there is an increasing risk that the authenticity, the unique attributes that make Williams special, will be overshadowed and lost.
Take a few minutes to drive the streets of Ash Fork and you quickly discover that it is a fascinating old town filled with a wide array of historic gems in spite of two fires that decimated a large portion of the business district. The town, however, is about as lively as the guest of honor at a funeral. In the air is a tangible sense of apathy and indifference, the opposite of what is felt in Williams.
Next, please consider Seligman. In comparison with Ash Fork or Williams, the tangible links to the historic nature of the community are relatively sparse. There is also a tendency to lean toward the garish, toward looking to Disneyland for inspiration.
Angel Delgadillo in Seligman, Arizona
Still, this old town is clearly a destination as evidenced by the string or tour buses and the ebb and flow of crowds that on occasion make it seem more like Times Square on New Years Eve than a dusty territorial era town on the western frontier. On the next visit take the time to evaluate this popularity from a coldly clinical approach and you will see that as popular as the Snow Cap Drive In and Seligman Sundries are, the cornerstone of the towns rebirth, popularity and subsequent transformation into a destination is one man – Angel Degadillo.
When speaking on this subject there are three communities that serve as my primary examples of how to successfully harness the resurgent interest in Route 66 as a catalyst for long term development; Pontiac, Illinois, Cuba, Missouri, and Galena, Kansas.
Each of these communities have been dramatically transformed, or are on the fast track toward transformation, into exciting, vital, thriving towns but they have not allowed Route 66 to overshadow their unique attributes. Instead they have used Route 66 and the communities historic association with that highway to enhance and showcase these attributes. There is a distinct difference.
In addition, they have utilized the resurgent interest in Route 66 as the means to resuscitate more than just historic districts with cafes, museums, galleries, gift shops, and stores. They have used it to create or rejuvenate parks, art districts with colorful murals, and attract light industry or the establishment of educational services.
A primary key to this transformation is the fact that these communities have visionary leadership that inspires and that fosters a unified sense of community and community purpose. Regardless of accomplishments and successful development, in the long term, factions and infighting coupled with a lack of visionary leadership will stifle or limit development leaving the community to wither on the vine. Spend a weekend in Tucumcari, New Mexico and the first impression is that this is a community on the upswing. Long abandoned properties are being given a new lease on life. Museums are opening. Colorful festivals attract large crowds. But if you delve deeper, if you spend time in the coffee shops and restaurants listening to the locals converse, if you venture beyond the main drag, it becomes painfully obvious that this is a town divided. Factions rule and leadership that builds cooperative partnerships seems lacking. As a result it is quite likely this city will never become the destination it could very well be.
In this the city of Tucumcari is not alone. Until quite recently my adopted hometown of Kingman, Arizona suffered from similar maladies and it shows. There are now, however, indications that the Route 66 International Festival may be turning the tide. Time will tell but at this juncture the unified show of support among civic and business leaders is unprecedented. The bottom line is this, the resurgent interest in iconic Route 66 represents an unparalleled opportunity for rural communities and even metropolitan areas. If a community will dare to dream, and unite behind leadership that can inspire transformation of the dream into a reality, the highway will enjoy a second century that is more exciting and dynamic than its first.