About twenty-six years ago my dearest friend encouraged me to pursue the childhood dream of being a writer. Last year, once again with her gentle persuasion and unwavering support, we set sail into uncharted waters. We were going to pay bills, keep the Jeep and truck on the road, keep the house from falling down around our ears, and continue eating on a regular basis solely on income derived from writing, and the tangled web of related activities associated with that endeavor.
From the publication of my first feature article for Hemming’s Special Interest Autos to the publication of several hundred feature articles for various publications, more than a dozen books, and a stint as associate editor and columnist for the now defunct Cars and Parts, it has been a grand adventure. Now, however, the adventure has become a thrill ride of epic proportions. I am reminded of a crazy adventure that included a leaking garage sale purchase kayak, a blazing Arizona sun, and the rapids of the Colorado River (has it ever been mentioned that I sink instead of swim?) or the heady and painful days when trying my hand as a cowboy, with forays into rodeo, seemed like a good idea.
Author Jim Hinckley at Two Guns without the signature hat.
The quest to become a writer has been a rather twisted and interesting road. Each detour, side trip, bridge out, boulder strewn tract, traffic jam, avalanche, traffic free two lane, and pot hole filled stretch has provided us with ample fodder for tall tales, wonderful memories, opportunities for making friends, and an incredible array of new discoveries.
Most folks know me for the old Stetson or 1930’s styled felt hat. This quest, however, has required the wearing of many hats. It has also required perfecting the art of being a pinata, being a glutton for punishment, and for learning to roll with the punches.
When this quest began, an ancient typewriter manufactured years before I was born, carbon paper, typewriter ribbons, an old camera, 35 mm film, and a cassette recorder were my stock in trade. Between then and now, I have had to learn the basics of Microsoft Word, evolve from snail mail to email, move from the library card catalog to Google search, abandon film and establish a library filled with the “For Dummies” series of books.
I have had to abandon payphones for cell phones, figure out Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, Mail Chimps and all manner of technological wonders. On most any given day I experience the frustration that comes with the realization that the semester finals are being given in Japanese but I have been studying French.
My dearest friend and I (this may surprise a few folks) are relatively reclusive by nature. I used to dress in a manner that allowed me to blend in with the wallpaper. Now, I make presentations before crowds numbering in the hundreds.
I was blue collar born and raised, a man who rode for the brand and earned his keep with the sweat of the brow and the skin from the knuckles. The weekly, or monthly paycheck was more than security, it was the natural order of the world.
Today, the illusion of security that a steady paycheck provides is a fading memory. I offer my services as a tourism and tour development consultant based on books written, and the experience, the travel involved with, and knowledge gained in the writing of those books and their marketing. I use my position as a consultant to sell books and presentations. All of this funds my insatiable hunger to write, and provides the funds needed to support the writing habit. The travel involved provides materials for new books.
Oh yes, my dear friends, sailing into uncharted waters is a most exhilarating experience. It is not for the faint of heart. However, a touch of insanity does make it seem a bit more reasonable.
This new quest has given me a much deeper understanding of Jason and his adventuresome Argonauts. It has also confirmed my long held suspicion that life is truly a grand adventure, even if that adventure is not always the one imagined.
I was a bit young to remember our first trip west on Route 66 in 1959. Even photos of sun burnt family standing next to cactus, trading posts, gas pumps, and pops rusty old convertible don’t really refresh the memory but that might be because I was so young walking was a relatively recent endeavor.
The trip west in ’66 was another matter. That entire summer is forever burned into my mind; the rusty old truck, the palpable feeling of excitement and apprehension that the folks vainly attempted to mask, the heat, the smell of hot engine oil, the boiling radiator, and gas stations with the heady aroma of tires, grease, and gasoline on a hot summers day.
Most of all, however, was the struggle that came with the realization I would be starting school in a land so different from what was familiar, we might as well have moved to the moon. It was not just the landscapes that were so dramatically different from the ones I was familiar with in Michigan, Tennessee, and Alabama, it was the town of Kingman itself.
Shortly after arriving in town, my older sister and I walked to the State Theater on a Saturday evening. Inherently I knew that something was very odd as the feature film was Gone with the Wind!
Things took a rather dramatic turn when we again moved, this time west of Kingman on Oatman Road, the pre 1952 alignment of Route 66. The few people who populated the vast deserts of the Sacramento Valley and into the foothills of the Black Mountains were not just eccentric, they were truly dry roasted nuts.
Incredibly, I soon found myself fascinated with the land and the people, the history and the mystery of the deserts and mountains that were now my home. There is little doubt that countless John Wayne cinematic epics and books by Zane Grey played a role in this transition.
Still, in my wildest dreams it would have been impossible to imagine that this wild desert land, and the broken asphalt of Route 66 would someday lead to Amsterdam, Germany, and countless places throughout the United States.
Yet, here we are, my dearest friend and I, planning on attendance of the first European Route 66 Festival in Germany. Even more amazing, we know people all over the world who are more family than mere friends, and so the event will be nothing short of a laughter filled family reunion.
The amalgamation of all my endeavors (books, presentations, photography exhibits, work as a tour development consultant, tour guide, podcast, blog, etc.) is now packaged loosely as Jim Hinckley’s America. Resultant of the demand for information about events, roads, motels, restaurants, museums, and special places led to the latest endeavor, Updates From Jim Hinckley’s America, a free subscription service (the subscription form is in the upper right column).
From the perspective of today, looking back on what was, I am see an exceedingly odd and almost surreal adventure. It also leaves me looking toward the next thirty or forty years (I am a relatively optimistic person) with just a bit of eager anticipation.
Williams, Arizona, Thursday July 15, 1915, “Found Cadillac and Stutz crews at Harvey Hotel at Williams waiting for us. All got supplies at garage. Talked to Ford agent. Got going about eleven. Had lunch at Ash Forks. Loafed along; found it very hot. Bought some gas and oranges at Seligman. Stutz broke another spring about 15 miles out and returned to Seligman. Cadillac and Ford went on to Kingman, arriving at midnight, Brunswick Hotel. Very rough and dusty roads. Wired Los Angeles Branch for axle parts. Day’s run 146 miles.” Edsel Ford.
I do not know what book Edsel used to guide him on his westward journey through the deserts along the National Old Trails Highway. However, I do know that by 1915, incredibly, the American people were taking to the “highway” in ever increasing numbers.
In 1915, as the first world war exploded in Europe, more than 20,000 people who attended the Panama-Pacific Exposition in San Francisco arrived by automobile. An overwhelming percentage of these people arrived from outside the state of California. That was the destination for Edsel and his pals.
Daily, newspaper accounts of adventures and the stunning sites seen along the way enamored readers. Heavily publicized manufacturer sponsored races, endurance runs, and tours, and illustrated books written by celebrities such as Emily Post who chronicled her adventure from New York to California in a popular book entitled By Motor to the Golden Gate fueled the natural American wanderlust.
Recreating Edsel Ford’s trip in 2015, courtesy Historic Vehicle Association.
“…coming out on a mesa, you see spread below you the Painted Desert! It can be none other. You would be willing to take oath that a great city of palaces in all the colors of the rainbow lies spread before you.” From By Motor to the Golden Gate. The national fascination with the great American road trip further fueled what was already an unprecedented sellers market and automobile manufacturers fought for a share of the booming market. At one point during the early teens, there were more than three hundred automobile companies. Good Road Associations throughout the country were publishing detailed guide books. So did AAA, the Automobile Club of Southern California, countless civic groups and individuals, and even automobile manufacturers.
Today, these century old guide books provide a unique look into a lost world where the son of Henry Ford shared the road with wagon trains and cowboys pulled stranded automobilists from deep desert sands or muddy river crossings.
In many western communities the garage was also a blacksmith shop as well as dealership, and the stagecoach was still a trusted mode of transportation. This was a world with one foot in the stirrup and the other on the throttle.
This past Sundays adventure include a brief drive along a segment of the National Old Trails Highway that carried Route 66 traffic throughout Truxton Canyon until 1939. To chart our course I selected a 1913 edition of the Arizona Good Roads Association Illustrated Road Maps and Tour Book.
The railroad bridge indicated in the book is gone, a victim of the 1939 flood that resulted in a realignment of Route 66. The beautiful cut stone supports from the late 19th century, however, remained. The 1913 guide book noted that this section of road was, “bad and rough between hill and R.R.” There was also a warning about deep sands. Traveling the lost highways and dusty trails is, as with two lane odysseys, a grand adventure. However, abandoning the navigational tools of the modern era and instead resorting to century old guide books that adds a sense of time travel enhances that adventure immeasurably. “Kingman to Needles – good road, heavy grades at Gold Roads; 5 to 28%.”
Last Friday a very long walk under bright blue desert skies set the stage for a weekend of grand adventure on the road less traveled, and a brief visit to the land down under. Both were in stark contrast to a week consumed with a seemingly endless series of technological battles and misadventures.
Early on Sunday morning, the first day of spring, we met with our son for another excellent breakfast (I suggest the Greek omelette) at Rutherford’s 66 Family Diner. This was followed by a leisurely drive east on Route 66 to attend a marketing meeting with John McEnulty and Darcy at Grand Canyon Caverns. As a promotional development consultant for the property, I was to discuss pending projects, formulating a strategy for coming months, how to promote the caverns at the European Route 66 Festival in Germany and other issues.
Working with the management at the caverns is one of the most enjoyable jobs I have ever had. This is an easy property to promote as we enjoy our visits immensely, and the owners have an infectious spirit of enthusiasm, passion, vision, and excitement that is manifest throughout the property.
Every time that my dearest friend and I visit the caverns complex, for business or pleasure, a feeling of childlike excitement overwhelms us. Judging by the smiles on the folks of all ages taking a cavern tour, playing miniature golf, eating in the restaurant, enjoying a trail ride, or setting up camp, we are not the only ones.
Updates about special offers, new tours, and special events at the caverns will be provided through the new feature, Updates From Jim Hinckley’s America, a free subscription service. The registration form is in the upper right corner.
After decades of decline, this once popular resort is again a destination in itself. The parking lot is full, the award winning RV park is full, the restaurant is busy, the gift shop is crowded, the refurbished motel is fully booked on many evenings, and the caverns tours, included the new wild experience tours as well as the ghost walk, are busy. It is all rather exciting and reminds me of when we stopped there forty years ago.
Of course, as with the Blue Swallow Motel, the Wagon Wheel Motel, the Ariston Cafe, or so many popular attractions along Route 66, it is the people that transform them from being merely a successful business into a destination. The caverns is no exception.
John McEnulty has a love and passion for the property, and the people who visit, that he passes on to his staff. Future plans for renovation and development of the property are expansive.
After another stimulating meeting and delicious lunch shared with John and Darcy, my dearest friend and I headed home at pace that was beyond leisurely. It seemed impossible to nudge the speedometer above fifty miles-per-hour and I was constantly pulling over to let vehicles pass.
The weather was picture perfect, mid seventies with a very light breeze. It was the type of day that is made for a bit of back road adventure.
So, west of the Crozier Canyon Ranch we turned on to the pre-1939 alignment of Route 66 that was also the course for the National Old Trails Highway. You can follow this road for several miles before being turned back by a gate marked private property. The highlights of the scenic little drive are a small stream with waterfall, and the stone supports for a late 19th century railroad bridge. The railroad and the road were victims of a major flood in the canyon in 1939.
And now a new week begins, and what a week it is going to be! Today will be consumed with phone calls, the scheduling of appointments, email correspondence, press release drafts for Ramada Kingman and Grand Canyon Caverns, and a meeting with the Historic Preservation Committee (I serve as a commissioner).
Tuesday starts with a marketing meeting at Ramada Kingman and then voting in the primary (don’t ask). This will be followed by completion of a photo file for a pending project, and creation of a PowerPoint presentation for a tour group stopping in Kingman in a few weeks.
All of this is the template for the rest of the week. Interesting times, to say the very least.
For no particular reason, it started as a very bad day. From the moment that my feet hit the floor just before sunrise there was the overwhelming sense that I was in a pressure cooker. It was one of those mornings that even the usually pleasant sound of quail on the fence was magnified to an irritating screech similar to fingernails drawn along a chalk board. Underlying the frustration was the fact that that there was no reason on Earth why I should feel burdened so heavily as my dearest friend and I are quite fortunate. I attempted the mornings German lesson and that just made thing worse. So, I decided that I needed a very large dose of the magic elixir that is a long, quiet walk. No email, no phone, just thoughts, a bit of open space, and sitting quietly imitating a rock in a stream as the bustle of the world swirls around you. Anything done without my dearest friend leaves me feeling as though I forgot my pants or glasses. This time, however, the pressures were so intense I knew that a short stroll could turn into a very long walk, which it did, so I flew solo.
Historic Kingman as viewed from on high.
Fortunately, I live in Kingman, Arizona, an almost magical place. This means that even though suburbia in the form of new streets, the golf course, hotel construction, traffic and the spreading of subdivisions press in all around me, in less than a mile from my home there is the eerily quiet illusion that I am immersed in a vast desert wilderness. Only thoughts of my dearest friend, and the rude intrusion of graffiti marred an otherwise perfect day. I was so engrossed in thought that the golf course stretching along the highway and washing up against the ancient parapets of stone at the canyon mouth, and the estates that border it had given way to the desert itself before there was really an awareness. There is a reason that the prophets of old spent time alone in the vast, raw beauty of the desert. After stopping by the office in the historic Dunton Motors Building (I try to do this at least every week), I began strolling the streets in the cities historic heart without thought as to destination or direction. I found a bench in the shade, shook a rock out of the boot, discovered a small blister forming (note to self, heavier socks), sipped a bottle of water, and allowed the infectious excitement and enthusiasm that is new construction and renovation wash over me.
Kingman is reawakening, the historic district reminds me of the story about the mythical Phoenix rising from the flames. A renaissance has transformed Beale Street between Fourth and Fifth Street and it is now sweeping east and west. There are still a few business owners who operate from buildings with bordered over windows, weathered facades, and an array of abandoned vehicles littering their property. However, a rather dramatic influx of investors with vision, some from Europe, the enforcement of ordinances, and a palpable sense of excitement are changing everything. At every turn you can see buildings being revitalized and re purposed. Sidewalk cafes bustle during lunch, and in the evening, seating at the microbreweries and bistros is a valued and scarce commodity. Time spent on the bench, watching the world go by, lunch at Floyd and Company Barbecue ($6.00 special, delicious barbecue pork sandwich, coleslaw, and tea) where I was privileged to talk with folks relocating from Dallas to Berkeley. How refreshing it is to hear praise your adopted hometown with sincerity!
With the exception of a blister, somewhat alleviated with a stop at Walgreens, I arrived home to hug my dearest friend a bit tired but none the worse for wear. Even better, I felt renewed after the 7.3 mile odyssey. Once again, I was ready to joust with windmills, take on the world, challenge dragons, and wrestle chimps.