Last week my dearest friend and I had the pleasure of playing guide to the Kingman area for Beth Murray, a Ramada KingmanRoute 66 photo contest winner, and Jo Murray. These two ladies with big smiles, and infectious laughter and enthusiasm are unrelated but share last names as well as a passion for grand adventure on the back roads of America. Kingman was their last stop on the journey home to California after a Route 66 odyssey to Chicago.
On Thursday at noon, I spoke on my association with Route 66 that dates to 1959, and how communities are harnessing the storied old roads renaissance as a catalyst for revitalization and development at a chamber of commerce sponsored event in Needles, California. After several days of record heat the temperature had plummeted to a more seasonal normal – 118 degrees – a bit much even for an old desert rat like me.
The event was well attended with people driving from as far away as Las Vegas and Barstow to see me beat my gums about the magic of Route 66, and to enjoy lunch at Juicy’s. As I derive a great deal of pleasure from telling folks where to go, as well as sharing a bit of double six history and inspiring people to transform their community, the large crowd made it even more enjoyable.
As a bonus, my son was able to accompany me. It was the first opportunity for an adventure together that we have had in quite some time. So, for the return trip, rather than rush home on I-40, we moseyed along Route 66 through Topock, Golden Shores, and Oatman.
Author Jim Hinckley at the June Route 66 Association of Kingman Meet and greet. Herbeta Schroeder
That evening I attended the Route 66 Association of Kingman meet and greet. This time it was at Diana’s Cellar Door on Beale Street where I enjoyed a sunset, a cold beer with friends, and some stimulating conversation.
As is often the case with these monthly gatherings sponsored by the association, there was quite a diverse crowd. Open to the public, in addition to local people, business owners, and city officials that take advantage of the networking opportunities, there are always a few travelers that stop by.
Even though I have been writing books and feature articles for more than two decades, I have yet to get used to people seeking me out for a signature on a book or an autograph. It still seems a bit surreal. Now, adding to the sense of unreality, I am fielding requests for presentations, developing an international tour schedule, and am negotiating sponsorship’s.
The rest of the week was, to say the very least, quite interesting. Last minute details for the pending trip to Germany, including resolving issues with debit and credit cards that resulted from the banks insistence that accounts be upgraded in May, fueled the rising level of anticipation and anxiety about the trip.
On Wednesday, I respectively declined a request for an interview about the City of Kingman’s surprising decision to provide funds for development of the innovate pooled resource Kingman Circleinitiative launched by Ignite Marketing. Judging by letters to the editor after an article about the decision was published in the Kingman Daily Miner neutrality seems to have been the correct course of action.
Rosie Ramos and Jim Hinckley in Needles. Courtesy Rosie Ramos.
An interesting marketing meeting at Ramada Kingman was also a part of the weeks activities. Details about exciting new developments will be shared soon.
As I have been honored with a request to make a presentation on Route 66 as a mirror of the changing nature of the American dream for a secondary school in Bensheim, Germany (thank you, Melanie Stengele), a great deal of time was spent honing and polishing a PowerPoint program. This is to be submitted for review on Monday.
I have also been working on an improved version of the popular Armchair Tour of Route 66 presentation. I will be presenting this one at the first European Route 66 Festival in Ofterdingen Germany on July 16.
Another project that consumed a bit of the week was improving the free travel planning assistance subscription service Updates From Jim Hinckley’s America (registration form is in the right hand column). The number of subscribers is growing every day.
The podcast is again in limbo, largely the result of a lack of time. Likewise with the YouTube channel. I will be focusing on these again in the coming days.
Another project that was temporarily shelved awhile back is also being revived. This is linked to the growing lists of requests for presentations. It also will add value to a sponsors marketing investment.
Interesting times. That is akin to saying it gets a bit warm in Needles this time of year.
Contrary to popular belief, Route 66 is not the nation’s most
Courtesy Steve Rider collection
historic highway even though it was knit from the Santa Fe Trail, Beale Wagon Road, Wire Road, and Pontiac Trail. With the exception of the alignment through the Black Mountains in Arizona, the Painted Desert, parts of New Mexico, and the Ozarks in Missouri, it can’t even be considered an overly scenic highway. Most of the highways corridor between Chicago and Santa Monica is bordered by cornfields, feed lots, small farming towns, the featureless Texas Panhandle, worn at the heel urban corridors, and vast empty deserts.
However, from its inception in 1926, it has always had the best marketing and promotion. Less than six months after its certification, Cyrus Avery, a visionary businessman from Tulsa, spearheaded establishment of the U.S. Highway 66 Association and the creation of a marketing campaign that branded the double six as the Main Street of America.
The changing face of Galena
From 1926 into the mid 1960’s, U.S. 66 was woven into the very fabric of the nation; in 1939 with publication of The Grapes of Wrath, in 1946 when crooner Nat King Cole recorded a catchy ditty about getting your kicks on a highway signed with two sixes, and from 1960 to 1964 when Todd and Buzz took to the road in search of adventure in a popular television program entitled Route 66.
Officially U.S. 66 ceased to exist on June 27, 1985. That fact alone makes the Route 66 renaissance in the 21stcentury all the more amazing.
There are companies that specialize in Route 66 tours operating in the Netherlands, Germany, the Czech Republic, Australia, and New Zealand. There are also Route 66 associations in Japan, Canada, Brazil, the Netherlands, the Czech Republic, Norway, Belgium, France, Italy, the UK, and Germany. Next month the first European Route 66 Festival takes place in Germany, and plans are being developed for a New Year’s Eve Route 66 festival in Tokyo. The old double six may be more popular today than at any time its history.
Explaining this international popularity in the modern era is not easy. Route 66 in the 21stcentury is best described as a living, breathing time capsule where more than a century of American societal evolution is preserved. It is also America’s longest theme park, a place where the romanticized perception of an authentic American experience thrives. It is the crossroads of the past and future. In short, it is the most amazing highway in America, especially for those with a sense of adventure that believe the destination is never as important as the journey
Communities large and small are harnessing the international fascination with this storied old road as a catalyst for revitalization and development, often with rather dramatic results. In discussing this with Dale Oglesby, Mayor of Galena, Kansas, he noted, “To date, we have done some work on all of the route within our city, but a complete restoration has been accomplished on half of the downtown segment. Since that has been done, around 14 properties have changed hands. About 20 have undergone private funded rehabilitation. It was our version of the field of dreams. Build it, and you know the rest.
Property values have increased, sales tax revenues which have been somewhat flat for years see slow, steady annual increases. Tour groups that used to pass thru quietly now tromp up and down the streets, looking for unique items to send home, eat, or otherwise carry back home. Finally, one of the neatest things we have seen is that now we operate daily an INTERNATIONAL outreach. Folks from around the world stop by to experience our kindness, hospitality, and hopefully gain just a bit of inspiration from their American counterparts. We strive to give them a good old fashioned American experience in memories that we send back to their families, their local cities, and their country.”
In closing out our conversation he noted, “By the way, did I mention the impact this effort has had on virtually every resident that lives both in and around our city? Not only has the perception of our city been rewritten within our community and exposed in community pride, but the perception from around the area is that this is a happening place! Best thing we have ever done for public perception and community pride!”
To put this transformation into context, less than a century ago Galena’s population was near 30,000 people. In 2014 that population was 2,966 people, a 9.8% decrease just since 2000.
The cities infrastructure was beyond deplorable with few functioning street lamps, broken sidewalks, empty storefronts, and weed choked lots lining the Route 66 corridor. In a relatively short period of time the town has been transformed; new restaurants have opened, a surgery center was built, colorful murals hint of the renewed community spirit, pocket parks have replaced urban blight, and the city is a destination for a legion of international Route 66 enthusiasts.
Route 66 in the modern era is far more than a mere highway. It is an authentic American experience where mom and pop businesses thrive, the neon shines bright on Tesla charging stations, and the destination is never as important as the journey. It is an almost magical place where small town America made famous in Norman Rockwell prints still thrives.
To say the very least, my Route 66 odyssey has been a long and strange journey. It began with a trip to California from Virginia in 1959, in an old Chevy convertible that dad got cheap as it had been underwater during a hurricane.
In the summer of 1966, we moved west from Michigan to Arizona following Route 66 from a point just south of Chicago. There, on the pre-1952 alignment of the old road, in the shadow of the Black Mountains, I learned to ride a bicycle and to drive.
In my wildest dreams I never imagined following Route 66 from Oatman and the deserts of the Sacramento Valley to de Prael in Amsterdam, a holiday fair in Utrecht Netherlands, or to Ofterdingen in Germany. Nor could I imagine having friends from throughout the world because of my association with Route 66 and their fascination with it.
In retrospect, it all seems a bit surreal. In 1968, I was riding my bicycle to Ed’s Camp to water Ed Edgerton’s tomato plants. Today, I provide consultation services for companies and communities looking to capitalize on the Route 66 renaissance, and have sponsors such as Grand Canyon Caverns and Ramada Kingman that subsidize my efforts to promote Route 66 as America’s longest attraction.
Even stranger are the incredible coincidences that have come to seem normal. Several years ago I provided a bit of assistance to Melanie Stengele, a German educator working through the University of Texas on a project that included a need to visit the long forgotten Arizona ghost town of Signal.
Several weeks ago she contacted me to ask if I had plans to attend the European Route 66 Festival, and if so, would the schedule allow making a presentation at a secondary school in Bensheim where she teaches. As it turns out, the school is located only a few miles from the city that we fly into, and only a few miles from the village where Sylvia and Bernhard live, friends that we will attend the festival with.
For the trip to Germany, the City of Kingman has agreed to pay a per Diem for five days, and to reimbursement for the cost of my airline ticket. Grand Canyon West and the Route 66 Association of Kingman are also contributing.
Last Friday, T-Mobile of Kingman signed on as a contributing sponsor for the German adventure. I almost feel like an entry in NASCAR!
Before we can place the full focus on the German adventure, there is a journey to Needles this coming Thursday. I have been asked to make a presentation about my association with Route 66, and how the Route 66 renaissance can be utilized as a catalyst for revitalization and development.
Then, on return from Germany, I can begin work on creating a series of presentations for the fall tour. The tentative schedule is to make a presentation during Cuba Fest (third weekend in October) in Cuba, Missouri, and two presentations, one on Route 66 in general and another on Route 66 in the southwest, at the Missouri History Museum in Forest Park just to the east of St. Louis.
What a strange and wondrous journey! From Oatman to Ofterdingen.
Be it the fabled King Tut’s tomb or the forlorn ruins of the Lone Wolf Annex, there is a mystique, an allure to the empty places that is rather difficult to describe.
For the dreamer and the romantic adventurer the empty places are destinations. Add a connection with legendary Route 66 and an empty place, a place where people lived, worked, played, laughed, and staked their future, becomes an attraction with a legion of international fans.
To illustrate this point consider the popularity of the relics tour that is a part of the Holbrook Route 66 festival. People from throughout the United States attended the recent festival to take part in the tour along long abandoned sections of the old double six through the Painted Desert and Petrified Forest, with stops at the sites of former trading posts and service stations, and at the Holy Grail of Route 66 sites – the ruins of the Painted Desert Trading Post.
Through the wonder of social media, people in Germany and France, New Zealand and the Netherlands, and points in between followed along and dreamed about participating next year.
Interestingly enough, it is the empty places that lure the enthusiast out onto the open road. More often than note, the crowded places along Route 66 are given cursory glances, a passing nod as the travelers answer the siren call of Chevelon Canyon or Two Guns, the Arizona Rancho or Glenrio.
Another fascinating attribute of the avid Route 66 enthusiast is the pleasure they derive from sharing these empty places with friends as well as fellow travelers. Just consider the fact that this past weekend, people from Texas, Tennessee, New Mexico, and other states, on a hot summers day in Arizona, gleefully bordered an old bus to traipse along broken asphalt and scurry through the brush at select stops to photograph broken glass, ruins, foundations, culverts, and bridges.
Meanwhile, other enthusiasts were scouring the backstreets of Holbrook in search of relics such as the Arizona Rancho Motel complex or the Bucket of Blood Saloon. With a guide book to Arizona roads from 1913, they discovered historic 19th century banks masquerading as “antique shops” and the course of a highway bypassed a century ago.
Route 66 enthusiasts are an odd lot, a fraternity of friends that find their pleasures on the road least traveled and in old diners or restaurants where the days discoveries are shared. They are family with a passion for what once was, and adventures on the open road. I, for one, am quite pleased to be counted among them. Even better, I am quite glad that they count me as one of their own.
Mark my words, the Route 66 festival in Holbrook is going to be THE event for Route 66 enthusiasts very soon.
Where else can you enjoy historic motels, motels where the past and future blend seamlessly, one family owned restaurants that opened in the era of the tail fin, tangible links to more than a century of American road trips, tour a long bypassed segment of Route 66 through a stunningly beautiful national park, take in a movie at an historic theater, visit sites associated with Arizona territorial, history, lawman and gunfighters, and then enjoy traditional Native American dancers under a starlit desert sky?
All of this is wrapped around the traditional car show, the vendors, and the family reunion that is a gathering of Route 66 enthusiasts at any Route 66 event.
Even though I had a few issues that distracted me and that prevented participation in the relics tour though the Petrified Forest National Park to the Painted Desert Trading Post, for the second year in a row, I had a most delightful time.
Even though the event kicked off on Friday morning with the first to two tours through the national park, for me it started shortly after arrival that afternoon. Over a cold beer at the Empty Pockets Saloon, David Heward filled me on festival details, Holbrook news, and provided information about some historic sites that intrigued me.
Courtesy Mike Ward
Before the glass could be drained, we were joined by Mike and Sharon Ward, two stalwart contributors to the Route 66 community, as well as sponsors and participants at events from Arizona to Illinois. It was already shaping up to be a most delightful weekend.
Next I met with Kathleen Smith at the historic depot, site of the photography exhibition and the location for my Armchair Tour of Route 66 presentation that evening. As is often the case, the trial run for the presentation encountered a few obstacles but with a smile, David and Kathleen soon had them resolved.
Behind the success of every community that has used the resurgent interest in Route 66 as a catalyst for revitalization there are unsung heroes, the folks that tirelessly work to promote, to organize, and to roll up their sleeves and put the shoulder to the wheel. Leading that group in Holbrook are David and Kathleen.
Filling in the time between the rehearsal and the presentation, the first family reunion for Route 66 enthusiasts took place at Romo’s. Soon we had tables stretching across the restaurant as the Medlin’s and May’s, Ward’s, Dean Kennedy, Heather Petry, Judy Walker, Gary Cron, and others settled in for some excellent food, laughter, and stories. There was little doubt that this was a Route 66 event!
I am quite pleased to say that the presentation was well attended, and that a number of people were introduced to the allure of the Route 66 renaissance. In spite of the heat and required intermission every ten minutes as a freight train roared past the windows a few feet away, every one seemed to have a good time.
To wrap up the evening, enthusiasts affectionately referred to as “roadies” gathered pool side at the Globetrotter Lodge, my home away from home for the weekend, to sip beer and share stories of Route 66 adventures as well as discoveries. It was a great way to wrap up day one of a most enjoyable festival, and to set the stage for a weekend of adventure.
Day two, a delightful breakfast and lively conversation with guests at the Globetrotter Lodge jump started the morning. Afterwards, Nadina and Rob Medlin joined me some exploration. In short order the May’s and Ward’s accompanied the expedition into old Holbrook.
Dominating our discussions and photo expedition was the old Arizona Rancho, a fascinating old property. Established in the early 1880’s, it is believed to be the oldest commercial building in Holbrook.
Over the years it served as a ranch house, then with expansion, a boarding house, hospital, and hotel. Then there was a motel wing added at some point in the 1930’s. Also, at some point in its most recent history, it served as a youth hostel. Now, however, it faces a most uncertain future.
How many hotels or motels on Route 66 have met the needs of travelers who arrived by horse drawn wagon before statehood, by train, and by automobile on the National Old Trails Highway and U.S. 66? This old place could, conceivably, be the needed catalyst for a revitalization of the Route 66 corridor as well as its territorial era business district.
Next we headed for the main event, after a visit to a most interesting antique store housed in a late 19th century bank building complete with vintage vault; music, vendors, and block after block of cars.
I also made a detour to the historic courthouse (you have to see the territorial era jail!) that serves as an Arizona information center as well as museum to sign books for their gift shop. As it turned out, that was an hours long endeavor; there were books to sign and questions to answer, directions to give and photos to take. I felt like an employee and enjoyed every minute!
For dinner our band of intrepid Route 66 enthusiasts swarmed on El Rancho, another great restaurant. Once again it was good food, laughter, stories, and more laughter. And once again, this was followed by another round of poolside discussion and more laughter, and a couple of beers.
Sunday morning, after another wonderful Globetrotter breakfast, most of my amigos set out on the relics tour, and I turned my sights toward home. Even though there was a need to hit Kingman early, I couldn’t resist a few quick stops; the old Lone Wolf Annex, a brief visit with Kirk and Yvette Slack, new owners of the historic Zettler’s Market in Ash Fork, and a quick lunch at Grand Canyon Caverns (excellent pie!).
To say the very least, it was a grand adventure and a very good time. Of course, as with Route 66 itself, it was the people that really made it a memorable weekend. And yes, I am adding the 2017 festival in Holbrook to the calendar. See you there!