An award from the German Route 66 Association, something I will long treasure.
Resultant of a late in life career change, I now keep beans on the table and gas in the Jeep by assisting businesses and communities that want to develop Route 66 related marketing or promotion, or use the resurgent interest in the highway as a catalyst for economic development or revitalization. This also happens to subsidize my ongoing book writing habit (a new book is scheduled for release this fall).
So, the primary reason for our recent trip to Germany and the first European Route 66 Festival was business, namely the promotion of Kingman and the surrounding area as a vacation destination. Needless to say, I really enjoy my work.
In regards to Route 66 promotion, marketing, and level of interest in this old road in Europe, I learned a great deal on this trip. Even though many of the things I will share in this post are Kingman specific, they are applicable to most any community along the Route 66 corridor from Chicago to Santa Monica.
First, Route 66 has brand recognition that is almost on par with coca cola. The Route 66 shield is everywhere.
As an example, when I went to the Condor Airline (a German company) website to print boarding passes, imagine my surprise to see a New Mexico Route 66 shield. I also saw a Route 66 shield in a Worms mall, at the Frankfurt airport, in a train station, at a sidewalk cafe in Mainz, at a beer garden, and in various advertisements. More often than not, the Route 66 sign was set against a backdrop of southwestern scenery.
Surprisingly, however, knowledge about Route 66 is rather thin. Many people that I talked with thought it was a brand and did not know it was a road. Others thought that is was no longer possible to drive it.
However, those who did know about Route 66, quite often learned about it initially because of the song by Nat King Cole and the movie Cars. Another portal was friends who have traveled the road in part or from end to end, and social media.
So, the conclusion I drew from these conversations was two fold. One, communities along the highways corridor have an incredible opportunity to market or promote based upon a highly recognized brand. Second, the communities along the highway corridor in the southwest have a distinct advantage in regards to marketing and promotion.
In Kingman, the development of marketing that links the city with Route 66 and the grandeur of the southwest has another component in the “Grand Circle” which is a major US destination for international travelers. Kingman is located on the western edge of this circle that loops from Las Vegas to the Grand Canyon, through Monument Valley, and then through the stunning national parks in southern Utah.
However, the grand circle is also a detriment for Kingman. As the city is located in between Williams, Arizona and Las Vegas, few tour groups stay overnight. Likewise with a number of tourists who are in the area specifically for our section of Route 66 and the grand circle.
To counter this Kingman could easily be marketed and promoted as a vacation destination in itself. The components are here; 160-miles of scenic Route 66, two day white water rafting trips on the Colorado River, spelunking opportunities, wildlife parks, the Grand Canyon, dude ranches, ghost towns, two of the best mountain bike and hiking trail systems in the state of Arizona, museums including the world’s only electric vehicle museum, wineries, colorful events, eclectic restaurants, and pretty decent weather most months of the year.
As Kingman and the surrounding area was my primary promotional focus, in discussions during the Route 66 festival in Germany, I learned that there are five key locations in the city which are instantly recognized by enthusiasts, even if they have not traveled the road.
These are Mr. D’z Route 66 Diner, Locomotive Park, the Powerhouse Visitor Center, the Route 66 walk of fame, and the Ramada Kingman photo exhibition.
There are as many reasons for projects with tremendous promotional value to fall by the wayside as there are people proposing projects with tremendous promotional value. In Kingman, one of the projects that seems to be in limbo despite the fact that it has already garnered a great deal of international media attention, as well as interest from Route 66 enthusiasts and groups is the Route 66 walk of fame.
Debuting at the 2014 Route 66 International Festival, development of the walk of fame has gone stagnant resultant of funding shortages, lack of man power, and competing community organizations. This is in comparison to the Bricks on 66 project in Galena, Kansas, a successful project that has been utilized to fund beautification projects in the historic commercial district.
Still, in spite of issues and problems, the walk of fame in Kingman has played an important role in the promotion of the city internationally. As an example, Dries Bessels of the Dutch Route 66 Association will be the “King of the Road” at this years Best of the West Festival parade, an arrangement that resulted directly from the walk of fame.
Author Michael Wallis once quipped that Route 66 is a linear community. Taking that analogy to the next level we see that towns and cities along the Route 66 corridor are merely quirky neighborhoods in a much larger community. Galena and Kingman are both embracing that concept by including the international Route 66 community in their events, and their developments.
The Route 66 festival in Germany encapsulated what drives the ground swell of interest in Route 66 travel, especially among international enthusiasts; an opportunity to enjoy an authentic American experience and the people, specifically the camaraderie of shared experiences. Linked with this are the people, the interesting and colorful characters, and the “celebrities” that further magnify the unique attributes of a community. Illustrating the latter point would be Angel Delgadillo in Seligman.
There are ample examples of communities that have successfully harnessed the Route 66 renaissance as a catalyst for economic development as well as revitalization, and to magnify their unique attributes. Galena, Pontiac, Cuba, and Atlanta are just a few examples.
Kingman is slowly awakening to the possibilities, and the results are quite impressive, especially in the historic district. Still, the recipe for the type of success enjoyed by communities such as Cuba remains elusive.
Lessons learned on the Route 66 adventure in Germany; with vision, with leadership that can foster creation of a sense of community as well as community purpose, with outside of the box thinking, and with steadfast determination, any village, town, or city can tap into the Route 66 renaissance and be transformed. Any community can become a destination for travelers as well as for those in search of a place to live, a place to open a business, a place to retire, or a special place for raising a family.
Well, with the exception of a few minor details, such as reservations, finalizing financial arrangements with sponsors and advertisers, negotiating with a couple of others, and pending confirmation from one more venue, the October schedule is locked in.
On Friday evening, October 14, I will be making a presentation on Route 66 in the southwest at the Wagon Wheel Motel in Cuba, Missouri. This will be during the Cuba Fest festivities.
If you are a fan of the double six, or just enjoy festivals that seem as though they were lifted from a Norman Rockwell print, Cuba Fest should be added to your list. As a bonus, fall colors in the Ozark Mountains are often near peak season.
On the same weekend, on Sunday afternoon, and then again on Monday morning, I will be making presentations at the Missouri History Museum in St. Louis. The museum is located in Forest Park, a most fascinating complex that is more spectacular than Central Park in New York City. It is also a seldom explored destination for Route 66 enthusiasts (the earliest alignment skirted the park district).
The following weekend I will be speaking on Route 66 driven economic development and neighborhood revitalization at the 2nd annual Miles of Possibilities Conference in Bloomington, Illinois. Examples of communities that have successfully harnessed the resurgent interest in Route 66, development of effective marketing and promotion, and understanding what fuels the growing interest in Route 66, will be the core of this presentation. The conference sessions are a part of the Route 66: The Road Ahead Initiatives ongoing focus on becoming a quasi Route 66 chamber of commerce for the international Route 66 community.
I am again scheduled to work with the road ahead initiative at the 90th anniversary of Route 66 festival in Los Angeles on the weekend of November 11. This time it will be in regards to a meeting with representatives from the international advisory group that was established at the first European Route 66 Festival in Germany.
I may be involved with other activities at this historic festival. That, however, will be dependent on the travel budget and financial considerations.
In regards to the European festival and establishment of a conference to facilitate development of that advisory group, a very special thank you is owed Wolfgang and Anja Werz, and members of the German Route 66 Association. I hope that the organizers of the Route 66 Walk of Fame in Kingman will take note, and consider nominating Wolfgang and Anja for inclusion.
This past week one of my clients decided to take a different tack in regards to property promotion (as part of an expansive development project they will be developing promotion in house at the corporate level) and informed me that my services as a marketing consultant would no longer be needed. I was a bit surprised, in our fourteen month association there were some pretty amazing promotional initiatives launched.
Details will be forthcoming soon, but negotiations with another company that has shown interest in developing a presence in the Route 66 community showed tremendous promise during meetings on Friday. I derive a great deal of satisfaction from helping reputable companies develop a Route 66 presence, and in turn, being able to provide service to the Route 66 community.
While I am the subject of Route 66 businesses and service, if your looking for a unique and beautiful place for a wedding, may I suggest Grand Canyon Caverns? Above or below ground, staff and management will ensure that your special event will be truly memorable.
Meanwhile, my dearest friend and I continue with our German lessons, and keep our ears open for any opportunity for a bit of adventure, preferably adventure that allows us to be of service to the Route 66 community.
In 1927, an innovative marketing campaign forever branded US 66 as the Main Street of America. Looking back over a nine decade history, and toward the highways centennial, it appears as though that promotional campaign had a bit of self fulling prophecy built in.
In 1932, it was THE road for people driving to the Los Angeles Olympic games. More often than not, the people who could afford that holiday outing shared the road with the first waves of a people displaced by environmental catastrophe and an unprecedented economic disaster.
Those hungry migrants heading west on a journey of desperation were immortalized in the book (and later a film) entitled The Grapes of Wrath. For a new generation, US 66 was now known as the Mother Road, but it was still the Main Street of America.
After the dark days of the Great Depression, and even darker time of war, America was ready for adventure on the road road. Bobby Troup wrote the theme song for a new era but it was Nat King Cole, a man who prohibited from staying at most hotels and motels along Route 66, that made the song about getting kicks on a highway signed with two sixes a sensation that would grow in popularity with each passing generation.
By the dawning of the interstate highway system that would in time remove US 66 from the national register, Route 66, the Mother Road, the Main Street of America, was already an American icon.
With each passing year vestiges of the past were replaced with the modern, and forgotten places and towns slumbered until the era of renaissance, or succumbed to the passing of time. Scattered here and there were living time capsules, special places that seemed impervious to the passing of the years.
In the modern era, Route 66 is an archive, an almost magical place where the past and present blend together seamlessly. It is the Main Street of America, a bridge between our past and our future, a place where the American experience has been distilled and purified. It is a place where the American dream thrives.
Fueling the renaissance of this storied old highway is a quest for an authentic American experience on the Main Street of America. Here the highway passes through town, rather than around, past places once made famous by topless celebrities or mayhem, and where apple pie is still served fresh from the oven in cafes with dusty farmers warming their calloused hands over a warm cup of coffee line the counter.
Route 66 in the modern era, as it was when first branded as the Main Street of America, is also the intersection of the past and future. In Kingman, the world’s first electric vehicle museum stands in contrast to events such as the Route 66 Fun Run where chrome trimmed tail fins gleam brightly under a desert sun.
Ninety miles to the east in Seligman, a humble barber greets visitors from around the world and shares stories from the time when refugees from the Dust Bowl rolled west toward the promised land.
Route 66 is no mere highway. It is an American experience, an infectious journey where memories are made and shared with friends.
As is my tradition, the day kicked off with a long walk at sunrise. Last nights storm that rolled in around midnight was a real humdinger of a desert monsoon; lots of lightening, rain, wind.
It left the air clean and cool, the streets full of rocks and mud, and the sky heavy with clouds that made for a rather spectacular sunrise.
I find the morning walk a near perfect way to marshal thoughts and clear the head before tackling the deadlines, the meetings, and the multitude of tasks that fill the days. However, as of late my thoughts seem to wander back to Germany, to shared adventures, and a very healthy dose of laughter.
The hallmark of a great adventure, even if it centered on work, is a bit of depression when it is time to return to the real world, a place of deadlines, paying bills, meetings, and corresponding frustrations. As this was an adventure of epic proportions, it is taking a bit longer than usual to get into the old rhythm.
Author Jim Hinckley and Nick Adam, owner of the Ariston Cafe.
Since our return, I finished the final edit for a new book that will focus on the Route 66 renaissance as well as the people that ensure it is living museum where the American Dream thrives. In reading through the text, I reflected on the unique and vibrant nature of the Route 66 community as made manifest in the interviews with Jessica Mueller, Nick Adams, and so many others that took time from their schedule to talk with me. At this time a scheduled date for release has not been set but the hope is that it will be in time for Cuba Fest, the third weekend in October. As I debuted The Route 66 Encyclopedia and The Route 66 Illustrated Historic Atlas at this delightful event, it would be great to continue with that tradition.
Author Jim Hinckley at the first European Route 66 festival.
This year I will be making a presentation about the 90 year transformation of Route 66 from a highway into an icon at the Wagon Wheel Motel. In recent months I have been honing the skills associated with telling people where to go through a venue other than writing. Cuba Fest is bit one stop on the fall tour. On October 16 and October 17, I will be making presentations at Missouri History Museum in St. Louis. One will be an armchair tour of Route 66 from Chicago to Santa Monica, and from 1900 to 2016, and the second will be on the unique nature of Route 66 in New Mexico and Arizona. The following weekend, in conjunction with the Route 66: The Road Initiative workshops and presentations, I will be in Bloomington at the 2nd annual Miles of Possibilities Conference to speak on Route 66 as a catalyst for economic development. Then, on the weekend of November 11, I am to speak at the 90th anniversary celebrations in Los Angeles. Obviously I need to update the Jim Hinckley Will Be At page. Do you have an event to add? Between now and the fall tour, the schedule is varied and full, just the way I like it. This evening its dinner with Karl and Hanneke, dear friends from the Netherlands. On Tuesday, a marketing meeting at Ramada Kingman, and lunch with John and Judy from Palm Springs. Wednesday is a sort of welcome wagon coffee clutch at the Ramada Kingman (7:15) for folks new to the Kingman area. On Thursday morning I will provide a report on the recent trip to Germany and attendance of the first European Route 66 Festival for the Kingman area Tourism Development Commission. This pattern continues into September and then its time for the eagerly anticipated Best of the West Festival. This year Dries and Marion Bessels will serve as the grand marshal of the parade. To date, telling folks where to go hasn’t been overly profitable. But is has been a great deal of fun and reward is not always measured in dollars.