The use of spices and salt are what separates the cook from the chef. Likewise, finding joy in the surprise discoveries are what separates the traveler from the adventurer. About ten days ago, before most of a week was spent without internet service, I noted the discovery of Valenzuela’s, a charming little restaurant in Needles, California. So, let’s start with a review of this delightful little restaurant before sharing other discoveries made recently.
In most any town the old cafe would appear to be a faded relic, a weathered old place that was a tangible link to better times. Needles is a town that is dominated by faded and weathered relics but something about this little cafe seemed quite charming and inviting. I wasn’t disappointed.
It opened in 1952 as a small neighborhood store and cafe in a town that was prosperous and busy. Route 66 was just a couple of blocks away and the flashing bulb arrow sign served as a beacon for travelers. So business was brisk. Times change. By 1980 the cafe and Needles were on hard times. Route 66 was on the cusp of becoming an historic footnote, the railroad was in the midst of restructuring, another blow for Needles, and in 1978 a bridge connecting Mohave Valley, Arizona and Needles opened at the site of the ferry that had once carried National Old Trails Road Traffic.
For just a bit the cafe closed. But it was a family tradition. Jerry Limon, the current manager, had begun working in the cafe as a child. His mother, the daughter of the founder, had worked at the restaurant most of her life. So, together they decided to forego the store and just open an expanded version of the old cafe, and I am so glad they did. What a rarity!
The food was excellent and reasonably priced. Jerry waited tables, and mother cooked on a stove that was purchased in 1952. The old place was faded and a bit worn at the heel, but I will be returning. This is a true gem, a real mom and pop business from a time when Studebaker cars still rolled from the factory in South Bend that has survived into the modern era.
The heat in Needles is extreme, even for a desert rat like me. In the summer temperatures often soar past 120 degrees Fahrenheit. As the old restaurant lacks air conditioning, and as the owners/employees are not exactly spring chickens, it is closed from mid June until mid September.
Needles is filled with surprises, and little treasures, such as Fender’s River Resort, the only motel that is located on Route 66 and the banks of the Colorado River. The motel and RV park is surprisingly popular and I attribute to the ever smiling Rosie Ramos, the proprietor. Over the course of the past few years she has renovated the motel, improved the grounds, and is now having the neon signage restored at Legacy Signs in Kingman. The relighting of the historic sign is scheduled tentatively for the 8th or 9th of June. I will keep you posted and there are plans for an Adventurers Club program during the ceremony.
One of the more intriguing places in Needles is Mystic Maze Honey. It is simply a vintage 1950’s travel trailer along the road with an ample display of local honey in various sized jars inside on neat shelves. The oddity is this, there is no one there. It is run on the honor system! Simply put the money in one of the envelopes that is provided and drop it in the slot. How refreshing to see such trust.
I have a few more discoveries to share but those will be the subject of another post.
The last ten days have been a whirlwind. It started with a bit of interesting historic research that has enhanced my understanding of Route 66 evolution. Consider this little tidbit, in 1939 one million vehicles entered Arizona on Route 66. Here is another, within twelve moths of the highways bypass in 1978, Grand canyon Caverns experienced an 80% decline in business.
Linked with this research was a most interesting educational project. I finished the first series of classes on the history of tourism in the southwest for Mohave Community College, and have begun work on the next series on the economics of tourism. This is my first attempt at teaching in a formal setting and I was quite pleased to hear that the college will be offering the classes on two campuses this coming fall.
The Patreon platform based crowdfunding initiative is being revamped as I gear up for the very ambitious project that is tentatively being scheduled for May 2020. In a nutshell the project is development of a time capsule for the Route 66 centennial. The core of the endeavor is 21-days, 21-live interviews on the road. I will be talking with the pioneers of the Route 66 renaissance such as Michael Wallis as well as a new generation of leaders that are taking the helm for promotion and preservation of the iconic highway such as Rhys Martin. Linked with the video will be audio podcasts interviews and a photographic record of the journey as well as creation of the time capsule. If all goes as planned the project will end with in the cradle of the American auto industry that spawned the creation of the US highway system.
Work on the website continues, albeit with a bit of a delay. More on that in a moment. The goal is to provide a multifaceted travel planning center that also adds advertising dollar value for sponsors. And with that said I need to give a shout out to some of our newest advertising sponsors, Mohave County Fairgrounds, the Illinois Blue Carpet Corridor, and Calico’s Restaurant, my go to spot in Kingman when meeting with groups, hosting a meeting, or for a live program with larger number of guests.
The Facebook live programs, linked with the YouTube channel and audio podcast, Ten Minutes With Jim, are growing in reach in engagement as well as in number of subscribers. I attribute some of this to a bit of a change in format. As an example this past weeks Adventurers Club live program was a bit of show and tell from the Mohave Museum of History & Arts. The growth is quite encouraging as it indicates I am doing something write; providing the balance of history and travel information the traveler wants as well as value for our advertising sponsors. And I must admit that there is a bit of perverse satisfaction in seeing number that indicate our social media network linked with the website and podcast is our performing that of tourism offices in several communities including Kingman.
The highlight of the week was an opportunity for reflection. In the grand scheme of things it was a small disaster. After all there was no death or injury, it didn’t cause the stock market to crash, and I lived to tell the tale. It did, however, delay completion on what I am hoping is the final edit of the caption file for the new book which is already six months over deadline. It also stalled a National Park Service project, stifled website design, and created a huge backlog of work that contributed to postponement of this weeks Ten Minutes With Jimaudio podcast. So, on a personal level being without internet service for almost an entire week was a major disaster. It almost left me longing for a time when we weren’t so dependent on corporations that have little regard for customer loyalty and when we weren’t so reliant on technology.
As this was the second such incident this year, needless to say I will be switching internet and phone service provider next week and bid adios to a company that we have been paying faithfully for more than three decades. Small business owners are quite aware that customer service which builds customer loyalty is the best investment a company can make. Corporations have a tendency to forget this. They become megalithic, disconnected and develop a sense of indestructibility. That is the danger in allowing development of monopolies.
With that little ramp I wrap up things for the day. It is Memorial Day weekend. As we set out in search of fun, beer, and barbecues lets not forget the reason for the holidays. For my dearest friend and I, it will be a weekend of short road trips on Route 66, memories made with good friends from Germany, and just a hint of business.
Stay tuned for updates, photos, and a bit of road trip inspiration.
In the era of renaissance when Route 66 is viewed as America’s longest theme park, a place where neon and tail fins reign supreme, it is easy to forget that US 66 was an artery of commerce. It was traveled by truck drivers, families on vacation or in search of a new life, gangsters, murderers, hitchhikers, salesman, farmers, and even celebrities. That simple fact was driven home recently. First, with completion of the caption file for a book about the dark side of Route 66 history. Second, through work on a joint project between Kingman Main Street and the Mohave Museum of History & Arts in Kingman, Arizona.
Andy Sansom, the archivist at the museum, has been digging up some most interesting articles as part of our project to document the city’s film and celebrity heritage. He has also been finding some tantalizing tidbits pertaining to proposed Hollywood linked projects and celebrities in Kingman.
Apparently a sequel to The Grapes of Wrath was planned. The film was to be entitled Route 66. This is the second time I have found reference of this movie. The first time was while combing archives in Oklahoma for The Route 66 Encyclopedia. In the mid 1950s Pearl Bailey was in Kingman for a bit while searching for a suitable property that could be developed as a dude ranch. In consideration of the date I have a strong suspicion that she wasn’t given the red carpet treatment. She purchased Murray’s Dude Ranch in Apple Valley, California, a resort complex promoted as “the worlds largest negro dude ranch.”
This week I learned that Joe DiMaggio made a stop at the Gaddis Cafe during a drive to California. I also discovered that actress Veronica Lake was a guest at the Beale Hotel during attendance of a wedding in Kingman. Another little treasure was confirmation of a persistent local legend; Louis L’Amour had a connection to the area.
The prolific author of books and novelettes about the west worked at the Katherine Mines about 30 miles west of Kingman and occasionally stayed with friends that lived in town. And apparently he did a bit of amateur boxing at the Sump, a spacious basement tavern under the Beale Hotel. Interesting stuff to say the very least.
Counted among the more famous celebrity associations is Buster Keaton. He set up headquarters at the Beale Hotel in 1925 while filming Go West at Tap Duncan’s Diamond Bar Ranch north of town. And of course there is the March 1939 celebrity wedding between Clark Gable and Carol Lombard at the Method Episcopal church on the corner of Fifth and Spring Street in Kingman. Legend has it that they spent the first night as husband and wife at the Durlin Hotel, now Oatman Hotel, on Route 66 west of Kingman. All I can add to that legend is that they married in Kingman around 3:00, had a small reception, and drove to Boulder City, Nevada before returning to Los Angeles for an early morning press conference. The famous couple did drive to Kingman on Route 66 and so would have passed through Oatman.
For a more current celebrity sighting consider this, Pamela Anderson did a photo shoot along Route 66 in Kingman for Playboy magazine. And that led to a charge of indecent exposure by the city police department. Jean Claude van Damme was the recipient of a speeding ticket in Kingman, and Adam Sandler was recently spotted at Floyd & Company. I arranged a lunch reception for William Shatner at Rutherford’s 66 Family Diner in Kingman during his Route 66 tour.
The list of celebrity association with Kingman is surprisingly lengthy; Edsel Ford, Louis Chevrolet, Barney Oldfield, Andy Devine, Willem Defoe and Judge Reinhold to name but a few. And it seems that the list just keeps growing.
This past weekend during the annual Historic Route 66 Association of Arizona Route 66 Fun, I met a delightful elderly couple that have been enjoying each others company and road trips together for more than seventy years. However, what made their story truly fascinating was the fact that many of these adventures, including participation in the Route 66 Fun Fun, have been made in a Plymouth that they had purchased new at dealership near San Leandro, California in 1950.
During our conversation about life, adventure, travel, raising a family, and keeping a car on the road for nearly 70 years, the owner of this one of a kind automotive time capsule said something that really hit home, especially since recent weeks have found me engaged in an epic struggle to find a center, a place where work and life are balanced, and that overpowering sense of being suffocated in a thick black satin curtain is kept at bay. “Plan for the future but don’t loose sight of one simple fact, today is yesterday’s future. Take one step at a time, one day at a time and don’t become so focused on the future that you forget to live today.”
The Route 66 Fun Run is Jim Hinckley’s America personified; cars, a celebration of Route 66 and the great American road trip, fascinating people, and good friends. As the event has been a father and son day for almost 30 years, I strive to avoid work as much as possible. Still, I am one of the fortunate ones and that enables me to blur the lines between work and life.
My son and I started the day by strolling the streets of Kingman and talking cars. When it comes to diversity, I know of no other automotive event that compares to the Route 66 Fun Run. As an example, this year vehicles ranged from the stunning one owner 1950 Plymouth to a customized Kenworth, a Morris Minor pick up truck, a Tesla, a ’55 Ford “glass top” Crown Victoria, a 1958 Imperial, a handful of Model T and Model A Fords, hot rods, rat rods, vintage four-wheel drive trucks, and colorful convertibles counted in the dozens.
Dale Butel, Jim Hinckley and Efren Lopez
At noon I shared a bit of the event with an Adventurers Club live program from Freedom Apparel, and then we had lunch (excellent pulled pork sandwiches) at Floyd & Company Barbecue and Wood Fired Pizza. This was followed with a delightful gathering of friends at Beale Street Brews Coffee Shop. My dearest friend, son, and I finished up the day at Grand Canyon Caverns were we met with Dale Butel, owner of Australian based Route 66 Tours, his spring tour group, photographer Efren Lopez, and John McEnulty, owner of the caverns. We talked, shared stories, and laughed late into the evening.
Sunday kicked off bright and early with muffins, coffee, and an early morning drive back into Kingman where I spoke about the infancy of the American auto industry before a group on tour with Sam Murray’s New Zealand based Gilligan’s Route 66 Tours. And that was followed with a breakfast at Rutherford’s Route 66 Family Diner with some old friends.
If you ever have an opportunity, I can highly recommend the annual Route 66 Fun Run that is always held on the first weekend in May. It is quite the event, 160 mile long block party on the most famous highway in America.