The hulking Tufa stone walls of the Brunswick casts long shadows on Route 66 in the late afternoon. Perhaps the most notable event associated with the hotel was an impromptu reception held for Clark Gable and Carol Lombard after they married at the Episcopal Methodist Church on Spring Street, March 29, 1939. As of this writing, the hotel that dates to 1909 is undergoing a complete renovation. The Sportsman Bar next door is a bit of a dive but it is well worth a quick visit. Dark, tobacco stained walls can’t obscure the fact that this old saloon is an almost perfect time capsule from the era of statehood, 1912.
The Hotel Beale with its towering sign advertising the fact that the hotel is “air cooled” is a forlorn sight. The historic old building that dates to 1900 faces a very uncertain future but The old adage that if walls could talk is more than fitting for this tarnished old relic. Tom Devine, father of character actor Andy Devine, took on the role of proprietor in 1906. Legendary pioneering rancher Tap Duncan was a regular guest. Duncan was linked to an altercation with members of the gang led by Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid. He was also linked to outlaw Kid Curry who died using the alias Tap Duncan after a botched robbery attempt in Parachute, Colorado. In 1925, Buster Keaton took up residence at the hotel. He was filming Go West at tap Duncan’s Diamond Bar Ranch about sixty miles north of Kingman. Louis L’Amour was a regular at the Nighthawk Saloon at the hotel during this period. He worked at the Katherine Mines above the Colorado River and would occasionally engage in amateur boxing matches in Kingman. Charles Lindbergh often stayed at the hotel during construction of the cities first commercial airport, a link in his pioneering TAT airlines. Amelia Earhart was also a guest during the opening ceremonies for that airfield.
Always something to see at Chillin’ on Beale in Kingman, Arizona
This is an excerpt from a book, Jim Hinckley’s America: Kingman, Arizona & 160 Miles of Smiles, that I wrote a few years ago. I had two reasons for penning this small tome. First, I wanted to call attention to Kingman and showcase it as a destination, not just someplace to drive through on the way to somewhere else. Second, I was curious about the self publishing process.
Every Route 66 fan in the world knows about Kingman, after all it is mentioned in the famous song about getting your kicks on Route 66. And for at least 100 years people have been rolling through town on a major highway. First, the National Old Trails Road. Then Route 66, I-40, and US 93, and soon, I-11. And, it just so happens, the city is located at the heart of an incredible vacation paradise, a destination for those in the know. From an economic development standpoint the problem is that not enough people are in the know.
I have long had a fascination for marketing, for promotion, and for advertisement. My office is festooned with advertisements for 1917 GMC trucks, the 1940 Hudson, and Greyhound vacation destination brochures from 1950. The desk is awash in AAA hotel and service station guides from 1928, 1940, and 1955, as well as promotional atlases from a half century ago, and a pile of road maps. The file cabinets that frame my cubicle overflow with brochures for Ramblers and Studebaker trucks, decades old post cards, and the occasional odds and ends like a promotional brochure for Irish Hills in Michigan circa 1960.
As a result, I have learned that marketing linked with passion, vision, and leadership can successfully sell or promote almost anything be it an Edsel or a community. St. Robert, Missouri, a Route 66 community, is not mentioned in the famous ditty about getting your kicks on Route 66. Aside from Uranus General Store & Fudge Factory, and Fort Leonard Wood, they don’t have major attractions or iconic Route 66 locations such as Mr. D’z Route 66 Diner. BUT they have Beth Wiles who has passion, vision, and that provides leadership. You can see this made manifest in the new Route 66 Passport Missouri Facebook page.
Courtesy Mohave Museum of History & Arts
The Mother Road Route 66 Passport developed by Marian Pavel of Touch Media represents an incredible marketing opportunity for communities. Beth Wiles and the folks with Pulaski County tourism recognize this and are capitalizing on it. Meanwhile other communities presented with the same opportunity … Well they are at the train depot waiting for their ship to come in.
For more than a century Kingman has flirted with becoming a major southwestern tourism destination. It has never happened. And yet, communities such as Bullhead City and Lake Havasu City, places that didn’t really exist 60 years ago and that don’t have much to offer have eclipsed Kingman as a tourism destination. Neither of those Colorado River communities have a twelve month tourism season like Kingman. Nor do they have access to major highways or Amtrak. And they don’t have Route 66. So, I wonder what the problem is? In some towns it just seems like tourism is an accident, sort of like throwing enough paint at a canvas in the hope of creating a masterpiece.
Murder & Mayhem on The Main Street of America. This is the title for the next book, number nineteen. To say the very least, it is a series of very dark tales. As an example, “…a tragedy that occurred in 1952 placed Grants in the media spotlight nationwide. On Friday, April 11, 1952, State Police Officer Nash Garcia was parked on the shoulder of U. S. Route 66 about 20 miles east of Grants. A pickup truck sped past him at a high rate of speed with the driver recklessly passing cars. Abruptly, in a cloud of dust, the driver pulled onto the shoulder before turning back into the highway in front of oncoming traffic. Miraculously he avoided causing an accident or collision before speeding east past Officer Garcia and roaring toward Grants. Garcia immediately began pursuit.
Near the Acoma Indian Reservation, the driver left the highway, turned onto a dirt road, drove for a few miles, and then violently braked the truck to a stop. As Officer Garcia neared the truck, an assassin lying in ambush opened fire with a rifle. Nine shots were fired into the police car and Garcia was wounded several times. The assassins, the sniper and driver of the truck then pulled the wounded officer from the car and began beating him in the head and face with rifle butts before loading his body into the police car and driving to a spot near Sandstone Mesa. The following day they returned, filled the car with scrub brush and wood, and set it afire.”
When I first set forth on my quest to become a writer, I never imagined that it would lead to such dark places. And I surely never imagined that there would be a Jim Hinckley’s America or that this endeavor would become a multifaceted travel network.
In The Beginning
The first feature sold was to the prestigious Hemmings Special Interest Autos.
Jim Hinckley’s America was born of an epiphany that occurred in 1990. This was during the presidency of George Bush, the father of the second President Bush. After years of being told that I had a gift for telling people where to go, the decision was made to see if this could be developed as a career. It began with the writing of feature articles for various publications including the local newspaper and soon I had earned a reputation as being something of an expert on the American auto industry between 1885 and 1945, a bit of fame that is still paying small dividends. All through the years of the Clinton administration I honed my skills, became a featured columnist for Old Cars Weekly, and then accepted the position of associate editor for the now defunct Cars & Parts magazine. Fame was easier to acquire than I had imagined. Fortune, however, proved elusive. So, I kept a day job, and sometimes a night job, to support the writing habit.
By the time the second George Bush assumed the office of president I had started writing books. First, I wrote about the American auto industry. Then I began writing about a favorite subject of mine, the great American road trip on Route 66 and forgotten two lane highways. On occasion I found opportunity to blend the two subjects such as when writing about the National Old Trails Road, predecessor to Route 66, and Edsel Ford’s epic adventure in 1915. The day job continued to support the writing habit until the second term of the Obama administration.
Turning The Page
Just over four years ago I developed eye trouble. I could see no reason to put up with the BS that was an ever increasing part of the day job, and the owners of the company that I worked for could see no reason to put up with my increasingly poor attitude. So, with support from dearest friend, the decision was made to valiantly attempt to make a living by doing what I do best – telling people where to go, and harnessing the fame and reputation earned between the presidency of George Bush and Donald Trump. That was the beginning of Jim Hinckley’s America.
A presentation before an interested crowd at the second European Route 66 Festival.
So, here I am. President Trump is gearing up for what he hopes will be a second term and I am still chasing that dream, that fortune that I started seeking when the first George Bush was president. Along the way I have learned that fortune isn’t always measured in dollars and cents. I am rich beyond my wildest dreams. Daily I do what is enjoyed most, providing everything that a community needs for harnessing the power of Route 66 as a catalyst for revitalization and economic development, and providing travelers with tools for planning adventures on the back roads and two lane highways of America. I have friendships the likes of which were never imagined. And I have had adventures; a visit to Jay Leno’s Garage, speaking at the first and second European Route 66 Festivals, assisting a Dutch tour group on their trip through Arizona and New Mexico, and meeting some of he most fascinating people.
I have a tendency to use presidential administrations as milestones. It is my way of measuring time, and of coping with the never ending election campaigns of politicians. It is also a reminder that politics is sort of like cleaning stables. It comes in different colors but the smell is the same. As another milestone approaches, I can’t help but wonder if this will be the year that I crest the hill and see the long sought Holy Grail gleaming in the distance.
The tag line in promotion for the Hiway House Motel chain was “Sleep Is Our Business.” It appeared in brochures and on the motels distinctive signage that cast a neon glow on Route 66 in Albuquerque, Arcadia in California, Tulsa, Flagstaff, and Holbrook. For a brief moment in time the chain that was established in 1956 vied with another pioneer in the industry, Holiday Inn.
The first hotel opened in Phoenix, Arizona. The idea was the brain child of Del Webb, a construction tycoon that is today best known for the Sun West retirement communities that are peppered throughout the southwest. He was hoping to improve upon the Ramada Inn model, another pioneering chain. Webb had been an initial investor.
Only one motel remains intact with its original signage. Located in the 3200 block of Central Avenue, Route 66 in Albuquerque, the distinctive sign is a favored photo op for Route 66 enthusiasts visiting the Nob Hill district in that city.
Route 66 is no mere highway. And even though it is the most popular highway in America, it is more than the nations longest theme park. It is a linear museum where vestiges from more than a century of development on the Main Streets of America are preserved. The Hiway House Motel with its original signage and fascinating back story is but one example.
Next door to the venerable old motel on Central Avenue is Kelly’s Brew Pub. The popular restaurant and tap room is housed in another time capsule, the Jones Motor Company built in 1939. Ralph Jones was a prominent businessman in Albuquerque and a member of the chamber of commerce. As president of the U.S. Highway 66 Association he recognized the value of a modern, state of the art dealership and repair facility at a prominent location on the eastern edge of the city.
Designed by architect Tom Danahay the facility with brilliant white stucco and distinctive tower adorned by a neon Ford sign stood out prominently. In 1957, a new Jones Motor Company was built and the old facility was used by a variety of companies before it was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1993, and its renovation as Kelly’s Brew Pub in 2000.
Photo Mike Ward collection
Surprises such as this are found all along Route 66. The Kentwood Hall Dormitory at Missouri State University has a fascinating history that is linked directly to the creation of U.S. 66. John Woodruff was the first president of the U.S. Highway 66 Association. On April 30, 1926, in Woodruff’s office in the Woodruff Building, Cyrus Avery and associates met to negotiate assignment of numbers to the newly created US highway system. One of these highways was U.S. 66.
In the same year Woodruff built the Kentwood Arms Hotel, now the dormitory. The Hotel, Garage, Service Station & AAA Directory published in 1927 described the property as a “100 room hotel with private bath or in connection. European plans $2 – $4 single, $3 – $6 double. Main dining room and grill with la carte and table d’hote service. In the heart of the city with three acres of lawn shaded by giant forest trees. 18 hole golf course, roof garden and concerts.”
Route 66, highway. Route 66, the ultimate road trip adventure. Route 66, America’s longest small town. Route 66, America’s most fascinating museum.
On the evening of October 4, 1919, about twenty-five miles west of Seligman behind a small hill along the National Old Trails Road, predecessor to Route 66, a shepherd tending a flock made a startling discovery: the smoldering body of a man. Yavapai County sheriff department investigators determined that the victim had been shot in the back with a .38-caliber pistol, wrapped in a blanket, dragged about a hundred feet from where a car had been parked, doused with gasoline, and set afire. Though the body was badly charred, officers determined that the victim was wearing a military uniform with insignia indicating that he was a member of the Twentieth Canadian Battalion of Infantry. Tracing the serial number of the military insignia, Canadian authorities provided a clue that identified the deceased as Arthur De Steunder.
The focus of my work be it books, presentations or community education programs pertaining to tourism as a catalyst for economic development and community revitalization is to add depth and context to a subject. I wrote Checker Cab Manufacturing Company: An Illustrated History to introduce people to the fascinating story behind the ubiquitous Checker Cab that remains a fixture of the American landscape decades after the last one rolled from the factory in Kalamazoo, Michigan. The classes I was recently teaching at Mohave Community College were conceived as a means to foster a better understanding of Route 66 tourism and its potential for economic development. The death of Arthur De Steunder and the fascinating back story that included the investigation leading to the murderers arrest was will add depth to the story of Route 66 and its predecessor the National Old Trails Road.
Joe Sonderman collection
In my new book Murder and Mayhem On The Main Street of America from Rio Nuevo Publishing the intent was to show Route 66 as more than America’s longest theme park. I had intended to show that this highway was once an artery of commerce traveled by families on vacation or seeking a better life as well as by truck drivers, gangsters, fugitives, and psychotic serial killers. As it so happened I was also able to show that the America of the 1920’s, 1930’s, 1940’s, and 1950 was very much like the America of today, a country where people worried about the future, tried to make a living and raise their families, and where death could come quickly and unexpectedly. There were gangsters and lawman, and senseless acts of violence.
It was a project unlike anything I had previously attempted. It was akin to writing a book about serial killers lurking in Disneyland. And, more often than not, the stories uncovered were, to say the very least, a bit disconcerting. Historic research is something I enjoy immensely, even if it is unraveling stories of unsolved murders, murderous hitchhikers and the death of celebrities on “bloody 66.”
Ted O’Dell, Kelli Hindenach, and Maggie May at the historic Hackett auto factory in Jackson, Michigan
What’s next, you may ask? Well, plans are well underway for a fall promotional tour that includes presentations about the dark side of this iconic highway. Confirmation was received yesterday that I will be speaking at the Miles of Possibility Conference in Normal, Illinois in October. If all goes as planned, the fall tour will also be the opening act for an exciting new project that has been in the worked for forty years, chronicling the fascinating automotive history in Jackson, Michigan.
During the dawning infancy of the America auto industry Jackson was vying for the title motor city. More than a dozen companies produced vehicles in this city, including Buick. There were a staggering number of ancillary companies that produced everything from specialty tools to car horns and radios. Ted O’Dell is on a mission to preserve that history and tell the city’s story. Stage one is restoration of the historic Hackett Automobile factory and its conversion into a museum and event center.
Last year I was privileged to make a presentation at a fund raiser for the museum. Another presentation is tentatively scheduled during the fall promotional tour. There are also discussions pertaining to me taking on a more active role in the museums development and related research. As it was a search for family history in Jackson more than forty years ago that led to my writing and career in historic research, this is project that would fit met like a well worn pair of boots. As they say, stay tuned for developments and details.
Regardless of how well things are going everyone has one of those special days where you feel like a one legged man in a behind kicking contest. To make it worse, you take a peek at the clock and realize it isn’t even lunch time. At that juncture there are but two options, laugh or cry.
Today was glaring contrast to a week or so of relatively smooth sailing. A few days ago I received the proof for Murder & Mayhem On The Main Street: Tales From Bloody 66. This week my dearest friend and I will give it a final read through in search of glaring errors. The book was initially scheduled for release last fall but at the last minute there were some editorial changes approved and so additional content was written. And of course this led to a quest for additional historic images, and the writing of more captions. In spite of the frustrations associated with this project, the team at Rio Nuevo Publishing have done a pretty amazing job. I am rather confident that we have a winner on our hands and am eager to launch a promotional campaign.
The October promotional tour is still in the planning stages. However, I have confirmed a presentation about the infancy of the American auto industry and Jackson as the industry’s cradle in support of a fund raising program for the Hackett Auto Museum. This is located in Jackson, Michigan. Tentatively I will also be speaking at the Miles of Possibility Conference in Normal, Illinois. The date has not been set but I will also be speaking in Cuba, Missouri.
The Ten Minutes With Jim audio podcast and the weekly free newsletter are slowly picking up new subscribers weekly. More good news. The Jim Hinckley’s America Facebook page following and engagement is also growing. This is another indication that as a travel planning service the multifaceted media network is providing a valued service.
Last Friday morning I had to cancel the Adventurers Club Live program but made up for it with a special live program from Fender’s River Resort in Needles, California during the relighting ceremony for the motels historic neon signage. I was able to interview a number of people that are deeply involved with the Route 66 renaissance including Jim Conkle, Rosie Ramos, the manager at Fender’s River Resort, Marian Pavel, the developer of the Route 66 Navigation app and the new Mother Road Route 66 Passport, and Delvin Harbour of the California Route 66 Association.
I had a very productive meeting with Marian Pavel, and the vice mayor of Kingman, Travis Lingenfelter, at Beale Street Brews coffee shop in Kingman on Monday morning. The topic of conversation ranged from the newly introduced Mother Road Route 66 Passport, pending updates to the Route Navigation app, an historic district planning session, and attendance of the Dutch Route 66 Association “meet & greet” in Amsterdam this August.
Work on the website has been progressing steadily and with few glitches. And we have picked up a couple of advertising sponsors that see value in what we are doing, and a way to get the biggest bang for their advertising dollar. Linked with this is the marketing of Jim Hinckley’s America as a travel planning portal including a portal in the new Route 66 passport.
This morning, however, I was left feeling as though the wheels had come off the bus and I hadn’t even made it to the end of the driveway. It kicked off with an early meeting of the recently minted Route 66 Crossroads, a nonprofit organization launched to develop tourism related community education programs. I had accepted the position of CEO earlier this spring. Well, not one but two board members gave notice that they would have to resign; one resultant of a family situation and the other a pending job transfer. The meeting of the Kingman Promotional Initiative that followed went well and as always it was rather productive. That was in spite of the fact that several key people had had to cancel rather abruptly.
For a number of reasons I am not a big fan of Walmart. I approach a shopping trip to this store the way I do a proctology exam; with a great deal of dread and apprehension. Still as I live in a relatively small rural town the store is a necessary evil at times. After this mornings meetings I headed for Walmart as there was a need for a couple of repair items, and as I was going there anyway, groceries. I exited I-40 and within two blocks was locked in dead stopped traffic for as the eye could see. A pretty series accident at an intersection had everything blocked. Forty-five minutes later I had traveled the 1.5 blocks to the Kentucky Fried Chicken restaurant driveway. This took me to an alley behind a shopping center and into another fast food parking lot with access to Stockton Hill Road allowing me to bypass the accident. Unfortunately several dozen people had had the same idea.
I have yet to experience the “People of Walmart” – until today. That is, however a story for another day. Suffice to say that venture finished off the morning on a sour note.
Laugh or cry, it’s my choice. I guess I will laugh about this mornings exploits. After all, it has provided fodder for great stories.