In Answer To Your Question (Telling People Where to Go)

In Answer To Your Question (Telling People Where to Go)

Can you recommend a top “end of summer” drive? What is the best guide to use for traveling Route 66? What is the quirkiest roadside attraction that you have visited? Do you have a favorite Route 66 town? What is the oddest restaurant that you have experienced? Do you have a favorite book store? Can I rent a classic car to drive Route 66? Every week I receive dozens of inquiries about Route 66 travel as well as questions about travel guides, tour companies, motels, road trips, museums, restaurants, and, once, even a question about nudist colonies along Route 66. Followers and fans take our slogan “Telling People Where To Go Since 1990” to heart.

I respond to each and every question though on occasion my response is a bit delayed. To expedite things a bit, on occasion I will answer questions with a blog post. This has the added benefit of providing travel planning assistance to a wider audience. Today I decided to address questions on a different platform, the weekly live stream Adventurers Club program on the Jim Hinckley’s America Facebook page that is then added to the YouTube channel. I started by asking fans to submit questions before and during the program. When launching a new endeavor or program I am as nervous as a long tailed cat in a room full of rocking chairs. But as is often the case, my worries were unwarranted. In fact the program was so well received the decision was made to make it a regular part of the Adventurers Club schedule. As promised on today’s program, here are the questions asked (plus a few others) with the answers provided as well as website links or contact information.

Jay Leno and my dearest friend at Auto Books – Aero Books during a book signing.

Frank, Rice Lake, Wisconsin, “Do you have a favorite book store?” Yes, I do. Auto Books-Aero Books on Magnolia Boulevard in Burbank, California. It has moved a couple of times but it has been on this street since 1953. The little store is a true gem; new books, used books, vintage books, magazines new and old, and so much more. Here is a bit of tip, plan your visit for Saturday morning. The store hosts a very informal cruise in that transforms the very limited parking area, and on occasion for a block or two on Magnolia Boulevard, into a veritable automotive museum. As a bonus, there are often celebrity sightings. Please be respectful!

Gregg, Batavia, New York, “What is the oddest restaurant you discovered while on the road?” Many years ago my dearest friend and I were driving north up the west coast. We were near Coos Bay, Oregon and were intrigued by this obviously ancient little diner with a sign that read, “Mr. Critter’s Pizza.” It was quite different. It was a custom pizza joint where you could order your pie with elk or kangaroo or alligator.

Ed, Niles, Michigan, “Is there an app or guide to Route 66 that you can recommend.” Hands down the best guide book to Route 66 is the Ez 66 Guide for Travelers by Jerry McClanahan. I still travel with this guide. Now, if you are looking for an app there are two reputable ones on the market, the Route 66 Ultimate Guide and Route 66 Navigation. They both receive good reviews and both are reputable products. Still, for my money I would go with Route 66 Navigation. The developer personally tests the product several times per year and is quick to make upgrades that enhance the Route 66 experience as well as adjust for road closures and similar problems.

Gretchen, Pine Bluff, Arkansas, “What is your favorite quirky attraction?” The World’s Largest Hand Dug Well in Greensburg, Kansas on U.S. 54. There is a personal reason for this selection that I will share in a future post. Suffice to say it is a surprisingly fascinating stop, and quite odd in that a major shrine has been built around the well.

Rhonda, American Fork, Utah, “Can you recommend a great end of summer drive?” Yes, but hurry. You will want to make this trip during the brief window between mosquito season and snow season. It is the Lake Superior Circle Tour through the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, across northern Wisconsin and Minnesota, and through Ontario, Canada. This an overlooked adventure that I highly recommend as it blends everything; a sense of wilderness, natural beauty, charming small towns, National Parks, small city’s with a diverse array of superb restaurants, ghost towns, and a relaxing drive.

The amazing Plaza Hotel in Las Vegas, New Mexico

Gregg, Sand Springs, Oklahoma, “What is your favorite Route 66 Town?” That is a damn tough question. In all honesty I can’t narrow it down to one. The best I can do is narrow it down to three; Pontiac, Illinois, Cuba, Missouri, and with the slightest of detours (less than ten miles) Las Vegas, New Mexico.

Okay, I have to ask, what are your thoughts? Is this a feature you would like included in the schedule? Do you have travel planning questions?


Smoke, Mirrors and A Pesky Thing Called History

Smoke, Mirrors and A Pesky Thing Called History

What was one of the fastest production cars in 1957? If you guessed Rambler Rebel you would be correct. Which manufacturer was the top selling brand in 1957, Chevrolet or Ford? The correct answer is Ford, not that you would know that if your selection was based solely on attendance of car shows today. What sector or sectors of American society petitioned the government to expedite the construction of the interstate highway system, death knell for Route 66? The answer, state, local and national politicians, the military, city planners, oil companies, labor unions, truck drivers, automobile manufacturers, drivers who members of organizations like AAA, and highway departments to name but a few.

As an ardent student of history I have come to several conclusions. One, politics, regardless of country where they are practiced, is a great deal like cleaning stables. It may come in different colors but it all smells about the same. Two, a gifted politician can harness the obscuring mists of time, and with a bit of old fashioned slight of hand as well as ample use of smoke and mirrors, sell the idea that the past was better, or worse, than today. Three, history may be based in fact but those facts can become quite distorted with the passing of time just as a landmark seen through the rear window of a car traveling sixty miles per hour on a rainy day.

When you give thought to the 1950’s, the golden years on Route 66, what comes to mind? Good times? “…most studies of poverty showed that from 20 to 25 percent of the population lived in poverty, with perhaps another 10% living on the poverty line…” If these (government) figures are correct, then in any given year in the fifties something like 40 to 50 million people lived on the edge of poverty or below it.” This is an excerpt from the fascinating book God’s Country: America in the Fifties written by J. Ronald Oakly. If I were to describe this book in but two words they would be time capsule.

The auto industry and the threat of foreign cars, the national shame that was McCarthyism, innovation, the rise and fall of labor unions, skyrocketing sales of barbecue equipment and swimming pools, the women’s cosmetic industry, the rise of suburbia, inequality and prejudices, the formation of national policies that led to Vietnam and our entanglement in the Middle East today, and the dawning of corporate dominance are chronicled in this 435 page book that almost reads like a novel. As I was reading this book the thought that some things never change kept coming to mind.

Debates in congress about Russian interference in domestic policies and politics. Debates about increasing wage inequality. Debates about corporate power and their avoidance of taxes. Concerns about international flash points such as Iran, Korea and China. Discussions on the provision of a national health car system. The 1950’s were interesting times.

As an auto enthusiast I found the chapter on “Good Times” to be rather fascinating. “By the early fifties, the automobile was directly or indirectly responsible for one sixth of GDP, providing millions of jobs in the automobile manufacturing industry, the petroleum industry, all the many companies that made materials that went into the manufacture of new cars, the tourist and travel industry, services stations, drive in movies and restaurants, advertising, repair shops, and highway construction and maintenance.”

Add this book to your library if you are in need of perspective during these crazy times. Add this book to the library if you are need of something to calm the nerves during the never ending political campaign season. Add this book to the library if you are simply a fan of a good book that transports the reader to the time being discussed.


It’s More Than Just A Highway

Route 66 connects the past with the future, it is a magic carpet made of asphalt and concrete.

The tradition of the Keresan speaking Pueblo Indians is that their people have lived at the site of Laguna Pueblo for at least seven hundred years. Legend has it that the people were led to the location where a natural dam on the Rio San Jose that created a lake. The Keresan word for lake is Kawaik. The Spanish word for pond or marsh is laguna. The first European references to the lake and the people here are contained in reports from the Coronado expedition of 1540. Construction of the current pueblo dates to 1698. The following year the governor, Pedro Rodriguez Cubero, stopped at the pueblo for a ceremony that resulted in the naming of the community as Laguna. As the population grew, numerous satellite villages were established including Cuba and New Laguna.

The America era of association predates establishment of post office at Laguna Pueblo since 1879, and in New Laguna in 1900. Laguna was originally named Nacimiento, a village that appears on maps of the Dominguez-Escalante expedition of 1776. The site for this settlement is just to the east of present day Laguna. Persistent Navajo raids led to abandonment in the first years of the 19th century. Resettlement commenced in about 1878 under the name Cuba. Shortly after this date establishment of a suburb at the present site eclipsed the original community resulting in a second abandonment. For reasons unknown the Cuba name was not continued. Jack Rittenhouse in his guidebook published in 1946 provided a lengthy overview of Laguna Pueblo and Laguna. He noted that services were limited to a small grocery store and service station.

This is but one example of why Route 66 is often referenced as a bridge that links the past and the future. All along the highway corridor there are tangible links to centuries of history. However, it is in New Mexico where the blurred lines between past, present, and future are most evident. Consider San Jose, a favorite little village of mine.

Located along the pre 1937 alignment of Route 66 as well as the Santa Fe Trail and National Old Trails Road, the Pigeon Ranch dates to the 1850’s. It served as a field hospital during the American Civil War battle of Glorieta Pass and as a tourist trap for Edsel Ford in 1915.

Located along the pre 1937 alignment of Route 66, as well as the National Old Trails Highway and the Santa Fe Trail, this remains as one of the oldest communities in San Miguel County. Farming at this site along the Pecos River in 1803 by colonists from Santa Fe predates the actual settlement of the community. There are tangible links to villages lengthy history. Most notable is the small adobe church in the square has cast its shadow across all three of these historic roadways. It dates to 1826. Of particular interest for Route 66 enthusiasts is the single lane, steel truss bridge spanning the Pecos River at the east end of the community. This bridge opened to traffic in 1921.

Route 66 is more than a highway. It is an almost magical place, a drive through time. It is the ultimate road trip.

Route 66 A to Z

Joe Sonderman collection

In about 1928, before establishing Bazell Modern Camp in Winslow, Arizona to capitalize on the ever increasing flow of travelers on Route 66, Grover Cleveland Bazell made his living as a lawyer and a newspaper publisher. He had also tried his hand at auto sales with the establishment of a Buick dealership and garage in 1921. AAA lists this facility as an approved garage in the 1927 edition of the Hotel, Garage, and Service Station Directory. After the sale of the property to Mr. and Mrs. Robert Powell in about 1938, the facility underwent extensive renovation and expansion that included the connection of the cabins to create additional rooms. In this configuration, the name changed to Bazell Auto Court. The Directory of Motor Courts and Cottages published by AAA in 1940 gave the facility a cursory entry, “Bazell Auto Court. 75c to $2.00. Public showers. Trailers 50c to $1.”

I am unsure exactly where the obsession began but can pinpoint when it first manifested. It was 2011 and I had accepted a contract to write a book, The Route 66 Encyclopedia. For as long as I can remember there has been a hunger to know the story behind the name, the history of a place. So, it was only natural that I would collect stories about the places and communities along the Route 66 corridor. Judging by the popularity of the book, I am not the only person to have such a fascination.

Well, a few weeks ago I launched a new endeavor, a new series for the Ten Minutes With Jim audio podcast. It is an alphabetical odyssey along Route 66. With the exception of programs where I interview guests, the podcast is now being transformed into a virtual tour of Route 66 from A to Z. To date I have shared the story of Cyrus Avery and Azusa, Californa, the Aztec Hotel and Albuquerque, Avilla, Missouri and Bagdad California as well as a few other fascinating places. And I am still collecting stories.

In late 1960, Steve Dashew established International Fiberglass to create figures for use as promotional pieces to supplement income derived from his primary business, a small boatyard at the port of Los Angeles at San Pedro in California. To promote the new endeavor Dashew hired a sales representative, and had him drive east along Route 66 with a variety of fiberglass animals in various sizes.

The Gemini Giant is one of the more famous examples of the now legendary “muffler men.”

In 1962, the Lumberjack Café on Route 66 in Flagstaff, Arizona purchased a towering rendition of Paul Bunyan. This statue now stands on the grounds of Northern Arizona University whose sports team uses the Lumberjacks name. American Oil in Las Vegas purchased another copy shortly after this date and indicated to the company that there was a dramatic increase in business after installation. Violet Winslow utilized this recommendation as the basis for an article published in the National Petroleum News. Requests for the Bunyan statue, but with slight variation inundated the company.

To fill orders and defer the expense involved with molds and tooling, Dashew and his staff found creative ways to adapt existing molds such as filling the beard portion with clay to give the finished product a clean-shaven appearance or adding plaster to the chest for a bare chest look. Additionally, he began manufacturing accessories such as axes, space helmets, pistols, and hats to personalize the statues. Ironically, the company never manufactured mufflers, even though many of the statues were later outfitted with these and as a result are now collectively know as muffler men. The identifying feature for all of the figures made utilizing the Paul Bunyan molds were the hands: right palm up and left palm down. Later modifications included arms raised in greeting.

Mohawk Petroleum, a southern California service station chain, ordered several dozen Indians. These were of the bare chest iteration with greeting arms and a headdress. Produced for Phillips Petroleum were 120 cowboys and for Texaco, 300 “Big Friends.” The order from US Rubber for a Miss Uniroyal with bikini and removable dress represented the first major investment in new molds and tooling. The company also supplied Sinclair with dinosaurs and statues for A & W as well as Yogi Bear’s Honey Fried Chicken.

The company manufactured figures until 1972. Dashew then founded a construction company, and a yacht design firm. As a sailor, he set a world speed record under sail.

Numerous statues remain along Route 66. Among the most notable are the Gemini Giant, at the Launching Pad Drive In in Wilmington, Illinois, a Paul Bunyan statue in Atlanta, Illinois relocated from Berwyn, Illinois, and a former Phillips Petroleum cowboy at a car lot in Gallup, New Mexico. Documenting and locating the statues produced by this company became a quest for Gabriel Aldaz. His adventure of discovery on Route 66 and other roads became the subject of a book, Right Palm Up, Left Palm Down: The Log of a Cross Country Scavenger Hunt.

A Dark Day In Missouri

A Dark Day In Missouri

“On Saturday, January 2, 1932, a particularly tragic incident was proclaimed in banner headlines throughout the country. An event later known as the Young Brothers Massacre claimed the lives of six officers from the Greene County Sheriff’s Department and the Springfield, Missouri, Police Department. Until the tragedy of September 11, 2001, in New York City and Washington D.C., the massacre held the record for the largest number of law enforcement officers killed in a single incident.

Before even reaching their late teens, Paul and Jennings Young had established a reputation in the Springfield, Missouri, area as petty thieves with violent temperaments. Both would receive short prison sentences for breaking and entering after robbing a store near the family’s Brookline farm. By the late 1920s, Paul, Jennings, and Harry, the younger brother, had developed a reputation in Oklahoma, Texas, Arkansas, and southwestern Missouri as thieves and brokers of stolen merchandise. Evidence for arrest and conviction, however, proved elusive even though the family farm was searched often. The Young brothers’ crime spree took a violent turn on June 2, 1929, when Harry Young murdered City Marshal Mark Noe of Republic, Missouri, during a drunk driving stop. Harry fled to Texas and lived under the alias Claude Walker while working for a dairy farmer. He also assisted his brothers in the development of a multistate automobile-theft ring.” Excerpt from Murder & Mayhem on the Main Street of America: Tales From Bloody 66

Photo Springfield News Leader

The research for this new book led me to some very dark places along Route 66 and the National Old Trails Road, the Main Street of America. It also led to the discovery of some incredible and tragic stories that have, with the passing of time, been forgotten. One of these was the incident known as the Young brothers massacre that took place at a farm near Springfield, Missouri. Even in an era when newspapers carried stories of brutal murders, bank robberies, and police shootings committed by viscous outlaw gangs almost daily, this incident was unprecedented.

“The police shot a tear gas shell through a window. The sheriff and Mashburn positioned themselves near the kitchen door. Oliver positioned himself behind a tree to cover them. Houser stood by the lawn gate, and Detective Sid Meadows took cover behind a nearby tree. Detective Ben Bilyeu stood close to Oliver, and Detective Frank Pike and R. G. Wegman were ordered to the rear of the cars to watch the barn and shed. Detective Owen Brown and Deputy Sheriff Crosswhite took up positions at the northeast corner of the house. Sheriff Hendrix and Deputy Mashburn knocked on the kitchen door and called out the boys’ names several times.

Detective Johnson, with Mashburn on the left and Hendrix on the right, shoved hard against the door with their left shoulders. It opened enough for Mashburn to step inside, but he was immediately blasted on the left side of his face by a shotgun. Sheriff Hendrix reportedly said, “God, boys, they mean business,” as he stepped into the opening to the left of Mashburn. He was shot at nearly point-blank range in the chest, a fatal shot. Mashburn, critically wounded and blinded, stumbled back through the door.”

When we think about Prohibition-era gangsters, it is Chicago, Al Capone, and the St. Valentine’s Day Massacre that often come to mind. Tulsa, however, was where some of the most violent gangsters of this period got their start and honed their skills. Many would profit from the lessons they learned in Tulsa by working for syndicates in Chicago, St. Louis, and Detroit, contributing to the rise of gangster empires such as Al Capone’s in the mid-1920s. In Tulsa’s Central Park district at 6th Street and Peoria Avenue during the years bracketing World War I, juvenile gangs ran rampant. The roster of ruffians reads like a Who’s Who of notorious Midwestern gangsters in the late 1920s and 1930s. Volney Davis, Wilbur Underhill, Ray Terrill, and Elmer Inman were just a few. The infamous Barker gang led by Ma Barker got their start in this district as well.

Another training ground for ruthless gangsters was St. Louis and East St. Louis. For more than a decade Egan’s Rats ruled the cities with violence, extortion and intimidation. With the waning power of the gang the heavy hitters moved and became hired guns for Capone, for Detroit’s Purple Gang, and free lancers that worked for the highest paying gangs.

This fall, to promote the new book, I will also be making a newly developed presentation that takes the audience with me on a walk on the dark side of Route 66. It’s stories of serial killers, brutal race riots, gangsters, mobsters, and viscous killers like the Young brothers. I will introduce listeners to the seedy side of Tulsa and St. Louis. Follow my schedule on our Facebook page for dates and locations. And if you have interest in scheduling a presentation, drop me a note. As it will be in October, I am confident that a few folks will find it quite appropriate for Halloween.