A Lick & And A Promise

A Lick & And A Promise

When I signed on with the Sierra Mesa spread out of Faywood, New Mexico, I wasn’t exactly a greenhorn. I had earned my spurs working for the Cedar Springs Ranch based in the Music Mountains of Arizona, and had worn a bit of leather off the tree riding for other outfits in Arizona, New Mexico, and Colorado. I had even tried my hand at bronc riding but soon decided that was a good living if you didn’t plan on living long. During my John Wayne period I learned that as with any profession, there were plenty of folk that are quite adept at giving a lick and a promise. They work harder at appearing to work than if they had simply put their shoulder to the wheel and got the job done. The entire crew pays the price for their showmanship, especially if they can bluff the trail boss or foreman.

When it comes to tourism, a key component in economic development, some communities prefer to give it a lick and a promise. Others put their shoulder to the wheel. In a nutshell the tourism/hospitality classes developed for Mohave Community College, and the presentation/workshop that is a condensed version of those classes was conceived as a means to provide tools for communities that want more than a lick and a promise approach to tourism development. I designed these under the Jim Hinckley’s America banner for places along the Route 66 corridor but can adapt them to work with any town.

Can you see the lick & promise?

A common mistake made by many communities is the transformation of the visitor center into the destination rather than the point of entry. This is the easiest way to give a lick and promise. It’s also the easiest way to fool the trail boss, especially if you can show pretty graphs and numbers. On the ranch the fellow bucking hay could give a lick and promise performance by stacking the bales so the barn looked full, and adding a bit of water to the sweat band in his hat. With tourism the lick and promise approach is just as hollow.

What is being promoted? Hidden behind the banner is a sign advertising the world’s only electric vehicle museum.

The lick and promise approach to tourism works to outshine what is perceived to be competition when in actuality it is an opportunity to build a powerful cooperative partnership. Of course even that requires to much effort so energy is wasted on creating the illusion of success, instead of simply saddling up and getting the job done.

With the lick and promise approach time is wasted deriving excuses for missed opportunity. This works for a bit but soon it is like the story of the emperor with no clothes. Folks notice but don’t want to be the first to point out the farce.

So, what’s the answer for communities where the lick and promise approach to tourism is deemed good enough? Education. Educated grassroots initiatives. Educated grassroots initiatives that can develop cooperative partnerships. Educated grassroots initiatives that can develop cooperative partnerships that maximize use of all available resources. Educated grassroots initiatives that use partnerships and resources that transform the community into a destination for visitors and for people looking for a great place to live, to retire, to open a business and to raise a family.

Pontiac in Illinois is a town where the lick and promise approach isn’t good enough, and it shows. Photo Jim Hinckley’s America

So do you live in a community where a lick and promise is deemed good enough?




A Year With Jim, Day …

The “A Year With Jim” project provides a behind the scenes tour of Jim Hinckley’s America.

To be honest I have been surprised by the popularity of the A Year With Jim project. I knew that some aspects of my daily routine such as the search for good pie, the meeting  of tour groups from throughout the world, travel, and the visiting of historic sites would be of interest. However, I never imagined that people would be fascinated with the day to day life of an author who lives with a 21-year old cat that suffers from incontinence, that is consistently seeking new ways to generate income to support the writing habit, and that rambles about in an ancient Jeep.

A Year With Jim

“A Year With Jim, day 37. This week has left me feeling like the loser in a behind kicking contest for one legged men. Still, to ensure the habit of eating on a regular basis continues we soldier on. This mornings schedule included …” The best adventures are shared adventures. That is more than a motto here at Jim Hinckley’s America, it is the very foundation of all that we do from books to presentations, from community development projects to receptions for touring groups. It is also the slogan that inspired my launch of the rather voyeuristic endeavor that is the A Year With Jim project using the hashtag #yearinlifeofjim and #jimhinckleysamerica

Floyd & Company in Kingman, Arizona, a favorite of mine for good barbecue or gourmet wood fired pizza.

The concept was relatively simple; provide fans and followers with a behind the scenes tour of Jim Hinckley’s America. As with all of our projects, the goal was to provide inspiration for road trips, for fledgling writers, for community organizers, and for the curious individual that is considering the launch of a podcast, blog or YouTube channel for fun or profit. And of course there was also a marketing angle as the selling of books, of presentations, of my work as a tourism development consultant and of other services is what keeps beans on the table and the wheels turning on the Jeep (or rental car).

Isn’t funny how we can become so accustomed to the unusual that it seems normal, at least until someone points it out to us. That is what I glean from the comments posted about the A Year With Jim project. To me this wild, unpredictable, fun filled, often out of control ride has come to seem normal. In retrospect, I may have been preparing for this crazy adventure for the last fifty years or so.

In Kingman, Arizona, an outback adventure begins on the edge of town with the Cerbat Foothills trail system.

So, as our theme song recorded by the Road Crew says, come along for the ride. Follow the Year With Jim adventure on our Twitter or Instagram pages and meet some fascinating people, find a bit of inspiration for a road trip or an adventure, and see what goes on behind the programs, the books, the road trip planning, and behind the scenes at Jim Hinckley’s America.




Just Imagine

Just Imagine

And this actually seemed like a good idea at the time. Camera

Just imagine. It’s 1899. Automobiles on the streets of Grand Rapids, Michigan are still a bit of a novelty. Still, a common topic of discussion is what to do about the way they frighten horses and often cause them to break into a panicked run. After a great deal of contemplation, Uriah Smith had what he believed to be a eureka moment; place a horses head on the front of a horseless carriage. “This would provide the appearance of a horse and carriage and hence raise no fears in any skittish animal; for the live horse would be thinking of another horse, and before he could discover his error and see that he had been fooled, the strange carriage would be passed, and then it would be too late to grow frantic and fractious.” He also recommended that if the head were hollow, it could house the gas tank. His idea was actually published in an edition of The Horseless Age. 

Just imagine. It’s 1905, your car has stalled, it’s pouring rain, and it won’t start. That was the catalyst for what Howard O. Carter thought was a brilliant idea, the ultimate fail safe mechanism for the motorist. His idea was made manifest in a car with two four cylinder engines, each with its own radiator, ignition, and exhaust. And, if you needed a bit of extra oomph, you could operate the car using both engines! Needless to say the idea never made it beyond the prototype model.

Not all ideas were hair brained during the infancy of the auto industry. J Walter Christie pioneered front-wheel drive.

Just imagine. You are frustrated by the increasing cost of new car ownership. A new Ford is now selling for $465, a Buick cost twice as much. Sheldon F. Reese of Huron, South Dakota decided to address the issue, tap into the vast market of potential new car owners and make a tidy profit. He traveled throughout the west with his Reese Aero Car prototype seeking investors and potential customers. Needless to say, there was little market for a car that weighed 150-pounds, had a wheelbase of sixty inches, and was powered by a 6-horsepower two-cylinder engine that turned a propeller at the rear even if it sold for $160! It should be noted that the little car did deliver sixty miles to the gallon.

There is an old adage that history is written by the winners. This applies to the infancy of the auto industry as well. For every David Buick, Henry Ford, Walter Chrysler, and Louis Chevrolet, there were dozens of men like Charles O. Mueller, George B. Weidely, Homer T. Severin and D.J. Ames. In the new Jim Hinckley’s America presentation series, In The Beginning, I share a few of these fascinating stories as though it were a bit of fasct paced time travel.

The series kicks off on the evening of October 12 at the Hackett Auto Museum in Jackson, Michigan. I hope that you can join me. And if you would like to schedule a presentation, please contact me.

Digital Camera




In Search of Lost Civilizations

In Search of Lost Civilizations

The old family homestead along Route 66 in western Arizona is slowly being reclaimed by nature

I credit Ed Edgerton, founder of Ed’s Camp, and John Lloyd Stephens, the pioneering Central American archaeologist, for igniting a life long fascination for forgotten civilizations, lost city’s, stories of lost treasure, and a passion for exploration. We had recently relocated from Michigan to the wilds of Arizona. For a young boy transplanted from Michigan, and the hills of Tennessee everything about our new home on the pre 1952 alignment of Route 66 in the shadow of the Black Mountains was wild, wondrous and strange, especially the fascinating and colorful characters that inhabited the vast and inhospitable desert.

For reasons never understood, the weathered old proprietor of Ed’s Camp took a shine to me, offered me a job, my first, and began sharing his vast knowledge of the desert in northwestern Arizona. He also began loaning me books such as Incidents of Travel in Central America, Chiapas and Yucatán written by John Lloyd Stephens. It was an education that I was to young to fully appreciate.

Author Jim Hinckley at the airport in Frankfurt Germany. Photo courtesy Sylvia Hoehn

Fast forward fifty years. My curiosity and fascination with the empty places, the forgotten history, and lost civilizations is unabated. And even though I never fulfilled the childhood dream of becoming an archaeologist, and have yet to explore the ancient city’s hidden in the jungles of the Yucatan, I have had some pretty amazing adventures and exploits; trying my hand as a saddle bronc rider, exploring the ruins of castles on the Rhine in Germany and cliff dwellings on the Gila River, hands on study of the National Old Trails Road and Route 66, and countless road trips. Best of all, for 36 years, these adventures have been shared with my dearest friend.

There is tremendous satisfaction in the making of new discoveries, and sharing those discoveries with people who have a fascination for forgotten history, a cornerstone at Jim Hinckley’s America. It was research for the presentation series In The Beginning that I debut at the Hackett Auto Museum in Jackson, Michigan on October 12 that led to my latest discovery, a forgotten company that was once a leader in communications technology, and the manufacturer of appliances that were Art Deco masterpieces.

Wikimedia commons

The company that would evolve into Sparton opened in the last months of 1900 as a subsidiary of Withington, Cooley & Co., a Jackson, Michigan based manufacturer of farm implements. The parent company was started by Civil War General William H. Withington. The next stage of the company’s evolution was the hiring of William “Cap” Sparks as a bookkeeper, and reorganization of the company as Sparks-Withington Co. As Jackson was a hub of automobile manufacturing with several companies hardhearted in the city, it was only logical that Sparks-Withington Co. would develop automotive components. In 1909 the company started making radiator cooling fan assemblies, and two years later introduced the first electric car horn under the Sparton name which was adopted by the Hudson Automobile Company. By 1920 more than 45 manufacturers used horns manufactured by the company.

An early Sparton radio advertisement – Wikimedia Commons

During WWI the company produced an array of military equipment including gas alarms and steel helmets. Then, in 1919, Sparks-Withington turned its research and manufacturing resources to an embryonic new industry – radio. In 1926 the company introduced the first push button radio and  “electric eye” tuning. Business boomed that the company leased space in the long dormant Jackson Automobile Co. factory on Horton Street and E. Michigan Avenue. The following year the company acquired the former manufacturing facilities for the Briscoe automobile. By the dawning of the Great Depression, the company was the largest employer in Jackson, a small city with dozens of manufacturing companies.

Throughout the hard economic times of the 1930’s, the company continued to dominate the home radio market. In addition to the manufacture of quality products, the company produced stylish pieces that were more than mere appliances. They were artistic masterpieces created by gifted industrial designers such as Walter Dorwin Teague. Today pristine examples of the mirrored Nocturne Model 1186 manufactured in 1935, and the model 558 “sled” command high prices from passionate collectors of Sparton products.

In 1939, Sparks-Withington, as they had in 1919, turned their focus toward development of an exciting new technology. The company was a pioneer in the technology and field testing of television receivers, and after WWII, Sparks-Withington initiated full-scale production of black and white televisions by 1948. Color sets followed five years later. In 1956 the company reorganized as Sparton, and began focusing entirely on fulfilling a variety of military contracts. In 2009, the company that had branched into medical equipment abandoned its roots, and relocated to Florida and Vietnam. It was truly the end of an era. It was also another milestone that marked the end of a civilization.

The Sparton “sled.” Wikimedia Commons

For almost a century the small city of Jackson had been a center of diverse industrial manufacturing. The companies headquartered there were leaders in technological development. They provided fertile ground for legions of inventors with vision. Thousands of workers held steady jobs for decades. Many were first generation immigrants that embraced their new home, and the opportunities made available to them. They bought homes, frequented the neighborhood taverns, paid taxes, raised families, went on hunting trips in northern Michigan and the UP, and retired with pensions. They belonged to lodges and bowling leagues. Their sons followed in their footsteps. In some instances their grandchildren worked in the factories that had opened in 1910, 1920, or 1930, factories that had played a role as the arsenal of democracy in WWII.

Is the Sparton Nocturne manufactured in 1935 the ultimate Art Deco radio? Wikimedia Commons

For better or for worse, the Jackson and the America of the early 21st century bears little to no resemblance to what either one was in the first decades of the previous century. The America of that era is a lost civilization. Perhaps that is the root of many of our ills today. We have forgotten that in city’s like Jackson in 1919, its citizens and workers were well aware of their past, but their eye was on the future. They embraced and fueled changing times, they adapted. They learned new skills and held firmly to traditions.

I am honored to be kicking off the fall speakers series at the Hackett Auto Museum in Jackson. I do hope that this fledgling museum will succeed in its goal to preserve Jackson’s rich industrial heritage. I do hope that this complex will inspire a new generation of dreamers, of visionaries, and of entrepreneurs.

A Bit Like Rip Van Winkle

A Bit Like Rip Van Winkle

“The gap between the breaker points is set at .015 to 0.18 in. The gap should occasionally be checked to see that the points are properly adjusted. If the points are burnt or pitted, they should be dressed down with an oil stone. DO NOT USE A FILE.” This is from a 1930 Ford repair manual. This is the world that I am most familiar with (ma said that I was born ninety and never aged).

As I work on the schedule and travel arrangements for the upcoming fall tour it is almost impossible to avoid reflecting on how much this has changed in recent years. The owner of a new 1930 Ford would have groused about the folding of a map. My pa did the same thing in 1960. So did I on my first solo cross country trip in 1976. It was a family tradition. It was a right of passage. Now I complain about setting up the Garmin, a devise that is already an antiquated relic in the age of smart phones and apps.

Motel reservations were something that the rich and famous did. The rest of us drove until we were tired and a neon lit sign that served as a lighthouse lured us from the road. Often we would drive along a strip of motels in search of a room, and on occasion we simply slept in the car along the highway. Imagine doing that today!

If we had a car with a radio, we would count the miles by the fading stations that were replaced by ones that had a stronger signal. As air conditioning was a luxury savored in a theater, at the occasional motel, or in a diner, summer desert travel was done at night. Did you know that many motels in the desert country offered special day rates as many people were on the road after dark?

“Needles, California, Saturday July 17, 1915 – Started west at 6:15 P.M. in procession of eight cars – a Jeffery, two Fords, two Chalmers, two Stutz, and a Cadillac. Thirty miles out Chalmers broke a spring. Roads in desert were fair. Stopped for midnight lunch. Played phonograph, fixed a tire, Stopped at Ludlow for gas, had to wake up the Desert Queen to get it. Arrived in Barstow at 7:00 P.M., sunrise very fine.” Journal of Edsel Ford. Paved roads across the desert like US 66 made the travel a bit easier but this was til the way we traveled in the 1960’s.

This faded relic along Route 66 in the Ozark Mountains hearkens to an earlier time.

I, for one, can’t say that I really miss the “good old days.” Still, especially after a frustrating week spent working on the website, with moderate success, the audio podcast, setting up the shop on the Facebook page to sell books, including my latest, Murder & Mayhem on The Main Street of America: Tales From Bloody 66, I am eager to get on the road. And to be honest, I would n’t mind doing the trip in a 1930 Ford. After all, today I would have the option of visiting the past, not having to live in it. Jim Hinckley’s America strives to keep history alive and relevant, but we also want the modern traveler to enjoy the adventure.