In my attempt to avoid toll roads and yet make time, I made some interesting discoveries on the back roads.
Two weeks and four days. One minor blizzard. Torrential rain. Fascinating people. New discoveries. Just a hair over 5,000 miles driven. Endless road construction. Excellent pie (and huevos rancheros, tacos, stew, omelettes, Greek food, hamburgers, Polish food, beer …) and some very poor food. Book signings. A couple of conferences. Countless meetings. A boondoggle presentation. Old friends. New friends. And lots of time for thinking about the future of Jim Hinckley’s America in 2020.
The fall tour was quite the odyssey and I have a lot to share over the course of the next few weeks. Let’s kick it off by sharing my top pick for eating healthy and keeping to a budget. The Rock at 203 W. North Street in Normal, Illinois. The gyros were superb but during the Miles of Possibility Conference my dearest friend and I ate at this restaurant several times since it was less than a block from the Hyatt, host hotel for the event. We tried a variety of items on the menu, never had a bad meal, and never spent more than $23 for the two of us. Now that is a bargain in any book.
From its recently restored neon signage to meticulous maintenance the pride of ownership is manifest at every turn.
Next, my top lodging option discovered on this trip. The Sunset Motel in Moriarty, New Mexico is a true gem. Deborah Pogue and her husband Mike are more than mere proprietors, they are stewards of a true treasure and their pride as well as enthusiasm is evident. This is, perhaps, the oldest single family owned motel on Route 66. Mike helped his father build the complex in 1959. It has been meticulously maintained and is an excellent place to rest the weary head as well as discover the very essence of the Route 66 experience. Eating in Moriarty is another matter. I will need to do a bit more research but can unequivocally say that Nachos is not a place that can be recommended. The service was poor, the food not quite even average.
When it comes to fascinating discoveries, I don’t know what goes at the top of the list. The near ghost town of Chetopa, Kansas was quite fascinating. I was also amazed by the Ye Ole Carriage Shop, a private museum in Spring Arbor, Michigan, and its proprietor. Still, it was an opportunity to visit with Ken Soderbeck at his shop on Circus Farm near Grass Lake, Michigan that really stands out as an experience that is almost impossible to describe with mere words.
Ken Soderbeck’s shop near Grass Lake, Michigan is nothing short of astounding.
Soderbeck is a true craftsman with a passion for vintage fire equipment and his expertise in the restoration of fire trucks as well as horse drawn apparatus is recognized internationally. But his expertise does not end there. He has restored the only existent 4×4 truck manufactured by Jackson Automobile Company, is in the process of renovating a 19th century trolley car, and in his spare time, is transforming the former elephant barn for the Lewis Brothers Circus into a home.
Stay tuned. I will be writing more about Soderbeck as well as other discoveries made on the recent tour. And of course I will also be sharing information from the Miles of Possibility Conference, meetings with tourism directors and community organizers, discussions pertaining to the Route 66 centennial, and on community development opportunities.
The one eyed Briscoe that was manufactured in Jackson, Michigan is but one of the rare gems on display at Ye Ole Carriage Shop.
To wrap this up today, let me share this photo from the Ye Ole Carriage Shop. You can bet the bottom dollar I will be writing about this place and its owner soon. You can also safely assume that I will return for a longer visit, and perhaps, a one of a kind Adventurers Club program.
Just one block off Route 66 is this charming little gem filled with an array of delicious, and occasionally healthy goodies.
For those willing to simply see where the road leads, and an ability to develop flexible plans, life can be a grand adventure full of surprises. The fall tour has been just such an adventure, endless opportunity for surprises. It has been maddening, fun, interesting, sad and tragic, educational, almost profitable, informative, enjoyable and a bit of a gastronomical odyssey.
As an example consider yesterday. It started simply enough with a breakfast shared with old friends from Iowa at the Huddle House, a presentation on economic development and tourism for the City of Cuba, and then a drive to Steelville for a late lunch shared with my dearest friend. Now I am sitting in the historic Wagon Wheel Motel, after a wonderful breakfast courtesy the Cuba Bakery & Deli contemplating the possibilities. Over the years I have wore a number of hats but never once has thought been given to serving as an official tourism director.
The gift shop at the Wagon Wheel Motel will be stocked with signed copies of my books, unless they sell out tonight. Already two copies have been sold and the festivities have yet to begin.
The apparent popularity of the new book, Murder and Mayhem on the Main Street of America: Tales From Bloody 66, has been a pleasant surprise. I have almost sold all of the copies brought with me on the fall tour, as well as the Jim Hinckley’s America pins, and this evenings 10th anniversary celebration of Connie Echols stewardship of the iconic Wagon Wheel Motel where I will be signing books is shaping up to be quite the event. I have just learned that Marian Pavel, developer of the Route 66 Navigation app will be in attendance, and Connie has stocked the gift shop so I have lots of books to sign.
When the trip kicked off there had been some very promising discussions about a project of particular interest in Jackson, Michigan. That too was quite a surprise as it turned out to be more smoke and mirrors than substance. As it turned out it was also a valuable lesson, one of the most embarrassing performances to date resultant of venue, and the portal to some incredible opportunities for what may manifest as the 20th book. I also met some very interesting and inspirational people, and bid adios to my pa for the last time. So, the visit to Jackson was one of those bittersweet detours in life.
Now we turn our attentions toward the homeward trip, and perhaps, the dawn of a new era. Meanwhile, development of Jim Hinckley’s America as a multifaceted travel network continues. The weekly audio podcast Ten Minutes With will resume at the end of the month. Likewise the weekly Adventurers Club live programs. And, of course there will lots of website updates as well as blog posts about the fascinating new restaurants discovered on our journey.
The former Hackett Auto Factory with gaping holes in the roof, a few missing windows, and a port a potty in the corner now tops my list of most bizzare locations for making a presentation.
I have been traveling the back roads of America since 1959. I have been tellling people where to go since 1990 (as a writer as well as through Jim Hinckley’s America) and since at least 1976 as a manifestation of a low tolerance for stupidity, grifters, and opportunists. This trip has been the most grueling, one of the most unusual and one of the most emotional to date. This trip has tested my patience for the aforementioned people. It has also been an adventure along memory lane.
Last year when I traveled to Jackson, Michigan and made a presentation in support of the future Hackett Auto Museum, I also visited my pa. At that time it was obvious that age was creeping up on him fast (he was 90). He was still working on his houses, mowing the lawn and could still pack away a hearty meal but there was ample evidence that he was in decline. We were never a close clan and even though we both knew our time together was limited, there was no thawing of a relationship that would best be described as distant and alienated. Reflections on his advancing age, and mine, made the trip bittersweet. At that time it was also one of the hardest roadtrips ever undertaken as it was the first cross country adventure in 35 years made without my dearest friend.
Today I visited my pa in an assisted living facility. His obvious frailty was in stark contrast to the man I had never seen sick, the barrel chested fellow who once delivered refrigerators to second floor apartments by strapping them to his back. Most troubling of all was his mental state. He didn’t know who I was. A tragedy on so many levels.
It was a true honor to be invited to tour Ken Soderbeck’s farm and workshop that houses some very amazing things including this ultra rare Jackson 4×4 truck
It was a delight to have my dearest friend with me again as my laughing travel companion, especially during the long hours spent negotiating endless miles of road construction and driving through torrential rains. To have her with me today was a blessing as I am truly embarking on a journey along Memory Lane.
It wasn’t all sadness and reflection today. There was a true ray of sunshine, a bit of inspiration. After years of sporadic phone calls I met with my nephew, his wonderful wife, and their youngest daughter. They have been dad’s caregivers since his wife passed away this past May. It was refreshing to see what a fine young man and passionate father he has become. I can’t say enough about his wife and daughter, especially after seeing them in action today as they gently took care of pa.
Overall the fall tour has been a blending of the old, distributing promotional materials for communities and advertising sponsors along the Route 66 corrdior, and meeting with old friends as well as business associates, and the new. In the latter category I have had ample opportunity to sample some interesting restaurants (stay tuned), and to visit some of the most fascinating people such as Ken Soderbeck, a man known throughout the world for his restoration of antique fire trucks and equipment.
And I topped my previous list of most unusual places to make a presentation. This time I spoke in a 110 year old auto factory that was missing windows and most of the roof (did I mention that it was forty five degrees?). It was far from the largest audience I have had for a presentation and book signing but, surprisingly, a handful of people actually turned out for the event including Anthony Hurst of the Hurst Foundation.
Promotional materials distributed along Route 66
Incredibly the trip has just begun. Next up is an interview on JTV about the new book, Murder & Mayhem on The Main Street of America: Tales From Bloody 66, and a discussion about plans for a book about Jackson’s rich industrial heritage. Then it’s the Miles of Possibility Conference and related meetings. That will be followed by a presentation and forum on tourism and economic development in Cuba, Missouri which will be followed by a fun filled evening, and book signing, at the 10th anniversary celebration of Connie Echols ownership of the historic Wagon Wheel Motel. From there its homeward bound along Route 66; visits with old friends, meetings related to tourism development and good pie.
It will truly be an adventure along Memory Lane. Every mile of this old road is tinged with memories. Memories of my dad as we traveled west in his new 1964 Ford Fairlane. Memories of my dad teaching me to repair a tube along the highway.
Historic Jackson, Michigan at night, a city being reinvented.
Memories of the epic move from Michigan to Arizona in 1966. Memories of him teaching me to drive a stick shift (’49 Studebaker stake bed). Memoris of him teaching me the value of a handshake, of looking a man in the eye. Memories of helping him build a homestead along Route 66 in the Sacramento Valley of western Arizona. Memories of a truck wreck near Gallup in 1976. Memories of roadside campouts, cold beans eaten from the can, roadside repairs, and silent meals eaten in countless neon lit cafes. There are memories of long hot summer days, the smells of wet pavement and gas stations at midnight. There are memories of trucks and cars; the ’58 Chevy Viking used during one of the many epic moves, the ’53 Chevy truck I drove from Gallup after the wreck, the ’64 Olds that dropped the transmission while pulling a trailer up a steep grade somewhere in the Ozarks. Memories of my dads unshakeable confidence to overcome any disaster or problem encountered. Memories of superficial conversations to pass the miles. Memories and my dearest friend, companions for the road trip home.
Yep, this will be a trip for the record books. This will be an adventure never to be forgotten. This will be an adventure along Memory Lane.
The Bonelli House in Kingman, Arizona is a fascinating time capsule as it contains most of the original furnishings purchased by the family between 1915 and 1940. Photo Jim Hinckley’s America
It has been a week of assorted adventures, time spent with friends, adventure planning, planning adventures with friends and the frustration of dealing with shadow ranchers. Let me start by giving an explanation of shadow rancher for those not familiar with the term. This is someone who walks like a rancher and talks like a rancher in an attempt to fool people into believing that they are a rancher. In reality the herds are shadows, a fiction. I am not usually snookered by the shadow rancher but it does appear that this is exactly what has happened. There isn’t any need to provide details. I will keep my end of the bargain and ride it out as long as they don’t try and pay me with a sack of three legged buffaloes, and to the best of my ability smile. Suffice to say a lesson has been learned.
Aside from this little problem it has been a pretty good week. My dearest friend and I enjoyed a great breakfast with Zdenek Jurasek, an old friend from the Czech Republic, and his tour group at Mr. D’z Route 66 Diner. Aside from catching up and talking about tours, Route 66 and torus on Route 66, we talked about the 2020 International Route 66 Festival that Jurasek is organizing in Zlin, Czech Republic. Judging by the festival in Zlin last year, and his skills when it comes to event planning and organization I am confident that this will be quite the festival. It represents an incredible promotional opportunity for Route 66 communities and businesses, and for the Route 66 enthusiast, a fun filled weekend with fans of the double six from throughout the world.
We also had an opportunity to enjoy a lunch with friends from the Netherlands, Karel and Hanneke. Aside from reminiscing about last years shared adventure that included numerous mechanical mishaps with a Fiat in Poland and Germany, we pitched big dreams for future odysseys. And then there was another opportunity to explore the unique architectural attributes of the historic Bonnelli house.
Other highlights of the week included the honor of riding in the Andy Devine Parade with Vice Mayor Travis Lingenfelter, and a few mechanical mishaps that are humorous with the luxury of hindsight. And there was a great Route 66 Association of Kingman “meet & greet” with some folks from Australia as guests courtesy New Zealand based Gilligan’s Route 66 Tours that retains my services to meet with clients that avail themselves of the self drive tour option. The Kingman association is a big part of the grassroots initiatives and networks that are transforming the city into a destination, and that make up for the shortcomings of the city’s tourism office.
With our son in charge of the homestead, next week my dearest friend and I take to the road. It will be a promotional tour for the new book, and as is our custom, a Jim Hinckley’s America research trip that ensures my work as a tourism development consultant is relevant as well as effective. It will also provide fodder for future podcasts, blog posts, travel planning updates and reviews of motels as well as restaurants on the website as well as social media network, and, perhaps material for the next book, number 20. This will also enhance the community education classes on tourism that I developed for Mohave Community College.
Look for us on the road. Perhaps we can hoist a pint or a cup of coffee, and talk Route 66 adventures. And I will have books on hand, or can sign your copy, and we have stocked up on the popular Jim Hinckley’s America pins. Check out our Facebook page for schedule updates. As it stands now, we will make a made dash for Jackson, Michigan on the first leg of the trip. We will be making a pit stop in Moriarty, New Mexico and then Tulsa to meet with Rhys Martin to catch up and to talk about the festival in Zlin, Route 66 centennial projects, and the Oklahoma Route 66 Association. Then we pick up promotional materials for the Miles of Possibility Conference in Cuba, and push on to Terre Haute.
The next stop is Jackson; a reception and presentation at the Hackett Auto Museum and a bit of research that MAY lead to a new book. Stay tuned.
And while in town we will be paying a visit to my pa, and to my nephew and his wife. Then it’s the Miles of Possibility Conference, an economic development and tourism conference in Cuba, Missouri, and on the 22nd, a fun filled evening to celebrate the tenth anniversary of Connie Echols proprietorship of the historic Wagon Wheel Motel. She has a lot of festivities planned and I will be signing books. From there it’s a relatively leisurely drive home along Route 66.
The National Route 66 Museum in Elk City, Oklahoma, a stop on our fall tour.
I am unsure if blog posting will fit into a tight schedule so it might be best to follow our Facebook page for a bit. And to wrap this up I need to give a shout out to the sponsors of the fall tour. First, our major sponsors – the City of Cuba, Route 66 Association of Kingman and Grand Canyon Caverns. Then there are advertising sponsors and supporters of our crowdfunding initiative on the Patreon platform. Listed among these sponsors are the Roadrunner Lodge in Tucumcari, Dale Butel’s Route 66 Tours, Uranus Fudge Company, Wagon Wheel Motel, Jenny Joy’s Soap, Calico’s restaurant and Diana’s Cellar Door.
See you on the road.