Author Jim Hinckley in the WWI trenches near Ypres Belgium enhanced the viewing of the movie 1917. Photo Dries Bessels
Sobering. Disturbing. Haunting. These words are apt descriptors for a few of the places visited during my travels over the years. On a cold, drizzly day in January, I stood in the trenches near Sanctuary Wood a short distance from Ypres Belgium where thousands of Canadian soldiers died from a gas attack in 1915. On a hot summer afternoon I visited the site on the Washita River in western Oklahoma where General Custer massacred hundreds of Cheyenne; men, women and children. Another summers afternoon found me in deep contemplation on the overgrown breastworks that marked the site of the brutal Civil War battle of Cold Harbor in Virginia. Nothing, however, prepared me for the experience of visiting Auschwitz-Birkenau in Poland.
As have many people over the years, I have long puzzled over how a nation such as Germany could commit the atrocities associated with the holocaust. This was a Christian nation, an advanced industrial nation, a nation of educated and cultured people. American soldiers in WWII noted how the country felt like America in many aspects. In a quest for answers I developed a deep fascination about Germany, specifically the period between the unification of 1871 that resulted in the creation of the modern state and 1945. In turn this led to a quest for understanding and the study of other periods of genocide and holocaust; the Khmer Rouge in Cambodia, the decimation of American Indians, the Spanish Conquistador’s annihilation of the Aztec and Inca, the attacks of the Apache and Navajo against the pueblo dwellers of New Mexico. Again, even though I knew that the horrors of the holocaust had been repeated countless times throughout history nothing prepared me for that day in the summer of 2018 when I visited the site of Auschwitz-Birkenau.
Kiosks such as these bring the atrocities committed at the site to life.
It was a working holiday of sorts as the trip included the European Route 66 Festival in Zlin Czechia and a journey across scenic, beautiful Germany. It was also an emotional trip as it included our 35th anniversary celebration in a German castle high above the Rhine River courtesy some dear friends who live near Frankfurt. On the road to Zlin, traveling with the owners of Netherlands based U.S. Bikers, friends we have known for many years, we made a stop in Nuremburg and toured the Palace of Justice courts where the post war trials were held as well as the museum at the former Nazi Party Rally Grounds. That set the stage. As we continued our trip east the following day was marked by subdued conversation, deep contemplation, and a sense of heaviness that was difficult to shake.
For many years I had lived with a silent promise. If I had an opportunity a visit would be made to one of the death camps. But I also wondered if it was something I could do. Was I strong enough?
After the festival we returned to Frankfurt with friends from the Netherlands on a rather circuitous route; north through the Czech Republic to Poland, south through Slovakia to Bratislava, and west to Germany through Austria. Before leaving Zlin we had discussed a stop at Auschwitz and the implications. We had no illusions. This would be difficult. It would be disturbing. Still, nothing prepared me for the visit. Nothing can prepare a person for this visit.
We arrived at Birkenau in time for a stunning sunset. Even though it was a day of record breaking heat, and the sunset was spectacular, the sense of a chill was tangible. The heaviness was palpable. Standing at that gate, peering into the camp through the wire there was a feeling that the horrors of the past were only thinly masked by the veil of time.
Our attempts to recover the joy and excitement we were sharing before the visit were futile. The laughter at dinner was hollow, the food seemed to have lost its flavor. And that evening I was privileged with an increasingly rare opportunity; an encounter with a survivor, a witness. The owner of the small B & B where were stayed in Oswiecim, Poland, site of the infamous camps, was born in the city but had worked in Italy as well as England. Her grandmother was also born in the town, a rarity in itself, and had been forced to work in the camp offices at Birkenau. Our conversation ran late into the evening but sleep was elusive. They were genuinely surprised that so many people from throughout the world would travel to see the site of such horrors. They also lamented how the sites had transformed over the years. Now there was more than just the camp. In the former rail yard a short distance from the main gate at Birkenau there was the surreal site of a modern glass and steel cafe and book store that were packed with visitors.
Our friends and I dedicated the following day to touring the camp at Birkenau. My memories of that day are a jumble, a conflicted series of haunting emotions. The overwhelming sense of loss when standing in the former processing center and staring at thousands and thousands of family photos; baby pictures, wedding pictures, graduation photos, birthdays, grandparents, work, family picnics, school picnics and knowing that these people, these families, these babies, these children were murdered mere yards from where I was standing. The towering display of personal items; shoes, dolls, baby toys, glasses, dentures, souvenirs from holidays that their owners carried with them until the very end of their life. I know that it was a manifestation of my imagination but mixed with summer smells on the breeze there was a hint of the stench of death. Adding to the poignancy, the overwhelming sense of loss was pushing my dearest friend through the camp in a wheelchair and knowing that she would have been one of the victims.
But most disturbing and frightening of all were some of the school groups. There were far to many teenagers that were being teenagers; pushing, joking, laughing. They seemed wholly unaffected by the reality of this place of death, by the somber faces or even the sobbing visitors. That is something that will haunt and worry me for quite some time, especially in an era where rabid nationalism and old prejudices, and politicians that are quick to use both for profit and power, are blossoming anew.
“The best commentary on the road between Santa Fe and Albuquerque is that it took us less than three hours to make the sixty-six miles, whereas the seventy-three miles from Las Vegas to Santa Fe took us nearly six.” Emily Post, By Motor to The Golden Gate, 1916. The first coast to coast trip by automobile occurred in 1903. In 1909 factories in America manufactured more than 825,000 horse drawn vehicles compared to 125,000 automobiles. And yet in 1915, the year that Emily Post and Edsel Ford followed the National Old Trails Road to see the scenic wonders of the southwest on their journey to the west coast, more than 20,000 people from outside the state of California arrived at the Panama Pacific Exposition by automobile. Needless to say, it was an era of rapid transition.
In this photo from the Don Gray collection you can see both the Sparton sign and the NOTR sign west of Williams, Arizona.
For a number of years I have been gathering information on the infancy of the American auto industry, the rise of the Good Roads movement and the named highways with the intention being the writing of a book about this period of dramatic societal evolution. That was the subject of a presentation made last October at the site of what I had been led to believe would become the Hackett Auto Museum in Jackson, Michigan. And as Jackson and the surrounding area was at the heart of an industrial boom that included more than 25 automobile manufacturers during the first decades of the 20th century, the trip was also about research.
One of the contacts made during this trip was Russell Rein who has been documenting the history of the named highways for many, many years. He is also a passionate student of the history of a leading manufacturer in Jackson, Sparks-Wirthington. This company was the largest manufacturer of automobile horns in the world during the teens, and later became a leading producer of radios and pioneer in television development as well as manufacturing. In 1915, Clifford and Harry Sparks, sons of one of the company founders, set out from Chicago to San Francisco in a new Ford truck putting up road signs that were a public service as well as an advertising campaign. The signs read, “Safety First – Sound Sparton.”
Fast forward to this past Friday. For several years I have been in discussion with Don Gray, a fellow with an interesting family history. The chapter of that history that spans the period 1910 to 1930 is chronicled in an extensive collection of family photos. Yesterday we finally had the opportunity to meet and to peruse his collection during a visit with Andy Sansom, the archivist at the Mohave Museum of History & Arts in Kingman, Arizona.
All of the materials in his collection were fascinating. As an example, one photo was of his grandfather, on a Michaelson motorcycle at the Padre Canyon Bridge that was under construction at the time. That would be 1914. And then we came to a photo taken on the National Old Trails Road between Ash Fork and Williams, Arizona. One lady in the photograph was standing next to a Sparton sign!
Needless to say the new presentation about the National Trails Road developed for spring and summer 2020 will be revised before its debut in Needles, California on February 7. And it looks like a new chapter in the 5 Minutes With Jimaudio podcast series about the National Old Trails Road has been added.
Meanwhile the search continues. I will be meeting with Don Gray again son. And I will be returning to Jackson this year for more research and a series of presentations that is in development.
Before I40, before Route 66, people got their kicks on the National Old Trails Road in the southwest. That is a story that needs to be told. It has adventure. It has adventurers like Edsel Ford, Emily Post and Ezra Meeker. It has famous and colorful people like Buffalo Bill Cody, Harry Truman and Louis Chevrolet. It has auto racing, serial killers and pioneering automobile manufacturers giving their vehicles a bit of real world testing.
The National Old Trails Road at the Colorado River. Photo Mohave Museum of History & Arts.
With the luxury of a half century of hindsight I can now see that the quest began in the summer of ’69. That was when I began trading hours of my life for money. That was the summer that I began working for Ed of Ed’s Camp on a long abandoned alignment of Route 66 in the Black Mountains. I now see that this is when the hunger to write, to share stories and to preserve history was sparked.
Ed was a geologist of some renown that had arrived in Arizona from Michigan shortly after WWI. He had established the camp sometime around 1928, and created a rough around the edges empire built on a desert oasis. The business evolved with Route 66 and in the years after WWII, Ed’s Camp offered an array of services to the traveler. There was a small cafe, cabins, gas station, garage, rock shop and produce market where Ed sold tomatoes and melons grown on site. Ed was also a prospector, was rumored to be involved with the burning of King’s Canyon Dairy and was internationally renowned for his geologic discoveries in the deserts of western Arizona.
IN western Arizona Route 66 course though a breathtaking landscape.
My primary job was to help with the gardens; weeding, helping with irrigation system repairs and other chores. But Ed had taken a shine to me and found other ways to put me to work. He also found ways to share his vast knowledge of the desert but I was far to young to fully appreciate the opportunity a summer with Ed represented. Still, I enjoyed books, especially books about adventurers and I was living an adventure of epic proportions.
Years later, even though I didn’t remember all of Ed’s quirky comments, details about the time a Pickwick bus missed a curve on Sitgreaves Pass and nosedived into a bank or his geology lessons, when I started writing about adventures memories of that summer often dominated my thoughts. That was when the seeds of my quest to become a writer were sown.
The pre 1952 alignment of Route 66 in the Black Mountains of Arizona
Even though I have had nineteen books and countless feature articles published, the hunger is still there. I am still hungry to share and to inspire adventures. I am still eager to make new discoveries and to share them. And that is, perhaps, the cornerstone for Jim Hinckley’s America. It may have started as a platform to market my work, it has become a venue for sharing my talent for telling people where to go. And as a bonus, it has become an opportunity to provide a service, to assist communities, small businesses, authors and artists by providing them with a promotional boost.
To date the quest, the writing, the search for adventure and the development of Jim Hinckley’s Americaas a venue for telling people where to go has been a truly grand adventure. And now a new year and new decade is underway, and indications are that this will be the most amazing year to date.
Growth of the audio podcast, Five Minutes With Jim, is up 1,200% year to date. We now have 6,000 followers on Facebook. On February 7, I will be speaking about the Old Trails Road at the historic El Garces Hotel in Needles, California. On June 4, I will be talking about Route 66 travel in Spokane. And now the quest is on for sponsors as I have received a request to speak at the International Route 66 Festival in Zlin, Czechia. The plans for a Route 66 centennial conference at Grand Canyon Caverns is underway. In limited partnership with Desert Wonder Tours, I am now leading walking tours in the Kingman historic district, and along the Cerbat Foothills Recreation trail system. The fall tour on Route 66 is under development and it includes attendance of the Miles of Possibility Conference in Pontiac, Illinois. In answer to requests received, I am now writing an autobiography as exclusive content on the Patreon based crowdfunding website.
And so as the quest continues, I give thought to Ed, to a summer of adventure and to a the living of a life of adventure.
Carlos F. Hurd was a reporter that had gained international notoriety in 1912 for his series of interviews with survivors of the sinking of the RMS Titanic. He was no stranger to disaster, to stories of human suffering and to gut wrenching stories of family tragedy. Nothing, however, prepared him for coverage of the vicious race riots in East St. Louis during the summer of 1917. His initial story published in the St. Louis Post Dispatch on July 3 opened with, “For an hour and a half last evening I saw the massacre of helpless Negroes at Broadway and 4th Street, in downtown East St. Louis, where black skin was a death warrant.”
His first person report continued with shocking detail. The East St. Louis affair, as I saw it, was a man hunt, conducted on a sporting basis, though with anything but the fair play which is the principle of sport. There was a horribly cold deliberateness and a spirit of fun about it.” Additional articles provided gruesome and proven details; a person nearly beheaded by an assailant with a butcher knife, a twelve-year old girl pulled from a trolley, people shot as they desperately tried to escape by swimming the Mississippi River, a mother beaten to death in front of her children.
Even though the incident took place before certification of Route 66, I wrote of it in my latest book, Murder and Mayhem on The Main Street of America: Tales from Bloody 66. The riot in East St. Louis was not an isolated incident. There was a similar event in Springfield, Illinois in the same period, and a few years later, an even more horrendous riot occurred in Tulsa, the city where Cyrus Avery, the man heralded as the father of Route 66, owned businesses. These prejudices, these racial hostilities would be woven into the fabric of Route 66 development and it would affect everything from tourism to trucking, motels to restaurants.
In Santa Fe, one of the oldest cities in America, passenger cars crowded the plaza and travelers such as Emily Post shared the road with ox carts.
The years between 1890 and 1930 were an incredible period of dramatic technological advancement and societal upheaval and evolution. A tsunami of immigration was transforming the very fabric of the country. The era of the western frontier was drawing to a close but there were still violent clashes with Native Americans such as the incident at Wounded Knee, South Dakota in December 1890. The labor movement was dawning, and that too led to violent clashes.
One of these was an incident now known as the the Bisbee Deportation. On July 12, 1917, in Bisbee, Arizona, about 1,300 striking mine workers, their supporters, and citizen bystanders were attached members of a deputized posse. The deputies forced more than 1,200 men into cattle cars, at gunpoint, and shipped them to New Mexico without food, water, luggage or anything more than what they carried in their pockets and the clothes on their back.
Bicycle mania swept the country during the 1890s but in the shadows the automobile was about to take center stage. Ransom E. Olds was experimenting with steam and gasoline engines. The Duryea brothers had began building automobiles for sale, and the Barnum & Bailey Circus gave one of their “motor wagons” top billing over the albino and fat lady. The first automobile race in America took place in 1898, people were driving coast to coast by 1905, and in that year a Stanley steamer was driven to a new speed record that was just short of 150 miles per hour.
Between 1909 and 1930 the number of horse drawn vehicles manufactured plummeted but while automobile production soared. Traffic lights and motels, service stations and garages became a part of the roadside culture. In a span of less than thirty years air travel evolved from rudimentary experimentation to becoming an integral component of the modern military and even coast to coast passenger service.
A few points to ponder. Wyatt Earp of OK Corral fame died in Los Angeles in 1929. Geronimo was photographed in a Cadillac. Between 1898 and 1930 there were more than 1,500 automobile manufacturing companies launched. Ezra Meeker traveled the Oregon Trail by ox cart, and the National Old Trails Road by automobile. The movie theater was introduced and those movies became talkies.
These heady times are being woven into a rich and colorful tapestry, my latest presentation series – In The Beginning. It promises to be informative, fast paced and to inspire some interesting conversation. It is a bit of time travel to what is, perhaps, one of the most amazing forty year period in our nations history. Curious? Contact us today to schedule a presentation for your event, festival or fund raiser.
The Cartercar was a manifestation of unique and innovative automotive engineering.
The Cartercar, not to be confused with the Cartermobile manufactured in Hannibal, Missouri or the Cartermobile manufactured in Hyattsville, Maryland, was promoted in marketing campaigns as “The Car of A Thousand Speeds” and “The car with no gears to strip, no clutch to slip, no universal joints to break, no shaft drive to twist, no bevel gears to wear and howl, no noise to annoy.” It was an innovative car, to say the very least. It was the brain child of Byron J. Carter, a visionary career was cut short after an accident that led to the development of the electric automobile starter.
Carter was born during the American Civil War on August 17, 1863, in Jackson County, Michigan. In 1885, Byron Carter established the Steam Job Printing and Rubber Stamp Manufacturing business in at 167 Main Street in Jackson, Michigan. Jackson. In 1894, to capitalize on the tsunami of interest in bicycling, Carter, with his father, started a bicycle sales and repair company on the corner of Courtland and Jackson streets. Two years later, he launched the United States Tag Company, a printing business.
Even though there was still tremendous national interest in bicycles, it was the automobile that was the primary subject of interest among entrepreneurs, tinkerers and investors with vision. Carter had developed a working knowledge and interest in steam engines during his tenure with the Steam Job Printing Company. One of his first patents, in 1902, was for a three-cylinder steam engine. This was to be the cornerstone for the Jackson Automobile Company.
Buffalo Bill Cody at the tiller of a 1903 Michigan. Photo Jim Hinckley collection.
His first automotive endeavor was an experimental car with a gasoline engine that he built in 1899. His second endeavor was the Carter, a steamer built by the Michigan Automobile Company in Grand Rapids, Michigan. As an historic footnote the first automobile purchased by Buffalo Bill Cody was manufactured by this company.
In July of 1902, Carter returned to Jackson and entered into discussions with George A. Mathews, owner of the Fuller Buggy Company and the director of the Jackson City Bank, and Charles Lewis, president of the Lewis Spring & Axle Company as well as Union Bank. A partnership was formed and the Jackson Automobile Company was born.
On display at Ye Ole Carriage Shop in Spring Arbor, Michigan is the oldest existent vehicle manufactured by the Jackson Automobile Company of Jackson, Michigan
The first model produced by the company was the Jaxon, a steam powered car that used Carter’s patented engine. This was a one year old model but the company would manufacture gasoline powered cars, and trucks, including four-wheel drive models, for two decades. The cars would be marketed with the slogan “No hill to steep, no sand to deep.” Carter’s association with the company and his position as manufacturing superintendent was short lived as he was unable to sell his partners on the merits of his friction drive transmission.
In 1905, Carter organized the Motorcar Company in Jackson but relocated the enterprise to Detroit shortly afterwards after securing investment capital. Shortly after relocation the company was reorganized as Cartercar but before serious production could commence, manufacturing was transferred to the former Pontiac Spring & Wagon Works in Pontiac, Michigan. The car received positive reviews in the press, and owners offered glowing testimony.
Cartercar production showed slow but steady growth; 101 cars in 1906, 264 in 1907 and 323 in 1908. What might have been can only be conjectured. The Cartercar would soldier on until 1915 as a part of General Motors. However, Carter’s visionary talents were cut short when on April 6, 1908 he died after developing pneumonia that resulted from injuries sustained when the hand crank on a car he was attempting to start on the Belle Isle bridge near Detroit spun backwards striking him in the face.
Fittingly, Carter’s death would inspire automotive innovation that transformed the industry. We find the story in a biography of Charles Kettering, the man behind leaded gasoline, the air cooled Chevrolet debacle that led to the first automotive recall and the electric starter. “In the summer of 1910 a woman driving an automobile across the old Belle Island Bridge in Detroit, stalled her engine…. A man who happened by just then stopped and offered to crank the woman’s engine for her. He was Byron J. Carter, maker of the automobile called the Cartercar. Unfortunately the spark was not retarded. So the engine kicked back and the flying crank broke Carter’s jaw…. Carter was not a young man, and complications arising out of the accident caused his death. Now, it happened that Carter was a friend of Henry Leland, head man at Cadillac. Soon afterward, in Leland’s office, Kettering remarked that he thought it would be possible to do away with the hand crank, sometimes called the ‘arm-strong starter,’ by cranking cars electrically. In Leland’s distress at the loss of his friend Carter, he took up the suggestion at once.”