Lost Highways, Old Friends & And A Hearty Breakfast

Lost Highways, Old Friends & And A Hearty Breakfast

Marty and one of the horses that trailed us as we sought out remnants of the National Old Trails Road

What do you call a day that includes a Route 66 road trip, an awesome possum breakfast at a classic Route 66 restaurant, exploring not one but three historic highways and seeking out Arizona railroad history, and a shared adventure with an old friend? Well, in normal times you would call it a great day. In the era of COVID 19 you call it a very rare treat.

It was to be a short run of just 200 miles round trip but being seasoned desert adventurers, and as the Jeep is now 23 years old with an unknown number of miles (a story for another day), we packed a shovel, water, a few edibles, cameras, a few quarts of oil and basic tools. And as the quest was to find remnants of the National Old Trails Road west of Seligman, Arizona, I also carried a copy of the Arizona Good Roads Association guide book to roads in Arizona and southern California that was published in 1914.

After a hearty breakfast of oatmeal and berries, we hit the road at first light before the sun had chased the shadows from the Hualapai Valley east of Kingman. The conversation was lively as we are both story tellers, hadn’t had a visit for a spell and have aged a bit, and we both had desert adventures to share. The pace was slow as there were things to point to in the brush and desert along Route 66.

A link that enabled dating the car shell.

The first stop was just east of Grand Canyon Caverns. Some years ago Marty had found traces of what may have been an early alignment of the National Old Trails Road, the fast fading remnants of a building that had most likely once served as a garage and livery stable, and the picked bones of an old car. On a previous stop at the site Marty had found an ancient piece of iron with ornate Cadillac script. This and some of the trash at the site enabled us to pin down a rough date for the car as well as the former business – pre 1910. I suppose some of us never out grow the childhood excitement that comes with a search for lost treasure, and discoveries that spark the imagination.

The next stop was a few miles to the east. As we followed the faintest trace of old road through the dry grass and the junipers, confirmation that we were on the right track appeared in the form of a stone masonry culvert. That quickened the spirt as I reflected on Edsel Ford’s travel journal from July 16, 1915 and the notes he had made after driving this very road. Here was a tangible link to more than a century of transportation. Was this the alignment followed by Louis Chevrolet and Barney Oldfield during the 1914 Desert Classic automobile race that had followed the National Old Trails Road east from Los Angles to Ash Fork, Arizona?

The second breakfast, a brunch of sorts, at the one and only Road Kill Café in Seligman included a visit with Debbie and her husband, the owners. The awesome possum breakfast was delicious and the conversation lively as they had spent most of their lives in Seligman or the immediate area. They were able to fill a few holes, point us in the right direction, and inspire plans for the next adventure before even completing the first one. And after breakfast we explored the back streets of Seligman in search of automotive treasures.

We continued east along Route 66 past the old Crookton railroad overpass, and then followed an older alignment to a long forgotten rest area. From here we set off on foot to follow the earliest alignment of Route 66, and segments of the National Old Trails Road. As an added bonus we found an even older road and vague hints that this was most likely a trace of the 1850s Beale Wagon Road. By this time the temperature was closing in on 100 degrees and the sweat was rolling into our eyes, but we pressed on speculating, sharing discoveries found under the junipers or among the rocks and discussing plans for a return excursion when the weather cooled during the fall.

On the return trip we made a couple more stops. One was to explore an interesting section of old road bordered by two concrete curbs near the Crookton overpass. Route 66? National Old Trails Road? Little discoveries raised more questions than they answered; remnants of a telegraph pole with threaded wooden dowel for the insulator, a weathered railroad tie with 1948 date nail, a broken Coca Cola bottle with Needles, California stamp. A herd of horses let curiosity overcome concerns and became our travel companions as we followed the old road across the high desert prairie of dried grass.

The last stop was at the 19th century railroad siding at Pica. The depot gave every indication that it would soon be little more than a forgotten relic and a pile of dried lumber amongst the grass. The big steam driven pumps and pump house that was hereon the last visit are gone. The towering water tanks that dated to the late 19th century and the era of steam engines still stood tall. Surprisingly, a graffiti artist of extraordinary talent had used them as his canvas creating a masterpiece or two. The things you find in the most remote of places, amazing.

An artist with extraordinary talent used these 19th century water tanks as his canvas at the Pica siding west of Seligman ©

The drive home was a leisurely discussion of discoveries made, tall tales heard and shared, and savoring the vast landscapes that have soothed my soul for nearly sixty years. Even in these trying times, the best medicine is still a road trip, or even better a road trip on Route 66, old friends, good food, a desert adventure and discoveries that provide a tangible link to another time.

Route 66 or National Old Trails Road? ©



At The Intersection Of The Past & Future

At The Intersection Of The Past & Future

Buffalo Bill Cody at the tiller of a 1903 Michigan. Photo Jim Hinckley collection.

A common question asked in interviews is what period of history do I find to be the most exciting and interesting. The answer is 1990 to 2020 and 1890 to 1930. That in turn usually leads to an expression of surprise followed by a series of related questions. The swirl of past, present, and future during the 1890 to 1930 period is an endless source of fascination. As an example, consider this. Buffalo Bill, the legendary frontiersman, purchased a Kalamazoo manufactured Michigan in 1903, and played an important role in the development of the National Old Trails Road, predecessor to Route 66 in the southwest.

Edsel Ford, Emily Post and thousands upon thousands of tourists were discovering the wonders of the great southwest by following the National Old Trails Road to California for the Panama Pacific Exposition in 1915. This was the year that the Dodge brothers launched an automotive empire that would in time challenge the dominance of Henry Ford. And in Europe, for the first time airplanes were being used in combat. Meanwhile, in remote areas of Arizona stagecoaches were still in use.

Henry Starr

On this past weeks episode of Coffee With Jim, I referenced Henry Starr, the 6′ 7″ Cherokee that was born in 1873 in the Oklahoma Territory. He was a prolific bank robber and in 1893 killed a U.S. Marshall. While in prison he learned Latin, began studying the law, and developed an educational program for illiterate prisoners. The latter led to President Theodore Roosevelt issuing a pardon. But almost as soon as he was released, Starr resumed his career as a bank robber.

This was followed by another prison stint, another pardon and then a daring attempt to rob two banks simultaneously in Stroud, Oklahoma. This time he was wounded and arrested. Shortly after release from prison his life took a dramatic and unexpected turn, a movie star that played the role of western outlaw and bank robber. His first film was a moderate success, and there was every indication that he was on the cusp of a new career.

Instead he returned to Oklahoma and began making illegal withdrawals from rural banks. His luck ran out in 1921 when in the course of a robbery he was mortally wounded and died four days later. Starr began his career as a bank robber escaping posses on horseback. He ended it with escapes, or attempted escapes, in a Hudson or Studebaker. Changing times.

I reference the current era as it is also a period of dramatic transformation. As a point of reference just consider how dramatically 2020 has forever changed the world. Still, as exciting as it is, to be honest, there are days when I reflect on how nice it would be to read about this era in a history book instead of live through it. As I recall the years 1890 to 1930 opened the door to a pretty tumultuous period of time, and there are ample indications that we could witness a replay of sorts in the not so distant future.