Almost There

Almost There

Author Jim HInckley signing books after leading a neon nights walking tour in Kingman, Arizona. Photo Anita Shaw

I am not sure when the vision first manifested but for many, many years there would be glimpses of my senior years as an odd blending of Slim Pickens in the film The Getaway, Jack Elam, and Walter Brennen. On occasion a new dimension would be added such as the character that Robert Duval played in the movie Open Range. With the luxury of hindsight I now see that becoming a colorful character in my old age was more a goal than developing a profitable career. Oddly enough I never really worked at it, it just seemed to evolve naturally. Perhaps it was best described by ma who said that I was born ninety and never aged.

In 1981, when my dearest friend and I were courting, I drove a 1946 GMC as my daily transportation. The exterior of that old workhorse was best described as junkyard camouflage. I could park that truck in any junk yard and it would blend in perfectly. I used kerosene lamps as there was no electricity in my cabin, and cooked as well as heated on an ancient wood burning stove. We were married almost ten years before purchasing a truck manufactured after I was born. We used an avocado green rotary dial wall phone until 2005. We used a black and white television until about 1990. That was the year I sold my first feature article. It was written on a 1948 Underwood typewriter.

At age 16, for the first time, with my own money I purchased a jacket. It was a canvas Carhart farm coat. At age 62, I bought a new jacket. It was identical with but one exception. This one was sold under the Wrangler name. I was so thin when my dearest friend and I married that hiding behind a flagpole was a real option in a game of hide and seek. I wore 29×30 Wrangler jeans. I still wear Wrangler jeans, they are just a bit bigger, 33×30 in the winter, 32×30 in the summer. That comes from long hours spent polishing an office chair with my backside as I work daily to tell people where to go.

In the grand scheme of things it doesn’t really matter. I am comfortable as a caricature, a tangible blending of the past and the present, a link to an earlier time. There is a certain pride that comes from being introduced as an intellectual redneck, America’s storyteller or the Will Rogers of the 21st century. This continuing evolution has me looking forward to the years left in what is the unfolding final chapter.

I can already see that my diplomatic skills are weakening. Every day I better understand Clint Eastwood’s character in Gran Torino. With each passing day it becomes harder to bite my tongue, especially in the era of a never ending election, people passionately defending mindless conspiracy theories, and social media networks that allow people to return to junior high school. See, manifestations of my future life as an old fart are already becoming evident.

So, if I were to look into the crystal ball, what would I see for my future? Well, there is an increasing desire to own a Model A Ford or vehicle of similar vintage (Hudson Super Six, Nash, Studebaker, Chrysler?) and do some nationwide touring with a possible detour into Canada. And I have always wanted to go to Alaska. My dearest friend, an adventuresome soul that remembers double dating in a ’26 Ford, helping me push start the ’49 Chevy truck after a date, and the Dodge that the door fell off of, has been gently nudging me toward something a bit more practical such as a ’49 Hudson or ’57 Chevy truck. After nearly forty years of marriage we have learned to compromise.

Then there is the childhood quest to become a writer when I grow up that still needs to be fulfilled. And that takes us to Jim Hinckley America’s. Telling people where to go is my passion. Inspiring road trips. Shared adventures. Friends and friends yet made. So, that will most definitely be a focus in years to come. And as it so happens, that dovetails with my ongoing development as a colorful character. Besides, working is a sure death albeit a slower one than starvation.

My dearest friend and I have come to really enjoy Europe; the people, the food, the sites, the history and the landscapes. And we have so many friends there. I often entertain thoughts of spending a bit of time there, perhaps a speaking tour. And when my thoughts wander down that path, I begin to wonder if something like that would work in Australia and New Zealand. I wonder how to transform this from a vague dream into a reality? I suppose time will tell.

And so, as the first pages of the last chapter turn, I look toward the future with apprehension tinged excitement. The anxiety is fueled by 2020, the year of the apocalypse. If it weren’t for the morning walkabout in the desert, I would spend most days as nervous as a long tailed cat in a room full of rocking chairs. In any case, I am increasingly convinced that another thirty years like this is going to kill me.

Meanwhile most every day hours are consumed as this old dog works to learn new tricks. Less than five years ago I acquired a cell phone, and now I develop live stream programs, have an audio podcast, a YouTube channel, and social media network as part of the Jim Hinckley’s America travel channel. Interesting times.

I wonder what the future holds? I wonder what adventures await a fellow that has managed, without a great deal of effort, to spend most of his life as an old timer. Perhaps it’s time to consider growing a walrus mustache.





Pandemics, Elections & Automotive History

Dodge introduced automotive test facilities, an industry first, a their factory in 1916. Photo Detroit Public Library

Horace and John Dodge epitomized the American dream of rising from humble beginnings to vast wealth. They were rough and tumble, hard drinking blue-collar men from Niles, Michigan. John Francis was born in 1864, Horace Elgin in 1868. Their grandfathers, father and uncles were machinists. Both were mechanically inclined. John was somewhat reserved; Horace developed a reputation for a hair trigger temper. Together the redheaded Dodge boys were an inseparable team. They started with the manufacture of bicycles and then together they built an automotive empire, and played an integral role in the success of companies such as Olds Motor Works and Ford Company.

The Spanish Flu pandemic that began its relentless march around the world in 1918, much like COVID 19 today, had far reaching implications. It was while at the January 1920 National Automobile Show in New York City in that both John and Horace Dodge became sick. There is still some debate over their illness but at the time the consensus was that they had been infected with the last wave of the devastating Spanish flu pandemic that killed over 50 million. As with many victims of COVID 19, on January 14, mere days after becoming ill, John was afflicted with pneumonia and died in his hotel room at the age of 55. Even though he suffered from cirrhosis of the liver, the official cause of death, Horace recovered from influenza and pneumonia but was nearly bedridden for most of a year at his home in Florida before dying on December 10 at the age of 52.

President Wilson contracted influenza shortly after arriving in Paris in April 1919 for peace talks aimed at mapping the reconstruction of a post-World War I Europe. White House doctor Cary T. Grayson wrote  the diagnosis arrived at a decidedly inopportune moment: “The president was suddenly taken violently sick with the influenza at a time when the whole of civilization seemed to be in the balance.” Plagued by fever Wilson began hallucinating and issuing odd orders. On several occasions he argued about missing furniture, and even displayed paranoia in conversations in which he expressed concerns that he was surrounded by French spies. As a result, he was to play a minimal role in the development of policies pertaining to German reparations, creation of the League of Nations, and the

By Theodor Horydczak – This image is available from the United States Library of Congress’s Prints and Photographs division

negotiation of agreements pertaining to American factories, including automobile manufacturers, being established in Europe.

Roy Dikeman Chapin Sr. was born in Lansing Michigan on February 23, 1880. His automotive career was launched by working for Ransom E. Olds of the Olds Motor Works. For the princely sum of $35 a month he took publicity photographs and performed other tasks. In 1901, he drove one of the new Curved Dash Oldsmobiles to New York City for a display at the second annual Auto Show in 1901. The 820-mile trip took seven days to complete and was a promotional boon for the pioneering automobile manufacturer. As a result of the deplorable road conditions, Chapin became an ardent supporter of the good roads movement. Chapin, along with Henry B. Joy of the Packard Motor Car Company, spearheaded efforts to build the Lincoln Highway.

Chapin was a gifted salesman and helped propel Olds Motor Works sales to record levels. He left the company in April 1906 and played key roles in establishment of Thomas-Detroit Company, Chalmers-Detroit Company, and several others. In 1908, Chapin facilitated a partnership of automotive engineers from Chalmers, and leading businessmen and founded the Hudson Motor Car Company in 1908. He served as the company’s president for several years. In this position he was able to establish the Essex Motors Company in 1918.

On August 8, 1932, President Herbert Hoover appointed Chapin to succeed Robert Lamont as secretary of commerce, a position he held until the end of Hoover’s term in 1933. It was in this position that he developed a series of controversial measures to stem an escalation of bank failures that threatened to surpass those of the post WWI recession. His initiative centered on evaluating which banks were to big to fail, creation of the Reconstruction Finance Corporation, and then facilitating cooperative partnerships to bail them out.

As he was associated with Detroit banks through Hudson, efforts to protect several of the largest financial institutions stirred a great deal of political controversy. In mid 1930, a run began on Detroit’s largest banks. Prior to February, 1933, more than $250,000,000 was withdrawn from the First National Bank of Detroit, the Union Guardian Trust Company and the Guardian National Bank of Commerce. The situation became so serious that the First National Bank was forced to liquidate most liquid and unpledged assets, and the Union Guardian Trust Company was compelled to borrow from the Reconstruction Finance Corporation (RFC).  Edsel Ford was Chairman of the Board of the Union Guardian Group, a banking consortium that was a part of Chapin’s investment portfolio. The group was also linked with Hudson.

A last ditch series of negotiations that centered on Henry Ford’s bailout of the Guardian Group was initiated. Ford’s refusal to assist and avert a financial failure led to the Michigan Bank Holiday, the first in a series of bank holidays. This ultimately led to the passage of Roosevelt administration’s Emergency Banking Act 1933.

The formative years of the American auto industry were not just steered by innovation, technological advancements, and an unbridled entrepreneurial spirt. It was also guided by politics, natural and man made disasters, sudden death and pandemics.