Déjà Vu

Déjà Vu

Delving deep into history is an endless opportunity to experience an unnerving sense of déjà vu. But this in depth study can also be reassuring. The key is to take a moment in time, a period or an era, and to develop a picture that is not one dimensional. Then many of todays worries and concerns can be viewed from a balanced and reassuring perspective.

Offended or worried about the federal government bailing out large corporations? Study the Guardian Group, the automotive tycoons behind it and their interconnected dealings, the resultant monopoly of banking in Detroit and President Hoover’s bank bailouts based on a “to big to fail policy.”

Angered by the monopoly and dominance of Facebook or Google? Read about the origins of Standard Oil, the Rockefeller family, and the crushing of companies such as Pierce-Pennant Oil Company

Offended or concerned about recent foreign policy decisions involving Iraq? Delve into President Theodore Roosevelt’s complicated negotiations, behind the scene dealings, and even questionable involvement that led to Panamanian independence, and the subsequent building of the Panama Canal.

Foreign interference in elections?

The goals were simple, bold and multifaceted. Lend support to a candidate that might prove more amicable. Manipulate the press to influence the election for the favored candidate. This could also have a secondary benefit of undermining confidence in the electoral process and fostering divisions. The year was 1960 and the Soviet Union was concerned that the Republican candidate for president, Richard Nixon, could be elected.

This wasn’t the first time that a foreign government had worked behind the scene to influence an election. In 1940, worried about a Franklin D. Roosevelt presidency, the German government enlisted the support of William Rhodes Davis to help influence the election. Davis was an oilman that was unencumbered by ethics. And he had displayed sympathy for German policies. In the mid 1930s Davis had become quite wealthy in a complicated and questionable scheme that centered on the selling of Mexican oil to Germany.

When war broke out in Europe in 1939, and Britain imposed a blockade on German ports, Davis’s profitable enterprise was brought to an abrupt end. So, to save his lucrative business he traveled to Europe in the hopes that he could negotiate an agreement between warring parties. The Germans saw Davis as the ideal patsy.

In Germany, Davis met with leaders of the Third Reich including Hermann Göring. He returned to the United States with a peace proposal that that would have given Germany territorial gains in exchange for a negotiated settlement of hostilities. The United States was to serve as the mediator between France, Germany and England.

On his return to the United States, Davis called on his numerous political connections in an attempt to get a meeting with President Roosevelt. But Roosevelt refused to even meet with Davis as there was evidence that he was compromised and could be acting, directly or indirectly,  as a Nazi agent.

So Davis turned to plan “B” and put his support behind an initiative to have labor leader John Lewis nominated as a presidential candidate. It was learned years later that Goring had allocated $5 million dollars for Davis’s use, including media campaigns.

An honest study of history is not for the faint of heart, or the individual that is easily offended. Still, aside from a goose bump inducing sense of déjà vu, history is key to facing daily trials and tribulations with confidence and assurance.





The Glory of Eccentricity

An odd idea from the fertile imagination of Milton Reeves. Photo authors collection

Milton O. Reeves was not a man without imagination. He was a modestly successful businessman. He was a visionary of sorts. He was also a man with steadfast determination not afraid of ridicule or derision. This is a particularly desirable quality if you intend to manufacture and market an automobile that is a manifestation of your eccentricity.

Reeves was born on a farm in Rush County, Indiana on August 25, 1864. Even as a child, in his imagination devices were conceived to save time or labor, or to streamline a process.

Fast forward to 1879. While working at a sawmill in Columbus, Indiana, Reeves noted that if the speed of the saws could be controlled in a uniform manner there would be a reduction of waste which in turn would result in increased profits. This would also curtail the need for a large workforce. And so, he devised a variable speed transmission that utilized a series of tapered pulleys.

Marshal, Milton’s brother, was also a successful inventor as well as businessmen. In 1869 he had patented an improved version of the standard corn plow, and in 1875 launched the Hoosier Boy Cultivator Company in partnership with his father and an uncle.

Milton’s variable speed transmission piqued their interest and in 1888 the Reeves brothers purchased the Edinburg Pulley Company and renamed it the Reeves Pulley Company. In a moment of insightful brilliance Milton Reeves devised a promotional idea for the company that was linked to the bicycling mania that had become a national obsession in the early 1890s. In 1896 he introduced a motorcycle powered by a Sintz engine coupled to a Reeves variable speed transmission that was the Reeves Pulley Company’s most popular product. This seemed to have inspired Milton Reeves. The following year he introduced a four-wheel horseless carriage with the same mechanical components.

However, the transmission he had hoped to promote through the endeavor was lost in the public outcry over noise and the horses that were terrorized by the vehicle as Reeves drove the streets of Columbus, Indiana. Undaunted Reeves devised two innovations that he hoped would resolve these issues, and perhaps, become marketable commodities.

The first was a muffler, an ingenious round metal box that housed a set of tubes with holes that dramatically curtailed noise. Reeves and his brother patented the device. It was the first muffler designed specifically for automobiles in 1897.

Milton Reeves second idea was nothing short of bizarre. He purchased a life-sized papier-mache horse that was being used to promote a blacksmith shop, cut it off at the front shoulders and mounted it on the front of the vehicle. The thought was that this would curtail the nervousness of horses. As if that was not odd enough, Reeves used the hollow horse neck to house the gasoline tank. The muffler stayed, the horse head was discarded, and the car was given a polished ebony body in late 1897.

The Reeves Motocycle garnered a surprising amount of press, and even more surprisingly, the company received unsolicited orders for five vehicles. The first two vehicles used the two-cylinder, two cycle, six horsepower Sintz Gas Engine Company engine and double chain drive unit coupled to the Reeves variable speed transmission. The other three, however, utilized an air-cooled engine designed by Milton Reeves. After filling the orders, the company announced that they would not continue producing automobiles but would instead focus on the manufacture of the Reeves transmissions and motors only. This, however, was not the end of Milton Reeves automotive ventures.

Milton Reeves Octoauto. Photo authors collection

In late 1905, Alexander Y. Malcomson ordered an entire year’s production (500 units) of air-cooled engines for an automobile manufacturing company that he was launching in Detroit. His Aerocar venture proved to be short lived and so Reeves found himself with controlling interest in a moribund company. Undaunted Reeves began cobbling together a variety of cars; some with shaft drive, some chain drive and even a high wheeler marketed as a Go Buggy in 1907 offered at $450 without a body.

The final chapters in Reeves automotive endeavors were truly unusual. After manufacturing a variety of vehicles and evaluating automobiles currently on the market, he had determined that riding comfort, and tire life, would be improved by moving beyond the industry standard of four wheels. The first endeavor was the Octoauto built from a highly modified Overland chassis. The eight-wheeled oddity on a 180-inch (457-cm) wheelbase was finished for display at the inaugural 1911 Indianapolis 500.

Reeves honestly felt that the concept was marketable. “The eight-wheel concept is applicable to any vehicle. Therefore, if interested contact any automobile manufacturer or myself.” This is the opening for a promotional brochure published for the debut.

For obvious reasons, the project ended with the single prototype. And so, Reeves set out to build the Sextoauto, a six wheeled vehicle. Two were built. The first was the Octoauto with one front axle removed. The second was manufactured on a modified Stutz chassis and promoted as a luxury car with variable speed transmission. There was even an abbreviated promotional tour that included a cross-country jaunt. The endeavor was as successful as the Octoauto.

Reeves, the first patent for an automotive muffler, the Octoauto and Sextoauto are today forgotten chapters in the history of the automobile industry. They are examples of the stories that I like to share in features written for Motoring NZ. These are the type of stories that add a bit of seasoning to Jim Hinckley’s America.

Welcome To My Neighborhood

Welcome To My Neighborhood

The National Old Trails Highway at the dawning of Route 66 in Kingman, Arizona

It was mid summer 1966 when we followed the flow of traffic on Route 66 into Kingman, Arizona. Even though I was just a kid, I was no stranger to travel. My folks liked to tease that my toilet training had taken place along the highway and in service station rest rooms in more than a dozen states.

To date all of our road trips and related odysseys had been epic. The first trip west from Virginia into the great southwest had been in a circa 1950 Chevy convertible that pa had been able to purchase cheap since it had been submerged during a hurricane.

Counted among my earliest memories was a memorable trip from Port Huron, Michigan to see ma’s family that lived on a farm Near Dutton on Sand Mountain, Alabama. This would have been the summer of ’63 as my sister was only a few months old.

My pa had cobbled together a vehicle that he dubbed the gypsy wagon. I later learned from old family photos that this home made wooden camper that looked to be a cross between a miniature barn and a two hole outhouse had been built on 1946 or 1947 Ford truck chassis.

A visit to the family farm was always memorable. Still, what made this trip particularly unforgettable were the roadside repairs and resultant campouts along streams in Kentucky and Tennessee. In retrospect that might be where I first picked up a proclivity for being able to string together a series of descriptive four letter words.

My thoughtful spot, Beale Springs near Kingman, Arizona ©

The trip to Arizona in the summer of ’66 was unlike anything previously experienced. We were moving, again. But this time the new home seemed as foreign as a lunar colony. It was very hard not to think that Kingman might be the place warned about in Sunday school.  With the luxury of hindsight I can see with clarity that it was life changing. The entire course of my life can be traced to that summer.

I had experienced the intense liquid heat of the Mississippi River Delta country. This was different. Yes, it was a dry heat but so is the oven or the furnace. And to compound the misery, in mid August, pa decided that we needed a family picnic – in Needles, California. That was my first trip to Oatman, in a ’64 Ford Fairlane without air-conditioning.

Suffice to say, I survived. And I became enamored with the desert, the colorful characters that pa referenced as dry roasted nuts, and the vast technicolor landscapes of the Grand canyon State.

In time there would be opportunity to expand my explorations throughout the southwest and the west. And I developed a deep affection for the Mojave Desert, for New Mexico, for Utah, for Colorado, for northern Mexico, for Wyoming, Idaho and Montana.

But it is Arizona that I consider home. This is where my roots are. I made memories everywhere lived and in all of my travels. But Arizona is really where it all began.

This Sunday morning (7:00 MST), on Coffee With Jim, our live stream program on the Jim Hinckley’s America Facebook page, it’s an Arizona adventure. It will be a bit of road trip inspiration, a mix of history, some personal reflection, and a few laughs. I will be sharing a few of my favorite places, and my favorite drives.

I hope that you will be able to join me. Invite your friends. Let’s make it a coffee party!




A history teacher pushes the student to memorize facts and dates. In the process they often instill a life long perception that history is as dead and boring as an insurance seminar about actuary tables. A historian provides relevance. They illustrate how the events of 1920 play a role in the events of 2021.

Did you know that in 1918 and 1919 Americans rebelled against the wearing of face masks during a global pandemic? Did you know that influenza blunted President Wilson’s role in the establishment of the League of Nations? Did you know that as a result, harsh reparations were imposed upon Germany and this provided fertile ground for the rabid nationalism espoused by Adolph Hitler?

Did you know that Studebaker celebrated its centennial in 1952? Did you know that the company founded its automobile manufacturing on the production of an electric car designed by Thomas Edison? Did you know that the Wood’s Dual Power introduced in 1917 was the world’s first production hybrid automobile?

Did you know that the motto “In God We trust”  resulted from an act of Congress passed on April 22, 1864? Did you know that the Pledge of Allegiance was written in August 1892, but ‘under God” was not added until 1954?

A gifted historian is also a teacher and an entrancing storyteller. They are also an artist that masterfully presents history as a seamless flow of interconnected events. This is accomplished by dusting off the bones, adding flesh and bringing history to life.

History teachers are common. Historians are a rarity. A gifted historian, the artist, is a rarity. They are as scarce as a cool breeze in the Mojave Desert during the month of August. Seldom is a generation blessed with more than a gifted historian or two. Ken Burns is an example of the gifted historian.

I am a storyteller. And I am a bit of a historian. As to being gifted, well, that is not for me to decide.

But I do derive tremendous satisfaction from bringing history to life. And I suffer from an incurable obsession to instill a fascination for history. That, my friends is at the foundation of Jim Hinckley’s America.

Telling people where to go. Inspiring road trips. Blending this with living history. Each and everything that I do is built on these pillars.

To date this passion to free people from the perceptions of history instilled in high school has manifested in nineteen books. The topics have been diverse. Ghost Towns of the Southwest. The Big Book of car Culture. Travel Route 66. Checker Cab Manufacturing Company: An Illustrated History. The Route 66 Encyclopedia. 

In 1915, Edsel Ford and his college buddies set out on an epic adventure from Michigan to the Panama Pacific Exposition. Photo Historic Vehicle Association

And it has led me to push beyond my comfort zona and harness new technologies. This is made manifest in the Sunday morning Coffee With Jim program that is live streamed on the Jim Hinckley’s America Facebook page, our YouTube channel, the use of Zoom for presentations, and 5 Minutes With Jim, our audio podcast.

But wait until you see what we have planned for the future! A weekly live interactive audio program. A new video series. New partnerships. And a new book!