If it had happened before the before the apocalypse of 2020 there is a very good chance that I could have blamed the decision on temporary insanity or being kicked in the head by a mule or a little to much imbibing with friends. But instead I will lay the blame on my experience with COVID in 2020, the resultant high fever, a possibly long delayed mid life crisis and the sense of doom that was fueled by a near complete collapse of our business in 2020, the rising cost of travel, the insanity of watching politicians scramble to justify the assault on the capitol in January 2021, and assorted dark storm clouds on the international front.
The truth of the matter is that there is really no excuse. I was sober and of reasonably sound mind when the purchase was made. And as is often the case with such decisions, it seemd like a good idea at the time. On occasion it still does.
For just about as long as I can remember, ownership of a Model A Ford has been a dream of mine. Over the years the dream has had various manifestations such as a Route 66 adventure in a Model A.
There is an adage about birds of a feather flocking together. And so over the years friendships and conversations developed around my fascination, and occasional obsession with owning a Model A.
Kevin Mueller, former owner of the iconic Blue Swallow Motel, figures prominently in the most recent Model A fantasies. The conversations started with a drive through Tucumcari in his Model A truck. Over a cold beer or two we would discuss a trip along Route 66 in the truck. And once we let the imagination run rampant and looked into the costs associated with shipping the truck to Europe, and then driving it to the Route 66 festival in Germany.
Model A truck in Texas
My life long focus on practicality when buying vehicles, jeans or boots, and responsibilities associated with life have always kept me from buying a Model A. Fast forward to 2021, the swirl of aforementioned crisis, real and perceived, and another milestone birthday.
In quick succession two opportunities for Model A ownership presented themselves. One was a Model A truck in Texas that was ideally suited for what had become a obsession, a Route 66 cruise. The second was a series of coincidences that led to Kevin Mueller, and his role in liquidating a collection of Model A Fords. And of course, my dearest friend was there with her gentle encouragement.
In the end I again placed the dream on hold and succumbed to practicality. At least that was one component in my decision to purchase The Beast.
With a bit of work and a few minor modications a 1951 truck would be a more practical highway cruiser than a Model A. A panel truck could be used as a rolling Route 66 information center, and a mobile studio for Jim Hinckley’s Ameerica programs. And it could be a source of revenue if advertising space was leased for the sides. And there was the fact that I had some knowledge about the Advance Design series trucks as I learned to drive behind the wheel, and have owned a few of them over the years.
In retrospect the deadlines that I set were quite impractial. Contrary to what my head keeps telling me, I am not 20 years old. That was one issue. Deadlines and a work schedule were another. And I surely never planned for anouther round of COVID that put me down for nearly a month.
Wiring in a 1951 Chevy
But I haven’t given up. I just don’t seem to have enough sense for that. And so the project continues with its frustrations, opportunity to dust off the cuss words, defective parts, fluid deadlines, and delays. I am confident that if I dedicate a few hundred hours and invest $5,000 or $10,000, it should be damn good $3,500 truck.
A three or four day project is now in month six and I am about three or four days away from completion. The latest set back is the ignition switch.
It is brand new. I purchased it on Friday. Yesterday morning I installed it. It worked – twice. And now I can’t turn off the ignition or remove the key. Defective parts. And as it is an electrical item there is no refund. Symbolically this sums up the on going effort to get The Beast on the road.
But I have learned quite a few lessons along the way. As an added bonus, over the course of the past six months work on this project, a bout with COVID, minor home disasters that required immediate attention, and the pressure of assorted deadlines have nearly eliminated the need to find excuses for drinking.
The intent had been to have The Beast on the road, at least locally, in time for the National Road Trip Day proclamation festivities on May 27. I am starting to wonde if the Route 66 centennial might be a more realistic deadline.
Meanwhile work continues on array of projects that will enahnce our ability to tell people where to go, to inspire road trips, and to share adventures. Counted among these is discussions with a professional podcast developer that should dramtically enhance Wake Up With Jimand Coffee With Jim.
Social media issues are another source of frustration. As we learned with the locking of the Jim Hinckley’s America Facebook page in February, and our inability to resolve the problem, social media is a necessary evil. We have also learned that we have little overall control.
Still, as with The Beast, we will work to resolve what we do have control over, and to find suitable partners. We now have over 1,000 followers on Instagram. Twitter is still anemic as is the YouTube channel. But with some new partnerships that will enhance overall quality and free up time for development, we are confident that these platforms will greatly enhance our ability to tell people where to go.
Meanwhile, as time allows, work will progress on The Beast. As is usually the case with such endeavors, if I invest $10,000 or so, and several hundred hours of work, I should have a rock solid, dependable old truck that is worth at least $5,000. And if can make the endeavor a priority, a Route 66 road trip from end to end should be feasible in time for the centennial, or at the very least, the sesquicentennial.
Front Street, now Andy Devine Avenue, at Fourth Street, was the heart of the city for nearly 90 years. Photo Mike Ward collection
Counted among the many lessons that can be learned from history is that times change. Life on Route 66 in 1930 was different from life on Route 66 in 1950. And life on Route 66 in 2022 is dramatically different from life on that storied highway in 1950, 1970 or even 2000.
In 1930 the highway, especially in the southwest, was little changed from the National Old Trails Road. It wasn’t fully paved across Arizona until 1937. In the late 1950s the new limited access interstate highway was being built to replace Route 66 and other antiquated two lane highways.
Jim Hinckley’s America is rooted in the history of automobiles, of road trips, and America. It is a rich tapestry of books, podcasts, presentations, feature articles, and interviews that have led to Jim HInckley being labled America’s storyteller. But times change, and Jim Hinckley’s America is not immune.
I am not a fan of instructions. I only reference them after building a bicycle on Christmas eve and finding he seat where the handle bars go. As a result, many of our projects are developed with lots of detours and deadends.
The podcasts are one example. After various efforts and lots of trial and error, we have settled the focus on development of two programs, Coffee With Jim, an interactive half hour travel program, and Wake Up With Jim, a 15 minute program that is a series on various topics.
Broadcast on Podbean and archived on that platform, the program is also available on iHeart Radio, Spotify, Audible and Amazon Music. We have had some very interesting guests, and the response has been positive. Still, we seem to be unable to get a sutiable level of audience participation but growth has been slow but steady.
As telling people where to go and sharing the adventure is at the heart of Jim Hinckley’s America, I am reluctant to abandon the podcast idea. Still, it is time to revist tthe concept and take a different tack. That is why I am in discussion with Stan Hustad. Stay tuned. I am confident that followers will like the changes being discussed.
Hindering development of the podcast and other projects was the issue with Facebook that commenced in February. With the account locked, and the Jim Hinckley’s America page with more than 7,200 followers being inaccessible, programs such as Coffee With Jim as a Facebook live program were brought to an abrupt halt. To date we have not been able to resolve issues, or make up for lost ground.
We will also be intensifying the focus on presentations and speaking engagements. This includes the return to our fall tour for the first time since 2019.
As far as scheduled appearances the tour is still relatively open. So, if me beating my gums about Route 66, road trips, and automotive history would enhance your fund raiser, event, or be of benefit to your museum, drop me a note.
Jim Hinckley’s America is here to stay. For the foreseeable future we will be tellinig people where to go, and we will be sharing the adventure. But the time has come for a change or two so we are pulling back a bit, and shifting the focus.
An accident as a child left Charles blind, yet he became a prolific inventor best remembered as the creator of cruise control. At age four Mary’s family moved deep into the north woods of Minnesota and built a log cabin by hand. She was a musical prodigy that wrote and recorded her first song while in kindergarten, graduated high school at age nine, and then launched a diverse musical career that was almost cut short by an auto accident that paralyzed her vocal chords. Another fellow named Charles was abandoned by his parents at age five. But he overcame diversity. He became the President of General Motors and was the founder of one of the most successful independent automobile manufacturers in the United States.
On Wake Up With Jim, our weekly interactive audio podcast, we are kicking off a new series. The focus will be stories of inspiration. Many of the stories are about people that transformed the auto industry, independent thinkers. But there will also be stories about musicians, immigrants, and people that refused to let prejudice, adversity, poverty or injury define them.
Yes, Route 66 will be intertwined with many of these stories. What rich and colorful American tapestry could be considered complete with inclusion of the highway that has been known as the Main Street of America for nearly a century?
For more than forty years I have been writing stories about the infancy of the American auto industry, Route 66, ghost towns, road trips and forgotten chapters of history. And, of course, these stories are also tales of fascinating and colorful people. Somewhere along the way I was bestowed with the moniker “America’s Storyteller.”
I am honored by that title but can think of people more deserving of the title. Acclaimed author and historian Michael Wallis comes to mind.
Over the years I have been the recipient of of some rather humbling accolades. Topping that list, at least to date, has to be the recent unveiling of my statue at Depot Plaza in Kingman, Arizona, my adopted home town. But the greatest honor has been in the friendships made, and the fascinating people such as Rhys and Sam Martin, Marian Pavel and Elmer Graves that I met along the way.
Since childhood I have enjoyed stories of inspirational people. And inspirational people have often been featured in the stories I tell. But with this serious I want to make these type of people the focal point.
If you know of someone with an interesting and inspirational story, espacially one linked to Route 66, I would like to hear from you. And as this podcast, and Coffee With Jim, the Sunday morning travel podcast, is interactive, please feel free to join in the conversation.
The Podbean based podcast is archived on our page. And both podcasts are now available on iHeart Radio, Amazin Music, Spotify, and Audible.