The Life of A Travel Writer

The Life of A Travel Writer

By Unknown author or not provided – U.S. National Archives and Records Administration, Public Domain

A.L. Westgard was an adventuresome soul. The Norwegian immigrant was a railroad survey engineer before he eagerly accepted the task of mapping roads suitable for use by daring automobilists. His exploits were the stuff of legend in the first decades of the 20th century.

Obituaries published upon his death in 1921 lauded his accomplishments. A few noted his legendary exploits such as mapping nearly 20,000 miles of roads in one year. And that was five years before Edsel Ford’s trip on the National Old Trails Road when in his journal it was noted that the drive from Williams to Kingman, Arizona, about 150 miles, was a good days run.

One succinct obituary referenced Westgard as the “Daniel Boone of the modern era.” Another noted that, “… dean of American motor car pathflnders, died last night after an illness of several months. Westgard, who was field representative of the American Automobile association and vice president of the National Highways association, had more than 20 transcontinent.al roadfinding trips and roads all over the country bear his name.

Anton L. Westgard was in every sense of the word a pioneer. On more than one occasion his was the very first automobile to drive into remote mining or logging towns in the west and southwest. And it could be said that he also helped lay the foundation for Route 66. Trail to Sunset, a road mapped by Westgard to connect Chicago with the wonders of the southwest. That road shared a western terminus with the future Route 66. And sections of his Trail to Sunset were incorporated into the National Old Trails Road, predecessor to Route 66 in New Mexico.

He was also a pioneering promoter. And that takes us to the subject of today’s blog post, travel writing for fun, for profit, and to provide a service. Westgard not only mapped roads, he inspired road trips with lectures that included magic lantern slide shows, and the writing of books as well as feature articles.

There was, and is, a distorted view of a travel writers life. Case in point is an incident that came about when I was writing a weekly travel column for the Kingman Daily Miner. 

My dearest friend and I were at dinner one evening when a follower of the column approached us with kind words expressing appreciation. They also noted that to be paid to travel must be very rewarding. Granted this was in the early 1990s but at the time my compensation for a 500 word column was $25.00.

Fast forward thirty years. Today our entire income is derived from various and creative ways to use the written word. There are now more than 20 books with my name on the cover. I have written hundreds of feature articles on a diverse array of subject. And we have developed the multifaceted Jim Hinckley’s America network.

So, to fledgling travel writers everywhere, I can attest to the fact that it is possible to make a living fomr such an endeavor. But there is a caveat or two.

You will need to hustle. You will need to adjust expectations on a regular basis. You will need to multitask. You will need to adjust to changing markets and trends. There is a constant learning curve as you will need to become adept at harnessing new technologies. You will need to learn to live with bitter dissapointment, frustrations, and on occasion, debilitating depression. And you will need to enjoy what you have, and not focus on what you hope to have.

Westgard’s best selling Tales of A Pathfinder has been reprinted and is available from Amazon.com

One key thing to keep in mind. You are providinig a service. And there is one more item to consider. Simply put, the worst day spent writing for fun and profit is better than the best day with a 9 to 5 job.

Starting on August 7, I will be providing advice, tips, and outright assistance to travel writers, seasoned or dreamers, on Coffee With Jimour interactive Sunday morning travel program podcast. And, of course, I will also be handing out heaping helpings of road trip inspiration. As the theme song for Jim Hinckley’s America says, come along for the ride.

 

A Shocking Story

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

As with most people who become an historic milestone through an untimely demise, Mr. Henry Bliss never knew that unexpected death would bestow upon him a dubious form of immortality. He simply stepped from the New York City streetcar that September afternoon in 1899 and became the nation’s first pedestrian struck and killed by an automobile. That automobile was an electric taxicab.

That is how episode three of the new Jim Hinckley’s America audio podcast Car Talk From The Main Street of Americascheduled for publication on August 9th begins. It seemed a fitting opening to kick off a program about the long history of electric vehicles, and the equally long history of controversy. And, of course, as with everything that we do at Jim Hinckley’s America, the new program also has a road trip component as I will also be talking about the world’s only EV museum that happens to be located along Route 66.

At the dawning of the American auto industry steam and electric vehicles dominated. Steam was an understood technology as it had been powering trains and factories for decades. Compared to the first generation of gasoline powered vehicles an electric car was much easier to operate. And companies that manufactured electric vehicle were not constrained by the Selden patent that created a stranglehold on gasoline powered automobile manufacturing in the years bracketing the dawn of the 20th century. The story of that patent is an interesting tale for another day.

This new podcast will not be replacing Coffee With Jim, the Sunday morning program dedicated to road trips, to travel, to travel writing and photography, and to road trip inspiration. Both podcasts will be available on various platforms including Spotify and iHeart radio. However, the Sunday morning program will be the only one to be interactive with both call ins and typed comments. Afterwards, the Podbean based podcast will be made available on other platforms.

Long before Tesla and Rivian had people discussing electric vehicles, their shortcomings, their future and the conspiracy theories that seem to permeate every aspect of American society since alternative facts replaced truth and logic, I had a fascination for electric and steam powered vehicles. Did you know that the first automobile produced by Studeabker was an electric designed in part by Thomas Edison? Did you know that Studebaker didn’t produce a gasoline powered vehicle until 1904 or that the company continued producing electric vehicles until 1912?

J Walter Christie pioneered the use of front wheel drive in the development of his race cars. Who remembers Mr. Christie today.

The program about electric vehicles will illustrate the diversity of the podcast that Stan Hustad and I are creating. The first program, with a bit of audio issue, was about Edsel Ford, his many contributions to the develop of the auto industry, and his epic adventure with college buddies in 1915. The second program profiled the amazing Florence Lawrence and other female automotive pioneers. Did you know that Lawrence devised the first practical turn signal?

Plans are for the fourth program to be about the Desert Classic, better known as the Cactus Derby. Held between 1909 and 1914 this incredible series of automobile races was a test of endurance for man and machine. It was also a bit of a demolition derby. By 1914 the race had become an international media sensation, in part because counted among the drivers were Louis Chevrolet and Barney Oldfield.

Telling people where to go, sharing stories about inspirational people and fascinating places, and inspiring road trips, that is the foundation of Jim Hinckley’s America. And it is the cornerstone for Car Talk on The Main Street of America.