Ramsey’s transcontinental trip in 1909 forever changed the world. Library of Congress
He was a master salesman. He could sell MAGA hats to Bernie Sanders supporters and I Voted For Hillary bumper stickers to fans of Donald Trump. And he had vision as well as ambition.
For obvious reasons Cadwallader Washburn Kelsey preferred to be called Carl. Today, even among ardent auto enthusiasts, Kelsey is almost completely forgotten. This is rather surprising since he set the cornerstone for modern automobile advertising and marketing, and he played a pivotal role in transforming an automotive manufacturing company into a powerhouse that challenged General Motors in a head-to-head contest for dominance of the market.
Counted among his crowing achievements was a promotional stunt to sell Maxwells that centered on Alice Hulyer Ramsey. On June 9, 1909, a torrential downpour was transforming New York City streets into rivers. In spite of the miserable weather a crowd of reporters and photographers representing papers in Europe and the United States, and a sizable crowd gathered at 1930 Broadway to witness an historic event.
A dark-green, four-cylinder, 30-horsepower 1909 Maxwell DA touring car, a driver and three passengers, was about to embark on a cross country odyssey. The journey itself wasn’t particularly noteworthy. After all, people had been driving across the United States since 1903, and just a year prior daring drivers had competed in an epic road race from New York City to Paris.
What grabbed the world’s attention about this event was the driver and passengers. In the driver’s seat was 22-year-old Ramsey. Standing just a hair over five feet tall, Ramsey was no stranger to adventures with automobiles. But when she cranked the motor to start the car’s engine and set out with three friends on the first all-female, cross-country road trip, she was driving her way into the history books. And with that adventure she helped push Maxwell to the number three position for American automobile manufacturers.
On next week’s episode of Car Talk from The Main Street of America, sponsored in part by Kingman 66 Festand the City of Tucumcari, I share the story of these two inspirational and fascinating people. Both Alice Ramsey and Cadwallader Washburn had quite an impact on the auto industry, and on society in general. And yet they are less than historic footnotes today.
This is our second podcast. Our first, Coffee With Jim, a live stream interactive Sunday morning program that is later archived on Podean and major podcast platform. The focus is primarily travel, but I weave a bit of history into the program. On Car Talk the focus is history and inspirational people, with a bit of travel added to the mix.
And, of course, we are also working to develop a busy fall and winter schedule for presentations, speaking engagements, and book signings. On September 30, I will be speaking at a Soroptimist dinner in Kingman, Arizona. It should make for interesting dinner conversation as I will be talking about murder and mayhem on the Main Street of America, legendary Route 66.
At the museum in Atlanta, Illinois on October 18, I will have a presentation about the evolution of transportation in the land of Lincoln. A few days later I speak about the importance and the power of grassroots initiatives in historic district revitalization, and tourism as a catalyst for economic development. I will be using Kingman, my adopted hometown as an example.
There is still a bit of time if you would like to schedule a presentation or appearance during the October, “Jim Hinckley’s America in The Heartland Tour.”
I have lots of stories to share. Perhaps that is why I have been referenced as America’s storyteller. And I have lots of road trips to inspire. That will be a part of fall tour as we create programs from the road, and share the adventure on Instagram. And I have a lot of ideas on how best to do both.
One of these is a contest of sorts. Spot Jim Hinckley’s America on the road during the fall tour and share a photo on Instagram using the hashtag #jimhinckleysamerica. I will share it on our network, give you a shout out, and enter your name in a drawing for a signed copy of my latest book, The Backroads of Route 66: Your Guide to Adventures and Scenic Detours.
Even better, get a picture with Jim Hinckley during the tour, and I will give a you a Route 66 souvenir as well as enter name in the drawing for a book. And we will both have a photo to share.
Stay tuned. Things are about to get interesting in Jim Hinckley’s America. Telling people where to go, sharing America’s story, and inspiring road trips. That is our stock in trade at Jim Hinckley’s America. But Jim Hinckley’s America is a shared adventure so join the fun and, as our theme song by the Road Crew says, come along for the ride!
Meanwhile, on Sunday morning join us for Coffee With Jim and share your adventure. And become a follower of Car Talk From The Main Street of America on Spotify to ensure that you never miss a single fascinating episode.
Over the years I have tried various ways to earn a dollar. Except for the stories and the friends made along the way, I never got rich.
There was a brief time that it looked like politics might be the meal ticket. I was the committeeman for my district, and was courted by some big wigs that tried selling me on the idea that bigger and better things were looming on the horizon for me. And I had the distinct pleasure of sitting down with giants such as Senator John McCain. But as politicians with a spine are a rarity, and I was afraid of drowning in the bs, I decided that the political life was not for me.
On more than one occassion as a young man I actually thought that rodeo was my path to fame and fortune. It didn’t take long for me to realize that rodeo was a good living, especially if you didn’t have plans for living long.
Linked with this was an era I now lovingly refer to as my John Wayne period, a way of life I have yet to outgrow. I enjoyed everything about the work, except for the pay. After a year or so of earning my meager wages polishing the leather on the tree, steer wrestling, and generally living as though it was still 1880, I decided that it was time to find a way to fill the pocket with more than sand.
And I tried mining, above and below ground. That was a roller coaster with months of being busier than a one legged man in a behind contest interspersed with long weeks of being unemployed.
Truck driving was an interesting endeavor. My route was from Kingman to Oklahoma City or Wichita, and in those years there were still long stretches of Route 66 that hadn’t been replaced by the interstate highway. On occassion I chose the old double six on purpose. On occassion it was because I knew some of the best places for a piece of pie. And sometimes it was for reasons that are best left unsaid. But truck driving turned one of lifes pleasures, the road trip, into a job. That is never good.
Fast forward to the third decade of the 21st century. It looks like my childhood vision of old age is manifesting. My transition into an odd blending of Slim PIckens, Walter Brennan, Andy Devine, Harry Truman, and Will Rogers is almost complete.
The paycheck is earned by telling stories, telling people where to go, inspiring road trips, bringing history to life, and encouraging people to dream big. With these talents as the foundation Jim Hinckley’s America, and as a result me, continues to evolve.
Aside from the website, books and feature articles, we are now working on two podcasts. And I am working on a schedule for the fall tour, our first since 2019.
Route 66 is a focal point for us. But this is Jim Hinckley’s America. And that means our job is to shine the spotlight on the entire country.
So, I will be speaking in Atlanta, Illinois and Pontiac, Illinois. We will be gathering materials for future and pending projects. And we will be sharing adventures through the heartland.
Today, I mapped out a rough route for the tour. There is still a bit of flexibility if we schedule other presentations or educational programs.
The special program that I am developing for the tour is entitled Dawn of A New Era. It is a fun filled, fast paced bit of time travel. It is a look at the dawning of the automotive industry and a period of exciting societal transformation.
Buffalo Bill Cody bought a Michigan roadster, learned to drive, and was board member for the National Old Trails Road. Geronimo, the fearless Apache warrior was photographed in a Cadillac. Gas stations replaced livery stables. Our lexicon was transformed with words like motel. Louis Chevrolet and Barney Oldfield became the heores for a new generation.
This is the story behind story about Route 66. It is a tale of visionaries, eccentrics and ambitions. And it is a tale of intrigue, back room deals, and swashbuckling entrepreneurs.
He was a master salesman and the general manager of a used car lot that proved time and again he was an ethically challenged individual. I witnessed a couple that was in search of an economy car leave in a Cadillac Fleetwood. And a young couple in search of a family car began by looking at a Ford LTD and left in a Pacer. Then there was his practice of buying regrooved tires, spray painting floor carpets, using salvage yard batteries that had been given a quick coat of paint, and using Loctite on broken bolts.
A key component in his ability to avoid the always looming lawsuit or even jail time was the customers. It was an example of the old adage that ignorance is bliss. A surprising number of them were actually happy with their purchase, especially the ones who didn’t yet know that in many instances he was essentially selling diamond and platinum cufflinks made of pewter and cubic zirconium.
He had a sympathetic ear when the custormer had issues. And this is where his incredible talent as a slight of hand grifter shined. As an example, he would apology profusely about the dead battery that had left them stranded, and give them another salvage yard battery that looked shiny and new.
And he counted on the fact that many customers were reluctant and embarrassed to admit that they had been suckered. So, instead they would blame problems on a garage that had made needed repairs, on defective parts, and on poor quality from the manufacturer. And they would talk about what a good deal they had gotten, and that resulted in even more customers.
Then when the proverbial dog doo was about to hit the fan, the GM would reach out to customers with a syrupy sweet letter about how much he valued their business, and wanted to make sure that their car or truck was still meeting their needs. And that would be followed by a reminder that he was always available to meet their automotive needs from sales to service. Mixed in would be a subtle request for a review. And then the positive reviews linked with his support of the local Little League team, the school football team and other community projects made it easy for him to paint anyone that complained or filed a lawsuit as a disgruntled customer. On occassion he would go so far as to offer them another vehicle, if they would simply pay the difference in value.
I hadn’t given this silver tongued grifter a thought in years. When I stormed out of his office after a disagreement, I remember wondering what would happen if he ever decided to pursue a political carreer. But a few days ago, on the morning walkabout, after thumbing through the news, he popped into my thoughts. That long ago question had been answered, now I know what would have happened if he had become a politician.
A lot of years have passed since I slammed the door of his office. Walking out on that job was an easy decision. More than a few made since then left me wondering if the right choice had been made.
But one decision that I never regret was encouraged by my dearest friend. She gently nudged me toward transforming a childhood dream into a reality.
That first published article was the cornerstone. It was the catalyst for the endeavor that became Jim HInckley’s America.
We never stop working on this endeavor. Sharing and inspiring adventures is our passion. And so we work on new books, improving the website, developing informative and fun podcasts, creating interesting and thought provoking presentations, and writing articles and blogs for clients. And we work to ensure that sponsors get a bang for their advertising dollar and that our followers have assurance that these businesses and communities come with our recommendation.
And lessons learned working at that car lot so long ago, linked with an unexplainable adiction to derelict vehicles, are being manifest in the next chapter for Jim Hinckley’s America – The Beast. Coutless delays, defective parts, and an array of issues have put the project way behind schedule but the 1951 Chevy panel truck that will be a rolling studio for Jim Hinckley’s America programs, book store and Route 66 info center will be on the road soon. And it will be a focal point in our efforts to foster awareness about the fast approaching Route 66 centennial, and to get people excited about this milestone event.
Ezra Manning Meeker was born on December 29, 1830. He died on December 3, 1928. He is a role model for anyone that struggles to adapt to new technologies, or make sense of a rapidly changing world.
In an ox cart he, his new bride and an infant son traveled west over the Oregon Trail in 1852. He built an empire with the growing of hops, and was the first mayor of Puyallup, Washington. Meeker made four trips into the Yukon country during the gold rush of the late 1890s.
In the first years of the 20th century, as America embraced the automobile and technologies that promised a bright, new future, Meeker worried that the Oregon Trail and its role in the development of the country was being forgotten. And so he launched a publicity campaign to have it marked awith monuments.
In the years 1906, 1907, and 1908 he retraced his steps along the Oregon Trail by wagon. He gave interviews along the way, and spoke in communities along the trail as well as in towns during his journey to New York City. And in Washington, D.C. he met with President Theodore Roosevelt.
His fame, and public awareness about his campaign to erect monuments along the Oregon Trail, grew exponentially as launched a national speaking tour, began writing books, and worked to establish the Oregon-California Trails Association. And he traveled the Oregon Trail again by oxcart in 1910, 1911 and 1912.
With a friend and an automobile donated by National, he expanded on his speaking tour. And he took time in the late teens to assist his son with construction of the first service station and campground complex in the Cajon Pass along the National Old Trails Road, predecessor to Route 66.
In 1924 he traveled by airplane to Dayton, Ohio for an event honoring pioneers. And in 1928, during a trip to Michigan where he was to meet Henry Ford and discuss a promotional campaign for the new Model A, Meeker fell ill. Henry Ford personally saw to his care.
Meeker recovered, and traveled home to Washington. Shortly after his return, he again took ill nad passed away shortly afterwards.
When I encounter issues with Facebook, a seemingly necessary evil, my thoughts turn to Mr. Meeker. I reflect on his ability to adapt, to even thrive, in changing times. That gives me a broader perspective, which in turn helps me think of new and creative ways to inspire road trips and to tell people where to go.
Facebook has become an integral component in marketing. But it is far from being a dependable promotional venue. Quite the opposite. The Jim Hinckley’s America page with nearly 8,000 followers has been locked since February 18. Countless hours have been spent on attempts to resolve the issue, and I have yet to receive a response. These were hours that could have been spent on telling people where to go. And now, the James Hinckley page on Facebook has been locked on several occassions. Fortunately I have been able to resolve this problem with minimal effort and expenditure of time.
Now, I may not be the sharpest knife in the drawer. Hit me in the head with 2 x 4 and tell me it was an accident. Chances are that I will believe you. But around the fifth time, I start to get suspicious. Suffice to say, Facebook and I are about to part ways.
We become so dependant on a tool or something that we accept as a service, it becomes difficult to imagine life without it. But as I step back, and as I reflect on Mr. Meeker, I see alternatives. So, we are going to continue developing this website. As per Mr. Meeker, I will be pursuing interviews and speaking engagements. I will be taking the show on the road. And I will be tapping into other opportunities’ for sharing adventures and inspiring road trips such as our podcasts, Coffee With Jim and Car Talk From The Main Street of America.
Enough time has been spent in frustration. Now it is time to see the issues with Facebook as an opportunity. It is time to find other means of sharing stories from my six decades on Route 66.
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 Jim, our 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.