Route 66 – No Mere Highway

The venerable Saga Motor Inn on Colorado Blvd. ( Route 66) in Pasadena is a true time capsule that dates to the 1950’s. It is the Jim Hinckley’s America recommended lodging location in the Los Angeles area.

Here is a point to ponder. Route 66 doesn’t exist, at least not officially. It hasn’t for decades. And yet the highway is literally a destination. There are companies based in Australia, New Zealand, Europe, and Asia that specialize in Route 66 tours. There are active Route 66 associations in Canada, Japan, and several European countries. Route 66 festivals have been held in Germany and the Czech Republic, and guide books have been written in several languages. Route 66 Navigation, a popular and innovative app, was developed by Touch Media, a company based in Bratislava, Slovakia.

Route 66 is not America’s most scenic highway. And there are a number of American highways that link Norman Rockwell type towns where the neon still glows bright. But there is only one Route 66 infused with an infectious magic.

From its inception this highway has always had he best press and publicity. And so, long ago it morphed into something more than a mere highway that connected point “A” with point “B”. It is without a doubt more than America’s most famous highway. For legions of international enthusiasts this storied highway has become the quintessential American road trip. But it is more than a mere highway. It is America’s longest attraction. It is a living museum where the line between past, present, and future blends seamlessly. It is America’s longest small town.

And now towns, cities and villages are gearing up for the fast approaching Route 66 centennial. Festivals, public arts projects, and projects such as the innovative self guided narrated historic district walking tour in Kingman, Arizona that was developed by Kingman Main Street are addidng a new zest to the Route 66 experience. We are working to develop the Jim HInckley’s America website as the ultimate Route 66 travel planning portal, and as an important source for Route 66 centennial updates as well as news.

Still, as exciting as a Route 66 adventure is, it can be enhanced with the shortest of detours. Supai with its towering waterfalls, the most remote community in America, is just sixty miles from Route 66. In Kingman, Arizona, beating the oppressive heat of summer is as easy as scenic drive of just twelve miles to Hualapai Mountain Park. In New Mexico, Acoma, the oldest continuously inhabited community in the United States is less than 20 miles from the legendary double six.

Just twelve short miles from Route 66, Hualapai Mountain Park is a pine forested oasis in a sea of desert.

Surprisingly the least explored segments of Route 66 are those that located in major metropolitan areas. But the adventures in St. Louis, Chicago, Tulsa, Oklahoma City, Albuquerque or Los Angeles are not just found along the Route 66 corridor. The Peterson Automotive Museum, one of the most dynamic museums in the world is located a few miles from Route 66. And one of the most beautiful drives in America, the Angel’s Crest Highway in the mountains above Los Angeles is an awe-inspiring adventure through a wilderness wonderland accented with stunning views of the big city far below.

These detours are the subject of my latest book, Backroads of Route 66. And a fact finding expedition to find more side trips of interest will be a part of the upcoming fall Jim Hinckley’s America odyssey to the Miles of Possibility Conference in Pontiac, Illinois.

And speaking of the fall tour, don’t forget the contest that kicks off on October 1. The key will be the hashtag – #jimhinckleysamerica.


Sharing America’s Story

Sharing America’s Story

Less than twenty pre 1957 Checker built vehicles are known to exist.

I opened an episode of Car Talk From the Main Street of Americaa Jim Hinckley’s America podcast by saying, “Well, on today’s episode of Car Talk from The Main Street of America, I will introduce you to the illustrious and mysterious Mr. Markin. And I will share a condensed version of the story behind the creation of an American icon – the Checker cab. This is a twisted tale of corporate intrigue, shady characters, arson, embezzlement, and unsolved mysteries and unanswered questions. It is a story about innovation, and of not one but immigrants that went from rags to riches.”

For more than twenty years, the Jim Hinckley’s America tag line has been, “Telling People Where to Go Since 1990.” With the launch of this podcast we have added to that with the slogan “…and sharing America’s story.”

Jim Hinckley’s America was conceived as a means to inspire road trips, and to ensure that the books I wrote sold. It continues to evolve as a multifaceted travel planning portal.

Now, with Coffee With Jiman interactive travel program, we have two podcasts. And, of course, we have this website with regularly scheduled blog posts, presentations, speaking engagements, and book signings.

That takes us to the upcoming fall Heartland of America tour sponsored in part by Visit Tucumcari NM. We will be stopping at book stores along the way to add a signature, and then share updates on places that sell autographed copies. An updated schedule of appearances is on the home page for this website.

And the tour will be a highlight of a special contest that kicks off on October 1. There will be three winners who will recieve a copy of one of my latest books – Here We Are….On Route 66, Murder and Mayhem on The Main Street of America: Tales From Bloody 66, The Backroads of Route 66. In a nutshell here is how it works.

If you see the Jim Hinckley’s America vehicle with this sign grab a picture. Then post it on social media using the hashtag #jimhinckleysamerica.

As a bonus, get a selfie with Jim Hinckley and this sign, and ask for a Route 66 souvenir. And then post the picture with that hastag. A random drawing will be held the first of November.

And don’t forget, the Jim Hinckley’s America tour car is also a rolling book store and a travel planning center. I will have copies of books, and materials such as visitors guides and rack cards from Route 66 communities or businesses.

But don’t plan to just find Jim on Route 66. Tentative plans call for stops in Kansas, Kentucky, Tennessee, Arkansas, and Texas. But if we hear of an interesting museum, a quirky site that piques the interest, or an inspirational person who has a story to share it’s possible we will show up in South Dakota, Wisconsin or even Louisiana.

Podcasts will be prerecorded, just in case we encounter technical issues or restrictive schedule. But the plans are for live Coffee With Jim programs from the road. And we also plan on recording some interesting programs for Car Talk From The Main Street of America. 

And so the countdown begins!

Telling America’s Story

Telling America’s Story


Charles Richard (C.R. to friends) Patterson was born into slavery in Virginia about 1833. A story shared verbally for more than a century becomes distorted and so separating fact from fiction becomes almost an impossibility. And so all that we know about Patterson’s early years is that his family escaped and found refuge in the area of Greefield, Ohio aroound the mid 1840s.

In Greenfield, C.R. Patterson apprenticed as a blacksmith for Dines & Simpson, a local carriage maker of regional renown. He was eventually promoted to foreman, a testimony to how well he was respected in the company and in the community.

In 1873, Patterson entered into a partnership with J.P. Lowe, another local carriage maker, and established J. P. Lowe & Company. In 1893 he bought out his partner and reorganized the company as  C.R. Patterson, Son & Company.

Before C.R’s death in 1910, his son Frederick began moving the company in a new direction as it was becoming increasingly obvious that the horse drawn carriage was soon to be replaced by the automobile. The company diversified into produucing auto bodies for companies as well as auto repair, including paint and upholstery.

After more than a year of research and development, in September 1915 the company moved one step closer to the modern era. The manufacturing of automobiles was added to their portfolio of services. The closed touring and convertible-top roadster models were, for the most part, assembled vehicles using parts from a variety of manufacturers as well as a few designed in house. None of the cars are known to exist but contemporary reports note that the cars were well built and durable with modern features such as an electric starter.

As production was limited, marketing was generally regional. The one major exception was advertisements placed African American–owned publications, something few automobile companies considered.

But the manufacturer that produced vehicles by hand could not profitably compete with the likes of General Motors and Ford. And an African American owned manufacturer faced additional obstacles including restricted access to financing, markets, and to marketing.

In 1918, the company suspended automobile production and expanded their vehicle-repair services. In 1920 the company was a gain restructured and was reorganized as the Greenfield Bus Body Company. The company profiited from the regional demand for school bus and specialty truck bodies that could be added to Chevrolet, Dodge, Ford, Corbit, Moreland, International and other truck chassis. Within a few years they had expanded the catalog options to included hearses, moving van, insulated van bodies, and trailers for semi tractors.

A study conducted in 1929 indicated that almost half of the school busses operating in Ohio used Greenfield bodies. And just as the ravages of the Great Depression began wreaking havoc on the American economy, the company turned its attentions to export. Shortly before the company closed its doors, a few buses were shipped to Haiti far away as Haiti for the first Haitian commercial bus line.

At Jim Hinckley’s America, we tell America’s story. The story of Patterson-Greenfield, the only Afrcan American owned automobile manufacturer, is just one chapter is this inspiring epic that is still being written as America is a work in progress.

History provides us with perspective and balance. The future gives us hope. But history strained and filtered to fit a perspective or agenda is akin to a jigsaw puzzle picture of a desert with clear skies that has had all all the blue pieces removed.

Unlikely Friendships & Colorful Characters

Unlikely Friendships & Colorful Characters

This long vanished roadside oasis stood at the summit of El Trovatore Hill along Route 66 near Kingman, Arizona. Authors collection

A few days ago I was driving into Kingman, Arizona, my adopted hometown, on the post 1937 alignment of Route 66 when a thought popped into my head. Clark Gable, Carol Lombard and Otto Winkler, Gable’s publicist, drove from Los Angeles to Kingman on Route 66 back in March 1939. Gable and Lombard were eloping to Kingman. What type of car was the trio driving? And that question led to another. Why did they elope to Kingman?

Over the years thoughts like these have often led to rather interesting adventures. And more often than not, the quest for answers has led to some fascinating discoveries. And in turn many of those discoveries became fodder for podcasts, presentations, books, feature articles, and assorted Jim Hinckley’s America programs and projects.

As I was delving for answers about Gable and Lombard’s nuptials, I stumbled on an interesting historic tidbit. Apparently, Clark Gable, Gary Cooper, and Harpo Marx were good friends that shared more than a common career as thespians. They also enjoyed a love or fast cars, and bourbon. In the mid-1930s, Gable and Cooper bought powerful, supercharged SSJ Duesenberg’s. Marx drove a high-powered Mercedes-Benz SSK.

And if you think that Harpo Marx, Gary Cooper, and Clark Gable was an odd friendship, did you know that Groucho Marx and Alice Cooper were pretty good friends? That, amigos, is a story for another day.

Well, my search for answers led to some intriguing stories about celebrities and their cars. And as I greatly enjoy telling people where to go, and sharing America’s story, a few of thse stories were transformed into episode nine of Car Talk From The Main Street of Americaa Jim Hinckley’s America podcast.

The podcast, the second one from Jim Hinckley’s America, was a no brainer. The sharing of automotive history is a cornerstone at Jim Hinckley’s America.

This podcast is in an embryonic state. But to date I have shared a number of interesting stories that, based upon comments received, are piquing peoples curiosity.

In episode four I shared the store of a series of races that were officially called the Desert Classic. But it was dubbed the Cactus Derby and the name stuck.

As with the search for answers about Clark Gable’s trip to Kingman, I stumbled on these long forgotten races while looking for information about Louis Chevrolet. He participated in the last of the Desert Calassic races in 1914.

As to the origins of the races, I am inclined to believe that drinking was involved. After all, I can’t think of an epic story such as this that started with, they were having a salad.

The initial race was the brainchild of Dr. George Vickers, owner of the Arizona Republican newspaper, now the Arizona Republic, in Phoenix, Arizona and Purdy Villard of the Maricopa County Automobile Club. According to local legend, the two men were having an intense discussion in a Phoenix social club about gasoline powered automobiles and cars with steam engines, and which was more practical.

In episode five I shared the story of another auto race. This motoring event was an epic worthy of Jason and the Argonaut’s. The staring line was in New York City, the finish line was in Paris, France. The year was 1908 and the drivers faced an incredible array of obstacles. One team became stranded in the Gobi Desert and had to wait for gasoline to be delivered by camels.

The first few days of the race aptly illustrate the challenges faced by the drivers and mechanics. A broken differential forced August Pons, driver of the French Sizaire-Naudin, to drop out of the race after only 96 miles. The De Dion, the Zust and the Thomas Flyer ran neck and neck with the Protos and the Moto-Bloc bringing up the rear.

The Cactus Derby was a series of epic auto races across the Mojave Desert.

In Hudson, New York, the cars were forced to plow through snow that was more than a foot deep in a single file with the Thomas Flyer, with no heater, no top, and no windshield, in the lead. Mechanics shoveled snow, and planks were put down for traction.

The trail out of Auburn, which the New York Times described as the worst road in the United States, lived up to its reputation. Three cars were mired axle deep at Dismal Hollow in the Montezuma Swamp. The men prepared to camp for the night, but an American guide hired by the Italian team arrived with a farmer and a six-horse team that pulled the cars from the quagmire.

Reflection on how random questions have led to some interesting discoveries, and how those discoveries became programs or books, has me rather excited. I still want to know what Clark Gable, Carol Lombard and Otto Winkler were driving and why they eloped to Kingman. I can’t help but wonder what will be found in my search for answers.





An Edsel For The 21st Century

An Edsel For The 21st Century

Age is a funny thing. As an example, several years ago I was visiting the Automobile Driving Museum in El Segundo, California where they literally take you for a drive. One of the vehicles on display was an AMC Pacer, a car that had been dubbed the fishbowl when I was working in a used car lot garage back in the mid-1970s. In my mind’s eye that was just a couple of years ago.

So, it was a shock to see cars like a Pacer and Gremlin that I had worked on when they were almost new on display in a museum. Again, in my mind’s eye I was still 20 or 25 years of age but here was glaring evidence that I was of the I Like Ike button, tail fins on Cadillac and Edsel era, and that was a very long time ago.

An even more jarring brush with the passing of time occurred this past spring at the annual Route 66 Fun Run in western Arizona. There amongst the hundreds of vehicles on display, parked in a line of vehicles that included a battered 1929 Ford AA truck, a couple of 1960s Corvettes, a beautiful 1955 Mercury convertible and a pristine Plymouth Volare was a Saturn S1 coupe.

Now, since the trip to El Segundo, I have slowly been able to accept the fact that a Volare is now considered a classic vehicle. But a Saturn? To say the very least it was a bit disturbing to see this little coupe sporting historic vehicle plates.

A milestone on the path to adulthood is acceptance of the fact that taxes and death are an inevitable part of life. A milestone on the path to maturity, and learning to simply enjoy a simple life, is acceptance of the fact that times change.

Every aspect of Route 66 in 1930 was dramatically different from the Route 66 or 1950, or 1960. I am not quite as old as rope but daily it becomes more evident that I am mere months away from being viewed as a relic. In 1990, I cranked out my first professionaly written feature article on a battered 1948 Underwood typewriter with a “t” key that stuck at the most inopportune times. A majority of my research was accomplished with a typed letter, an envelope, a stamp, and a long wait, and visits to the library. A research trip that took me out on the road required a pocket full of change as the pay phone was my best friend.

Research for an upcoming presentation about the dark side of life in territorial Arizona during the closing years of the territorial era and infancy of statehood was the catalyst for these thoughts. As I was perusing newspaper archives in search of stories for the program, little details in articles led me to taking notes unrelated to the poject at hand. I have little doubt that that these notes will morph into other stories at some poinit in the future.

As an example, who was Jim Hendrickson? The sparse details in his obituary piqued the imagination.

How did a man born in 1845 adapt to the world of 1912? He was a Civil War veteran that had arrived in the Arizona territory in about 1869. He had been a teamster in the Mojave Desert, and survived two attacks by Native Americans that were battling what they saw as invaders. In one of those skirmishes Jim Hendrickson was wounded and left for dead.

Apparently he was a moderately succesful rancher, and itinerant prospector. He had once been married but his wife had died in childbirth. And when he died of bronchitis in Los Angeles, he was on a business trip. He was looking into securing an agency to sell shiny new Maxwell automobiles in Kingman.

Hendrickson had traveled across the continent on foot and by horseback. He had witnessed the transition from steamboats on the Colorado River, and arduous travels across the harsh deserts, to railroads and even automobiles. He had been a part of an unprecedented migration, and played a role in the transformation of a sparsely inhabited wilderness into a modern world of towns and cities with electric lights.

This photo of the first Packard dealership in Kingman is courtesy the Mohave Museum of History & Arts.

Thoughts of Mr. Hendrickson were the seeds that sprouted as an episode about the rise and fall of Saturn on Car Talk From The Main Street of America, a Jim Hinckley’s America podcast. Those thoughts were also an opportunity for me to consider the changes that I have witnessed, my ability to adapt, and to speculate on what the future might hold for a man born in the era of the Edsel.

Times change. Learn to adapt, develop a fascination for new technologies, make friends of all ages, enjoy lively conversation with people who have a different world view, and limit the amount of time you spend strolling down Memory Lane.