A 3,900 mile road trip through the heartland. Visits with old friends. The loss of a few friends. The making of new friends. A visit with Jay Leno. Opportunities to tell people where to go, and to share America’s story. A dream project made manifest after six years of effort. A National Road Trip Day celebration that was historic, at least for me. The launch of a new podcast. The publication of my 21st and 22nd book. Delays and frustrations with The Beast (the 1951 Chevy panel truck). These were a few of the high and low points of 2022.
I have never been a fan of the New Year’s resolution. I am, however, a fan of looking back on a year. That gives me insight about what needs to be fixed or improved so I can make new mistakes rather than repeat old ones. It also provides balance and perspective. And that in turn provides a foggy glimpse of the year to come. With this reflection and evaluation comes a blend of excitement, eager anticipation, and a hint of apprehension.
The excitement and eager anticipation about the new year was fueled by the past few weeks. For the first time since the dawning of the apocalypse we resumed our December book signing at Auto Books Aero Books, a venerable old store that opened its doors in the 1950s. And just like old times Jay Leno popped in for a quick visit.
Discoveries made in small town America, a highlight of 2022
About two weeks ago I received an unexpected email. It was from a cousin not talked with since 1974! But what made that note and the subsequent phone call even more surprising was that I had been informed years ago that he had passed away.
Yesterday I had the distinct pleasure of meeting with Stephanie Stuckey, CEO of Stuckey’s, the classic roadside business famous for pecan logs, and a board member with the Society for Commerical Archeology. We had met at the Miles of Possibility Conference where she was the keynote speaker. At that time I had shared information about the new innovative self guided, narrated historic walking tour in Kingman, Arizona that had been developed by Kingman Main Street and invited her to Kingman for a guided tour.
The walking tour project had first been proposed after an interesting presentation about QR codes at the 2014 International Route 66 Festival in Kingman. Selling the idea took more time than the fund raising, research and development of phase one.
Apathy. A lack of leadership and vision. Factions. Failure to build cooperative partnerships. These were just a few of the obstacles that we had to overcome to transform an idea into a reality.
The issues encountered with this project aptly illustrate why some communities with limited resources or attractions successfully utilize tourism as a catalyst for economic development and historic revitalization, and others with nearly unlimited opportunity languish. That was the focal point of my presentation at the Miles of Possibility Conference.
And in 2022, for the first time since 2019 we embarked on an epic odyssey of nearly 4,000 miles through the heartland. Aside from visiting old friends and speaking at the Miles of Posibility Conference in Pontiac, Illinois, and we did some research and exploration along Route 66 as well as in Missouri, Kansas and Arkansas.
To plagiarize a bit of classic literature, that trip was the best of times, and it was the worst of time. Issues with renting car, a new reality, an injury sustained by my dearest friend, soaring gas prices, and a nightmare motel experience in Russellville, Arkansas are counted among the low points.
Highlights included discovering new restaurants, motels, museums and highways that we can recommend. There were some long overdue reunions with friends. We met some interesting people, were introduced to some new ideas and technologies, and had the opportunity to tell people where to go as well as share America’s story. And just as with BC (before COVID) era, there was ample opportunity to start booking engagements for the new year.
With few exceptions 2022 was a good year for the Jim HInckley’s America team. As always there was room for improvement, and that is one reason I evaluate the old year as a new one dawns.
So, here we are on the cusp of a new year filled with new opportunities. Are you excited?
Automotive treasures found on the streets of Burbank, California ©Jim Hinckley’s America
In the Los Angeles metropolitan area, a drive of fifteen miles can take an hour, or more if you are on the roads at rush hour. A drive such as this ensures that the blood pressure will be given a boost, that the frustration meter will be pegged and that at the end of the day you won’t need to look for an excuse to drink.
But on Saturday mornings traffic in some areas can be surprisingly light. And fifteen miles is the distance from a time capsule on Route 66 in Pasadena to a time capsule in Burbank, California.
The time capsule in Pasadena is a favorite oasis of ours. Located on Colorado Boulevard, Route 66, the Saga Motor Hotel opened in 1959. It epitomizes the romanticized image of a 1950s California motel. The architecture, the signage, the swimming pool lined by towering palm trees all ensure that there is an illusion that at the Saga time has stood still.
As a bonus it is within walking distance of a light rail station. And there are an eclectic array of restaurants in the surrounding neighborhood.
Heidar Baba is one example. This authentic Persian restaurant offers a delicious array of meat skewers, salads and tasty rice dishes.
One definition of the word vault is a room or compartment for the safekeeping of valuables or treasures. That is an apt descriptor of Auto Books Aero Books on Magnolia Boulevard in Burbank, an almost magical bookstore that opened in 1951.
Auto Books Aero Books is a veritable treasure trove of automotive literature.
The stores inventory is almost overwhelming. In the automotive section shelves are filled to overflowing with new and used books, magazines, and repair manuals. Topics range from company histories to biographies, recreational vehicles to motorcycles, road trip travel journals to heavily illustrated coffee table books about the Dodge Charger, Ford Model A or Tatra. Some are recent releases. And on the same shelf you will find books such as Dr. Dyke’s Diseases of a Gasoline Automobile and How to Cure Them published in 1903.
An entire section of the store is dedicated to repair manuals. Name a brand or type of vehicle with wheels manufactured in the last one hundred and twenty years and there is a very good chance that a repair manual can be found on one of the shelves. Panhard. Porsche. Model T. Chrysler Airflow. Fiat. Packard. Chevrolet Advance Design series trucks. Holden.
The aeronautical section is, perhaps, even more amazing. On my recent visit I purchased The Mother of Eagles: The War Diary of Baroness Von Richthofen, originally published in 1938, and Rickenbacker: An Autobiography, the story of Eddie Rickenbacker. Rickenbacker was an America WWI ace, a Medal of Honor recipient, renowned race car driver during the teens and ‘20s, vice president of TWA airlines, and the founder of the short-lived Rickenbacker automobile company. These books were on a shelf with an original B 17 preflight inspection manual, a book about the history of the RAF, the air war in Europe during WWII, experimental aircraft of WWII, and an intriguing book about the aviation history of Arizona before 1920. Absolutely amazing.
As incredible as the store is, on Saturday mornings it is transformed with a book signing and a day long cruise in for regional automotive enthusiasts. From open to close people stop in for a fresh pastry, a book or magazine and to visit with like-minded people. On my recent visit I watched in amazement as Jay Leno arrived in a 1929 Duesenberg, and people arrived in a diverse array of vehicles including a 1965 Buick Riviera, a 1951 Ford truck, a new Ferrari, a Model T Ford, a Borgward Isabella and an electric Mustang.
Dating to the late 1950s, the Safari Inn in Burbank, Califronia is a delightful time capsle that has been tastefully updated with modern amenities. ©Jim Hinckley’s America
With an adventuresome spirit, and a bit of planning, you can avoid the freeway system and transform the drive into a delightful voyage of discovery, even with miles of miles of stoplights. Colorful business districts that mirror the areas cultural diversity, picture worthy vintage signage, quaint neighborhoods from the 1950s, 1920s, and even the early 20th century. And as might be expected, lots and lots of fascinating time capsules.
As an example, within a few blocks of Auto Books Aero Books is the 1959 Safari Inn with its stunning neon signage. One block away is Tally Rand restaurant that opened in 1959. Including these two urban gems in your adventure will round out a memorable day spent talking with fascinating people and exploring Auto Books Aero Books.
Counted among the many things that make a Route 66 odyssey memorable is the surprises discovered along the way, and the people that you meet. Add a detour or two to your drive along Route 66, such as a short drive from Pasadena to Auto Books Aero Books in Burbank, and you can magnify the magic of the Route 66 experience. As a bonus, withthis detour you can add to your automotive library as well.
After this recent trip it looks like we will be additing a few stops to the Jim HInckley’s America recommended location section of the website!
Jay Leno and author Jim HInckley during a book signing at Auto Books Aero Books in Burbank, California ©Judy Hinckley
Unveiling the Jim Hinckley statue at Depot Plaza on National Road Trip Day
Surreal. Can you think of a better word to descibe the past couple of years? It definitely is a descriptor for my life since at least the onset of the apocalypse in 2020.
Since the first of December, I have had a publisher initiate discussions about the feasibility of writing two books in 2023, with no advance, and had two book signings. One book signing took place in the parking lot of a Burbank, California motel. The second was at a venerable book store that opened in the early 1950s, and Jay Leno showed up driving a Duesenberg.
Highlights of November include a regional tourism meeting in Needles, California and a tour of the historic El Garces hotel and Harvey House that opened in 1908. On the drive home the alternator quit on the Jeep and so I drove home on battery power without lights.
Oddly enough the amp gauge dropped to zero at the junction of Route 66 and Boundary Cone Road near Oatman, Arizona. This was almost the exact spot that pa’s Studebaker broke down back in the early 1970s. That trip turned out to be a two part adventure, us walking into Oatman and then after repairs, my first solo drive on the highway.
In October my dearest friend and I embarked on our first Route 66 odyssey since the onset of the apocalypse. To parphrase a bit of classic literature, it was the best of times and it was the worst of times. Put another way, it was our best road trip in many, many years. And it was hands down one of the worst that we have had in forty years.
In the new era you don’t merely rent a car. That is a relic from the BC (before COVID) era. Renting a car is an adventure in itself. It is a gamblers special. Will the rental company be able to honor my reservation? If so, will the vehicle I get be anything like the one that I reserved? And then there is the wild fluctuations of price that will often be two, three or four times the cost of a rental car before 2020.
The most surreal moment of my life, at least so far, took place in May of this year during the National Road Trip celebrations. That was when the Kingman Main Street spearheaded project that included a self gudied narrated historic district walking tour and a public arts project was unveiled.
The walking tour was a project that had initially been discussed in 2014. So, it was a privilege to do the research and to provide narration. The public arts component was a statue of me by internationally acclaimed sculptress J. Anne Butler. Even seeing the statue adorned with a Christmas wreath last week paled in comparison to the unveiling ceremony.
All of this has me looking toward 2023 with excitment, eager anticipation, and a hint of apprehension. The series of programs aboutKingman Arizona, barn finds on our Car Talk From The Main Street of America podcast gave the embryonic endeavor a boost. To kick off the new year we are asking people to share their stories about a favorite car, a barn find, their worst car, their first cor or the car that they still wish they owned.
Our second podcast, the live stream Sunday morning travel program Coffee With Jim may be undergoing a major transition. We have finalized arrangements for use of the Arizona room at Calico’s restaurnt as a studio. Now we are looking for sponsors.
Hosting the program at Calico’s would add a new dimension to the program. We would have an interactive audience, and in addition to the audio podcast, we would record it as a video for the Jim Hinckley’s America YouTube channel.
We are filling the spring calendar fairly quickly. It is still a far cry from 2019 but it is still early. And we are starting on a fall schedule of appearances as well. The organizers of the 2023 Miles of Possibility conference scheduled for October in Bloomington/Normal, Illinois have asked me to speak at the event.
And now we are counting the days until Christmas. Then we can work on our very special year in review program.
Here is to life lived in a surreal world.
Author Jim Hinckley shares his morning walkabouts on Unstagram with the daily Decade With Jim posting.
Am I the only one that feels like they are trying to nail Jello to the wall? Is it my imagination or is frustration becoming simply an accepted part of daily life?
Five windows manned by two employess with a line that stretches out of the lobby and down the front of the post office. An ATM that is out of cash. A long line for the single cashier, and a herd crowded around the self check out registers. Customer service that isn’t. After being on hold for 45 minutes being told that the next available date for an appointment is March, 2023, nearly five months later. And don’t ask me about the challenges of trying to get an estimate for home repair.
With varying degrees of success I end the day with a smile and a bit of optimism about tomorrow. I accredit that to lessons learned during the years of living a hard knock life. The lyrics of The Ride by Chris LeDoux sum up that chapter of my life, provide inspiration needed to survive the age of frustration, and conjur up memories thart make me smile.
“He said “Sit tall in the saddle, Hold your head up high
Keep your eyes fixed where the trail meets the sky And live like you ain’t afraid to die And don’t be scared, just enjoy your ride”
I went up a kid with shaking hands
And I came down a full grown man
It was like he’d cast some Voodoo spell
Things were different for me now, I could tell”
At the time it seemed like a dream job. I couldn’t imagine anything better than the life i was living. Every day was a grand adventure of epic proportions. That was before the big wreck and being forced to face a hard reality. This was a great way to make a living, especially if I didn’t plan on living long.
A frosty morning in Jim Hinckley’s America
That dream job required long hours spent polishing leather on the tree with the seat of my pants under a blazing sun, or in the rain, or on a face numbing frosty morning. I was riding for the brand on a spread headquartered along the lower Mimbres River near Faywood, New Mexico. Riding for the brand was an ideal, a code of ethics that t took serioously. So did most of the fellows that I rode with.
Cowboy poet Red Steagall summed up that code in a poem when he wrote, “Son, a man’s brand is his own special mark that says this is mine, leave it alone. You hire out to a man, ride for his brand and protect it like it was your own.”
Well, that chapter of my life was written nearly a decade before the publication of my first feature article and the receipt of a check for $250. Still, I hold fast to that code. I am still a dreamer, just as I was when riding fences down toward the Mexican border.
When I got my first check, childhood dreams were renewed. And when that dream was fulfilled with publication of my first book, new dreams were born. That proved to be the case with every milestone on my journey toward becoming a writer when I grow up.
This chapter commenced with receipt of that first check. It continues to this day. So do the dreams that keep me smiling at the end of day plagued with frustrations.
The ultimate barn find, a stunning 1929 Duesenberg J Town Sedan, the ultimate barn find story ©Jidy Hinckley of Jim Hinckley’s America
For car obsessed enthusiasts the urban legend of barn finds has become a mania. At most any car show you will hear stories of the Corvette (or sportscar, or rare Chevy Cameo, or low mileage Ford Pinto) put into storage just after purchase and never driven again. The barn find has even found its way into popular music. Hacve you heard the song entitled Riding with Private Malone by David Ball?
On occasion, however, there is a grain of truth to the stories. And sometimes the discovery eclipse’s the legend. A superb example of this is the stunning 1929 Duesenberg Town Sedan that Jay Leno tracked down several years ago. It was in the possession of the original owners son, and had been parked since the 1930s with a mere 7,000 miles on the odometer.
I will be sharing a bit of this amazing story on an upcoming episode of Car Talk From The Main Street of America, a Jim HInckley’s America podcast. And for next weeks blog post the plan is to share the full story of this car that has a connection to President Hoover. Having an opportunity to see this long neglected mechanical masterpiece on the road was one of many delightful surprises on the recent trip to California.
Before the COVID induced apocalypse of illness, masks, and shutdowns, traveling to Auto Books Aero Books in Burbank, California for a book signing was a December tradition. This was our first visit to the iconic store since 2019.
Book stores, like the Duesenberg, are a rarity in the modern era. But as I learned this weekend, a book store dedicated to automotive titles is truly an endangered species. According to the owners, this store that dates to the 1950s is just one of less than a dozen in the entire world.
My dearest friend and I have a love/hate relationship with the Los Angeles metro area. We always enjoy the new discoveries made on each trip, and the visits with old friends such as Chuck and Tina, owners of the book store.
But the traffic is crushing. As we travel early on weekends it is usually frustrating and anxiety inducing but manageable. Still, I can’t imagine having to battle eight lanes of traffic on a daily basis. That level of stress is something I prefer to avoid.
On this adventure new discoveries included Charlie Brown Farms in Little Rock, California that was estbalished in 1929. This road side store is a throwback to a time I remember from childhood. Aside from fresh produce they offer deep fried oreo cookies, date shakes, Texas style barbecue, jerky, ice cream and novelties.
A Burbank treasure ©Jim HInckley’s America
Another gem that we discovered was Tallyrand restaurant on Olive Avenue in Burbank, California. This charming little time capsule that opened in 1959 is just one block from another treasure, the Safari Inn with towering neon sign that opened in 1957.
The highlight of the trip was Jay Leno stopping by the book signing. He has popped into most of our Burbank signings for many years but in light of his recent accident we hadn’t expected to see him. And we surely didn’t expect see him driving the barn find Duesenberg.
This trip was also a first for Jim Hinckley’s America. The Singleton Foundation purchased several case of my books for inclusion in Christmas gift boxes. So, this was my largest book signing.
Their representative arrived at our motel in Burbank in a Ford Flex filled with books. She also had a small table, and a portable chair. So, for an hour I signed books in the parking lot and got to know the fascinating Michelle Matisse. This was my strangest book singing, it almost eclipsed the bizarre setting for my presentation at the long empty Hackett automobile factory in Jackson, Michigan that was missing most of the roof.
But on this ocassion the sunrise was beautiful and the weather cool but mild. At the event in Jackson it was cold and rainy.
This trip was also an opportunity to take an exended test drive in a 2021 Mitsubishi Mirage as we used a rental car. As an urabn commuter the car is ideally suited. It is so small they ask what size you wear before putting you behind the wheel. And it is frugal when it comes to fuel. On our trip we averaged just over 38 miles per gallon.
It served our purpose well. Still, I wouldn’t recommend it for a long distance cruiser. It had some surprising get up and go, but the engine strained on long grades, especially when trying to keep up with traffic. And I wouldn’t make that long of drive again without adding some padding to the back side. I have ridden on saddles that wer more comfortable.
Dating to the late 1950s, the Safari Inn in Burbank, Califronia is a delightful time capsle that has been tastefully updated with modern amenities. ©Jim Hinckley’s America
For detractors of electric vehicles it is has become fashionable to toss around the term “range anxiety.” These folks forget about the range anxiety experienced by early motorists more than a century ago. And they overlook cars like the Mirage with a 9.3 gallon gas tank. Talk about range anxiety! Drive this across the Mojave Desert. We arrived in Barstow with a hair over an eighth of a tank of fuel.
One of the things that fascinate me about the modern era is how spoiled we have become. The Mirage is obviously a budget car. And yet it has back up camera, power windows, etc. When did these gadgets move from the luxury option category to needed standard features?
This past weekend was quite the adventure. But in all honesty it’s always an adventure in Jim Hinckley’s America. But that gives us lots of fodder for stories, for shared adventures, for an opportunity to tell America’s story, and for telling people where to go. America’s story