The Hornets Nest, an American story. ©Jim Hinckley’s America.
The Hornets Nest is a nondescript little cafe. No flashy neon signs. No fancy eye catching architecture. A simple sign topped by a Coca Cola advertisement reads, “Great Food – Great Friends – Great Times. It was our kind of place, and we were disappointed by the food, the service or the price.
Aside from a few homely touches the interior is as plan as the outside. The menu offerings are American staples. A few have catchy names such as the “K-Starter” and “Jayhawker” that only have meaning to the locals. And based on what customers were ordering, ice cream and pie are the popular desert offerings of choice.
Hamburgers, fried chicken, french fries, grilled chicken salad and similar fare dominate the menu.Tacos and burritos are also offered, a hint that even on the plains of Kansas the face of America has changed a bit since the era of I Like Ike buttons.
It is the kind of small town diner that was ubiquitous before the generic era of fast food and hotel franchises, Walmart, and supermarket chains. And it is the only cafe and ice cream shop left in faded Chetopa.
An American Story
The Hornets Nest, and Chetopa itself, is a time capsule of sorts. Here is preserved the American story, and a glimpse of what might be our future.
Cheryl Barnes has worked at the cafe for 43 years. She commutes from nearby Miami, Oklahoma, a Route 66 community.
A scrawled note from a second grader on the menu at the Hornets Nest is a small town touch.
She was a mere child when her father walked out on the family, and her mother knew little about the restaurant business. So, she and her mother learned together. And now Cheryl works with her daughter. She must be a fair boss as Evelyn, a waitress, started working at the cafe more than 20 years ago while still a teenager.
Chetopa, as with rural towns all through the plains, is fading. In 1890 more than 2,000 people called this town home. As of 2021 the population was a mere 921 people, a 28% decline since 2000.
The town founded on April 18, 1857, was originally an Osage Nation village named after Chief Chetopah. The future looked bright and promising when the M, K & T Railroad was given exclusive right to cross the Indian Territories.
Remnants of the towns glory days abound along U.S. 166 and U.S. 59. And scattered here and there are modern, shining buildings that stand in testimony to the pride and tenacity of folks that call Chetopa home.
Ghost of Christmas Future
The Hornets Nest may be a nondescript cafe that few travelers notice. But for locals it is an institution where memories were made. It is an oasis, a place to stop for coffee and pie, and talk farm prices with neighbors.
And it is a place where friends and neighbors share concerns. On the day my dearest freind and I stopped in for a bite of lunch a weathered old farmerr in faded bib overalls, and his aged wife, were enjoying a burger. A stream of customers greeted them by name, and inquired about their kids and grand children. A few asked for some insight about the unseasonably warm day.
Vandalism seemed to be a popular topic with customers. A few days before our stop, someone had tossed a rock through the cafe window. Cardboard was tapped over the hole until it could be repaired. This and similar incidents in town was seen as a troubling trend.
We talked with the owner, and the waitress, and listened as they reminisced about the survival skills of grandparents that were lacking in modern generations. That conversation was tinged with a hint of foreboding about the future, anxiety, and uncertainty.
The Hornets Nest
Our fall tour included stops at a number of cafes and diners in faded little towns where the glory days are distant memories. A common theme in conversations with waitresses, farmers and truck drivers was a foreboding about the future.
My memories of travels, road trips, and stops in small town America span sixty years or more. With clarity I remember the tension of driving through Alabama and Mississippi in the early 1960s. And I remember road trips during the Vietnam War era, the Carter years, and after 9/11. But this is different. I don’t recall a time when it seemed that there was once common thread tying it all together. I can’t remember a time when so many people seemed to look toward the future with apprehension rather than with optimism and hope.
Interesting times. This trip was the opening lines for a new chapter in the American story, something we share at Jim Hinckley’s America.
The recent performance by Doga from Czechia may have been one of the most unusal events in the history of the Palace Saloon. Photo Zdenek Jurasek
The Palace Saloon opened its doors in 1906. Colorful characters, outlaws, celebrities, and countless legions of thirsty Route 66 travelers have bellied up to the bar over the years. But I would be willing to bet that never in its history has there been an evening like October 12, 2023.
Henry Lovin opened the Palace Saloon after a fire had erased most buildings along Front Street, now Route 66, in Kingman, Arizona. It was built of stone and concrete, and promoted as Kingman’s only fire proof saloon. Henry Lovin’s fascinating story, and the history of the saloon, is told in the innovative narrated self guided historic district walking tour developed by Kingman Main Street.
At some point in its history the name was changed to Sportman’s Club. But aside from the signage little has changed. This venerable old saloon is an Arizona territorial era tie capsule.
Attesting to its unique place in Kingman and Route 66 history is its inclusion as a point of interest in the Route 66 Navigation app. The app developed by Touch Media, a company based in Bratislava, Slovakia illustrates the international nature of Route 66 in the modern era. And it is just one connection with the international Route 66 community.
On October 12, Doga, the acclaimed Czech heavy metal band kicked off their first Route 66 pub tour with a performance at Sportsman’s Club. Accompanying the band on the tour developed by Zdenek Jurasek of the Czech Route 66 Association were thirty fans from central Europe. A film crew also is a part of the tour as it is being filmed for a forthcoming documentary.
Until quite recently the old Palace Saloon was the only operating business in what was once the very heart of Kingman. Dominating the block between Third and Fourth Street are the long shuttered Hotel Beale and Hotel Brunswick. The Lovin Building on one corner, and Desert Drug, Frontier Cafe, and Frontier Lounge on the other, were razed years ago.
But times do change. The Old Trails Garage that dates to 1915 is still used for storage by the owner. But the facade has been renovated with perioed correct signage, and a circa 1930 Packard sign again glows bright. The Arizona Store that opened in 1910 as a one stop shop for mining and ranch supplies is now Garibaldi’s Restaurant. And work is well underway to give the Brunswick Hotel a new lease on life.
Times change. There is an ebb and flow to most communities. Kingman is not an exception. But occasionally you will find one of those special places where time seems to have stood still. Personally, I am atracted to places such as the Sportsman’s Club like a moth to a flame. I suppose that this is rather fiting as Jim Hinckley’s America is built on a passion for sharing America’s story.
It is no merre highway. Route 66 Association Japan members enjoy a reception at Calico’s restaurant in Kingman, Arizona
It is no mere highway. It hasn’t been since the U.S. Highway 66 Association was established in the early spring of 1927. And now, in the era of renaissance, this storied old highway has transcended its original purpose. It has been been transformed into the modern incarnation of the Statue of Liberty for legions of passionate international enthusiasts.
It is often viewed as the American experience made manifest. An infectious enthusiasm is palpable. Opportunity seems more evident. A sense of freedom is magnified with each passing mile.
It is viewed as the quintessential American road trip and promoted as the Main Street of America. And it is a destination as well as America’s longest small town.
It is Route 66.
Welcome To Jim Hinckley’s America
Route 66 is no mere highway. And Jim Hinckley’s America is more than just a job.
I am one of the fortunate few. Since abandoning the crushing restrictions of the standard 9 to 5 job, I have had the opportunity to make a living by doing what is enjoyed. Even better, I am meeting some of the most interesting and inspirational people. But the greatest reward is in the friendships made, and in knowing that a service is being provided by helping people discover the real America while enjoying a memorable adventure.
Adventure on The Double Six
Over the course of the past few weeks I have provided assistance to a Japanese flm crew. And that was my first introduction to the legacy of traditional Chin-don Girls as presented by BENTENYA, from Aichi, Japan.
And I also had an opportunity to present the Arizona chapter of America’s story to a tour group from Chicago. Telling the story of a Native American trade route that evolved into iconic Route 66 with a bit of help from Spanish explorers, an adventuresome American military oficer with a camel caravan, railroad survey engineers, visionaries like Thomas Devine, and pioneering automobilists like Edsel Ford and Emily Post always leads to an interesting Q & A session.
This week perfectly illustrates the international nature of Route 66 in the modern era. Last night I led a walking tour through the historic heart of Kingman, Arizona that included inquisitive folks from Australia and New Zealand. This morning I shared the story of the origins of the U.S. highway system and the dawning of the Americn auto industry to another group. Did you know that Buick and Chevrolet were originally imports?
Tomorrow I will be talking with a group from the east coast, and visit with a good friend, Toshi Goto, president of the Japanese Route 66 Association. The following day I meet with another friend and business associate, Marian Pavel of Touch Media. Pavel based in Bratislava, Slovakia is the developer of the innovative Route 66 Navigation app. Aside from simply visiting with an old friend, we will be talking about exciting Route 66 centennial projects.
No Mere Highway
And that will be followed by our fall tour, always an exciting adventure. If all goes as planned (that would be different) we will be providing a bit of road trip inspiration during the adventure with daily postings in the Decade With Jim series on our Instagram account. And we have a few episodes of Coffee With Jim, our interactive podcast on Podbean planned as well. All of these programs will help explain why Route 66 is no mere highway.
And a Route 66 centennial project was just given the green light. So, that means we will also be creating a new photo portfolio, and doing a bit of research, as well as visiting with old friends on this odyssey.
Since 2015, the annual Miles of Possibility Route 66 Conference is the central point for the fall tour. This year I am a keynote speaker at the event, and fittingly, I will be making a presentation about the dawning of the great American road trip.
This will not be just a mere road trip. After all I will, Route 66 is no mere highway.