Heat should be expected in Arizona during the months of summer but this afternoon temperatures are set to soar to new records. Not that it is needed but this provides added incentive for a sunrise walkabout.
Counted among my many blessings is the fact that Kingman, Arizona has been my adopted home town since 1966. Within spitting distance of Route 66 and the historic business district is a wonderland of deeply shadowed canyons, awe inspiring vistas, desert oasis, historic sites and territorial era roads.
In recent years there has been a concerted effort to professionally develop a series of trails for hiking or mountain biking in the hills surrounding the city. The Cerbat Foothills Recreation Area and White Cliffs Wagon Road district will soon be linked through trail expansion initiatives. This trail system is one of many treasures that are hiding in plain site.
On this mornings walkabout I decided to follow a deer trail to the summit of the mesa and then an old road to the newly completed Upper Trail. My passion for this wild land is renewed daily.
Stunning views, wildlife, deep canyons, a soaring hawk, and dusty trails that were once arteries of commerce. With each step you feel the spirit being renewed. With each twist of the trail you can feel the mind being cleared of worries, of deadlines, and of never ending stories of divisive politics.
You can feel the inspiration and the ideas flood the mind on the morning walkabout. There is a sense of renewal. As I recall this was how John Adams described the importance of the long morning walk.
I was an odd kid, and still am. For about as long as I can remember there has been a fascination with cemeteries. I used to take my books to the local cemetery, find a shady spot, and while away an afternoon reading. It made me happier than fleas on a puppy.
Ma always said that I was born ninety and never seemed to age. My fascination with cemeteries were but one of the reasons she felt this way.
There are a lot of lessons to be learned in a cemetery. Life is short, some lives are shorter than others. Death is simply part of life. Death is not to be feared as it keeps us focused on what makes life worth living; family, friends, adventures, shared adventures, laughter with friends, making memories and working daily to make our corner of the world a bit better than it was when we got here.
Chris LeDoux in his song The Ride had some real words of wisdom. 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”
Perhaps one of the most important lessons to be learned from a cemetery walkabout is to keep the ego in check. Praise and adulation are short lived.
Case in point, George Grantham. On a recent morning walkabout through Mountain View Cemetery in Kingman, Arizona, I came across the grave marker for George Grantham.
Grantham was born in Galena, Kansas in 1900. He went to school in Kingman and Flagstaff, Arizona. George Farley “Boots” Grantham was also a Major League second baseman who played for the Chicago Cubs, Pittsburgh Pirates, Cincinnati Reds, and New York Giants between 1922 and 1934. He played in the 1927 World Series. He died in 1954. His final resting place has a simple marker. George Grantham 1900-1954. Nothing more. And yet there was a time when every baseball fan in America knew his name.
Over the years I have had a few brushes with fame. An interview with Jay Leno in his world famous garage. Twenty books published. Well attended presentations with media coverage in a half dozen countries. Recipient of the bronze medal at the International Automotive Media Awards for The Big Book of Car Culture. Appointment to a couple of prestigious committees.
And I have had some low points. Some were my fault. Some were simply bad luck. Others were just simply a part of life. But those are stories best saved for another day.
Aside from cemeteries I developed a passion for early morning walkabouts decades ago. With few exceptions, summer or winter, in Germany, Arizona or Minnesota, at least three or four days a week, I savor a morning walkabout.
This is the best way I know to clear the head. It is also the best way that I know for starting the day with eager anticipation.
For the past few weeks there has been much to meditate upon. Working with Kingman Main Street, if the fund raising initiative is successful, I will be developing the long dreamed of historic district walking tour.
It will be a multifaceted project that blends the old and new. There will be kiosks with historic photo and caption, credit given to the sponsor and a QR code that allows for narration which expands on the caption. The corresponding website will have a then and now photo, a 360 degree photo and the audio of the narration. The website will allow for a virtual tour of Kingman.
I am so excited about this project. It is the second part of the initiative that I am struggling with. I am to be honored with a life sized bronze statue created by internationally acclaimed artist J. Anne Butler. The statue will stand in a pocket park at the historic depot. The park will contain a brick garden commemorating those who contributed to funding the project. It will also contain the initial Route 66 Walk of Fame that was launched in 2014, and shelved shortly afterwards. The walk of fame will also be given a new lease on life with regular additions.
I harbor no illusions. Fame is fleeting. It has never been something that I pursued. I am honored. I am humbled. And I am a tad bit uncomfortable.
The tentative date for completion of phase one of the tour, and the unveiling, is toward the end of next May at the kick off of the national road trip festivities. The way time flies, that isn’t very long.
Meanwhile I have another book to finish. And I have a visitor guide to develop for the City of Tucumcari as well as two articles to pen for Route. There are also a few presentations and a need to have the outlines for the community education programs I teach at Mohave Community College completed.
And, perhaps, there will be a road trip between then and now as well as visits with friends. Definitely lots to meditate upon during the morning walkabouts.
Then there is a little matter of dusting off a dream. Perhaps this is the year that I see Route 66 through the windshield of a Model A Ford, or a Studebaker Dictator. Perhaps this is the year that I emulate Edsel Ford, and see America in a whole new light.
Exactly when thoughts first turned to ownership of a Ford Model A is unknown. Suffice to say that the seeds for this pipe dream were planted long ago, long, long ago. Well, with the passing of another birthday, and having survived the swirling disasters that was the apocalyptic year 2020, the pipe dream has become a near obsession.
The best explanation for the growing quest to acquire a 90 year old Ford, and to make it a regular driver is that ma was right. She said that I was born ninety and never seemed to age. There is also the possibility that I am at least a half bubble off center. Still, when it comes to vehicles that is old news.
The first truck I purchased with my own money was a well worn, battered old ’42 Chevy. Junk yard camouflage best describes the paint. You could park it in any junkyard and it blend in seamlessly.
That was in 1976. and it was my daily driver. That was the first vehicle that I cruised the Las Vegas Strip in, and it was also the first truck that I drove to the long forgotten town of Cerbat in the Cerbat Mountains.
After a New Years Eve drunk totaled my ’65 Pontiac Bonneville, for a few short weeks, my only transportation was a truly decrepit 1915 Dodge pulled from a barn along the Big Sandy near Wikieup, Arizona.
When my dearest friend and I were courting my daily driver was a ’46 GMC truck. When I had time off this was the truck that transported me along Route 66 on the drive from the ranch near Chino Valley to Kingman. This was the truck I took her to the movie in, and it was the truck we drove to Jan’s Soda Fountain in the Kingman Drug Store. On occasion we would drive another relic, a ’26 Ford touring car, on double dates.
In the first thirty years of marriage only two trucks, a ’70 Chevy and ’74 Ford, were manufactured after I was born. None of them were show pieces. All of them provided endless opportunity to keep my four letter word vocabulary active. Even though it seemed they were always needing work, not one of them left me stranded. One of them took us on a memorable zigzag trip through the center of the Colorado Rockies, to Wyoming and back home again without incident.
So, for my dearest friend, the quest to own a Model A, and to make it a driver, is quite understandable. On occasion she has encouraged pursuit of the dream (?). She has gifted me an array of Model A related books over the years, and on occasion has pointed out a Model A with a for sale sign.
Now the Fates have entered the picture. I can hear the call of the Sirens. In a rather bizarre series of coincidences of the type that are common and normal in my world, I came upon a Model A ideally suited for an envisioned project.
A vehicle that would suffice for a unique travel program
A vehicle that would become associated with the Jim Hinckley’s America brand
A vehicle that ensures attention where ever I go, which in turn provides sponsors of the aforementioned program value for their investment
A vehicle that is somewhat practical, especially for local area travel
A vintage vehicle that can be used for long distance travel, with patience, because of parts availability, ease of repair and available assistance
In a nut shell, a Model A Ford
The next steps are being taken. The quest for sponsors of this and related Jim Hinckley’s America programs. A suitable partnership to develop the programs. This year, perhaps, a decade old pipe dream become a reality. This year Jim Hinckley’s America moves forward by going back in time.
Did I mention that the car I have my eye on is in Michigan? Did I mention that if acquired the intent is to drive it to Arizona via Route 66?
The passing of time dilutes history just as adding water to the soup thins the broth. It also mutes the taste by making it bland. And it also makes a homemade soup a whole lot less nutritious.
“For Rutherford B. Hayes, election evening of November 7, 1876, was shaping up to be any presidential candidate’s nightmare. Even though the first returns were just coming in by telegraph, newspapers were announcing that his opponent, the Democrat Samuel J. Tilden, had won. Hayes, a Republican, would indeed lose the popular vote by more than a quarter-million, but he had no way of knowing that as he prepared his concession speech.” This article from Smithsonian Magazine provides intriguing insight into the history of American electoral chaos that has reached a new high in low with the presidential election of 2020.
For the the connoisseur the quest for good soup or stew is the catalyst for epic adventures. Likewise with the curious minded person that has an interest in history.
A good biography on Abraham Lincoln provides insight into the man and his times. Visit his home in Springfield, Illinois, just a few blocks off Route 66 and you add skin to dry bones. Visit his library and museum located nearby with its state of the art multimedia exhibits and the man springs to life.
Now more than ever it is important to develop a hunger for history. History provides the needed perspective that alleviates unneeded worry, and that sharpens the focus on what is worth worrying about.
History will inspire you to visit Washita Battlefield National Historic Site in Oklahoma. As the National Park Service website explains, “Lt. Colonel George Armstrong Custer sought to end Indian raids by weakening their arsenal and destroying their morale at the Battle of Washita. Today, the Washita Battlefield National Historic Site protects and interprets the setting along the Washita River where Lt. Colonel George A. Custer led the 7th U.S. Cavalry on a surprise dawn attack against the Southern Cheyenne village of Peace Chief Black Kettle on November 27, 1868. The attack played a significant role in the Indian Wars, a tragic clash of cultures that is part of the American story.”
History will broaden your horizons, and challenge you to think. Pay a visit to the lost city of Cahokia near Collinsville, Illinois along Route 66 and the story of America expands dramatically. Spend a few minutes atop the mounds and just listen. You can almost feel the clock being turned back to a time when this was where science was advanced.
Now more than ever is the time to discover a passion for history, and the lessons that it teaches. Now more than ever is the time to let history inspire epic odysseys worth Jason and the Argonaughts.
When we think about Prohibition-era gangsters, it is Chicago, Al Capone, and the St. Valentine’s Day Massacre that often come to mind. Tulsa, however, was where some of the most violent gangsters of this period got their start and honed their skills. Many would profit from the lessons they learned in Tulsa by working for syndicates in Chicago, St. Louis, and Detroit, contributing to the rise of gangster empires such as Al Capone’s in the mid-1920s.
In Tulsa’s Central Park district at 6th Street and Peoria Avenue during the years bracketing World War I, juvenile gangs ran rampant. The roster of ruffians reads like a Who’s Who of notorious Midwestern gangsters in the late 1920s and 1930s. Volney Davis, Wilbur Underhill, Ray Terrill, and Elmer Inman were just a few. Pretty Boy Floyd had a Tulsa connection. The infamous Barker gang led by Ma Barker got their start in this district as well.
Volney Davis was an early member of the Central Park Gang. He made his way to Tulsa in 1921 after serving a three-year sentence for grand larceny in the Oklahoma State Penitentiary. He launched his career as a ruthless killer and opportunist when he teamed with Arthur “Doc” Barker to burglarize St. John’s Hospital in Tulsa. Thomas J. Sherrill, a hospital night watchman, was killed during the robbery. Barker was arrested a few months later, but Davis eluded capture for almost a year. For his role in the robbery and murder at the hospital, he received a life sentence in 1922.
Participating in a mass escape from the prison at McAlester, Oklahoma, Davis managed to remain free for less than two weeks. In 1932, he again fled prison, reunited with longtime girlfriend Edna Murray, also a prison escapee, and joined the Karpis-Barker gang. He was later implicated in the kidnapping of St. Paul, Minnesota, banker Edward Bremer, a crime that would result in a second sentence of life imprisonment. Hiding in Aurora, Illinois, he provided a haven for John Dillinger and Homer Van Meter. After a running gun battle with police, Dillinger left the mortally wounded John “Red” Hamilton in the care of Davis and Murray. Davis was captured in St. Louis on January 22, 1935, but escaped the following day. Four months later he was arrested in Chicago. He would join many of his associates from the Central Park Gang in Alcatraz.
In about 1910, Arthur “Doc” Barker, Davis’s future accomplice in the Tulsa hospital robbery and murder, moved with his family—George Elias Barker, his father; Arizona “Ma” Barker, his mother; and brothers Herman, Lloyd, and Fred—from Missouri to Tulsa. By the mid-teens the Barker brothers were well known in the Central Park district for theft and robbery. They were even linked to several murders. On July 18, 1918, Doc Barker was arrested for automobile theft and after his conviction was sentenced to the penitentiary in Joplin, Missouri. On February 19, 1920, he made his escape.
A series of robberies in Oklahoma were attributed to Doc Barker. After being arrested in Tulsa on January 14, 1922, Barker was convicted of Sherill’s murder and received a sentence of life imprisonment to be served at Oklahoma State Penitentiary. On September 10, 1932, he was pardoned for good behavior, and immediately joined his brother Fred and Alvin “Creepy” Karpis on a violent crime spree. Barker was identified as a participant in the robbery of the Third Northwestern Bank in Minneapolis, Minnesota, on December 16, 1932, and as the gunman who shot and killed two police officers during the robbery. His brother Fred shot and killed a civilian during the robbery. The gang struck again on August 30, 1933, robbing a payroll at Stockyards National Bank of South St. Paul, Minnesota. Barker displayed his vicious, cold-blooded nature by fatally shooting Leo Pavlak, a disarmed police officer.
Would you like to read more about the Central Park Gang? Would you be interested in stories about murder and mayhem on Route 66? Order a signed copy of Murder & Mayhem on The Main Street of America: Tales From Bloody 66 today!