Blurring The Line

Blurring The Line

History has an interesting way of using the past to reflect the future. I was deep into a research project about the Great Depression, the implosion of the American auto industry and an era of dramatic societal as well as technological transition when I stumbled on a fascinating article published in The New Yorker back in January 2020. In a paragraph about the collapse of established and fledgling democracies during the years between the world wars there was a line that appeared before me as though it were written in neon. “American democracy, too, staggered, weakened by corruption, monopoly, apathy, inequality, political violence, hucksterism, racial injustice, unemployment, even starvation.”

It is a lengthy but thought provoking read that I highly recommend. Likewise with an interesting book, Breaking the Banks In Motor City: The Auto Industry, The 1933 Detroit Banking Crisis and the The Start of the New deal by Darwyn H. Lumley.

The first major blow to the diverse American auto manufacturing industry came with the post WWI recession magnified by the restrictions, and deaths, that resulted from the Spanish fly pandemic. Dozens of automobile companies closed their doors between 1918 and 1925. Agricultural prices collapsed. There were more bank closures, especially in rural communities, during this period than during the Great Depression.

There were 1,350 bank failures in 1930. More than 2,200 followed the following year, and another 1,400 in 1932. The auto business and related industries were the largest single employment segment of the economy in 1930. Imagine the ripple affect when sales plummetted.

From 1929 to 1932, General Motors sales fell from 1,353,059 vehicles to 432,830. Ford and Lincoln sales during this period dropped a full 80%. Hudson sales fell more than 70%.

With no coordinated national safety net, the loss of employment quickly became a literal life and death situation for families. In Detroit during the winter of 1932, hundreds of people literraly starved to death. Dozens of others froze to death in their apartments and homes.

The former Hackett Auto Factory with gaping holes in the roof, a few missing windows, and a port a potty in the corner now tops my list of most bizzare locations for making a presentation.

The very fabric of American society was threatened. The Bonus Army, WWI veterans together with their families and affiliated groups gathered in Washington, D.C. in mid-1932 to demand early cash redemption of their service bonus certificates that were to be paid in 1945. President Hoover ordered the encamped veterans moved and in the ensuing confrontation, several were killed. Labor riots turned violent and bloody. President Roosevelt pushed for implementation of programs such as social security, citizens conversation corps, and works progress admistration as well as public works projects such as the construction of Hoover Dam. These endeavors were radical, and were fought vehemently with arguments that these socialist programs would be the ruin of the country, the end of the constitutional republic.

It was a tumultous era. The country survived, but it was forever altered. The world was never the same. Tangible links to this pivotal period in history remain. Social security. Sidewalks stamped WPA in towns throughout the country. The cabins in Hualapai Mountain Park near Kingman, Arizona built by the CCC. Hoover Dam.

 

 

Well, That Didn’t Work

Well, That Didn’t Work

The orignal headlight socket and wiring illustrates the importance of checking, or replacing original cloth insulated wiring in a ’51 Chevy.

As late as March of this year it still seemed feasible. The Beast would not be finished but it would be drivable (safely and with dependability) by the first of May in time for the Route 66 Fun Run. It just needed a wiring harness, new gauges, and installation of a clutch, an H.E.I. distributor, and higher gear ratio rear differential. Easy, peasey.

Shortly after acquiring the truck in December, and driving it down Route 66 to Kingman from the desert near Hackberry, Arizona, I reached out to Jim Carter, a company that specializes in vintage Chevy truck parts, for a catalog. More than a decade ago when bringing a ’50 Chevy truck to life this company provided everything I needed.

I can still recommend them to anyone working on a vintage Chevy, but with a caveat. At this point in my attempt to bring The Beast back to life, I have to give Classic Parts in Kansas City, Missouri a bit better review.

The wiring harness for this ’51 Chevy panel truck was order from Jim Carter. The instructions provided for installation were little more than a succinct list of numbered wires included. Even worse, the “instructions” provided were incorrect. As example, I was holding wire numbered nineteen but there was no wire number nineteen on the list!

The company was quick to respond. They emailed the correct instructions. But as noted it wasn’t much help. The wires were numbered and there were notations such as “high beam.” But the headlight switch is a key junction point and there were no instructions as to which terminal the high beam wire should be connected to. Frustrating to say the very least.

Fortunately these trucks are very popular. So, with a relatively Google search I found a more detailed instruction sheet that included illustrations of the headlight switch and other key junctions. Without this illustration I don’t see how a proper installation could be completed. So, I am rather amazed that something like this wasn’t included with the wiring harness.

Using both instruction sheets seems to be working, even though to date the work schedule has only allowed time for removal of the old wiring and gauges, and installation of new fender terminals wired to the headlights and parking lights. But the plan is to dedicate Saturday to making progress on this stage of the project.

There are a couple of other issues to address. The orignal ignition system included a off/on key switch, and floor starter. And the original wiper motor was vacuum. At some point an electric wiper motor was installed and the foot starter was replaced with a button. But I will cross those bridges when I get to them.

So, a more realistic deadline is being set. Now the plan is to have The Beast roadworthy for the fall tour in October that includes the Miles of Possibility Conference in Pontiac, Illinois. That will still be tight as there is a need to find tour and project sponsors, and a trip of that length will require a great deal of additional work. In addition to the clutch and differential, the entire front end will need to be evaluated and rebuilt, wheel bearings replaced, fuel tank cleaned, weather stripping replaced, radiator checked, manifold and carburetor fixed, and oil leaks addressed.

 

 

 

Extra! Extra! Read All About It!

Extra! Extra! Read All About It!

A four wheel drive Hamlin. When was the last time you saw one of these at a car show?

My natural talent for telling people where to go was honed many years before Jim Hinckley’s America was officially launched. The origins for the multi faceted road trip inspiring that is Jim Hinckley’s America can be traced to the first article published in Hemmings Special Interest Autos. That was back in 1990. It was written on a 1940s Underwood typewriter, the photos were taken on film, and the entire manuscript was sent snail mail.

The story sold itself. It was entitled Myloe’s Marvelous Mechanical Menagerie. It was about a colorful eccentric that lived in the midst of a vast wrecking yard in Huachuca City, Arizona near the Mexican border. The yard had opened about the time Model A Fords were firt rolling from Ford Motor Company factories. Myloe had purchased it after WWII, and officially closed it in about 1970.

The remnants of a very rare Hamlin was just one of the hundreds of relics hidden in the brush and amidst the junk. Aside from Terraplane pick up trucks, Pierce Arrow carcasses, early Ford Thunderbirds, and a sea of Studebaker trucks surrounded by woodie wagons being used for storage, there were old busses and barns filled with new old stock parts dating to the late teens.

Well, needless to say, the world has changed a great deal over the course of the past thrity years. And even though the quip about the Jim Hinckley’s America team being modern Amish has become a running joke, we have worked to embrace technological advancements to ensure our road trip inspiration reaches the largest audience possible.

With the primary facebook account being locked since mid February, and our inability to resolve the problem, an effort has been made to compensate. And there has also been an effort to seek the silver lining and develop over venues.

The popular Sunday morning program Coffee With Jim has transitioned to an audio podcast on Podbean. The advantage is that it is a more interactive program when broadcast live, and the episode can be archived for future listeners. The bad news is that it lacks the visual content the audience has come to expect. So, we are working on development of a monthly edition on the Eventbrite platform. This will allow for video interaction but we will have to charge for the program.

We have also launched Wake Up With Jim as thrice weekly audio podcast. It is also intereactive but is a fifteen minute format rather than half hour. And the content is more focused. Initially it has been broadcast on Monday, Wednesday and Friday morning. But so more time can be devoted to development of content this is shifting to a weekly format, Wednesday morning at 6:30 MST.

A complete revamping of the Jim Hinckley’s America website is underway. In addition to program schedule and information sections are being added with links to other published work.

Cooperative partnerships with event organizers are also being developed. Some of these include speaking engagements. Counted among the most exciting are the National Road Trip Day festivities in Kingman, Arizona and the Miles of Possibility Conference in Pontiac, Illinois.

Attention is also being given to the YouTube channel. Podcast programs now post automatically. A series of video programs from the road and from various adventures is under development. And we are in negotiation with several interested producers with the plan being the creation of a regular series.

And, of course, we have two new books out this year. The first was released in January, the second is due for rlease in August. That means there will be an array of interviews, media events, and of course, speaking engagements.

Lots of exciting things happening in Jim Hinckley’s America!

 

 

Urban Legends on Route 66

Urban Legends on Route 66

Mountain View Cemetery in Kingman, Arizona. © Jim Hinckley’s America

An article published by the Las Vegas Review Journal in 2010 detailed a discovery that confirmed a local urban legend was in fact true. In Kingman, Arizona, there are bodies under the high school football field, and possibly at the site of two other cemeteries!

That was a discovery made during work on the narrated self guided historic district walking tour being developed by Kingman Main Street. And it was a story recently shared on Wake Up With Jim, the Jim Hinckley’s America audo podcast on Podbean.

Quote, “That bodies are buried under a high school football field and adjacent parking lot is more than folklore. Many long-term residents have known that part of the Kingman Unified School District campus was built over the top of the partially relocated Pioneer Cemetery. That was the primary burial ground from 1900 to 1917 for the city, which is about 100 miles southeast of Las Vegas.

Earlier this week they were reminded that some of the bodies are still there. Human bones and suspected coffin fragments were unearthed Wednesday as construction crews dug a trench in an effort to install a new sewer to serve the campus and portions of the downtown area. Fifteen to 20 bones and bone fragments were found in a four-foot stretch of the trench near the football field where games have been played for decades.

The disturbed remains were no longer confined to wood caskets that apparently deteriorated into dust long ago according to Oz Enderby, director of construction for the school district. The Mohave County medical examiner was called to recover the remains and work was stopped as required by law. The coroner, school district representatives and county officials huddled Thursday to determine what should be done with more than 100 feet of trench left to dig across the former cemetery plot.”

This was not the first-time gruesome discoveries had been made on school grounds. During construction of the high school in 1959, human remains were unearthed. These were placed in containers beneath a monument built next to the student parking lot. Then in 1972 during expansion of the Kingman High School, more bones were unearthed.

The football field is the site of Pioneer Cemetery, Kingman’s third cemetery that was used from 1900 thru 1917. After the opening of Mountain View Cemetery on Stockton Hill Road in 1917, most bodies were relocated from the old cemetery for a fee. Bodies not claimed by family or friends, and bodies in unmarked graves, were left behind in the Pioneer Cemetery that was officially abandoned in 1944.

The number of people that were left at the Pioneer Cemetery is unknown. Records were not kept for all burials, or they were inaccurate. Compounding problems associated with identifying graves were the pre 1909 death certificates that seldom noted a burial location or that had misspelled names. And there were also graves used for multiple unidentified bodies over a period of time.

On May 8, 1915, a published detailed a gruesome discovery near Burn’s Ranch in the Blue Ridge Range. Quote, “They found the remains in a deep canyon, and while the bones were somewhat scattered, they were nearly all recovered. Nearly all the equipment of a prospector were found, but the blankets and canvas had rotted. An axe handle and rotted tool bag had the initials W.H.F. It is believed that the remains are those of W.H. Bill Fitch that disappeared from Burns Ranch in August 1905. If so, he would have been about age 73 at his death. The remains will be brought to Kingman and buried in the paupers’ graves at the cemetery.”

The first Kingman cemetery was located at Fifth and Spring Streets. Indications are that this site was used briefly before a more formal cemetery was established along what is now Kier Street on the south side of the railroad tracks.

Work on Mountain View Cemetery commenced in early 1916. A legal notice published in the Arizona Republican dated May 29, 1915, noted that a claim had been filed with the Department of the Interior Untied States Land Office for property to be used as a cemetery. The notice listed Mrs. J. P. Gideon, wife of Sheriff J.P. Gideon, as president of the Mountain View Cemetery Association.

In 1948, the 7th and 8th grade classes were moved to the new Kingman Junior High School near the high school on First Street and adjacent to the former cemetery. The complex has evolved over the years and as a result the historic abandoned cemetery was buried which gave rise to the urban legend.

A persistent part of this legend, however, has not been verified. According to some sources, when the junior high school was being constructed on the cemetery land, headstones that could not be read clearly were bulldozed into a nearby wash or were used as fill. Others were removed and stored at the county barn.

A monument dedicated on May 20, 1963, with a bronze plaque below a representation of an open Bible in marble, encased in stonework, dedicated by the Daughters of the Pioneers Group illustrates the confused history of Kingman’s early cemeteries. The plaque reads:

“WE HUMBLY DEDICATE THIS GROUND THE SITE OF KINGMAN’S FIRST CEMETERY IN MEMORY OF THE FOUNDING PIONEERS WHO WERE INTERRED IN THESE HALLOWED GROUNDS 1861-1920, ERECTED May 20, 1963.”

 

Dusty Gems

The White Rock Court on Route 66 in Kingman, Arizona is a manifestation of Conrad Minka seizing the day.

Dusty gems abound along the Route 66 corridor (Andy Devine Avenue) in Kingman, Arizona. Each is a tangible link to the glory days of this storied highway. Each tantalizes the imagination. With thought given to the fast approaching Route 66 centennial, each quickens the spirit as one envisions the town beoming a living time capsule where the past, present, and future blend seamlessly.

As with Route 66 and the automobiles that traveled that highway, the motel evolved with the passing of time. In the era of the National Old Trails Road and the infancy of Route 66 railroad hotels remained a popular option. Free public campgrounds and primitive cabin camps were also popular lodging choices. In spite of the Great Depression by the mid-1930s many travelers wanted modern amenities such as hot and cold water in the room and radios.

This was the era of the auto court, motels with garages between the rooms. In the post war years as traffic on Route 66 grew exponentially, and larger cars become more popular, the garages were viewed as wasted space. And so, motel owners often transformed them into additional rooms or used them to enlarge existing rooms.

Then in the 1950s chains such as Holiday Inn, Ramada, and Hiway House increasingly made it difficult for the mom-and-pop motel to compete. With a decline in profits, maintenance was deferred, the property was abandoned, or the motel complex was converted into low rent apartments.

The World Monuments Fund recently listed Route 66 motels as some of, quote, “America’s Most Endangered Historic Places.” Counted among the rarest of surviving motels are those with their prewar auto courts. But the rarest of all are the auto courts that were listed in the Negro Motorist Green Book. 

The White Rock Court is counted among the rarest of Route 66 motels. It is a prewar auto court. And it was the only motel in Kingman to be listed in the Negro Motorist Green Book. There was at least one other motel, Hoods Auto Court, that would provide lodging to African American travelers. But for reasons unknown it was not listed in the guidebook.

The White Rock Court in Kingman is counted among the rarest of historic buildings with a direct Route 66 connection.

The White Rock Court with owners’ home was built of locally quarried stone by Conrad Minka in 1935. Purportedly he was a former hard rock miner. That would explain his innovative approach to besting the competition.

On the hill below the Sleeping Dutchman rock formation behind the motel he dug an air shaft, and then a tunnel connecting it to the utility corridors carved from the rock under the complex. At the bottom of the shaft, he installed a tank that he kept filled with water. Sheets of burlap hung in the water acted as a wick. Fans pulled the cooled air into the rooms.

As a result, while other motels suffered a lower occupancy rate in the moths of summer due to heat, the White Rock Court was always full. This and the provision of service to African Americans fueled rumors. Decades later there were legends that Minka had run a still under the parking lot and engaged in voyeuristic activities.

The White Rock Court was listed in A Guide Book to Highway 66 published in 1946. The 1952 edition of the American Motel Association Guide with a logo of Sleeprite, Eatrite, Travelrite provided a detailed summary of the motel. Quote, on Highway 66 east end of Main Street, 15 modern cottages, conveniently located. Short distance to ideal fishing and hunting. Seventy miles to Boulder Dam. Our motto is always courteous. Mr. and Mrs. Conrad Minka. The motel remained operational into the 1970s.