Author Jim HInckley signing books after leading a neon nights walking tour in Kingman, Arizona. Photo Anita Shaw
I am not sure when the vision first manifested but for many, many years there would be glimpses of my senior years as an odd blending of Slim Pickens in the film The Getaway, Jack Elam, and Walter Brennen. On occasion a new dimension would be added such as the character that Robert Duval played in the movie Open Range. With the luxury of hindsight I now see that becoming a colorful character in my old age was more a goal than developing a profitable career. Oddly enough I never really worked at it, it just seemed to evolve naturally. Perhaps it was best described by ma who said that I was born ninety and never aged.
In 1981, when my dearest friend and I were courting, I drove a 1946 GMC as my daily transportation. The exterior of that old workhorse was best described as junkyard camouflage. I could park that truck in any junk yard and it would blend in perfectly. I used kerosene lamps as there was no electricity in my cabin, and cooked as well as heated on an ancient wood burning stove. We were married almost ten years before purchasing a truck manufactured after I was born. We used an avocado green rotary dial wall phone until 2005. We used a black and white television until about 1990. That was the year I sold my first feature article. It was written on a 1948 Underwood typewriter.
At age 16, for the first time, with my own money I purchased a jacket. It was a canvas Carhart farm coat. At age 62, I bought a new jacket. It was identical with but one exception. This one was sold under the Wrangler name. I was so thin when my dearest friend and I married that hiding behind a flagpole was a real option in a game of hide and seek. I wore 29×30 Wrangler jeans. I still wear Wrangler jeans, they are just a bit bigger, 33×30 in the winter, 32×30 in the summer. That comes from long hours spent polishing an office chair with my backside as I work daily to tell people where to go.
In the grand scheme of things it doesn’t really matter. I am comfortable as a caricature, a tangible blending of the past and the present, a link to an earlier time. There is a certain pride that comes from being introduced as an intellectual redneck, America’s storyteller or the Will Rogers of the 21st century. This continuing evolution has me looking forward to the years left in what is the unfolding final chapter.
I can already see that my diplomatic skills are weakening. Every day I better understand Clint Eastwood’s character in Gran Torino. With each passing day it becomes harder to bite my tongue, especially in the era of a never ending election, people passionately defending mindless conspiracy theories, and social media networks that allow people to return to junior high school. See, manifestations of my future life as an old fart are already becoming evident.
So, if I were to look into the crystal ball, what would I see for my future? Well, there is an increasing desire to own a Model A Ford or vehicle of similar vintage (Hudson Super Six, Nash, Studebaker, Chrysler?) and do some nationwide touring with a possible detour into Canada. And I have always wanted to go to Alaska. My dearest friend, an adventuresome soul that remembers double dating in a ’26 Ford, helping me push start the ’49 Chevy truck after a date, and the Dodge that the door fell off of, has been gently nudging me toward something a bit more practical such as a ’49 Hudson or ’57 Chevy truck. After nearly forty years of marriage we have learned to compromise.
Then there is the childhood quest to become a writer when I grow up that still needs to be fulfilled. And that takes us to Jim Hinckley America’s. Telling people where to go is my passion. Inspiring road trips. Shared adventures. Friends and friends yet made. So, that will most definitely be a focus in years to come. And as it so happens, that dovetails with my ongoing development as a colorful character. Besides, working is a sure death albeit a slower one than starvation.
My dearest friend and I have come to really enjoy Europe; the people, the food, the sites, the history and the landscapes. And we have so many friends there. I often entertain thoughts of spending a bit of time there, perhaps a speaking tour. And when my thoughts wander down that path, I begin to wonder if something like that would work in Australia and New Zealand. I wonder how to transform this from a vague dream into a reality? I suppose time will tell.
And so, as the first pages of the last chapter turn, I look toward the future with apprehension tinged excitement. The anxiety is fueled by 2020, the year of the apocalypse. If it weren’t for the morning walkabout in the desert, I would spend most days as nervous as a long tailed cat in a room full of rocking chairs. In any case, I am increasingly convinced that another thirty years like this is going to kill me.
Meanwhile most every day hours are consumed as this old dog works to learn new tricks. Less than five years ago I acquired a cell phone, and now I develop live stream programs, have an audio podcast, a YouTube channel, and social media network as part of the Jim Hinckley’s America travel channel. Interesting times.
I wonder what the future holds? I wonder what adventures await a fellow that has managed, without a great deal of effort, to spend most of his life as an old timer. Perhaps it’s time to consider growing a walrus mustache.
Dodge introduced automotive test facilities, an industry first, a their factory in 1916. Photo Detroit Public Library
Horace and John Dodge epitomized the American dream of rising from humble beginnings to vast wealth. They were rough and tumble, hard drinking blue-collar men from Niles, Michigan. John Francis was born in 1864, Horace Elgin in 1868. Their grandfathers, father and uncles were machinists. Both were mechanically inclined. John was somewhat reserved; Horace developed a reputation for a hair trigger temper. Together the redheaded Dodge boys were an inseparable team. They started with the manufacture of bicycles and then together they built an automotive empire, and played an integral role in the success of companies such as Olds Motor Works and Ford Company.
The Spanish Flu pandemic that began its relentless march around the world in 1918, much like COVID 19 today, had far reaching implications. It was while at the January 1920 National Automobile Show in New York City in that both John and Horace Dodge became sick. There is still some debate over their illness but at the time the consensus was that they had been infected with the last wave of the devastating Spanish flu pandemic that killed over 50 million. As with many victims of COVID 19, on January 14, mere days after becoming ill, John was afflicted with pneumonia and died in his hotel room at the age of 55. Even though he suffered from cirrhosis of the liver, the official cause of death, Horace recovered from influenza and pneumonia but was nearly bedridden for most of a year at his home in Florida before dying on December 10 at the age of 52.
President Wilson contracted influenza shortly after arriving in Paris in April 1919 for peace talks aimed at mapping the reconstruction of a post-World War I Europe. White House doctor Cary T. Grayson wrote the diagnosis arrived at a decidedly inopportune moment: “The president was suddenly taken violently sick with the influenza at a time when the whole of civilization seemed to be in the balance.” Plagued by fever Wilson began hallucinating and issuing odd orders. On several occasions he argued about missing furniture, and even displayed paranoia in conversations in which he expressed concerns that he was surrounded by French spies. As a result, he was to play a minimal role in the development of policies pertaining to German reparations, creation of the League of Nations, and the
By Theodor Horydczak – This image is available from the United States Library of Congress’s Prints and Photographs division
negotiation of agreements pertaining to American factories, including automobile manufacturers, being established in Europe.
Roy Dikeman Chapin Sr. was born in Lansing Michigan on February 23, 1880. His automotive career was launched by working for Ransom E. Olds of the Olds Motor Works. For the princely sum of $35 a month he took publicity photographs and performed other tasks. In 1901, he drove one of the new Curved Dash Oldsmobiles to New York City for a display at the second annual Auto Show in 1901. The 820-mile trip took seven days to complete and was a promotional boon for the pioneering automobile manufacturer. As a result of the deplorable road conditions, Chapin became an ardent supporter of the good roads movement. Chapin, along with Henry B. Joy of the Packard Motor Car Company, spearheaded efforts to build the Lincoln Highway.
Chapin was a gifted salesman and helped propel Olds Motor Works sales to record levels. He left the company in April 1906 and played key roles in establishment of Thomas-Detroit Company, Chalmers-Detroit Company, and several others. In 1908, Chapin facilitated a partnership of automotive engineers from Chalmers, and leading businessmen and founded the Hudson Motor Car Company in 1908. He served as the company’s president for several years. In this position he was able to establish the Essex Motors Company in 1918.
On August 8, 1932, President Herbert Hoover appointed Chapin to succeed Robert Lamont as secretary of commerce, a position he held until the end of Hoover’s term in 1933. It was in this position that he developed a series of controversial measures to stem an escalation of bank failures that threatened to surpass those of the post WWI recession. His initiative centered on evaluating which banks were to big to fail, creation of the Reconstruction Finance Corporation, and then facilitating cooperative partnerships to bail them out.
As he was associated with Detroit banks through Hudson, efforts to protect several of the largest financial institutions stirred a great deal of political controversy. In mid 1930, a run began on Detroit’s largest banks. Prior to February, 1933, more than $250,000,000 was withdrawn from the First National Bank of Detroit, the Union Guardian Trust Company and the Guardian National Bank of Commerce. The situation became so serious that the First National Bank was forced to liquidate most liquid and unpledged assets, and the Union Guardian Trust Company was compelled to borrow from the Reconstruction Finance Corporation (RFC). Edsel Ford was Chairman of the Board of the Union Guardian Group, a banking consortium that was a part of Chapin’s investment portfolio. The group was also linked with Hudson.
A last ditch series of negotiations that centered on Henry Ford’s bailout of the Guardian Group was initiated. Ford’s refusal to assist and avert a financial failure led to the Michigan Bank Holiday, the first in a series of bank holidays. This ultimately led to the passage of Roosevelt administration’s Emergency Banking Act 1933.
The formative years of the American auto industry were not just steered by innovation, technological advancements, and an unbridled entrepreneurial spirt. It was also guided by politics, natural and man made disasters, sudden death and pandemics.
Florence Lawrence was an unusual woman, to say the very least. In an era when women were not even allowed to vote, she became one of the first superstars of the silver screen. And she also became a passionate automobilist as well as an accomplished mechanic. And if that wasn’t enough to ensure that she was a media sensation in an era when women were not allowed to vote and the Jaxon was promoted as a car so easy to drive, a child or woman could operate it, she also became an inventor that contributed to the early evolution of the automobile.
Herb Jeffries was inducted into the Black Filmakers Hall of Fame in 1979 and in 2004, the Wester Performers Hall of Fame at the National Cowboy & Western Heritage Museum. He also has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame and the Palm Springs Walk of Stars. His musical career spanned seven decades from the 1920s to 1995, and included gigs with Duke Ellington, Louie Armstrong and the Earl Hines Orchestra. He had a film career that included four major pictures.
Hollywood history is littered with forgotten celebrities, many of whom had long, rich, and diverse careers. Consider Hedy Lamarr (born Hedwig Eva Maria Kiesler). Her film career spanned nearly thirty years. Although Lamarr had no formal training and was primarily self-taught, she was intrigued by science and in her spare time worked on an array of projects. She developed and patented an improved stoplight. She also helped improve various aviation designs for Howard Hughes while they were dating. During World War II, Lamarr learned that radio-controlled torpedoes could easily be jammed and the course altered. Intrigued she devised a frequency hopping signal that could not be tracked or jammed, and friend, composer and pianist, patented the idea. The concept would be later improved upon and became the science behind Bluetooth technology.
Florence Lawrence was moderately successful as a stage actress before transitioning with the advent of the motion picture. She made her film debut in 1906 with Biograph Studios and was know to fans as “The Biograph Girl.” Lawrence was one of the movie industries first super stars and by 1912 was earning an astounding $500 per week. Her career spanned decades and the film credits included more than 300 motion pictures. Still, by the late 1920s her movie career was, for the most part, over. After suffering severe burns while attempting to save an actor in a studio fire, and extensive surgeries, she found herself more and more relegated to working as an extra or making step on appearances.
Florence Lawrence loved high performance vehicles and in 1912 acquired a Lozier. Photo Historic Vehicle Association
By 1909, Lawrence was wealthy enough to afford an automobile, something she had become enamored with after a friend provided her with an exhilarating ride through the countryside. She often noted in conversation that driving provided her with an unbridled sense of excitement and of freedom. After ownership of a succession of ever more powerful automobiles, in 1912 she purchased a Lozier. Over the course of a four-year period cars built by Lozier had been driven in every major race in the United States and several in Europe. No other car of the era broke as many records for speed, for 24-hour endurance runs or for long distance touring without mechanical failure. All of this came with a price. As an example, Lawrence’s six-cylinder Knickerbocker Berlin model carried a factory list price of $6,500. As the beautiful starlet performed much of her maintenance and repairs, and often took long drives unaccompanied by mechanic or driver, she was a popular focus of interviews and news stories.
After a friend was severely injured in an accident, Lawrence began giving thought to ways for improving automotive safety. In 1914 she devised an innovative mechanism that signaled turns to trailing drivers. With the simple push of a button, a flag was raised and lowered on the rear bumper of the automobile to inform other drivers what direction the car was turning. Next, she developed an ingenious device to alert drivers of a pending stop. When she depressed the brake, a small sign reading “stop” would pop up at the rear of the car. Unfortunately, she failed to patent any these developments. Likewise, with another that she developed in 1916, the first electric windshield wiper. Even without the patent she prospered from the invention by establishing the Bridgwood Manufacturing Company for the manufacture and distribution of the wiper motors as well as other aftermarket items.
Florence Lawrence in a 1908 studio promotional shot.
Herb Jeffries success was blunted by the segregation that was an accepted part of American society at the time. Still, he persevered and found opportunity in adversity. Herb Jeffries was born Umberto Alexander Valentino on September 24, 1913 in Detroit, Michigan. Firm evidence of Jeffries’s race and age is hard to come by, but census documents from 1920 described him as mulatto. Raised in Detroit, Jeffries grew up in a mixed neighborhood and dropped out of high school to earn a living as a singer. He first performed with the Howard Buntz Orchestra at various Detroit ballrooms. It was at speak easy that his musical talents were noted by Louie Armstrong. Armstrong introduced the young man to Erskine Tat at the Savoy Ballroom in Chicago. As this was an all African American band, and as New Orleans jazz was extremely popular, Jeffries began promoting himself as a Creole.
His big break came during the 1933 Chicago World’s Fair: A Century of Progress International Exposition and a contract to perform with the Earl Hines Orchestra on Hines’ national broadcasts live from the Grand Terrace Café. His first recordings were with Hines in 1934, including “Just to be in Carolina”. By 1940, he was singing with the Duke Ellington Orchestra and then recorded with him from 1940 to 1942. His 1940 recording of “Flamingo” with Ellington, released in 1941, sold more than 14 million copies.
Touring through the former Confederate states, as the bands playing was restricted to tobacco warehouses and “Negro” only theatres, Jeffries noticed that young African American boys filled theatres to watch the westerns even though they were often an all white cast. Slowly an idea came to mind, create an African American cowboy hero. Jeffries made his debut as a singing cowboy with Harlem on the Prairie, the first African American western with an all-black cast. The movie was shot in 1937 at Murray’s Dude Ranch (“The World’s Only Negro Dude ranch) in Apple Valley, California, with Jeffries performing all his own stunts. The film received a write-up in Time magazine and Jeffries assumed the persona as the “Bronze Buckaroo.” This and other films in the series, Harlem Rides the range, Two Gun Man From Harlem and the Bronze Buckaroo, were shown exclusively in “Negro” theaters.
Jeffries, Lamarr and Lawrence, three forgotten celebrities. Three inspirational and fascinating people. Three reasons to delve into history. #jimhinckleysamerica
The battered Winton that was used in an ill-fated attempt to drive across the country in 1901. Photo Detroit Public Library
“Covering the North American continent from the Pacific coast to the Atlantic Ocean in an automobile has been attempted by Alexander Winton, president of the Winton Motor Carriage Company, of Cleveland. That the expedition failed is no fault of the machine Mr. Winton used, nor was it due to absence of grit or determination on the part of the operator. Neither was the failure dur to roads. The utter absence of roads was the direct and only cause.” Scientific American, August 3, 1901.
I have long had an obsession with the years between 1890 and 1930, an era of dramatic change and societal evolution. In recent weeks it has been my distinct pleasure to share the history of this exciting and fascinating period in time through feature articles, community education programs developed for Mohave Community College, Zoom based presentations and the Jim Hinckley’s America social media network. Quite often I give reign to the imagination as I consider what it must have been like to live in this era. How did people adapt to such a rapid transition? William “Buffalo Bill” Cody went from being an acclaimed eleven year old “Indian fighter” to buffalo hunter, Medal of Honor winning combatant during Civil War, and international celebrity with his wild west shows. He also purchased a Michigan from the Kalamazoo automobile manufacturer and served on the board for the National Old Trails Road Association.
Ezra Meeker traveled the Oregon Trail with an ox cart. He also toured the country in a National automobile, flew across the country in an airplane and helped build the first service station along the National Old Trails Road in the Cajon Pass of California. Henry Starr was a frontier era outlaw turned movie star. He began robbing banks and eluding posses on horseback, and ended his prolific career by attempting an escape by automobile. Wyatt Earp ended his days hanging around movie sets in Los Angeles and befriending up and coming movie stars.
In part people were able to adapt as the transition only appears dramatic when viewed in the context of centuries. They had time to contemplate, to give thought to the developments that were transforming every aspect of life. From the launching of the first automobile manufacturing company to a transcontinental drive was a period of almost ten years. in 1916 there was still a market for horse drawn wagons and carriages, albeit a shrinking one, and so Studebaker was producing these as they had since the 1860s as well as automobiles. Even in the modern era, another period of historic and dramatic transition, we had time to learn to adapt. The payphone was replaced by cell phone over a period of years. I started writing in 1990 on a 1948 Underwood typewriter, began using a word processor program in 2000, but did not need to fully abandon the typewriter until a few years later.
In a nut shell a primary reason the year 2020 has caused such consternation is that there was no time to adapt to a dramatic transition that has forever altered every aspect of life. It is the uncertainty that has made everyone as nervous as a long tailed cat in a room full of rocking chairs. On the personal level in less than two weeks 2020 went from the breakout year for Jim Hinckley’s America travel network to a near complete collapse. An extensive schedule of international and domestic speaking engagements was cancelled. Work with thirty two tour companies was canceled. Advertising sponsors closed. The community education programs I teach at a community college were canceled. Two business associates died of COVID 19 induced illness.
Everything from education and business to the economy, politics and even the entire foundation of international relationships has forever been altered. We are in for a very wild ride in the months to come. In generations to come people will look back on 2020 much as we view the era between 1890 and 1930. They will wonder how we survived and how we adapted. They will ask why the Untied States abandoned its position as a world leader and play armchair quarterback as they mediate on the ramifications. They will also find inspiration in how we met the challenge, how we adapted, and how some found opportunity in the crisis.
Here at Jim Hinckley’s America it has been the best of times and the worst of times. I have learned a bit about how to use Zoom, how to develop and harness the power of live stream programs and had the opportunity to develop some cooperative partnerships. I have lost associates and watched friends loose their businesses. So what can you expect from Jim Hinckley’s America in the months to come?
A regular schedule for On The Road With Jim programs as I share the best of the Arizona outback
Our critically acclaimed presentations on the Zoom platform
With the acquisition of new equipment, improvements to the live stream Coffee With Jim program
Expansion of our advertising sponsor packages so we can offer something for every budget (currently starting as low as $6.25 per week)
Further development of community education programs on the economics of tourism, development of heritage tourism, and building cooperative partnerships to foster development of tourism
Additional work with the developers of the Route 66 Navigationapp to ensure this continues to be the number one aide for Route 66 travelers
New series as exclusive content on our Patreon based crowdfunding website
Also, we are adding trivia contests to the Sunday morning Coffee With Jim program. And in limited partnership with MyMarketing Designs, I am writing blog posts for their clients. I am also negotiating to have the Five Minutes With Jim audio podcast syndicated as a radio program. And now that the warehouse is open, I can again begin selling autographed copies of my latest book, Murder and Mayhem on The Main Street of America: Tales From Bloody 66.
Interesting times. Challenging times. Tragic times. Times ripe with opportunity. Unnerving times. Exciting times. Confusing times. Historic times. The wild ride continues.
Marty and one of the horses that trailed us as we sought out remnants of the National Old Trails Road
What do you call a day that includes a Route 66 road trip, an awesome possum breakfast at a classic Route 66 restaurant, exploring not one but three historic highways and seeking out Arizona railroad history, and a shared adventure with an old friend? Well, in normal times you would call it a great day. In the era of COVID 19 you call it a very rare treat.
It was to be a short run of just 200 miles round trip but being seasoned desert adventurers, and as the Jeep is now 23 years old with an unknown number of miles (a story for another day), we packed a shovel, water, a few edibles, cameras, a few quarts of oil and basic tools. And as the quest was to find remnants of the National Old Trails Road west of Seligman, Arizona, I also carried a copy of the Arizona Good Roads Association guide book to roads in Arizona and southern California that was published in 1914.
After a hearty breakfast of oatmeal and berries, we hit the road at first light before the sun had chased the shadows from the Hualapai Valley east of Kingman. The conversation was lively as we are both story tellers, hadn’t had a visit for a spell and have aged a bit, and we both had desert adventures to share. The pace was slow as there were things to point to in the brush and desert along Route 66.
A link that enabled dating the car shell.
The first stop was just east of Grand Canyon Caverns. Some years ago Marty had found traces of what may have been an early alignment of the National Old Trails Road, the fast fading remnants of a building that had most likely once served as a garage and livery stable, and the picked bones of an old car. On a previous stop at the site Marty had found an ancient piece of iron with ornate Cadillac script. This and some of the trash at the site enabled us to pin down a rough date for the car as well as the former business – pre 1910. I suppose some of us never out grow the childhood excitement that comes with a search for lost treasure, and discoveries that spark the imagination.
The next stop was a few miles to the east. As we followed the faintest trace of old road through the dry grass and the junipers, confirmation that we were on the right track appeared in the form of a stone masonry culvert. That quickened the spirt as I reflected on Edsel Ford’s travel journal from July 16, 1915 and the notes he had made after driving this very road. Here was a tangible link to more than a century of transportation. Was this the alignment followed by Louis Chevrolet and Barney Oldfield during the 1914 Desert Classic automobile race that had followed the National Old Trails Road east from Los Angles to Ash Fork, Arizona?
The second breakfast, a brunch of sorts, at the one and only Road Kill Café in Seligman included a visit with Debbie and her husband, the owners. The awesome possum breakfast was delicious and the conversation lively as they had spent most of their lives in Seligman or the immediate area. They were able to fill a few holes, point us in the right direction, and inspire plans for the next adventure before even completing the first one. And after breakfast we explored the back streets of Seligman in search of automotive treasures.
We continued east along Route 66 past the old Crookton railroad overpass, and then followed an older alignment to a long forgotten rest area. From here we set off on foot to follow the earliest alignment of Route 66, and segments of the National Old Trails Road. As an added bonus we found an even older road and vague hints that this was most likely a trace of the 1850s Beale Wagon Road. By this time the temperature was closing in on 100 degrees and the sweat was rolling into our eyes, but we pressed on speculating, sharing discoveries found under the junipers or among the rocks and discussing plans for a return excursion when the weather cooled during the fall.
On the return trip we made a couple more stops. One was to explore an interesting section of old road bordered by two concrete curbs near the Crookton overpass. Route 66? National Old Trails Road? Little discoveries raised more questions than they answered; remnants of a telegraph pole with threaded wooden dowel for the insulator, a weathered railroad tie with 1948 date nail, a broken Coca Cola bottle with Needles, California stamp. A herd of horses let curiosity overcome concerns and became our travel companions as we followed the old road across the high desert prairie of dried grass.
The last stop was at the 19th century railroad siding at Pica. The depot gave every indication that it would soon be little more than a forgotten relic and a pile of dried lumber amongst the grass. The big steam driven pumps and pump house that was hereon the last visit are gone. The towering water tanks that dated to the late 19th century and the era of steam engines still stood tall. Surprisingly, a graffiti artist of extraordinary talent had used them as his canvas creating a masterpiece or two. The things you find in the most remote of places, amazing.
The drive home was a leisurely discussion of discoveries made, tall tales heard and shared, and savoring the vast landscapes that have soothed my soul for nearly sixty years. Even in these trying times, the best medicine is still a road trip, or even better a road trip on Route 66, old friends, good food, a desert adventure and discoveries that provide a tangible link to another time.