The Life of A Travel Writer

The Life of A Travel Writer

By Unknown author or not provided – U.S. National Archives and Records Administration, Public Domain

A.L. Westgard was an adventuresome soul. The Norwegian immigrant was a railroad survey engineer before he eagerly accepted the task of mapping roads suitable for use by daring automobilists. His exploits were the stuff of legend in the first decades of the 20th century.

Obituaries published upon his death in 1921 lauded his accomplishments. A few noted his legendary exploits such as mapping nearly 20,000 miles of roads in one year. And that was five years before Edsel Ford’s trip on the National Old Trails Road when in his journal it was noted that the drive from Williams to Kingman, Arizona, about 150 miles, was a good days run.

One succinct obituary referenced Westgard as the “Daniel Boone of the modern era.” Another noted that, “… dean of American motor car pathflnders, died last night after an illness of several months. Westgard, who was field representative of the American Automobile association and vice president of the National Highways association, had more than 20 transcontinent.al roadfinding trips and roads all over the country bear his name.

Anton L. Westgard was in every sense of the word a pioneer. On more than one occasion his was the very first automobile to drive into remote mining or logging towns in the west and southwest. And it could be said that he also helped lay the foundation for Route 66. Trail to Sunset, a road mapped by Westgard to connect Chicago with the wonders of the southwest. That road shared a western terminus with the future Route 66. And sections of his Trail to Sunset were incorporated into the National Old Trails Road, predecessor to Route 66 in New Mexico.

He was also a pioneering promoter. And that takes us to the subject of today’s blog post, travel writing for fun, for profit, and to provide a service. Westgard not only mapped roads, he inspired road trips with lectures that included magic lantern slide shows, and the writing of books as well as feature articles.

There was, and is, a distorted view of a travel writers life. Case in point is an incident that came about when I was writing a weekly travel column for the Kingman Daily Miner. 

My dearest friend and I were at dinner one evening when a follower of the column approached us with kind words expressing appreciation. They also noted that to be paid to travel must be very rewarding. Granted this was in the early 1990s but at the time my compensation for a 500 word column was $25.00.

Fast forward thirty years. Today our entire income is derived from various and creative ways to use the written word. There are now more than 20 books with my name on the cover. I have written hundreds of feature articles on a diverse array of subject. And we have developed the multifaceted Jim Hinckley’s America network.

So, to fledgling travel writers everywhere, I can attest to the fact that it is possible to make a living fomr such an endeavor. But there is a caveat or two.

You will need to hustle. You will need to adjust expectations on a regular basis. You will need to multitask. You will need to adjust to changing markets and trends. There is a constant learning curve as you will need to become adept at harnessing new technologies. You will need to learn to live with bitter dissapointment, frustrations, and on occasion, debilitating depression. And you will need to enjoy what you have, and not focus on what you hope to have.

Westgard’s best selling Tales of A Pathfinder has been reprinted and is available from Amazon.com

One key thing to keep in mind. You are providinig a service. And there is one more item to consider. Simply put, the worst day spent writing for fun and profit is better than the best day with a 9 to 5 job.

Starting on August 7, I will be providing advice, tips, and outright assistance to travel writers, seasoned or dreamers, on Coffee With Jimour interactive Sunday morning travel program podcast. And, of course, I will also be handing out heaping helpings of road trip inspiration. As the theme song for Jim Hinckley’s America says, come along for the ride.

 

A Shocking Story

On display at Ye Ole Carriage Shop in Spring Arbor, Michigan is the oldest existent vehicle manufactured by the Jackson Automobile Company of Jackson, Michigan

As with most people who become an historic milestone through an untimely demise, Mr. Henry Bliss never knew that unexpected death would bestow upon him a dubious form of immortality. He simply stepped from the New York City streetcar that September afternoon in 1899 and became the nation’s first pedestrian struck and killed by an automobile. That automobile was an electric taxicab.

That is how episode three of the new Jim Hinckley’s America audio podcast Car Talk From The Main Street of Americascheduled for publication on August 9th begins. It seemed a fitting opening to kick off a program about the long history of electric vehicles, and the equally long history of controversy. And, of course, as with everything that we do at Jim Hinckley’s America, the new program also has a road trip component as I will also be talking about the world’s only EV museum that happens to be located along Route 66.

At the dawning of the American auto industry steam and electric vehicles dominated. Steam was an understood technology as it had been powering trains and factories for decades. Compared to the first generation of gasoline powered vehicles an electric car was much easier to operate. And companies that manufactured electric vehicle were not constrained by the Selden patent that created a stranglehold on gasoline powered automobile manufacturing in the years bracketing the dawn of the 20th century. The story of that patent is an interesting tale for another day.

This new podcast will not be replacing Coffee With Jim, the Sunday morning program dedicated to road trips, to travel, to travel writing and photography, and to road trip inspiration. Both podcasts will be available on various platforms including Spotify and iHeart radio. However, the Sunday morning program will be the only one to be interactive with both call ins and typed comments. Afterwards, the Podbean based podcast will be made available on other platforms.

Long before Tesla and Rivian had people discussing electric vehicles, their shortcomings, their future and the conspiracy theories that seem to permeate every aspect of American society since alternative facts replaced truth and logic, I had a fascination for electric and steam powered vehicles. Did you know that the first automobile produced by Studeabker was an electric designed in part by Thomas Edison? Did you know that Studebaker didn’t produce a gasoline powered vehicle until 1904 or that the company continued producing electric vehicles until 1912?

J Walter Christie pioneered the use of front wheel drive in the development of his race cars. Who remembers Mr. Christie today.

The program about electric vehicles will illustrate the diversity of the podcast that Stan Hustad and I are creating. The first program, with a bit of audio issue, was about Edsel Ford, his many contributions to the develop of the auto industry, and his epic adventure with college buddies in 1915. The second program profiled the amazing Florence Lawrence and other female automotive pioneers. Did you know that Lawrence devised the first practical turn signal?

Plans are for the fourth program to be about the Desert Classic, better known as the Cactus Derby. Held between 1909 and 1914 this incredible series of automobile races was a test of endurance for man and machine. It was also a bit of a demolition derby. By 1914 the race had become an international media sensation, in part because counted among the drivers were Louis Chevrolet and Barney Oldfield.

Telling people where to go, sharing stories about inspirational people and fascinating places, and inspiring road trips, that is the foundation of Jim Hinckley’s America. And it is the cornerstone for Car Talk on The Main Street of America.

 

 

Telling People Where To Go

Telling People Where To Go

Florence Lawrence loved high performance vehicles and in 1912 acquired a Lozier. Photo Historic Vehicle Association

Florence Lawrence was a passionate automobilist as well as a very accomplished mechanic. And she was one of the first superstars of the silver screen. Of course, all of this made her a media sensation, especially since she lived in an era when women were not allowed to vote and the Jaxon produced in Jackson, Michigan was promoted as a car so easy to drive, a child or woman could operate it.

Scheduled for publication on Tuesday, August 2, 2022, the stroy of Florence Lawrence and the contributions of a few pioneering women to the development of the American auto industry in its infancy is the subject of episode two of Car Talk From The Main Street of America. Developed in partnership with producer and engineer Stan Hustad this new weekly audio podcast blends interesting and inspirational automotive history stories with a bit of road trip inspiration.

Rest assured that this new endeavor is not a replacement for the interactive audiopodcast travel program, Coffee With Jim, on Sunday morning. Instead it is an ehancement, if you will, of the Jim Hinckley’s America network with its diverse array of programs.

Telling people where to go is what I do. That and telling stories. And, of course, I always share the adventure.

In coming months we have an array of fascinating programs and presentations scheduled and planned. This is just a sample of what is coming down the pike.

In the formative years of the auto industry there were motorized bicycles and vehicles with four, six and even eight wheels. They were powered by steam, gasoline, kerosene, electricity, oversized clock springs and even compressed air. They began as a manifestation of eccentricity and scientific curiosity but soon morphed into side show curiosity and promotional gimmick. Then in the blink of an eye the automobile was a multimillion-dollar industry. Names became brands. Streetscapes were transformed with gas stations, garages, electric vehicle charging stations, billboards, and dealerships. Society was transformed. The world of transportation was transformed. Our lexicon was transformed with the addition of words like motel. Generational businesses were decimated. Time honored careers were transformed into historic footnotes.

In 1872 Studebaker based in South Bend, Indiana was billed as the largest manufacturer of wheeled vehicles in the world; wheelbarrows, freight wagons, prams, carriages, surreys, ambulances, buckboards. In 1897 the company built the first of several prototype horseless carriages, and in 1902 their first production models, an electric designed by Thomas Edison, rolled from the factory. The company continued producing horse drawn vehicles until 1920 albeit in ever smaller numbers as the company evolved into one of the largest automobile manufacturing companies in the United States.

In 1889, Elmer Apperson and his brother Edgar opened the Riverside Machine Works on Main Street in Kokomo, Indiana. As the brothers were talented machinists and blacksmiths, they prospered and development a reputation for quality workmanship. This was the reason that an eccentric Kokomo businessman named Elwood Haynes retained their services to install a Stintz marine gasoline engine in a carriage. That horseless carriage took to the street on the Fourth of July 1894. From these humble beginnings the Apperson Brothers Automobile Company was launched. Even though it is largely unknown today, the company continued producing automobiles until 1926, and pioneered an array of developments.

Clinton Woods lacked the business savvy needed to attract investors or successfully form a corporation. But he was a visionary obsessed with a simple idea; the horseless carriage was the future and the future of horseless carriages was electric vehicles. In 1899 financier Samuel Insull and several board members of Standard Oil purchased Woods designs and patents, and with an astounding $10 million in capital stock launched the Woods Motor Vehicle Company.

The company immediately began producing an electric Hansom Cab that sold well in New York and other cities. In 1900 they began producing a Victoria that was displayed at Chicago’s first auto show. It was here that the manager of the Honolulu Iron Works saw a Woods, placed an order, and imported the first automobile into Hawaii.

The company enjoyed moderate success even though the electric vehicle was being quickly eclipsed by gasoline powered vehicles. But the companies crowning achievement was the Woods Dual Power introduced in the summer of 1916. The car used a Woods designed four-cylinder engine as an auxiliary to the electric motor. At speeds under 15 miles per hour, the gasoline engine idled and the car was driven by the electric motor. Faster speeds were obtained by using the gasoline engine with the electric motor as an auxiliary. The Woods Dual Power was a hybrid!

Alexander Winton established the Winton Bicycle Company in 1891, and five years later took his first experimental horseless carriage for a spin. On March 1, 1897, he organized he Winton Motor Carriage Company, and to promote his new vehicle, proceeded to drive from Cleveland, Ohio to New York City. By 1899, with the production of 100 vehicles, he became the largest manufacturer of horseless carriages in America. That was also the year he turned away a young mechanic as he was turned off by his ego and launched a rivalry that would last for years. That mechanic was Henry Ford.

Milton Reeves Octoauto. Photo authors collection

Winton played a pivotal role in the launching of one of America’s most famous automobile manufacturers. In 1898 car number twelve was sold to James Ward Packard who proved to be a very dissatisfied customer. During the drive from Cleveland to his home in Warren, Ohio, his new machine broke down numerous times and was eventually towed by a team of horses. Packard confronted Winton and made several suggestions for improvements. Winton was heard to say, “Mr. Packard, if you are so smart, why don’t you make a car yourself.” And so, Mr. Packard launched the Packard Automobile Company in 1899.

The establishment of automobile companies in the first years of the 20th century was a tsunami. But the market was very finite. This and a major economic recession in 1907 decimated the industry. An increased demand for vehicles, advancements in production and a growing middle class fueled another gold rush in the industry before WWII. The post war recession and the growing dominance of major manufacturers including General Motors, Ford, Hudson, Nash, Studebaker, and Packard forced many companies to close or merge. And then came the Great Depression, and the industry that was birthed with such promise for the independent thinker was forever transformed. Before the launching of Tesla by Elon Musk, only one man was able to successfully launch an American automobile manufacturing company after 1925 – Walter Chrysler.

A Front Row Seat

A popular photo op in Kingman, Arizona. ©Jim Hinckley’s America

For the past few days I have had the distinct pleasure of enjoying a visit with old friends, and an adventure or two reminiscent of the pre apocalypse era. For a brief moment in time I was able to forget monkey pox, COVID related issues, murder hornets, meth gators, the surreal and bizarre political circus side show, the Ukrainian tragedy, the shortage of (fill in the blank), what it cost me to put two tires on the Jeep and fill the gas tank, and what seems to be a growing list of potential impending disasters.

It was a grand holiday. It was a delightful opportunity to reunite with old friends in shared adventures. And it was a very welcome respite from deadlines, schedules, setbacks on various projects, home repair issues, and from the issues that are linked to the announcement that my accountant of more than ten years is retiring.

My dearest friend and I have been sharing annual adventures on both sides of the Atlantic Ocean with Dries Bessels and his charming wife Marion, foudning members of the Dutch Route 66 Association, for more than ten years. And then along came the apocalypse, and a motorcycle accident. As a result we haven’t seen our friends since 2019.

Well, a few months ago Dries informed me that he would be in Kingman in mid July. As it so happened, this was the day before another very good friend, Wolfgang Werz of Route 66 Germany was scheduled to be in town with a tour group. Needless to say, with the slightest adjustment to Dries’s schedule, which gave us an extra day for crazy adventures, we were able to put together an epic reunion.

Route 66 may be the foundation for our friendship and countless adventures, but Dries and I also share a deep fascination for ghost towns, historic cemeteries and battlefields, interesting taverns and saloons, road trips, and interesting people. In two days we were able to add some great memories that blended all of these elements to the scrap book.

The pre 1921 alignment of the National Old Trails Road near Goldroad, Arizona ©Jim Hinckley’s America

Dries has amassed quite a collection of historic photos that he generously shares on Facebook. As he has been assisting Leanne Toohey in her ongoing efforts to chronicle the history of the old mining town of Oatman, Arizona, that is where this series of adventures began.

Shortly before sunrise I met Dries and Leanne in Oatman. She had arranged access and transportation to the Oatman cemetery that is off limits to the public resultant of desecration. Surprisingly, I have been visiting Oatman for more than 50 years and had never been to the somber and forlorn old cemetery with the rugged west slope of the Black Mountains as a backdrop.

The next stop on our day of adventure was to hike a section of the National Old Trails Road in Sitreaves pass above the ghost town of Golroad. This section of the old road with its 28% grade that was bypassed in 1921 still has its post and cable guard rails. With temperatures rapidly climbing past the triple digits this outing was cut short.

We stopped by the homestead to cool off a bit, to pick up my dearest friend, and to show Dries The Beast. And that was followed with a superb lunch at Calico’s, lively conversation, and lots of laughs. And later that evening we continued the theme of laughter and good conversation but substituted beer and pizza for coffee and a sandwich.

The next day’s adventure commenced shortly after sunrise. The first stop was a short hike to historic Beale Springs. And the second was the historic cemetery in the old mining town of Chloride. And that was followed with exploration of the Pioneer Cemetery in Kingman, a tour of the fascinating Bonelli House built in 1915, and a demonstration of the new self guided, narrated historic business district developed by Kingman Main Street. And of course there was the obligatory photograph of me with the statue unveiled during the National Road Trip Day festivities this past May.

Left to right, Scott Dunton, president of the Route 66 Association of Kingman and owner of Dunton Motors Dream Machines, author Jim Hinckley, Wolfgang Werz of Route 66 Germany, and Dries Bessels. ©Judy Hinckley

The day and our visit wrapped up with a wonderful reception hosted for Dries, Wolgang, and his tour hosted by the Route 66 Association of Kingman Arizona and catered by Mr. D’z Route 66 Diner. Members of local car clubs provided transportation for the guests and as the event was open to the public, the showroom at the 1946 Dunton Motors Dream Machines dealership on Route 66 was soon packed.

But the evening and the fun didn’t end when the sun sank in the west. The tour group, my dearest friend and I, Wolfgang and Dries, and members of the car club moved the festivities to the Powerhouse Visitor Center for more lively conversation, laughs, and photo ops under the commerative arch.

It was such a delight to see old friends and to make new memories. And it was invigorating to see people embracing life with zest and enthusiasm.

Now it’s back to the real world that includes work, making plans and counting the days until the next visit and adventure shared with friends, a valiant attempt to stave off the seeming endless stream of bad news, and trying to find balance in life.

Over the course of the past couple of years we have been living through a seismic shift of epic proportions at every level from education and politics to technology and travel. As we all are painfully aware, these periods of tumult, uncertainty, and chaos can be very, very stressful.

But even in these times that try a mans patience, for anyone with a sense of humor, especially a dark sense of humor like I possess, there is much to laugh at. And, of course, in good times or bad, adventures shared with friends will always give reason to smile, for optimisim, and even fuel excitement for the future.