Alexander Winton’s Odyssey

Alexander Winton’s Odyssey

In this final chapter of this series we join Alexander Winton in the deserts of Nevada on his ill-fated attempt to be the first person to drive from coast to coast. This series was a reprint of articles published in 1901 by Scientific American.

But a kind providence was with us during the storm, and the lightening kept off. Getting up the Wadsworth sand hill, we cut sage brush and kept piling up in front of all four wheels to give them something to hold to and prevent slipping and burrowing in the soft sand until the machine was buried to the axles and it became necessary to use block, tackle and shovels to pull up to the surface. Got to the top at last, but found no improvement in sand conditions.

It was the hardest kind of work to make the slightest progress, but at 5:45 in the evening halted at Desert Station, a place inhabited by D.H. Gates, section boss, his wife, Train Dispatcher Howard (his office, cook house, etc., were all combined in a box car which had been set out on a short siding), and a dozen Japanese section hands.

Passed the night comfortably, and when the road was taken next morning (May 29( at 6 o’clock, the sun was shining and Mr. Gates predicted no rain for the day.

We found the roads somewhat improved and on and on we went through that vast country of magnificent distances. We were in the country where rattlesnakes were thickest, near Pyramid Rock, of which one writer says: “This rock pyramid is alleged to be the home of rattlesnakes so numerous as to defy extermination.”

When out of the machine and walking around bunches of sage brush care was exercised in keeping out of striking range of these venomous reptiles. Mr. Winton has tail end rattles as trophies, but I was so anxious to get close enough to kill the snakes and cut off their tails.

That day we plunged through four unbridged streams, and in one place where a bad washout had occurred, it became necessary for us to build a bridge before the machine would “take the ditch.” We lugged railroad ties – many ties from a pile close to the railroad tracks some distance away. And they were heavier than five-pound boxes of chocolate, but we finally got enough and bumped the machine through and on its way.

Mill City was reached shortly before 5 o’clock. The Southern Pacific agent there said we could never get to Winnemucca (thirty miles to the east) that night because of the sand hills; the quicksand would bury us, he said. Another man who came up discussed the sand proposition with Mr. Winton and told him that there would be only one way in which “that there thang” could get through this thirty miles stretch of quicksand. “How?” asked Mr. Winton. “Load her on a flat car and be pulled to Winnemucca.”

“Not on your life,” retorted the lucky automobilist; into the carriage I jumped, he pulled the lever and off we went. The course led up a hill, but there was enough bottom to the sand to give the wheels a purchase and from the hill summit we forged down into the valley where the country was comparatively level.   Nothing in sight but sage brush and sand, sand and sage brush.

Two miles of it were covered. Progress was slow, the sand became deeper and deeper as we progressed. At last the carriage stopped, the driving wheels sped on and cut deep deep into the bottomless sand. We used block and tackle, go the machine from its hole, and tried again. Same result. Tied more ropes around wheels with the hope that the corrugation would give them sufficient purchase in the sand. Result: wheels cut deeper in less time than before.

It was a condition never encountered by an automobilist in the history of the industry. We were in soft, shifting quicksand where power counted as nothing. We were face to face with a condition the like of which cannot be imagine – one must be in it, fight with it, be conquered buy it, before a full and complete realization of what it actually is will dawn upon the mind.

Mr. Winton said, “Do you know what we are up against here? I told the Plain Dealer that I would put this enterprise through if it were possible. Right here we are met by the impossible. Under present conditions no automobile can go through this quicksand.”  I suggested loading the machine and sending it by freight to Winnemucca.

“No, sir,” he flashed back emphatically. “If we can’t do it on our own power this expedition ends right here, and I go back with a knowledge of conditions and an experience such as no automobilist in this or other country has gained.”

You can read the rest of this chapter as well as the entire serious about Alexander Winton’s attempt to drive from coast to coast in 1901 as exclusive content on our Patreon based crowdfunding site. Next week we  launch a new serious about the dawning of the American auto industry. It is a story about inspirational people, visionaries, grifters, and pioneers. It is a story of tenacious businessmen, eccentrics, and adventurers.

Edsel’s Grand Adventure

Edsel’s Grand Adventure

In 1915, Edsel Ford and his college buddies set out on an epic adventure from Michigan to the Panama Pacific Exposition. Photo Historic Vehicle Association

Kingman, Arizona, Friday July 16, 1915 – Stayed around town all day until 4:30 on account of heat. Met party in Stutz from St. Louis – Mr. and Mrs. Scott and 3 children, also Mr. Hillerby. Arrived at Needles 8:30 P.M. after being informed that highwaymen were along the road. Heat very oppressive. Slept on porch of hotel. Stutz crew half hour after ourselves. Day’s run 72 miles.

In the summer of 1915, the then 21-year old Edsel Ford and some college buddies, H.V. Book, R.T. Gray Jr. and J.H. Caulkins Jr. set out on a grand adventure from Dearborn, Michigan. In Indianapolis, Indiana they met up with other friends, Frank Book and William Russell. Their destination was the Panama Pacific Exposition in San Francisco. Their convoy consisted of a new Ford, a new V8 Cadillac and a Stutz. As with countless tourists in the decades that followed them, they chose a route through the southwest to see sites of wonder such as the Grand canyon and Painted desert. They followed the National Old Trails Road through New Mexico, Arizona and across the desert in California. In 1926 much of this early highway would be incorporated in U.S.66, iconic Route 66.

Edsel kept a meticulous but succinct illustrated journal that chronicles the challenges of pioneering motorists. In spite of the many obstacles encountered on cross country road trips, in ever increasing numbers peoples were exploring America by automobile. In 1915 more than 20,000 people from outside of California attended the Panama Pacific Exposition by driving to the event. (more…)

Out With The Old, In With The New

Out With The Old, In With The New

The historic Hotel Brunswick in Kingman, Arizona

Adios (and good riddance) 2020. Hello 2021. It has been, shall we say, an interesting year. It has also been a year of opportunity, of challenge, of loss, of frustration, and of concern for friends and family. It has been an historic year, a world altering year and a year of discovery. And so I, for one, am eagerly looking toward 2021 with just a hint of apprehension and a bit of excitement.

With the cancellation of presentations, classes and the scheduled speaking tour I have had ample time to rediscover the simple pleasure of very long walks in the desert, to read, to work on learning about new technologies and how to harness them, and finding new ways to tell people where to go. But, to be honest, I have had to fight the crippling sense of futility and linked depression that seems to be lurking in the shadows this year. I suppose some of this can be attributed to the difficulty of accepting the fact that the entire world has been forever changed resultant of the pandemic and then seeing opportunity for Jim Hinckley’s America in the dawn of a new era.

Support of the crowdfunding initiative on the Patreon platform ( has proven to be more important than ever in 2020. This and learning to use Zoom have made it feasible to make presentations on Route 66 and travel for various groups such as the Rotary Club of El Paso and the Inland Empire Gardner’s in Spokane, Washington. The response received as well as seeing how important things like these presentations are to people experiencing isolation resultant of quarantine or illness has provided a distinct since of satisfaction. As always, the quickest way to get out of a funk is to help others.

In a similar manner the development of the weekly Coffee With Jim program that is live streamed on the Jim Hinckley’s America Facebook page Sunday mornings has been quite interesting. Sponsored in part by the iconic Wagon Wheel Motel in Cuba, Missouri, the program has apparently become an oasis in a sea of bad news for many people. I keep it light, fast paced and fun. Aside from a weekly trivia contest with prizes, and a plug for my books and sponsors, I cover topics that inspire thoughts of road trips, that inspire, and that are somewhat educational.

I am still surprised that people inspire me, and on occasion pay me, to beat my gums. This past Sunday’s program about interesting cemeteries on Route 66, and their surprising military or celebrity association, attracted an international audience of almost 5,500 people. And that was before it was archived with other episodes as well as programs in the On The Road With Jim series on the YouTube channel. This Sunday the topic will be an historic look at Christmas celebrations in America.

Counted among the interesting projects developed in 2020 to ensure that my dearest friend and I continue eating on a regular basis is blog writing for clients of MyMarketing Designs. When this company builds a website they offer a blog writing service for clients. I am the writer of those blogs. And so it has been an educational experience as well as a challenge to find material to write blogs for a kite store, for an RV sales and service company, for an air conditioning company and for several other companies.

I returned to my roots in 2020 with the writing of a weekly feature on automotive history for MotoringNZ, an online automotive publication based in New Zealand. My career in exchanging the written word kicked off in 1990 with an automotive feature written for Hemmings Motor News. For most of the next ten years the majority of my published work was on the formative years of the American auto industry. This included a stint as associate editor for the now defunct Cars & Parts magazine, and the writing of a regular feature entitled The Independent Thinker. These often overlapped with travel stories when I wrote about museums or Edsel Ford’s cross country adventure in the summer of 1915.

Shortly after I began writing for Motoring NZ, I adjusted the format for 5 Minutes With Jimour weekly audio podcast. It is now a journey through time with stories about automotive pioneers like Louis Chevrolet, the origins of automotive manufacturing companies, fascinating and and odd inventions, and similar subjects. The real boost for this project came with arrangement that allowed for it to be professionally edited by a New Zealand radio engineer. The audio podcast is now sponsored in part by the one of a kind Roadrunner Lodge in Tucumcari, New Mexico.

Author Jim Hinckley with a mug from Victoria’s Sugar Shack during Coffee With Jim ©

Speaking of sponsors we have been working on developing innovative ways to provide low cost or even free promotional opportunities for businesses, communities and museums this year. Now more than ever it is important that we build supportive cooperative partnerships. One of these initiatives is the Coffee Mug of The Week sponsorship. Each week on the Coffee With Jim live stream program I give a shout out to a business or museum that has sent us a coffee cup. It is the least I can do for business owners, many of them friends or acquaintances, that are struggling this year.

Several years ago I developed a series of community educational programs on area history, Route 66 and the economics of tourism for Mohave Community College. This spring they were cancelled, which was a kick in the income. But they were picked up again this fall via Zoom and that gave me an opportunity to learn more about this platform. It also proved to be the next logical step in developing and packaging these classes for other community colleges or communities. And that is just what I will be doing come 2021.

I have also launched a free weekly (soon to be biweekly) travel planning newsletter. In addition to providing another promotional venue for advertising sponsors, road trip inspiration and travel planning tools, it is a venue where I can offer event organizers free promotion.

This morning there was another glimmer of hope for 2021. It was in the form of negotiations about a new book with a publisher I worked with several years ago. Details will be forthcoming soon but suffice to say that book number twenty may be debuting next fall.

Author Jim Hinckley with a Dutch group traveling Route 66 at the Powerhouse Visitor Center in Kingman, Arizona. ©

So, as 2020, the year of COVID 19 and a never ending election, draws to a close I bid adios. And as I count down the days to 2021, there is eager anticipation with a faint of apprehension.




Changing Times

Changing Times

Photo TWA Museum

In a mere twenty years, two short decades, the world had been transformed. In 1909 manufacturers in the United States had produced 828,000 horse drawn vehicles, and about 125,000 automobiles. In 1929 automobile production had soared to more than one million vehicles, and the manufacture of horse drawn vehicles had plummeted to fewer than 4,000 units. By the 1920s more American families owned an automobile than had indoor plumbing. In 1919 the first tricolor lights began regulating traffic in Detroit. Ten years later the first cloverleaf interchange opened in Woodbridge, New Jersey. And on July 7, 1929, an entirely new concept in transportation made its debut.

On this date passengers boarded a special Pennsylvania Railroad Airway Limited train at New York City’s Pennsylvania Station. It was an overnight trip to Columbus, Ohio. At the city’s new airport terminal two Ford Tri-Motor airplanes emblazoned with the name of Transcontinental Air Transport (TAT) transported them west to  Waynoka, Oklahoma. IN that city the passengers boarded an Atchison, Topeka & Santa Fe train for an overnight trip to Clovis, New Mexico. The next morning wo other TAT airplanes were boarded for a three-stop flight that would end at the Grand Central Air Terminal in Glendale, California. It was unprecedented, people could now travel coast to coast in a mere forty-eight hours.

Mirroring the first decades of the American auto industry, TAT and the pioneering airline industry is a conflicting story of merger, buy out and corporate raiding. TAT was founded in 1928 with a goal to establish fast and safe coast to coast passenger service. Comfort that mimicked what was available on passenger trains was also a part of the company’s mission. This amazing feat would be accomplished by using established Pennsylvania Railroad and Atchison, Topeka & Santa Fe Railway trains, and new state of the art Ford Tri Motor airplanes. Two years prior Jack Frye, Paul Richter and Walt Hamilton had launched Standard Airlines (SAL),to provide passenger service between Los Angles and Phoenix, Arizona. In March 1930, Standard Airlines was sold to Western Air Express (WAE). Jack Frye served as the company’s Chief of Operations. In October of that year, TAT and WAE merged to create TWA.

POrt Kingman, the TAT terminal in Kingman, Arizona. Photo TWA Museum

TAT was born in an historic informal meeting at the Engineers’ Club in New York City. In attendance of this 1927 gathering were Colonel Paul Henderson, the former Assistant Postmaster General and current Vice-President of National Air Transport, C.M. Keys, an aviation executive, banker and an ardent aviation enthusiast, and Charles Lindbergh. During the discussion about passenger air service, Henderson drew a rough map of the United States on the back of an envelope he pulled from his vest. Then he began identifying logical stopping points connected by a line that indicated available rail service. In the months that followed there were meetings with potential investors and attorneys, funding was secured, arrangements were made with Ford Motor Company, limited partnerships were established with railroad companies, and Transcontinental Air Transport (TAT) was established.

Equally as ambitious was the plane to establish airfields and terminals in relatively remote western communities such as Winslow and Kingman, Arizona. As an historic footnote, Lindbergh was tasked with this project and often stayed at the Hotel Beale in Kingman, Arizona during construction of Port Kingman. Amelia Earhart stayed at the hotel during the ribbon cutting ceremonies. This terminal building has survived into the modern era as the headquarters for Brown Drilling. And recently the site of the Western Air Express airfield was rediscovered.

The TAT endeavor was relatively short lived. A crash that resulted in the death of all on board near Mt. Taylor in western New Mexico on September 3, 1929 dramatically curtailed the company’s ambitious plans. It also led to the implementation of safety initiatives and hindered development of confidence in passenger air service. Still, the TAT endeavor stands as a milestone in transportation history. The surviving remnants, such as the terminal in Kingman, are tangible links to the dawn of a new era, changing times that forever transformed the world.

The recently discovered plans for the Western Air Express airfield in Kingman, Arizona

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