THE OLD MAN IN THE MIRROR

In my head I am still twenty, or maybe thirty. Of course, every morning the fellow in the mirror reminds me that this is but an illusion.
Maintaining that illusion has become increasingly difficult in recent years, especially when I do things like try to hike to Supai and back in the same day, or drive home from Santa Rosa, New Mexico in one day. But few things drive home the point that I am that man in the mirror more than trying to have conversations with folks who really are as old I envision myself to be.
Recently, in an address to some students about the importance of studying history, I received a few questions that made it quite clear, this nation, this world has turned a time or two since my biggest concern in the world was money for gas, admission to the theater, and dinner for my favorite girl. It was during this discussion the idea of using Route 66 as a catalyst for presenting history as something more exciting, and much more important, than dry wheat toast without butter or jam came to mind.
In the days that followed these thoughts began to take shape as a project with greater merit than anything yet imagined. What if I could derive a visual presentation that immediately sparked animated interest and discussion? What if I could jump start a program with something tangible, something relevant, and something far removed from the modern voyeuristic era where so many things are viewed rather than lived or experienced? What if I could devise a way to unleash youthful imagination and curiosity?
I knew that Route 66 would have to be the corner stone for such an endeavor. But how would I be able to tie the mythical world of Radiator Springs to the reality of Route 66 and give it relevance without loosing the excitement and color? A HUDSON HORNET!
Circulating in my vivid imagination was a daring plan to promote the new book with a media hyped tour along Route 66 in a vintage car. Initially I envisioned the vehicle to be a Model A Ford but the focus began to center on something more practical and yet unique enough to spark discussion and challenge preconceived notions about automotive history and fuel economy – a Nash, Studebaker, or Hudson manufactured between 1939 and 1953.
The school address added a sense of importance to my envisioned odyssey that transcended the promotion of a book. Here was a multi faceted opportunity. I could promote vintage vehicles as something more than a trailer queen, an investment, or fodder for hot rod construction as well as Route 66, the ideal road for enjoying vintage vehicles.
In turn this could be used to promote the people and places along the road that make it such a treasure. And this entire package could be used to inspire a new generation of Route 66 enthusiasts and history buffs.
With this grand and noble idea coming to life in stunning Technicolor there was but one obstacle that prevented it from becoming a reality. How would such an endeavor be financed? How indeed.

A TALE OF TWO CITIES AND OTHER NOTES FROM THE ROAD

The weather wasn’t conducive to a great deal of exploration on Monday but as plans for the forthcoming exhibit at the Powerhouse visitor center, Route 66 in Mohave County, call for images showing the highway in all seasons, the near blizzard conditions presented some interesting photo opportunities. In cruising the empty and soggy streets of Ash Fork, not in Mohave County, and the snowy streets in Seligman, also not in Mohave County, I found my thoughts centering on the dramatic contrasts between the two communities.
Both have colorful histories and both can trace their histories to the territorial era and beyond. Both have a wide array of historical structures representing more than a century of societal evolution in western Arizona, including a vintage auto court that predates the introduction of the Model A Ford.
In both communities Route 66 is main street and both communities were devastated by bypass with completion of I-40. Both communities also suffered greatly when important ties with the railroad were severed and both communities once had elegant Harvey House establishments to meet the needs of travelers.
There the similarities end. Ash Fork mirrored the cold, leaden sky and even the purity of the falling snow was unable to add a hint of life, of color, or mute the graveside feel that hangs heavy over the community like winter storm clouds.
In Seligman there were colorful banners and store fronts, a faint glow of neon muted by the heavy snow, and a feeling that the town was sleeping, not mortally wounded. There was a sense of life, of vitality in the air and the snow accentuated the sense that this was a well worn Norman Rockwell print.
Why is Ash Fork succumbing to its wounds while Seligman is thriving? What could create such a dramatic contrast between two communities so closely linked?

Sunset in and of Glenrio, Texas


The answer, and the lesson to be learned, is Angel and Juan Delgadillo. Ashfork never had an Angel or Juan. Likewise with Kingman, Glenrio, San Jon, Avilla, Halltown, or Needles. These towns had people that cared, people that tried, and people that still try but they lacked an Angel.
Route 66 is, and always has been, about opportunity. It is also the story of missed opportunity, of seeing the glass as half empty rather than half full. But most of all it is a story about people, people who saw the road as an opportunity for a quick buck, and those who understood that profit is not always monetary in nature.
Tragic tales of towns like Radiator Springs and Ash Fork that were left to wither on the vine often obscure the tragic tales of towns like Cucamonga in California that were transformed from quiet, sleepy farming towns into bedroom communities for the metropolis with its farms and way of life swept away by suburbia fueled by the wave of immigrants that rolled west on U.S. 66.
The resurgent interest in Route 66 is but another chapter in the history of a highway that mirrors almost a century of societal evolution. How that chapter is written in the communities along the course of that highway will depend on how the people who live in them view the opportunity before them. 

Hackberry General Store


Will they see it as an opportunity for a quick buck or as a catalyst for restoration, for preservation of a unique way of life as Cuba is doing? Will they lament, cry, and wring their hands about what once was or will will they see the opportunities before them, seize them, and make the years to come the best of times?
Okay, now a couple of unrelated notes. I do not have details but the El Trovatore Motel in Kingman, dating to 1939, is back in business. I am unsure if it will again serve as apartments rented by the week, or as a motel but refurbishment is underway and my understanding is that this will include the neon tower on the bluff to the south.
The first set of images for the Route 66 in Mohave County exhibit were delivered on Monday. Plans at this time call for it opneing in stages with completion around the 4th of July.

AND THEN IT BEGAN TO SNOW –

The weather service was calling for a winter storm to move into northern Arizona by Monday evening. They missed the mark by a half day. 

Christmas time in Williams, Arizona


The interview on AM Arizona, a statewide cable channel broadcast live from Prescott Arizona with Tonya Mock and Lew Rees as hosts, was scheduled for 9:00 AM, which meant we would need to be there by eight to sort through photos and discuss the various aspects of the primary topic – Route 66. From Kingman to Prescott via the soulless interstate highway, is a drive of about 140 miles. Factoring in the fact that the once quiet farming communities of Paulden and Chino Valley have become suburbs linked to Prescott in the morning with an endless stream of brake lights, I figured on two and one half hours of driving time.
As I loaded the Jeep in the predawn darkness, I could sense more than see the heavy clouds that added a distinct hint of dampness to the unseasonably warm morning. In this part of the country, that is almost a sure bet that a winter storm lurks just to the west.

Winter in Ash Fork, Arizona

By the time we made Seligman it was light enough to see heavy, low lying clouds on the mountains to the south and to the east. As we rolled south from Ash Fork, a steady drizzle began to fall.
The temperature had taken a notable turn toward the freezing mark by the time we left the studio, but the heavy clouds had lifted a bit and there was even a few hints of blue sky to the northeast. So, I gassed up the Jeep and we made the decision to go with the original plan, a scenic shortcut to Williams via Drake and the Perkinsville Road, about fifty miles of occasionally graded gravel road boarded by stunning views of Arizona back country.
The road had not been graded since the last storm and as a result, as soon as we left the pavement at the big cement plant in Drake, it took on all of the attributes of a wagon road, after a half century of hard use. Still, with the exception of a few mud holes it was dry so we decided to brave the ruts and enjoy the adventure.
Then we came to the fork in the road. Then we noticed that the signs were gone. Then we were faced with two choices – a heavily traveled, rutted dirt track, or a heavily rutted dirt track.
We made our choice and the journey continued, as the clouds on the mountains began to darken and thicken. As it turned out, our choice was the wrong one and the road we had followed ended at a massive Flagstone quarry.
In backtracking the dozen or so miles to the fork, the clouds descended lower and a light mist turned to sleet. So, we decided to use just a touch of common sense and retreat to the highway for the drive to Williams.
The sleet remained light until we topped the grade on I-40, the Ash Fork hill. Then it turned to a light but steady snow and in Williams the streets were thick with slush.
None of this deterred us from enjoying the coffee and wonderful lunch at one of our favorite Route 66 restaurants, the Pine Country. As always the service was excellent, the food superb, and the price quite reasonable.
As the Route 66 in Mohave County exhibit being developed for the Powerhouse Visitor Center calls for presenting the highway in all seasons, and as I just could not bear the thought of a return trip on the interstate, we had decided to catch the old highway at the Crookton Road exit.

Route 66 east of Seligman
Light flurries followed us from Williams to Ash Fork but by the time we turned onto Route 66, the snow began falling thick and fast. Within just a few miles the road vanished under a white sheet, the wipers struggled to keep up with the falling snow, and the vast landscapes that embrace the highway here had narrowed with visibility measured in feet, and there was  just a vague hint of trees and rocks that added shades of grey to the thickening white blanket.

We had just started up the grade to the Crookton Overpass when we spotted the hapless driver in a battered Olds that had been making snake tracks on the highway and plowing snow with his under carriage. He seemed more than happy to let us pass, and then follow in the tracks of the Jeep.

I have seen worse, after all a few of my winters were spent in those nasty “M” places (Michigan, Minnesota, etc.). I even survived an unexpected spring snow in Utah that left snow plows in the ditch. Still, for a couple of desert rats this was quite a unique and exhilarating adventure.

Then, when we got to Seligman, it really began to snow. The Snow Cap really had a snow cap but if the forecasters were right, and the storm was to continue unabated at least into midday Tuesday, there was a fair bet it would be much deeper soon and more than a few folks would be spending a couple of unplanned days in Seligman.

The snow stayed with us until we made Peach Springs where the change in elevation transformed the curtain of white into a curtain of mist that was only parted by bouts of heavily falling rain. As I write this, the rains continue to fall.
Adventures on Route 66 are never boring. Adventures on Route 66, in Arizona, during the months of winter can be even more exciting, provided you are just crazy enough to believe the weather man, and find pulse pounding excitement in using your vehicle as a sled, a snow plow, or, possibly, a motel room.  

WITH A FOCUS ON CUBA …

With the focus on Cuba Fest in Cuba, Missouri, the proposed venue for the debut of the Route 66 encyclopedia, next October, I have begun laying the ground work for what could be a very exciting year for us as well as the Route 66 community. In addition to Cuba Fest, it looks as though the Red Carpet Tour in in Illinois is shaping up to be a major event as is the New Mexico Motor Tour in June. Then there is the Route 66 in Mohave County exhibit being developed for the Powerhouse Visitor Center in Kingman.
But it is the tour that centers on Cuba which is garnering a great deal of my attention. This little project has morphed from a promotional tour for the book into an opportunity to provide publicity for the people and businesses along the highway, to promote and raise funds for museums and historic societies on Route 66, and now, to promote the importance of history to students at schools.
Initially, in an effort to derive media attention for the book, I envisioned driving the highway from end to end in a Model A Ford. This evolved to making the trip in a Nash, Studebaker, or Hudson manufactured between 1939 and 1953. Now, the focus has narrowed.
As one facet of the trip will be to speak at schools and encourage students to see history as something more than a dry, dusty subject that is as exciting as a three day insurance seminar, there can be only one vehicle suitable for this endeavor – a Hudson Hornet. The immediate association with the animated film Cars will instantly ensure interest from students.
So, the quest is on for a suitable vehicle that we can transform into the award winning Marshall Teague racer of the 1950s with “Fabulous Hudson Hornet 6” emblazoned on the doors. The quest is also on for suitable corporate sponsors to underwrite the endeavor, sponsors who will derive international publicity as a result of their support.
This is all still a pipe dream, a rough hewn plan, a little something to encourage people to see vintage cars as more than a trailer queen, an investment, or potential street rod project, and Route 66 as the ideal highway for using these vehicles as time machines. Still, eight books were once pipe dreams so …
So, mark your calendars for October and make your plans for a trip to Cuba. You miight want to make reservations at the Wagon Wheel Motel in advance, as I know at least one room has already been reserved.

NOTES FROM THE ROAD AND BEYOND

I spent an enjoyable hour or so last evening in discussion with John and Judy Springs, the publisher for the new e-zine, 66 The Mother Road, that hit the ground running early this year. If I were a business owner on Route 66, or wanted to have my business associated with Route 66, this is one wagon my horse would surely be hitched to because all indications are that this publication will be hitting its stride in 2012.
Our conversation left me so enthused about the state of the road, and the exciting things on the horizon for 2012, I temporarily forgot that we were reliving the Great Depression. Still, I awoke this morning with the excitement still coursing through my veins and began drafting extensive plans for promoting the road, the businesses and people along legendary Route 66 that make it a true national treasure, my books, and our photography in 2012.
Then I created a series of photo files for Josh Noble, the area tourism director. The photos are the first stage in the forthcoming Route 66 in Mohave County exhibit at the Powerhouse Visitor Center.
The enthusiasm was dampened a bit as I walked to work on this brisk morning. It was not the invigorating cold air that took the edge off, but the ever increasing number of empty houses I passed. These are truly exciting times but they are also dark and seem to be getting darker.
With a well developed sense of very dark humor, I began to ruminate on the feasibility of a Great Depression theme park for those who want the true Route 66 experience, circa 1933. A Hooverville, or Obamaville if you would prefer a modern descriptor, could be set up out by the railroad trestle along a section of Route 66 that served as the original alignment as well the course for the National Old Trails Highway.
There is adequate evidence in the area to indicate that the small caves and rock shelters amongst the cliffs served a similar purpose during the 1930s. That might add a touch of authenticity.
Rather than rental cars, cut down and battered Hudsons and T model Fords could be used to shuttle visitors to their lodging for the evening. Then, around three in the morning, they could be rousted by “bulls” waving billy clubs and setting fire to the shanties.
In all seriousness, I don’t think even the most ardent Route 66 enthusiasts would care to experience the old highway from that realistic of a perspective. The true beauty in traveling the highway today is that we can have our cake and eat it to, we can immerse ourselves among the time capsules but with the comfort of air conditioning, Wifi, and, if there is a need for speed, the sterile interstate.
There is a way to greatly enhance the time capsule feel of the road without sacrificing all of the modern amenities – provided you plan ahead, are willing to learn a few lost art skills, and have an adventuresome spirit, and that is to make the drive in an antique vehicle. I am not talking street rod, a modern car hiding beneath the shell of something old, I am talking about something old hiding under vintage styling. With modern technology, and the current state of the economy, such an adventure is more feasible than ever.
The first step is to cast aside preconceived ideas about performance, reliability, and even fuel economy. Did you know that the Nash 600 derived its name because in consistent testing it was found that the car could be driven 600 miles on twenty gallons of gas? Of course this was with a standard transmission and overdrive.
Did you know that the 1951 Hudson with automatic transmission, a vehicle that weighed in the neighborhood of 3,700 pounds, could hit sixty miles per hour in 14 seconds and deliver 14 miles per gallon at 65 miles per hour? Did you know that with a stick shift and overdrive these cars would deliver around 20 miles per gallon at 65 miles per hour? Did you know the highly advanced brakes would bring this car to a dead stop from 6o miles per hour in 166 feet?
Did you know the Hudson Hornet that came out of retirement at Radiator Springs in the movie Cars was based on the astounding stock car records established by drivers at the wheel of Hudson built vehicles in the early 1950s? Did you know that a number of records set in those races did not fall until the 1980s?
Did you know that showroom fresh, fully restored models of these cars can be add for somewhere between $9,000 and $16,000? Did you know that if you don’t mind getting a bit dirty, don’t mind some faded paint, and are willing to learn some simple mechanical skills, you can buy good running, dependable models in the $5,000 range?
Did you know many components for these cars – water pumps, fuel pumps, etc. – can be purchased from NAPA, usually with a 24 hour turn around? Did you know these components often sell for one half or one third less than similar components for modern vehicles? Did you know that the replacement time for these components can be measured in mere hours or that these replacements can be made by you with the most basic of tools?
And if you just have have to have some of the more modern conveniences in your travels technology can provide the best of both worlds, just like traveling Route 66 itself. There are AC conversion kits, and state of the art stereos that mimic original equipment in appearance, as well as wide array of gadgets to enhance, or detract from, the driving experience.
All of this is a segway to the adventure being planned for October in 2012. One of my goals in making this trip, in a vintage Hudson, Nash, Studebaker, De Soto, or Packard, is to present Route 66 as the tailor made highway for vintage automotive enthusiasts and to present bone stock vintage automobiles as the perfect time capsule for enjoying Route 66.
Stay tuned for details –