Fame, Fortune, Obscurity, and Immortality

Reading A. Lincoln, a most fascinating biography about

Abraham Lincoln, watching the Trump presidency take shape, composing notes and research for a book about murder on Route 66, the quest to create brand recognition for Jim Hinckley’s America, writing an article about the tragic life of David Buick, and the loss of two friends this year led to a bit of reflection. Magnifying my thoughts about the brevity of life and how much time we spend chasing fame and fortune in a futile hope that we can gain a dubious form of immortality from our accomplishments was a small photography expedition this afternoon.


I suppose some of this darkly shaded reflection is rooted in these times of division, uncertainty, and transition. In this, there is a sense that I am not alone.


Every Second Counts

I am now within spitting distance of sixty. No matter how

hard I squint, fifty isn’t visible in the rear view mirror any longer. One lesson learned many, many years ago is that every second counts. Part two of that lesson is this – with the passing of each year, the awareness that every second counts increases exponentially. Linked with this is an old adage that the older one gets the faster time goes. I am not familiar with any empirical evidence that provides validity to this statement but can attest to the fact that the world flying past the windows is quite blurred as of late.

Yesterday, or so it seems, it was Monday. Between then and now there has been a few meals shared with friends, the recording of several new podcast episodes and the publication of one (Jim Hinckley’s America podcast), completion of the rough draft for another book and initiation of the writing of the first chapter for another one, a few meetings, a revamping of the blog format (did you notice that there is now a tip jar in the top menu bar and in the sidebar for those wanting to leave a little something for the storyteller?), and another Facebook live program.


My dearest friend and I in the home of the late Willem Bor, and his charming wife Monique. Our first meal in the Netherlands was enjoyed in their home.

Another Day, Another Adventure in Jim Hinckley’s America

A rare B-17 at the former Kingman Army Airfield, and an

early morning conversation with internationally acclaimed artist Gregg Arnold, photographer Herberta Schroeder of Wind Swept Images, and Michelle Drumheller who is organizing a family reunion for the family of pioneering rancher Tap Duncan, that is how my day started. In short, another day, another colorful adventure. This is Jim Hinckley’s America. If that seems like a plug, well, I suppose that it is.


In retrospect it started simply enough. I wanted to write, to share the history of the American auto industry as well as tales of adventure on the road less traveled in the hope that it would inspire people to do a bit of exploring. After the publication of a few dozen feature articles for various magazines, I had an opportunity to write a book. That had been a dream since childhood and so I wrote a little book about the Checker Cab Manufacturing Company.


That was followed by an interesting project that carried the odd title of The Big Book of Car Culture. In essence this was a Jerry Seinfeld type of project, a book about nothing. Jon Robinson and I wrote short stories about everything auto related from the history of highway striping and speedometers to Route 66 and Harley Davidson. 


This morning I enjoyed a brief but interesting discussion

with KC Keefer, the brilliant videographer behind the Genuine Route 66 series and a series of videos on forgotten places such as the Painted Desert Trading Post and Glenrio in partnership with Dr. Nick Gerlich. The topic of conversation was Route 66 as a catalyst for economic development and revitalization in rural communities. As that has been the subject of recent Jim Hinckley’s America blog posts as well as Facebook live programs, I found his insights and thoughts to be particularly relevant.

In building the foundation for economic development in a community, tourism as a primary component is a very poor choice. However, tourism should always be considered a component in the creation of an economic development plan, especially in a community that has Route 66 as the main street through its historic business district. Additionally, in these communities all marketing should include a Route 66 element. The popularity of the road will magnify these type of initiatives. often with tremendous results.


As important as Route 66 in in regards to marketing or revitalization initiatives, myopic focus on what Route 66 was can be as detrimental as not using it at all. It is imperative that a community also focus on the future. As an example consider the embryonic Route 66 Electric Vehicle Museum in Kingman, Arizona. In addition, Route 66 should also be utilized as a means for showcasing the unique attributes of a community. If a town can blend these components in a single package, and has the leadership needed to get community buy in, it will be transformed, regardless of rural location or size. 


Why do some communities along Route 66 thrive, and

others continue the decline precipitated by the highways bypass. Why is Pontiac or Cuba a destination for legions of international travelers as well as entrepreneurs? In regards to tourism development, why do some communities such as Kingman or Tucumcari move forward at glacial speeds or even stagnate even though their tourism related assets far outnumber those found in Pontiac or Cuba? Why is Seligman a beehive of activity but Ash Fork flirts with becoming a ghost town?

On numerous occasions I have addressed these thoughts and related issues in blog posts. In recent years I have also made numerous presentations on the subject in various communities, and assisted with the development and marketing of events. However, over the course of the past year my involvement with tourism as a catalyst for economic development has broadened. It has included a stint as a marketing development consultant for Ramada Kingman, a role I now play for Grand Canyon Caverns, and some representative work for the City of Kingman. I am also involved with the innovative Promote Kingman initiative, and proudly serve on the economic development committee for the Route 66 Road Ahead Partnership, formerly the Route 66: Road Ahead Initiative steering committee.


A Bit of Perspective

A bit of perspective, that is what we get when studying

history. Without that perspective we are easily manipulated by politicians, demagogues, car salesman, snake oil salesman, televangelists, newspaper reporters, and people armed with alternative facts or altered facts that profit from our ignorance. Without that perspective we can’t even tell if they are alternative facts, altered facts, facts based on half truths, or truth itself.

Let’s set our way back machine to the teens of a century ago. President Wilson was running the show here in America. Without reservation he believed that “America was born to exemplify that devotion to the elements of righteousness which are derived from the revelations of Holy Scripture.” In a speech before Congress about the war (WWI), he warned, “There are citizens of the United States, I blush to admit, … who have poured the poison of disloyalty into the very arteries of our national life…Such creatures of passion, disloyalty, and anarchy must be crushed out.” A manifestation of his “divine appointment by God” was the Espionage Act that he called an imperative necessity.

Congress balked at the legalization of press censorship but the rest of the bill passed with almost unanimous support. Included in the bill was authorization for Postmaster General Albert Sidney Burleson to refuse to deliver magazines, newspapers, or mail he deemed unpatriotic or critical of the administration. Attorney General Thomas Gregory felt that the law did not go far enough, and pushed a new law, the Sedition Act that made it punishable by twenty years in jail to “utter, print, write, or publish any disloyal,profane, scurrilous, or abusive language about the government of the United States.” To enforce the legislation the American Protective League under administration by the Justice Department was formed and within a year there were 200,000 members, some of whom initiated vigilante justice with impunity in communities.

In Rockford, Illinois, the army asked league members for assistance in acquiring confessions from twenty-one African-American men accused of assaulting white women. League patrols targeted seditious speakers, performed citizens arrests or called upon police to break up “unpatriotic” gatherings. States outlawed the teaching of German, an Iowa legislature called for the expulsion or deportation of all first generation German immigrants, people who publicly spoke German were subject to immediate arrest, and government approved front page banners warned that every German or Austrian, unless an acquaintance of years, should be considered a spy.

Meanwhile, as the war raged in Europe with ever mounting casualties, the American auto industry surged with development. War contracts, and unlike in WWII, a burgeoning consumer hunger enabled record profits. Still, numerous companies foundered. Even though the Good Roads movement fostered dramatic improvements in rural “highways” the railroad still served as the primary mode of transport for troops, goods, passengers, and raw materials.

Shortly after the dawn of 1917, Henry Leland resigned his position as chief engineer at Cadillac. A rock solid reputation for business integrity, visionary innovation, and engineering perfection enabled him to establish Lincoln Motor Company, and secure a government contract for the manufacture of 6,000 Liberty aircraft engines. Even more amazing, he was also awarded a $10 million dollar advance to launch the project!

Production had only just begun when the signing of the armistice negated the project leaving Leland in debt with a newly equipped factory and a work force of 6,000 men. So, he decided to retool the factory for the production of automobiles, and within three hours of listing the new venture sold $6.5 million in capital stock.

Charles Nash, like Leland, walked from his position at General Motors when founder William Durant regained control. Nash had been with the company from its inception, and worked his way up through the ranks from cushion stuffing to President of the Buick Division, and eventually, President of General Motors.

With another former GM employee, James Storrow, as his partner, Nash acquired the Kenosha, Wisconsin based Thomas B. Jeffrey Company, manufacturer of the Rambler as well as the four-wheel drive Jeffrey truck, the military’s primary motorized transport vehicle. Reorganization resulted in the establishment of Nash Motors Company on July 29, 1916.


Pierce Arrow exemplified the gulf between the haves and have nots during the teens. 

In 1919, Walter Chrysler followed he path of Nash and Leland. Resultant of a heated disagreement with William Durant, he reigned his position as President of the Buick Division. After accepting a position with Chase National Bank to restore Willys Overland to solvency, his next salvage operation was at Maxwell Motor Corporation that had recently merged with Chalmers, a disastrous financial arrangement. This time, however, Chrysler had ulterior motives and after gaining full control of the company, reorganized as Chrysler Motors Corporation.

Even though there was a huge wage disparity between factory workers and factory owners, and conditions were often grueling with little or no compensation for injuries or illness, labor problems were almost nonexistent. President Wilson’s draconian policies had almost completely crushed the fledgling unionization movement, and through extensive use of propaganda, many workers viewed unions as unpatriotic.

As an example, in Bisbee, Arizona league members incited vigilantes to round up 1,200 “union members and agitators”, seize their possessions, beat them, force them into boxcars, and then transport them to a siding across the New Mexico state line. Before being released, the prisoners locked in the box cars endured days under the desert sun without food or water.

Before the institution of Wilson’s policies, Henry Ford had set what many deemed a very dangerous precedent. In January 1914, a time when many companies were pushing the envelope of automotive manufacturing technology to cut labor associated costs, Ford streamlined the production process to trim expenses. This included simplifying the only product he had produced since 1909, the Model T. In turn he continued to lower the sale price of a new Ford, and then doubled the prevailing industry wage from $2.50 per day to $5.00.

A deep economic recession followed the signing of the armistice, and the auto industry was hard hit. Many weak companies fell by the wayside. As the economy tanked, there was a perception that drastic and unprecedented monetary policies at the federal level were needed. These new policies coupled with the dawn of finance programs such as GMAC that allowed the consumer, for the first time, to buy on the installment plan acted like a jolt of adrenaline and the American economy soared. The prosperity, however, was an illusion built on easy credit for the consumer as well as the corporation. The day of reckoning came in October of 1929, and by 1932, the nation and the world was immersed in the worst economic collapse in modern history.

As a final note from the “history repeats itself file”, President Hoover instituted an array of policies in a misguided attempt to stem the onslaught of the Great Depression. One of these was a plan to bail out banks deemed to big to allow to fail.

Okay class, that is our history lesson for the day. Do you see any similarities? Does history repeat itself or is that merely a myth?






Myth, Legend, Fact and Fiction

With the passing of time, when writing about history,

it becomes quite a challenge to separate myth and legend from fact and fiction. Even first person accounts can be fictitious when compared to facts if enough time has passed, and a story can be told so often that myth becomes truth. Adding weight to legends that become fact are first person accounts, an interview at the time of an incident that provides a perspective derived from fear, prejudice, or even shadowing that obscured detail.

Case in point, the honeymoon suite for Clark Gable and Carole Lombard at the hotel in Oatman, Arizona. Yes, the couple did marry in Kingman late one afternoon, at the Methodist Episcopal church that still stands on the corner of Fifth and Spring Streets. Yes, there was a small wedding reception at the Brunswick Hotel afterwards, and there was an early morning press conference in Los Angeles early the following morning. So, is the story of the honeymoon suite fact or fiction? If it is myth, what are the origins?


The Best of Times, The Worst of Times

Nostalgia is often described as a wistful desire to return

to a former time, an era when things were simpler, better, less stressful, more fun (insert your descriptor here). The truth, however, is that regardless of the period of time you live in or where you live it is the best of times and the worst of times. Nostalgia is a great deal like vintage pictures, it is one dimensional, a moment in time taken out of context.

The cover photo, provided courtesy of the Mohave Museum of History & Arts, illustrates this point. The Route 66 sign on the post provides a point of reference but what else can be discerned from the photo? From the perspective of nostalgia these appear to be simpler times. What isn’t seen in the photo is the White House Cafe to the right of the “grocerteria” where a sign read “Colored Entrance In Rear.” 

Changing Times

Aside from death and taxes the one thing that we can all

be certain of is that, like it or not, things change. When was the last time you used a pay phone? When was the last time you wrote a letter? When was the last time you wrote a letter on a typewriter? When was the last time you used a map, a phone book, or crossed the desert at night to beat the heat?

In 1909, more than 828,000 horse-drawn vehicles rolled from American factories. That year automobile manufacturers set a new record with combined production totaling more than 128,000 vehicles. Fast forward two decades and a mere 4,000 horse drawn vehicles were manufactured. Meanwhile, in 1929, Ford manufactured more than 2,000,000 automobiles and trucks, and there were more than a dozen automobile companies rolling vehicles along assembly lines including Hudson, Oakland, Pontiac, Chevrolet, Studebaker, Auburn, Cord, Willys, Chrysler, Nash, Pierce-Arrow, Packard, and Checker.


Promoting The Main Street of America

Last year I was privileged by opportunities to speak

about Route 66 and that highways renaissance at Cuba Fest in Cuba, Missouri, the Missouri History Museum in St. Louis, at the Miles of Possibilities Conference in Bloomington-Normal, at a fund-raising event for the Route 66 Association of Kingman, at the first European Route 66 Festival, at a school in Bensheim, Germany, and at a Promote Kingman event where the new video series, Jim Hinckley’s America: A Trek Along Route 66  was introduced. This year I am narrowing the focus by developing a presentation that centers on the marketing of the Main Street of America in western Arizona over the course of the past century.


An early view of the Hotel Beale courtesy Mohave Museum of History & Arts

The story of Route 66 promotion actually commences a decade or so before that highways certification on November 11, 1926. The short version of a long story, one that I will provide more detail on in my presentation, is how the National Old Trails Highway was rerouted across northern Arizona, a rather dramatic realignment from the original route from Springerville to Yuma where it connected with the Ocean-To-Ocean Highway.

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