The iconic Munger Moss Motel in Lebanon, Missouri.
As the Route 66 centennial approaches, the torch passes to a new generation. Many of the leaders in the preservation, the promotion and the development of Route 66 as an attraction for future generations were born after the highway was fully bypassed in October 1984.
As these passionate young visionaries take the stage, many of the pioneers of the Route 66 renaissance movement quietly step out of the spotlight. The recent death of Ramona Lehman, owner of the Munger Moss Motel for more than fifty years marked the end of an era.
But the legacy of Ramona, and her husband Bob that passed away in 2019, lives on. They were not mere motel owners. The Lehman’s were friends to every traveler that they met. They were a source of inspiration and insight for a new generation of Route 66 business owners, preservationists, and community leaders.
Passing The Torch
Few things better illustrate the passing of the torch than the renaissance of the Shamrock Court in Sullivan, Missouri. Restoration of this stunning old auto court is being undertaken by Rich Dinkela, known to an international legion of fans as Roamin’ Rich, and his wife Christina. Not yet fifty years old, Roamin’ Rich has taken the helm of the Route 66 Association of Missouri and transformed the organization. He has also spearheaded efforts to preserve the Gasconade River Bridge. And he has developed a series of videos and programs that promote Route 66, provide inspiration for preservationists and encourage road trips on iconic Route 66.
In Oklahoma, Rhys and Sam Martin are carrying the torch into the centennial and beyond. President of the Oklahoma Route 66 Association, and owner of Cloudless Lens Photography, Rhys is a passionate spokesman for the Route 66 community. His wife Samantha has contributed greatly to projects developed to revitalize the Route 66 corridor in Tulsa, Oklahoma. And she creates educational programs that will ensure when the time comes, the torch can be pased to the next generation.
Certified in November 1926, U.S. 66 has evolved into a multifaceted living time capsule. More than a century of history and American societal evolution are preserved along this highway that connects Chicago with Santa Monica. But this highway is also a stage for the telling of America’s story.
President Harry Truman had a connection with Miami, Oklahoma. Sites associated with President Abraham Lincoln are found all along the Route 66 coridor in Illinois. Pivotal moments in the labor movement are linked with Galena, Kansas, andMt. Oilve and Verdun, Illinois.
There are German, Italian and British military cemeteries in Oklahoma. In Tulsa there is a somber monument to a massacre when a community of prosperous African Americans was destroyed. In Kingman, Arizona stands a WWI monument dedicated to a Native American killed in the Battle of the Marne.
The Falcon restaurant in Winslow, Arizona, and the Ariston Cafe in Litchfield, Illinois were established by Greek immigrants. The Wild Hare Cafe, a landmark in the era of renaissance in Elkhart, Illinois, was founded by a Dutch immigrant. The historic El Trovatore Motel is being renovated by an immigrant from Israel.
At Jim Hinckley’s America, we share America’s story. On Route 66 that story is brought to life, framed in neon, and preserved for future generations.
“A Good Place To Live” 6,000 Live Citizens No Negroes
On June 19, 1865, 2,000 Union troops arrived in Galveston Bay, Texas. With their arrival came announcement that by executive decree all enslaved back people in the state of Texas were now free.
It was another milestone in our national quest to manifest the lofty goals enshrined within the Declaration of Independence. “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”
That “Juneteenth” in 1865 was an example of the momentous events that shape the ongoing evolution of the American experience. It was also a point of contention, just as has been most every step in our journey to become the nation envisioned by our founders.
The Delicate Balance
There is a delicate balance needed for the teaching and study of history. To learn from past mistakes, and hopefully ensure that they are not repeated, we must first develop the ability to see history through the eyes of the people of the particular era. We can not use modern eyes to fully understand the tumultuous years of our nations founding. Nor can we use modern perception to understand why people in an attempt to preserve the insution of slavery would rip the nation asunder with the creation of the Confederate States of America.
We must always look at history as it was, not as a means to justify a position today. That can be rather uncomfortable as this means that we have to walk a mile in someone elses shoes, abandon preconceived perceptions, and possibly even abandon long held viewpoints.
Consider the history of Route 66 as just one example. The immediate post war years into the mid 1950s are often heralded as the glory days of this storied highway. And yet for a large percentage of the population, the Negro Motorist Green Book was an indispensable part of the travel kit. A vintage postcard from Royce Cafe in Edmond, Oklahoma illustrates the reasons with a simple message, “Edmond – A Good Place to Live. 6,000 live citizens. No Negroes.”
Counted among the many problems with the anti “woke” movement is that it appeals to our base nature. History should be used to encourage people to rise above their base nature. Unvarnished history is how we measure progress toward the achieving the lofty goals enshrined in our founding documents.
You can not complete a jigsaw puzzle by casting aside pieces with red or blue coloring because you find them offensive. Likewise you can’t be inspired by the abolitionist movement without first knowing the role of slavery in the nations founding and its formative years.
History is a powerful tool for building, or a powerful weapon used for destruction. It all depends on how it is used, and how much knowledge people have.
Stony Wold Motel on Route 66 in Kingman, Arizona. Photo Mike Ward collection
“The Stony Wold Motel, Kingman, Arizona is constrcuted entirely of black malapai stone, a volcanic stone found abundantly in colorful Arizona. Thoroughly fire proof. Interiors are luxuriously furnished in Monterey furniture with an emphasis on comfortable beds. Bathrooms are completely tiled. Every detail is designed for the comfort and convenience of the traveler. Approved by the American Automobile Association.”
In A Guide Book to Highway 66 published by Jack Rittenhouse in 1946 the Stony Wold was one of sixteen motels and two hotels listed as lodging options. Attesting to the role that Route 66 played in the local economy, Kingman had a population of 2,000 people that year.
The Era of Renaissance
Today both hotels noted by Rittenhouse still stand along Route 66. But the Brunswick and Beale no longer rent rooms. Shuttered for decades and poorly maintined, the once stately Beale faces an uncertain future. The Brunswick has been given a new lease on life and is currently being renovated.
The survival rate of authentic pre interstate highway era motels and auto courts is quite low. The World Monuments Fund noted that these are some of the most endangered properties on Route 66. Surprisingly three of the motels referenced by Rittenhouse still stand. Two of them still rent rooms. In addition there is a motel from 1929 and 1951, now apartments, in Kingman, and two motels from the mid to late 1950s.
Unfortunately the uniquely styled Stony Wold is not counted among the survivors. But is not forgotten. It survives in sepia toned post cards. And it lives on as fond memories with people like Jane Marie Hout whose father built the Stony Wold and other businesses in Kingman.
Sharing America’s Story
At Jim Hinckley’s America we tell people where to go. And we share America’s story. On the June 4th episode of Coffee With Jimour guest was Jane Marie Hout who talked about the Stony Wold Motel, her father’s epic trip to Arizona from New York during the Great Depression, and his many contributions to the development of Kingman.
The podcast was marred a bit by techinical difficulties in the opening minutes. But the free range conversation soon had my full attention, and that of the audience. It was a glimpse into life lived during mid century America. And it provided much needed detail for my ongoing work with Kingman Main Street that is developing a narrated historic disrict walking tour.
Scheduled for an upcoming episode of Coffee With Jim, is a conversation with Ron Clements, auhtor of A Sports Fan’s Guide to Route 66. Talk about the book alone should make for aninteresting half hour. But Ron’s story doesn’t stop there. He and his wife have lived the RV life for more than four years. They have traveled to all forty eight states, and Alaska.
In our quest to find interesting guests for the podcast, we meet some truly interesting and inspirational people. And as it turns out, we also inspire road trips and encourage people to look at this amazing country just a bit differently. Welcome to Jim Hinckley’s America.
Introducing a Dutch tour group to the intricacies of driving a 1923 double T Ford truck. Photo Daniel Kuperus
Awhile back a 76-year old fellow contacts me and says, “I listen to your podcasts, and think that you need to talk with my dad. He started his truck drivinig career on Route 66 in the Mojave Desert.” Needless to say, he had my undivided attention.
Even though his memory was a bit fuzzy in places, I was mesmerized by his tales of driving a big Moreland truck from Los Angeles over Cajon Pass and across the Mojave Desert on Route 66 to deliver produce to markets and cafes in Victorville, Barstow, Newberry Springs, Ludlow, Amboy, Chambless, Essex, Needles, Oatman and Golroad.
He started driving for his father’s company at age 16. At first he drove large one or two ton Ford or Dodge trucks into Oatman and Goldroad delivering produce to the Central Commerical markets. A year or so later his dad bought a used six wheel Moreland with large Hercules engine. The following year he bought a new Moreland with a Hercules diesel engine.
That was the birth of his career as a truck driver. With the exception of the WWII years, he spent nearly fifty years drivinig the big rigs from coast to coast, border to border and into Canada. His stories of exploits behind the wheel of a B model Mack brought back a lot of memories as my first attempts at driving a big rig were in one of these beasts outfitted with a Quadbox.
The stories I tell are a rich tapestry woven from colorful thrteads collected over the years. Books have been an integral part of my life for as long as I can remember. Travel journals such as By Motor To The Golden Gate that chronicles Emily Post’s journey along the National Old Trails Road in 1916 fill the office library.
And I have long been a listener. That has led to some inspirational conversations, unexpected friendships, and a rare opportunity to see history as seamless. It has also provided me with a different perspective on history.
Years ago I was working in Winslow, Arizona, and was a regular at that city’s premiere dive bar, White’s Cafe. It was there that I struck up a conversation with an assuming older Navajo fellow that I had met through my work at the hardware store. As it turned out, he had been one of the legendary code talkers during WWII.
National Old Trails Road
While working in the garage on a car lot in Arizona, I met Johnny. He was an unassuming retired fellow that worked part time running errands, sweeping floors, and cleaning the restrooms. Asking him to breakfast one morning turned out to be a portal into a forgotten chapter in American history, and the beginning of a long friendship.
As it turned out, his grandfather had been a slave. Johnny had been the Navy’s black bantam weight boxing champion just before WWII. He had served with distinction in the Atlantic during the war, and had been involved in the civil rights marches led by Dr. Martin Luther King.
That comment about sharing America’s story was an apt descriptor. So, I added it to our promotional materials. Perhaps it will inspire other people to reach out, and let me share their story.
And that simple comment has also provided a bit of incentive. The goal for 2023 will be to expand the reach of the podcasts, to take the show on the road, and to collect stories. And so I am creating a new series of programs that tell America’s story through the eyes of ordinary people.
Over the years her exploits became legendary. As an example, in 1878, she worked as a messenger, scout and interpreter for General O. O. Howard during the Bannock War. Compared to the battles waged against the Sioux, the Apache and the Comanche, it was more a skirmish than a war.
Still there were a series of pitched bloody battle, and in the thick of it was an incredible woman that had become known as Sarah Winnemucca. She later said, quote, “This was the hardest work I ever did for the government in all my life … having been in the saddle night and day; distance, about two hundred and twenty-three miles. Yes, I went for the government when the officers could not get an Indian man or a white man to go for love or money. I, only an Indian woman, went and saved my people.” Her courageous actions landed her on the front page of The New York Times and made her the subject of dime novels.
At birth she was given the name Thocmentony that loosely translated as Shell Flower. She was born sometime around 1844 into the Numa tribe known by their American name, the Northern Paiute. As a manifestation of mid-19th century bigotry they were called digger Indians.
Her childhood years were spent in seasonal migrations with her people through what is today northern Nevada, southern Idaho, and eastern Oregon. Learned over the course of centuries were ways of survival in the harsh and unforgiving land. The tribe gathered herbs and plants, dried them to sustain the people through the months of winter, fished in lakes and streams, and hunted deer and other game. These people had also developed a rich culture.
By the time she was born the Numa people had learned to fear and avoid the strangers with their horses, wagons, and rifles. But within a few short years the stream of strangers became a torrent, and it became increasingly difficult to avoid contact and confrontations. Increasingly the Paiutes were hearing horror stories about the killing of the people and tales of whites fasting on the dead. The latter was most likely rooted in accounts rooted of the Donner party.
These stories terrified Winnemucca and the children in the tribe. One morning word spread quickly that white men were coming, and her tribe fled in fear. Winnemucca later recounted the incident and said that her mother had ran while carrying a baby and pulling her by the hand. Desperation led several mothers including hers to hide their older children by partially burying them in the ground and covering the site with brush. After dark the mothers returned for their frightened children. It was a traumatic experience Winnemucca never forgot.
Her maternal grandfather, a tribal leader known as Truckee, had traveled with John Fremont and other Paiutes to California. Upon his return he had attempted to ease tribal fears. But the attack on the tribe that led to the children being hidden, and the burning of the tribe’s winter stores that led to months of starvation, marked the end of nomadic life for the Paiute.
In the spring of 1850, Truckee, with a letter of commendation given him by Fremont, sought assistance in California. The letter from Fremont, and the kindness of strangers, led to the refugees including several dozen members of the tribe, Winnemucca, her mother, and siblings being gifted with food and clothing.
At first Winnemucca hid from the strangers they met. She acted the mute and refused to speak or look at them. She longed for home, for her former life, and was still carrying the memory of the horrible attack on her tribe. Her transition began after she fell sick and was nursed back to health by a white woman.
From an early age Winnemucca had displayed a gift for learning languages. She was fluent in several Native American dialects and languages. In California she soon became proficient in English as well as Spanish. The bilingual talents served her well when she, her mother and her sisters began working in the houses of white and Spanish families. It was while working in the home of Major William M. Ormsby, a trader, that she was taught to sew and to cook, as well as read and write English.
In 1859, land was set aside near Pyramid Lake for a Paiute reservation. Winnemucca, her family, and the northern Paiute tribes were forced onto the lands allotted them. They were expected to adapt to an “American” lifestyle and become farmers. But this was a dry, arid landscape and the Paiute were given little training and few supplies. Winter starvation and disease became pandemic in the tribe.
After that harsh winter, Winnemucca with her language proficiency began petitioning the military at Nevada’s Camp McDermit for assistance. Her success was made manifest in early spring when wagonloads of supplies were finally sent to the reservation. Her fluency with English, and ability to serve as a tribal representative, landed her employment as an interpreter. So, her father and survivors of their band moved to the military camp.
But increasingly Winnemucca found herself in an odd limbo. The Americans did not fully trust her, and many openly expressed their prejudices. The Paiute and other tribes questioned her motives, and many felt that she was a traitor. But she was undaunted. She tirelessly worked to get better treatment for the Paiute and other tribes, and to get tribes to embrace the education needed for them to adapt to the new world and survive.
The Bannock War ended badly for the Paiutes and other northwestern tribes. In 1879, military leaders forced the Paiutes at Camp McDermit to march more than 350 miles in winter to the Yakama reservation in Washington territory. Winnemucca was devastated; she had promised the Paiutes they would be all right if they followed military orders.
In Yakama, Winnemucca worked as an interpreter. She argued openly with the reservation agent, and wrote letters and petitioned government leaders. In the winter of 1880, Winnemucca accompanied her father and other Paiute leaders to Washington, D.C., to meet with the secretary of the interior, Charles Schurz. She gave interviews and her stature and recognition grew. The meeting went well and they succeeded in obtaining a letter allowing the Paiutes to return to Malheur at Pyramid Lake. Incredibly the Yakama agent defied orders refused to let them return to Pyramid Lake.
This inspired Winnemucca to escalate her fight for reform. When petitions, meetings and letters failed to improve conditions for the Paiutes, she began lecturing in San Francisco and throughout California dramatizing the plight of reservation Indians. She worked to convey a carefully curated version of the “Indian princess” to various crowds, and she often wore native dress. She described the abuses of reservation agents, and they fought back by branding her in editorials by actually using words like whore, drunkard, and thief.
In 1883, sisters Elizabeth Palmer Peabody and Mary Peabody Mann, educators, and members of the Transcendentalist movement, invited her to lecture in New York and New England. The Peabody sisters also arranged for the publication of Winnemucca’s book Life Among the Paiutes, the very first book written by a Native American woman. On the lecture circuit Winnemucca spoke at hundreds of events and receptions. A reporter for The Daily Silver State wrote, “The lecture was unlike anything ever before heard in the civilized world—eloquent, pathetic, tragical at times; at others [her] quaint anecdotes, sarcasms, and wonderful mimicry surprised the audience again and again into bursts of laughter and rounds of applause.”
Winnemucca married several times, lost a husband to tuberculosis, vigorously lectured, and continued to campaign for Native American rights, and to encourage native peoples to become educated. On October 16, 1891, Winnemucca died at the home of her sister Elma at Henry’s Lake, Idaho, probably of tuberculosis. General Oliver Otis Howard said of Winnemucca’s Army career, “She did our government great service, and if I could tell you but a tenth part of all she willingly did to help the white settlers and her own people to live peaceably together, I am sure you would think, as I do, that the name of Winnemucca should have a place beside the name of Pocahontas in the history of our country.”
Winnemucca died believing that she had failed to make the changes she worked for, but this isn’t true. The book she wrote in 1883, was republished in 1969 and remains an important source book on the history and culture of the Paiutes. In Nevada, on the McDermit Indian Reservation, there is a historical marker, erected in 1971, honoring Sarah Winnemucca with the words “she was a believer in the brotherhood of mankind.”
And that is why she remains an inspirational figure for people throughout the world. She endured, she persevered, and she never grew tired of trying to encourage people to put aside prejudices, to work together, and to build a better world.
Winnemucca was featured on a week long series about inspirational people on the Wake Up With Jimlive stream podcast. The podcasts and archived programs are a part of the multifaceted Jim Hinckley’s Americanetwork.