An argument could be made that the great American love affair with road trips began with the bicycle. During the 1890’s the country was consumed with bicycle mania and that included touring. In June 1899, Frank Burtt whose family had made a fortune with an iron foundry and the manufacture of furnaces set out with friends on a bicycling tour from Kalamazoo, Michigan through Ohio and to New Jersey, Rhode Island and Connecticut. In the same year a bicycle club in Grand Rapids, Michigan organized a tour to St. Louis.
I use this decade when a Duryea Motor Wagon, the first production American automobile, was given top billing over the albino and dog boy at Barnum Bailey Circus and the Wright Brothers were manufacturing bicycles as the opening for an exciting and fun filled new presentation I have developed for 2020. It is a program about dramatic societal evolution, fads, corporate intrigue, swashbuckling entrepreneurs, fortunes made and fortunes lost, eccentrics and dreamers and some very colorful characters.
Even though I kicked it off in December 2019, one of the big projects for 2020 is the penning of an autobiography, a darkly comedic tale that is full of odd twists and turns. However, rather than go to print, as I am sure that there will be new chapters to write as 2020 gives way to 2021, and 2021 gives way to 2022, the decision was made to offer it in serial format. I have been providing serials as exclusive content to supporters of our crowdfunding initiative on the Patreon platformfor quite some time. Commencing in late 2018, the entire travel journal from Edsel Ford’s 1915 odyssey was printed in weekly chapters. The autobiography will run for most of 2020.
A presentation on the evolution of Route 66 that will be made in Needles, California
Speaking engagements and presentations are shaping up to be a big part of 2020 for Jim Hinckley’s America. To enhance the engagements I have been given permission to provide attendees with a Route 66 Mother Road Passport from Touch Media, developer of the Route 66 Navigation app, a $10 value. On the 13th of January, I will present a class on the rich cinematic history in Kingman, Arizona, and how that history can be used as a tourism development tool, at Mohave Community College. On the 15th, I speak about lost opportunities, the economics of tourism and how grassroots initiatives can harness tourism as a catalyst for historic business district revitalization. The event hosted by the Route 66 Yacht Club will be held at Calico’s restaurant in Kingman.
On the 7th of February, I take the show on the road with a presentation at the historic El Garces in Needles, California. At this event hosted by the Historic Museum of Needles, I will speak on the history of Route 66 in the southwest from Native American trade routes to Spanish conquistadors, camel caravans, the National Old Trails Road and even the Route 66 renaissance. In June its off to an engagement in Spokane. Meanwhile I am working on filling in the blank dates and developing a speaking tour.
The weekly Five Minutes With Jim audio podcast has been honed and market tested. Now it’s time for syndication and expanded distribution. I so enjoy telling people where to go and have been greatly encouraged by the response to the programs. Last week I shared some interesting tidbits from celebrity association with Kingman, Arizona, and this coming Sunday it’s a program dedicated to wonderful, magical Cuba, Missouri. And then, in response to requests received, I will dedicate a program to evaluating tour companies that specialize in Route 66.
The sun had yet to crest the Black Mountains of Arizona when we made the California border on the recent trip to Pasadena.
It is the dawning of a new year, and a new decade. The year 2019 is on the cusp of becoming history, and 2020 is shaping up to be a year filed with opportunity and possibility. I am quite confident that it will also be a year of shared adventures and road trip, all shared with friends.
Murder & Mayhem on The Main Street of America. This is the title for the next book, number nineteen. To say the very least, it is a series of very dark tales. As an example, “…a tragedy that occurred in 1952 placed Grants in the media spotlight nationwide. On Friday, April 11, 1952, State Police Officer Nash Garcia was parked on the shoulder of U. S. Route 66 about 20 miles east of Grants. A pickup truck sped past him at a high rate of speed with the driver recklessly passing cars. Abruptly, in a cloud of dust, the driver pulled onto the shoulder before turning back into the highway in front of oncoming traffic. Miraculously he avoided causing an accident or collision before speeding east past Officer Garcia and roaring toward Grants. Garcia immediately began pursuit.
Near the Acoma Indian Reservation, the driver left the highway, turned onto a dirt road, drove for a few miles, and then violently braked the truck to a stop. As Officer Garcia neared the truck, an assassin lying in ambush opened fire with a rifle. Nine shots were fired into the police car and Garcia was wounded several times. The assassins, the sniper and driver of the truck then pulled the wounded officer from the car and began beating him in the head and face with rifle butts before loading his body into the police car and driving to a spot near Sandstone Mesa. The following day they returned, filled the car with scrub brush and wood, and set it afire.”
When I first set forth on my quest to become a writer, I never imagined that it would lead to such dark places. And I surely never imagined that there would be a Jim Hinckley’s America or that this endeavor would become a multifaceted travel network.
In The Beginning
The first feature sold was to the prestigious Hemmings Special Interest Autos.
Jim Hinckley’s America was born of an epiphany that occurred in 1990. This was during the presidency of George Bush, the father of the second President Bush. After years of being told that I had a gift for telling people where to go, the decision was made to see if this could be developed as a career. It began with the writing of feature articles for various publications including the local newspaper and soon I had earned a reputation as being something of an expert on the American auto industry between 1885 and 1945, a bit of fame that is still paying small dividends. All through the years of the Clinton administration I honed my skills, became a featured columnist for Old Cars Weekly, and then accepted the position of associate editor for the now defunct Cars & Parts magazine. Fame was easier to acquire than I had imagined. Fortune, however, proved elusive. So, I kept a day job, and sometimes a night job, to support the writing habit.
By the time the second George Bush assumed the office of president I had started writing books. First, I wrote about the American auto industry. Then I began writing about a favorite subject of mine, the great American road trip on Route 66 and forgotten two lane highways. On occasion I found opportunity to blend the two subjects such as when writing about the National Old Trails Road, predecessor to Route 66, and Edsel Ford’s epic adventure in 1915. The day job continued to support the writing habit until the second term of the Obama administration.
Turning The Page
Just over four years ago I developed eye trouble. I could see no reason to put up with the BS that was an ever increasing part of the day job, and the owners of the company that I worked for could see no reason to put up with my increasingly poor attitude. So, with support from dearest friend, the decision was made to valiantly attempt to make a living by doing what I do best – telling people where to go, and harnessing the fame and reputation earned between the presidency of George Bush and Donald Trump. That was the beginning of Jim Hinckley’s America.
A presentation before an interested crowd at the second European Route 66 Festival.
So, here I am. President Trump is gearing up for what he hopes will be a second term and I am still chasing that dream, that fortune that I started seeking when the first George Bush was president. Along the way I have learned that fortune isn’t always measured in dollars and cents. I am rich beyond my wildest dreams. Daily I do what is enjoyed most, providing everything that a community needs for harnessing the power of Route 66 as a catalyst for revitalization and economic development, and providing travelers with tools for planning adventures on the back roads and two lane highways of America. I have friendships the likes of which were never imagined. And I have had adventures; a visit to Jay Leno’s Garage, speaking at the first and second European Route 66 Festivals, assisting a Dutch tour group on their trip through Arizona and New Mexico, and meeting some of he most fascinating people.
I have a tendency to use presidential administrations as milestones. It is my way of measuring time, and of coping with the never ending election campaigns of politicians. It is also a reminder that politics is sort of like cleaning stables. It comes in different colors but the smell is the same. As another milestone approaches, I can’t help but wonder if this will be the year that I crest the hill and see the long sought Holy Grail gleaming in the distance.
On the evening of October 4, 1919, about twenty-five miles west of Seligman behind a small hill along the National Old Trails Road, predecessor to Route 66, a shepherd tending a flock made a startling discovery: the smoldering body of a man. Yavapai County sheriff department investigators determined that the victim had been shot in the back with a .38-caliber pistol, wrapped in a blanket, dragged about a hundred feet from where a car had been parked, doused with gasoline, and set afire. Though the body was badly charred, officers determined that the victim was wearing a military uniform with insignia indicating that he was a member of the Twentieth Canadian Battalion of Infantry. Tracing the serial number of the military insignia, Canadian authorities provided a clue that identified the deceased as Arthur De Steunder.
The focus of my work be it books, presentations or community education programs pertaining to tourism as a catalyst for economic development and community revitalization is to add depth and context to a subject. I wrote Checker Cab Manufacturing Company: An Illustrated History to introduce people to the fascinating story behind the ubiquitous Checker Cab that remains a fixture of the American landscape decades after the last one rolled from the factory in Kalamazoo, Michigan. The classes I was recently teaching at Mohave Community College were conceived as a means to foster a better understanding of Route 66 tourism and its potential for economic development. The death of Arthur De Steunder and the fascinating back story that included the investigation leading to the murderers arrest was will add depth to the story of Route 66 and its predecessor the National Old Trails Road.
Joe Sonderman collection
In my new book Murder and Mayhem On The Main Street of America from Rio Nuevo Publishing the intent was to show Route 66 as more than America’s longest theme park. I had intended to show that this highway was once an artery of commerce traveled by families on vacation or seeking a better life as well as by truck drivers, gangsters, fugitives, and psychotic serial killers. As it so happened I was also able to show that the America of the 1920’s, 1930’s, 1940’s, and 1950 was very much like the America of today, a country where people worried about the future, tried to make a living and raise their families, and where death could come quickly and unexpectedly. There were gangsters and lawman, and senseless acts of violence.
It was a project unlike anything I had previously attempted. It was akin to writing a book about serial killers lurking in Disneyland. And, more often than not, the stories uncovered were, to say the very least, a bit disconcerting. Historic research is something I enjoy immensely, even if it is unraveling stories of unsolved murders, murderous hitchhikers and the death of celebrities on “bloody 66.”
Ted O’Dell, Kelli Hindenach, and Maggie May at the historic Hackett auto factory in Jackson, Michigan
What’s next, you may ask? Well, plans are well underway for a fall promotional tour that includes presentations about the dark side of this iconic highway. Confirmation was received yesterday that I will be speaking at the Miles of Possibility Conference in Normal, Illinois in October. If all goes as planned, the fall tour will also be the opening act for an exciting new project that has been in the worked for forty years, chronicling the fascinating automotive history in Jackson, Michigan.
During the dawning infancy of the America auto industry Jackson was vying for the title motor city. More than a dozen companies produced vehicles in this city, including Buick. There were a staggering number of ancillary companies that produced everything from specialty tools to car horns and radios. Ted O’Dell is on a mission to preserve that history and tell the city’s story. Stage one is restoration of the historic Hackett Automobile factory and its conversion into a museum and event center.
Last year I was privileged to make a presentation at a fund raiser for the museum. Another presentation is tentatively scheduled during the fall promotional tour. There are also discussions pertaining to me taking on a more active role in the museums development and related research. As it was a search for family history in Jackson more than forty years ago that led to my writing and career in historic research, this is project that would fit met like a well worn pair of boots. As they say, stay tuned for developments and details.