The National Route 66 Museum in Elk City, Oklahoma, a stop on our fall tour.
On June 27, 1985, the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials decertified US 66 and voted to remove all its highway signs. So, officially Route 66 doesn’t exist. And yet an argument could easily be made that today that storied highway is more popular than at anytime in its history.
US 66 was a mere highway that connected Chicago, Illinois with downtown Los Angeles, California when it was certified in November 1926. But almost from inception, marketing and promotion ensured it was in a class all its own. It quickly evolved from highway into an icon that came to symbolize the quintessential American road trip.
In the spring of 1927 the US Highway 66 Association was formed to lobby for having the highway paved from end to end, and to market the highway. In essence it served as a sort of chamber of commerce for the linear Route 66 community.
One of the associations first initiatives that branded the highway as the Main Street of America. This tagline was borrowed from a marketing campaign for the National Old Trails Road, predecessor to Route 66 in the southwest, launched in 1913.
The Transcontinental Footrace along Route 66 that garnered international media coverage in 1928 gave he highway a promotional boost. Likewise with a promotioonal campaign that linked Route 66 with the 1932 Olympics in Los Angeles. And of course there was The Grapes of Wrath, the book and the movie, the song and the television program as well as movies such as Easy Rider.
As Jim Hinckley’s America has as its foundation the sharing of America’s story, and telling people where to go, it isn’t surprising that many of the adventures that we share are linked to Route 66, especially as we draw closer to the centennial in 2026. We inspire road trips and bring history ot life through podcasts and programs, social media network and YouTube channel videos, books and feature articles, tourism development work and educational programs.
For 2023, aside from custom programs for events or organizations, we have created a fun filled, fast paced, trivia filled presentation about the dawning of the American road trip. We are currently booking for spring and summer, and are making plans for a Route tour this coming fall.
And we are taking the Car Talk From The Main Street of America podcast in a new direction. Yes, we will still be inspiring road trips and talking about, and with, interesting people. And we will be sharing fascinating stories about the dawning of the American auto industry.
But the emphasis will be placed on steam and electric automobiles. The goal being to counter myth with fact, and highlight these vehicles role in the past, the present and the future of the auto industry.
We are also making plans to take the Jim Hinckley’s America show on the road. In the first engagement for 2023, nearly every seat in the house at the Performing Arts Center in Apache Junction, Arizona was full for the Route 66 in Arizona program. This was my first program made on behalf of the Arizona Lecturer Series.
On the weekend of February 11 at the Route 66 Info Fair in Needles, California, I will be speaking about Edsel Ford’s epic journey along the National Old Trails Road in the summer of 1915. And,of course, I will also be telling people where to go as we give assistance with their Route 66 travel planning.
It is shaping up to be quite a year. We hope to see you on the road this year. In the meantime, get out there on the road and dsicover America.
A rarity when new and today, the Bantam is a rather unique chapter in American auto history
In the era of Route 66 renaissance a small pocket guide written in 1946, and reprinted a decade or so ago, has developed a cult following. In A Guide Book to Highway 66, Jack Rittenhouse created “A mile by mile complete handbook on how to get the most fun from your trip.” The small pocket guide included, “Full data on towns, hisotric spots & highway fact, roads, hills, and garages.”
In retrospect it is a rather amazing little guide book. It is easy, in every sense of the word, a time capsule. In the 1989 reprint, Rittenhouse noted that, “…so I drove from dawn to dusk at 35 miles an hour. There were no tape recorders then, so I scrawled notes on a big yellow pad on the seat beside me. Each night I dug out my portable manual typewriter and typed my notes.”
That in itself makes the little guide book quite amazing. After all he was driving, and his was taking copious notes. In the section on New Mexico, “66 mi. (184 mi) Chief’s Rancho Cafe here, with gas, groceries, curious, and cafe.”
In a section about Arizona, “For eastbound cars which cannot make the Gold Hill grade, a filling station in Goldroad offers a tow truck which will haul your car to the summit. At last inquiry their charge was $3.50.”
But there is a back story that makes the Rittenhouse guide book even more fascinating. His choice of vehicle for the trip was a diminutive 1200-pound, 22-horsepower 1939 American Bantam coupe! These little cars well quite fuel frugal. Some professional drivers tested the cars and often averaged 45 miles per gallon.
There is something infectious about Route 66. And it has, for lack of a better word, magic. Fascination with the road trancends language, culture and it even bridges generations. And even in this toxic climate created by self serviving politician’s people find commonalities in a Route 66 adventure.
A few days ago I enjoyed dinner and thought provoking conversation with a charming young couple from Michigan. We had met several years ago while they were traveling Route 66.
Probably about thirty years my junior, their passion for the double six is rooted in the people that you meet when traveling this storied old highway, and the guidebook by Rittenhouse. They have traveled the road several times, and with each trip they deciper the guide and catalog the sites of former buisnesses. In the process they have become historians and researchers, and experts on Route 66 in the immediate post war era.
Rivers of ink have flowed across paper as people extol the highways virtues, the adventures of a road trip on iconic Route 66 and its allure. But none can adequately explain the roads appeal.
Officially the road no longer exists. It hasn’t since 1985 when it was decertified and removed from the roster of US highways. And you have to be about sixty five years older or older to remember traveling the pre-interstate version of U.S. 66.
And yet it has come to be viewed as the quintessential America highway by a passionate legion of international enthusiasts. As interest in the highway builds in the years leading to its centennial in 2026, one can only imagine that Route 66 will enjoy unprecedented popularity.
As to Rittenhouse and his Bantam, in the era of Route 66 reniassance I am rather surprised that no one has attemtped to recreate the trip in one of these little cars. After all, this is the road of dreams. Over the course of the past few years I have met people traveling the road in a 1930s Chrysler Airflow that are celebrating a 60th anniversary. I have met WWII vets riding an ancient Harely with their oxygen equipment in the sidecar.
I have met people driving Fiat Pandas, rollerblading the highway from end to end, walking it from Chicago to Santa Monica, and others that made the trip on a bicycle. There was even a French mime that had ambitious plans of setting a stilt walking record by following the double six from Chicago to Santa Monica.
What does the future hold for Route 66? Well, as long as there are dreamers and visionaries, adventurers and road trip obsessed travelers Route 66 will live on. And so I am rather excited about the fast approaching centennial.
Over the years I have tried various ways to earn a dollar. Except for the stories and the friends made along the way, I never got rich.
There was a brief time that it looked like politics might be the meal ticket. I was the committeeman for my district, and was courted by some big wigs that tried selling me on the idea that bigger and better things were looming on the horizon for me. And I had the distinct pleasure of sitting down with giants such as Senator John McCain. But as politicians with a spine are a rarity, and I was afraid of drowning in the bs, I decided that the political life was not for me.
On more than one occassion as a young man I actually thought that rodeo was my path to fame and fortune. It didn’t take long for me to realize that rodeo was a good living, especially if you didn’t have plans for living long.
Linked with this was an era I now lovingly refer to as my John Wayne period, a way of life I have yet to outgrow. I enjoyed everything about the work, except for the pay. After a year or so of earning my meager wages polishing the leather on the tree, steer wrestling, and generally living as though it was still 1880, I decided that it was time to find a way to fill the pocket with more than sand.
And I tried mining, above and below ground. That was a roller coaster with months of being busier than a one legged man in a behind contest interspersed with long weeks of being unemployed.
Truck driving was an interesting endeavor. My route was from Kingman to Oklahoma City or Wichita, and in those years there were still long stretches of Route 66 that hadn’t been replaced by the interstate highway. On occassion I chose the old double six on purpose. On occassion it was because I knew some of the best places for a piece of pie. And sometimes it was for reasons that are best left unsaid. But truck driving turned one of lifes pleasures, the road trip, into a job. That is never good.
Fast forward to the third decade of the 21st century. It looks like my childhood vision of old age is manifesting. My transition into an odd blending of Slim PIckens, Walter Brennan, Andy Devine, Harry Truman, and Will Rogers is almost complete.
The paycheck is earned by telling stories, telling people where to go, inspiring road trips, bringing history to life, and encouraging people to dream big. With these talents as the foundation Jim Hinckley’s America, and as a result me, continues to evolve.
Aside from the website, books and feature articles, we are now working on two podcasts. And I am working on a schedule for the fall tour, our first since 2019.
Route 66 is a focal point for us. But this is Jim Hinckley’s America. And that means our job is to shine the spotlight on the entire country.
So, I will be speaking in Atlanta, Illinois and Pontiac, Illinois. We will be gathering materials for future and pending projects. And we will be sharing adventures through the heartland.
Today, I mapped out a rough route for the tour. There is still a bit of flexibility if we schedule other presentations or educational programs.
The special program that I am developing for the tour is entitled Dawn of A New Era. It is a fun filled, fast paced bit of time travel. It is a look at the dawning of the automotive industry and a period of exciting societal transformation.
Buffalo Bill Cody bought a Michigan roadster, learned to drive, and was board member for the National Old Trails Road. Geronimo, the fearless Apache warrior was photographed in a Cadillac. Gas stations replaced livery stables. Our lexicon was transformed with words like motel. Louis Chevrolet and Barney Oldfield became the heores for a new generation.
This is the story behind story about Route 66. It is a tale of visionaries, eccentrics and ambitions. And it is a tale of intrigue, back room deals, and swashbuckling entrepreneurs.
The White Rock Court on Route 66 in Kingman, Arizona is a manifestation of Conrad Minka seizing the day.
Cape Diem. The Roman poet Horace used the term which translates as “pluck the day” or “sieze the day” to convey the idea that every morning dawns with new opportunities. But there is a caveat. There might not be another day. There may not be anotther chance to sieze an opportunity.
Conrad Minka, a hard rock miner by trade, saw opportunity in the traffic flowing through Kingman on Route 66. He built White Rock Court in 1935.
He saw opportunity in the African Americans denied lodging. And so his motel was the only one in Kingman that was listed in The Negro Motorist Green Book.
John T. Woodruff and Cyrus Avery saw opportunity in the newly certified U.S. 66. Working with other visionaries they created the U.S. Highway 66 Association. They were so succesful with their promotional initiatives Route 66 today is the most famous highway in America. It even has an international fan club. And officially the highhway doesn’t even exist and it hasn’t since it was decertified in 1985.
Errett Lobban Cord’s father was a grocer. His mother was a teacher. From an early age he learned about failure, and the importance of seizing opportunity. When he was ten years old his father’s general store went bankrupt.
He attended a technical school as a teeenager. His focus was on automotive technology. At age 15 he quit school, took night classes on business and management, and sold used cars by day. At age 17 with the death of his father, he became the bread winner supporting his mother and sister.
Cord moved from selling used cars to working as a supervisor and mechianc at a garage. Then he bought a used Ford for $75, refurbished the car, and sold the car for a profit. He bought a new Model T, customized it and then sold it doubling his money. Then he began modifying cars and racing them, and selling them after claiming prizes. In 1914 he married and drove a car with a for sale signon his honeymoon.
Then he partnered with a cousin, bought a truck, and began hauling ore from a remote Arizona mine to a smelter. That enterprise when bust so he began selling Paige automobiles in Phoenix, Arizona. With money from that endeavor he launched a rental car business, with just one car. And on the success of that endeavor he established a bus line that operated in southern Califronia. That was followed by another stint as a car salesman, this time it was at Hay Motors selling Chandlers in Chicago. Then he went to california and began selling a new line of home furnaces.
His former employer at Hay acquired the exclusive distributorship rights for Moon in Chicago, and offered Cord a chance to buy into the enterprise. Purportedly within two years Cord had made nearly $1000,000!
Fortuitously Cord sold a Moon automobile to member of the Board of Directors of Auburn Automobile Company, a pioneering company that was established in 1900. By 1924, however, the company was moribund. It was on the cusp of bankruptcy with a massive inventory of unswold cars and parts.
Through the association made with the sale of the Moon, Cord was invited to evaluate Auburn operations in Auburn, Indiana. When offered a top managment position Cord counter offered. He wanted full decision making powers. He wanted 20% of profits. And he wanted the first option to by controlling interest in the company.
With his demands met Cord went to work. Even though some unsold cars were two or more years old, he had the entire inventory repainted in flashy two tone paint schemes. These were then sold at bargain basement prices. With this infusion of capital he purcahsed an interest in Lycoming Engine, and added these powerful engines to new Auburns.
Within twelve months the company was showing a sizable profit. With two years, at age 32, Cord became president of the company, and bought out stock holders. This would be the foundation for an empire that would come to include the legenday Duesenburg, the revolutionary front wheel drive Cord, Checker Cab Manufacturing Company, Stinson Aircraft and a host of other manufacturing interests.
Cord understood the meaning of carpe diem. Even in failure he saw opportunity. And he made the most from each and every day.
It was a highway in name only. In that summer of 1915, Edsel Ford recorded in his travel journal that July 15 was a “good days run.” He had driven from Williams to Kingman, Arizona, a distance of just over 153 miles on the National Old Trails Road.
He had left Williams that morning and arrived at the Brunswick Hotel in Kingman around midnight. Some of his friends that were traveling with him to California had to return to Seligman. They had broken a spring on their Stutz.
With the luxury of hindsight Edsel’s journey was rather astounding. But he was not alone. More than 20,000 people attending the Panama Pacific Exposition in California that year arrived from outside the state, and they drove.
But consider this. Arizona had been a state for only three years. Fourteen years prior pioneering automobile manufacturer Alexander Winton had attempted a coast to coast drive. He made it from San Francisco to the deserts of Nevada on the western slope of the Sierra’s. The utter lack of roads was the reason given for the aborted adventure.
The first transcontinental trip by automobile was completed in 1903. But it took Dr. Horatio Jackson 63 days, 12 hours, and 30 minutes to make this historic drive.
Incredibly just five years later a New York to Paris automobile race was staged. Even more amazing, some of the drivers managed to actually finish the race. This was in spite of obstacles such as being stranded in the Gobi Desert while awaiting the delivery of gasoline by camel, and having to seek a blacksmith in Siberia to make a gear.
I have long been intrigued by the years between 1890 and 1930. Aside from the previous thirty years, that was probably the most dramatic period of transition the world has ever known.
Buffalo Bill Cody at the tiller of a 1903 Michigan. Photo Jim Hinckley collection.
Buffalo Bill Cody purchased a Michigan, an automobile manufactured in Kalamazoo, Michigan, in 1903. He was a pioneer in the good roads movement. A few years later he was a board member on the National Old Trails Road Association. Geronimo, the legendary Apache warrior, was photographed behind the wheel of a Cadillac. A car named for him was being manufactured in Enid, Oklahoma.
By 1919 more people owned an automobile in the United States than had indoor plumbing. Studebaker, a legendary company had been a leading producer of horse drawn vehicles, was still building wagons unto 1920. And yet, in 1913 they were the third largest manufacturer of automobiles in the country. Stagecoaches were operating in Mohave County, Arizona until 1916, one year after Edsel Ford’s adventure.
The word motel didn’t exist in 1918. And ten years later motels, auto courts and similar lodging options were sprouting up along the highways faster than sunflowers in Kansas.
I recently developed a presentation entitled Era of Innovation. With great pleasure I can say that its debut was well received by a very august audience of professions.
So it is time to take it on the road. First, a pay per view on Zoom and Eventbrite. Next, I am offering it to organizers of events. Interested? Drop me a note for more details.