Organized in early 1927, the U.S. Highway 66 Association was similar in nature to many organizations and businesses established before the creation of the federal highway system to promote roads such as the Lincoln Highway and the National Old Trails Highway. The association had two primary goals; lobby to have U.S. 66 fully paved from Chicago to its western terminus at Seventh and Broadway in Los Angeles, California and the development of marketing initiatives to promote tourism on the highway. The organizations marketing endeavors were so successful, U.S. 66, iconic Route 66, is arguably the most famous highway in America even though it hasn’t officially existed for more than three decades.
A key component in the organizations success was the development of cooperative partnerships with businesses and communities. Many of the challenges faced by the Route 66 community today are the same as those addressed by that pioneering organization more than nine decades ago. So, isn’t it logical to assume that development of a community of partners would resolve issues that range from preservation to marketing, and ensure that the old highway remains vibrant into the centennial and beyond?
The National Route 66 Museum in Elk City, Oklahoma, a stop on our fall tour.
Jim Hinckley’s America is about, well, America. Still at the center of all that we do is Route 66, the Main Street of America. It was never my intent to replicate the original U.S. Highway 66 Association. However, I have volunteered my services to every reputable effort to create a modern incarnation of this entity. And I have developed a multifaceted promotional platform that promotes Route 66 as a destination, a distinct difference from early marketing designed to promote U.S. 66 as a preferred highway for those making a cross country jaunt.
Have no doubts. Today Route 66 is no mere highway. It is a destination. It is, to borrow an adage from author Michael Wallis, a linear community. The problem is that with the exception of passionate travelers affectionately referred to as roadies, few communities or businesses along the highway corridor see Route 66 as a destination.
And so I launched the development of community educational initiatives. Linked with this was creation of a marketing network designed to provide businesses, and communities, with an opportunity to magnify their promotional initiatives regardless of budget. One component was the crowdfunding initiative on the Patreon platform. If five hundred followers of the Jim Hinckley’s America travel programs each contributed as little as $1 or $5 per month, I could purchase needed equipment, keep necessary subscriptions updated, cover some travel expenses and dedicate time for the creation of programs such as the recent Adventurers Club in which I interviewed the president of Route 66 Association of New Mexicoand Texas Old Route 66 Association.
As the concept of creating a pooled resource cooperative evolved I began providing businesses with advertising opportunities for as little as $12.50 per week. With each and every step of development my focus has been on using Jim Hinckley’s America as a venue for the promotion of Route 66 as a destination. I am quite pleased by the comments received from advertising sponsors, major sponsors including the City of Cuba and Grand Canyon Caverns, and most importantly, travelers.
Promotional materials distributed along Route 66
Together, one partnership at a time, we can transform Route 66 into a linear community of partners. Together we can market and promote the most famous highway in America as a destination. So, with that said, can your community or business use a promotional boost?
The “A Year With Jim” project provides a behind the scenes tour of Jim Hinckley’s America.
To be honest I have been surprised by the popularity of the A Year With Jim project. I knew that some aspects of my daily routine such as the search for good pie, the meeting of tour groups from throughout the world, travel, and the visiting of historic sites would be of interest. However, I never imagined that people would be fascinated with the day to day life of an author who lives with a 21-year old cat that suffers from incontinence, that is consistently seeking new ways to generate income to support the writing habit, and that rambles about in an ancient Jeep.
A Year With Jim
“A Year With Jim, day 37. This week has left me feeling like the loser in a behind kicking contest for one legged men. Still, to ensure the habit of eating on a regular basis continues we soldier on. This mornings schedule included …” The best adventures are shared adventures. That is more than a motto here at Jim Hinckley’s America, it is the very foundation of all that we do from books to presentations, from community development projects to receptions for touring groups. It is also the slogan that inspired my launch of the rather voyeuristic endeavor that is the A Year With Jim project using the hashtag #yearinlifeofjim and #jimhinckleysamerica
Floyd & Company in Kingman, Arizona, a favorite of mine for good barbecue or gourmet wood fired pizza.
The concept was relatively simple; provide fans and followers with a behind the scenes tour of Jim Hinckley’s America. As with all of our projects, the goal was to provide inspiration for road trips, for fledgling writers, for community organizers, and for the curious individual that is considering the launch of a podcast, blog or YouTube channel for fun or profit. And of course there was also a marketing angle as the selling of books, of presentations, of my work as a tourism development consultant and of other services is what keeps beans on the table and the wheels turning on the Jeep (or rental car).
Isn’t funny how we can become so accustomed to the unusual that it seems normal, at least until someone points it out to us. That is what I glean from the comments posted about the A Year With Jim project. To me this wild, unpredictable, fun filled, often out of control ride has come to seem normal. In retrospect, I may have been preparing for this crazy adventure for the last fifty years or so.
In Kingman, Arizona, an outback adventure begins on the edge of town with the Cerbat Foothills trail system.
So, as our theme song recorded by the Road Crew says, come along for the ride. Follow the Year With Jim adventure on our Twitter or Instagram pages and meet some fascinating people, find a bit of inspiration for a road trip or an adventure, and see what goes on behind the programs, the books, the road trip planning, and behind the scenes at Jim Hinckley’s America.
With a population of just over 2,200 people Jonesville, Michigan is little more than a wide spot in the road on US 12. The scenic road is old. Before the arrival of Europeans it was the Sauk Trail. Then it was a road for pioneering immigrants looking to carve a life from the Michigan wilderness. Then it was a stagecoach road that connected the village of Detroit with Chicago. Jonesville is old. It was established in 1828. One of the towns founding residents was Benaiah Jones who settled with his family on the Saint Joseph River. Throughout the 19th century, and into the early 20th century, it remained a small, progressive agricultural village. It was here that the first “Free School” opened in Michigan and was the first school district with a defined curriculum. Vestiges from those times abound today.
The streets of Jonesville are lined with historic homes including a Victorian mansion, once owned by Ebenezer Grosvenor, Lieutenant Governor of the State of Michigan. Grosvenor was a member of the state building commission that oversaw the construction of the Capitol in Lansing. His stunning home has been meticulously maintained and is now a museum. Here is a bit of trivia. The Andrew Mack Brush Company and Jonesville Lumber are family-owned business that opened in the 1890’s. Powers Clothing is another family owned business in business for more than a century. This store is also the oldest Carhart clothing retailer in the United States.
By 1910 astute businessmen in Jonesville and communities throughout the Midwest were turning their attentions toward the manufacture of automobiles. Counted among these men was Jacob Deal, owner of the Deal Buggy Company that was established in 1865, and his son George. In 1905 George motorized a buggy, and built a few for local customers. In 1908 the Deal Motor Vehicle Company was organized. It was a short lived endeavor. George died late in the year, and the company closed its door in 1911.
The story of Jonesville and its brief attempt to become a center of automobile manufacturing was a common one during the first decades of the 20th century. Adrian in Michigan had ten manufacturers. Hillsdale also in Michigan had five. Port Huron had four. Holland had two.
With a population of more than 30,000 people, Jackson was not exactly a village in 1910. Still it was to small to be classified a city. And yet during this period Jackson was a leading manufacturer of automobiles, ancillary components, and products associated with the auto industry. David Buick launched his automotive career in Jackson. Between 1902 and 1930 more than twenty different manufacturers produced cars including the Reeves, Jackson (and Jaxon steam powered car), CarterCar, Argo, Briscoe, Hackett, and Standard Electric. Hinckley-Myers became of the largest manufacturers of specialty tools and garage equipment in the nation. Then there was Sparton.
Sparks-Withington was another company that operated in Jackson, and that is largely forgotten today. The well established company began manufacturing automotive components in 1909, specifically radiator cooling fan assemblies. By 1912 the required a larger facility and so a new factory was constructed on North Street in 1912. The first in a long list of innovations introduced by the company was the electric car horn introduced in 1911. The horn was adopted by the Hudson Automobile Company as standard equipment and within two years more than 30 other companies followed. Sparks-Withington named its products Sparton – derived from a combination of the Sparks and Withington names.
After WWI, Sparks-Withington used its expertise in electronics to branch out into another fledgling industry – radio, and in 1926 introduced the first push button and “electric eye” tuning radio. In 1926, the growing radio department moved into leased space in the old Jackson Automobile Co. factory on Horton Street and E. Michigan Ave., now known as the Commercial Exchange Building. In 1927, Sparks-Withington again needed more space, so it bought the former Brisco and Earl auto factory at what is now 2400 E. Ganson St. In 1939, Sparks-Withington again took a chance on a new product when it began field-testing TV receivers.
I share all of this as a preamble to a new chapter in the Jim Hinckley and Jim Hinckley’s Americastory. Last year I was privileged to speak about the early auto industry at a fund raiser for the Hackett Auto Museum in Jackson. I have been asked to return this year and in October will be speaking on Jackson’s rich automotive history at another fund raiser for the museum. And there are now discussions about me serving on an advisory committee for the museum, and to working on a variety of projects associated with harnessing the towns automotive history as a catalyst for tourism development.
Full circle. As noted on previous occasions my family has a long association with Jackson and its automotive heritage. I lived in Jackson for a few years and left for Arizona after graduating from Vandercook Lake High School and Jackson Area Career Center. Now here I am returning, sort of. I can’t imagine trading my beloved desert southwest for Michigan winters.
This Jackson based company became a leading manufacturer of specialty tools and garage equipment.
Life is full of twists and turns. I have to admit, when I set out on the road to Arizona and a new life so long ago, I never imagined that that road would one day take me back to Michigan.
During the 1930s, Stonydell Resort in Arlington, Missouri was a vacation destination for people from as far away as Kansas City and Oklahoma City. Photo Steve Rider
“Route 66 was completely paved in Missouri as of January 5, 1931. The final section of pavement was just east of the Pulaski County line, near Arlington. Workers tossed coins in the wet cement to celebrate. A few weeks later, thousands of people turned out in Rolla for a huge parade and celebration to mark the occasion.” Author Joe Sonderman, A Bit of Missouri 66 History. In Quapaw, Oklahoma, on March 24, 1933, to celebrate completion of Route 66 paving between Commerce, Oklahoma and Baxter Springs, Kansas there was a major celebration that included Quapaw chief Victor Griffin laying a commemorative zinc tablet in the middle of Main Street.
There was a time when communities large and small celebrated their association with Route 66. Most communities along that highways corridor were quick to recognize, especially during the dark days of the Great Depression, that US 66 offered tremendous economic opportunity. Even though the highway no longer officially exists, Route 66 is more popular today than at any time in its history. Surprisingly, unlike in times past, only a few communities between Chicago and Santa Monica see the highway as an economic boon. Many will go through the motions of harnessing the highways popularity as a catalyst for economic development and historic district revitalization. Few, however, develop promotion, marketing, and related initiatives to fully capitalize on the potential represented by Route 66 tourism. The proof, as they say, is in the pudding.
In all communities grassroots initiatives that are well informed, passionate, and are able to put aside egos to build cooperative partnerships are invaluable. In communities with tourism departments shackled by apathy, a lack of vision or ambition, and entrenched cronyism, these grassroots initiatives are the key to the harnessing of tourism as a contributor to economic development. In a nut shell providing the information and tools needed to build effective grassroots initiatives in a community were the reason I developed tourism/hospitality classes for Mohave Community College in Kingman, Arizona. This is also why I developed a condensed version of the classes that are being offered in the form of a presentation.
Examples of how to build effective grassroots initiatives are some of the projects developed and launched in Kingman. One of these was the Kingman Promotional Initiative. It is a relatively simple concept but it was initially hampered by the apathy that has plagued tourism development for years and as a result attendance was anemic. Once a month the initiative hosts an informal meeting. Business owners are invited as are city officials, event organizers, members of the arts community, and anyone interested in helping build cooperative partnerships in the company as well as representatives from, Kingman Main Street, and the state and Kingman Route 66 associations. The goal is simple, foster awareness.
To date there have been an array of positive results. An informational kiosk in the business district that stood empty for more than two years was transformed by Kingman Main Street. The Route 66 Association of Kingman working with a few business owners and the organizers of Chillin’ on Beale have hosted receptions for numerous groups and individuals including the first European Route 66 Tour as well as Marian Pavel of Touch Media, the company that has developed the Route 66 Navigation app and the Mother Road Route 66 Passport. Public arts programs such as murals have fueled the historic district renaissance. Meetings with project developers and tour company owners have enhanced Kingman’s reputation as a destination rather than just a stop. Few of these projects received any support or participation from the tourism office.
Route 66 Association Japan reception at Calico’s restaurant in Kingman, Arizona
Sadly, as happens often, this has not fostered a better working relationship with the tourism office. However, this too can be overcome through the success of grassroots initiatives and cooperative partnerships within the community and along the Route 66 corridor. The Route 66 centennial and the potential this represents should be given consideration as well as incentive for launching an effective grassroots initiative in your community.
Curious? Do you have interest in seeing your community transformed? Perhaps my presentation is just what the doctor ordered. After all, Route 66 is paved with gold.
A quick visit is all it takes to tell if a town or village is
possessed of a sense of community, is progressive and forward thinking, and if it has a vision for the future, or if it is riddled with apathy, indifference, self serving factions, and leadership focused on the rear view mirror. Take a drive through town, hit the historic business district, and then take a couple of laps through neighborhoods. Skip the fast food joints and stop at a local diner or tavern, be a fly on the wall and listen. Pick up a local paper (or read the on line edition) and be sure to read the editorials as well as the comments.
My dearest friend captured this moment of contemplation during a winter outing in Arizona.
Today’s post isn’t meant as condemnation. It is a bit of a soapbox sermon inspired by thoughts and reflections as I gear up for this mornings conference call with the Route 66: Road Ahead Partnership economic development committee. It is also an expression of frustration.
As many of you know, my dearest friend and I call Kingman, Arizona home. Located at the heart of a wonderland of vast and diverse landscapes, and at the center of the longest remaining uninterrupted segment of Route 66, the town has, perhaps, the greatest undeveloped tourism potential of any community in the southwest. This boundless opportunity is magnified by a location on the western edge of the “Grand Circle” that is the premier destination in the southwest, and the fact that within 400 miles of Kingman there are ten million people with interest in mountain biking, camping, spelunking, fine dining, off road exploration, wineries, colorful festivals, ghost towns, museums, white water rafting, classic car events, Native American culture, the Grand Canyon, and hiking along shade dappled trails.