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Beyond The Route 66 Centennial

Beyond The Route 66 Centennial

It was an era of hand crank telephones, Model A Fords, and unprecedented economic collapse. The onslaught of the Dust Bowl that would transform families into refugees and prosperous communities into ghost towns was worsening. In 1931 more than 2,200 banks were shuttered and tens of thousands of people lost their savings, their homes, and their businesses. By January of 1932, unemployment had reached 40% in Michigan, and entire families were freezing to death or dying of starvation.

It was against this bleak and hopeless backdrop that Cyrus Avery and the visionaries of the U.S. Highway 66 Association campaigned for the highways paving. They were also fostering development of tourism marketing campaigns as they realized the economic importance of tourism, especially in struggling rural communities. Their first campaign commenced in 1927 with the branding of US 66 as the Main Street of America. In 1931 the association held a convention in Elk City, Oklahoma and the number of attendees was counted in the tens of thousands. The association was quick to seize upon the opportunity that was  the 1932 Summer Olympics that were to be held in Los Angeles, and on July 16 of that year an advertisement appeared in the Saturday Evening Post, inviting Americans to travel the “Great Diagonal Highway” to the games. In spite of the harsh economic conditions, within a week, the Association’s office in Tulsa, Oklahoma, was overwhelmed with requests for information about Route 66, Los Angeles, and the Olympics.

Fast forward to the modern era. Tourism, especially with a Route 66 component, still represents an incredible economic opportunity. That can be exponentially magnified if it is linked to a communities unique attributes such as cultural or heritage sites, experiential opportunities, or ecotourism activities such as mountain biking. With the Route 66 centennial fast approaching, a community that taps into this historic event NOW can reap tremendous rewards all the way to 2026 and beyond.

Surprisingly, only a few communities have tapped into the international fascination with Route 66, and most of these have been content with simply letting the tourists come to them rather actively enticing them. A very rare number of Route 66 communities have managed to sell everything on the hog including the squeal and as a result, have been transformed into destinations. More often than not the marketing of the city as a destination, as a Route 66 community with an array of attractions, is anemic at best, even with a sizable budget. Grass roots initiatives operating behind the scenes become the driving force in towns such as this. This is the case with my adopted hometown of Kingman, Arizona.

Grassroots initiatives have been been the driving force behind the historic district renaissance. And now the city is beginning to assist rather than hinder. After the city’s tourism department failed to capitalize or even develop the Route 66 Walk of Fame that showed such promise, grassroots initiatives spearheaded by the Route 66 Association of Kingman took the lead in honoring the people that have played a key role in the transformation from highway to icon. When the city’s tourism department neglected to build on opportunities derived from initiatives that fostered development of a working relationship with international Route 66 associations, business owners and community leaders launched the Kingman Promotional Initiative. When the city’s tourism office chose to forego receptions for tour groups, media and Route 66 associations representatives, cooperative partnerships were formed to fill the void.

It was the study of the original US Highway 66 Association and their marketing campaigns, and my involvement with these grassroots initiatives in Kingman that led to the development of community education programs as a pilot project for Mohave Community College. And it was these classes which led to the development of a new presentation, Route 66 Dollars & Cents, a condensed version of the college program.

This October, I will be taking the show on the road. I am anxious to share lessons learned, to provide incentive and tools for building strong, effective grassroots initiatives that overcome apathy and complacency, and that foster development of cooperative partnerships. If this program is of interest to your organization or your community, please drop me a note as the travel schedule is being planned at this time.

I will close this out with a few points to ponder. Every community has marketable assets. If you make a community a place that people will want to visit, you make it a place where they will want to live, to raise families, to retire and to open businesses. Apathy, complacency and incompetence can trump a handful of assets. Passionate people armed with knowledge, partners, and leaders with vision can transform a community.

David Buick, Louis Chevrolet and A Highway Signed With Two Sixes

David Buick, Louis Chevrolet and A Highway Signed With Two Sixes

If you are a fan of cast iron bathtubs with the white porcelain finish thank David Dunbar Buick. Does cruise control enhance your driving experience on long road trips? If so you might want to thank Ralph Teetor, the prolific blind inventor. After all, it was an idea that he patented in 1950. Ransom E. Olds is best known for the Oldsmobile, and to classic car enthusiasts, the man behind the REO cars and trucks. Did you know that he was also the inventor of the gasoline powered lawn mower? Did you know that Louis Chevrolet’s first business endeavor was the manufacturing of bicycles?

As has become a custom this past few years, I have been preparing some presentations for the fall tour along Route 66 as well as for the winter. Each has been designed as an educational program with a bit of fun tossed into the mix. Louis Chevrolet, David Buick and Ralph Teetor are but a few of the fascinating people I introduce in Dawn of A New Era, a fast bit of time travel back to the dawning of the 20th century and the American auto industry. It was developed for a Hackett Auto Museum fund raiser in Jackson, Michigan. However, I now scheduling other appearances.

Community education has become a passion in recent years. I enjoy providing the tools needed for communities or grass roots initiatives to harness tourism, specifically Route 66 tourism, as a catalyst for economic development as well as historic district revitalization. So, I have created a condensed version of the classes developed for Mohave Community College this past spring. I should note that the college will again be offering these classes. They are scheduled to start in late October at the Bullhead City campus. I am currently scheduling these presentations for the fall tour as well.

As my new book, Murder & Mayhem on The Main Street of America: Tales From Bloody 66, is scheduled for release in early September, as a series of book signings are also a part of the October tour, an accompanying presentation is being developed. This won’t be suitable for the younger audience but I guarantee it will be of interest for anyone with a macabre sense of humor, or an interest in Route 66 history.

The last presentation is pure fun. It is also a bit educational for anyone with interest in becoming a writer, or for a school journalism class. In this presentation I chronicle my thirty year career as a writer. It is a darkly comedic adventure; an odd series of coincidences that led to an interview in Jay Leno’s Garage, a two year book project that went down in flames when the publisher went broke, and of course, the launch and development of Jim Hinckley’s America that started as a venue for promoting books, book signings and related presentations.

I am compensated for most presentations but there is no charge for those made at schools and similar venues. So, the tour, as well as the various facets of Jim Hinckley’s America – live streaming programs, podcast, videos, etc. – is dependent on support of the crowdfunding initiative on the Patreon platform, donations such as the one recently made by the German Route 66 Associations and advertising sponsors such as Blue Swallow Motel, Roadrunner Lodge and Uranus Fudge Factory & General Store, and major sponsors, Grand Canyon Caverns & Inn and the City of Cuba.

If you would like to schedule a presentation for you community, organization, event or fund raiser, please drop me a note. As the schedule develops it will be added to our Facebook page, noted in the weekly newsletter, and on the Travel Center page.

I hope to see you on the road in October.