Gunfighters, Folk Artists, and Trains

The home of legendary frontier era lawman Commodore Perry Owens in Seligman, Arizona just off Route 66. ©Jim Hinckley’s America

In September of 1887, Apache County Sheriff Commodore Perry Owens rode into Holbrook to arrest Andy Blevins. Blevins, his brothers, and acquaintances that they rode with had a feasome reputation in the Arizona Territory. They were thieves, rustlers, and cold blooded murderer’s. And they weren’t afraid of Owens.

The gunfight lasted mere minutes. When the smoke cleared Andy Blevins was mortally wounded. John Blevins was bleeding profusely but would survive. Sam Houston Blevins and Mose Roberts lay dead. Owens was unscathed.

The Blevins House still stands in Holbrook. It is a private residence with a monument commemorating the now nearly forgotten shootout.

Missed Opportunity

Holbrook never really capitalized on this event or this story in the development of toruism as a component of economic development. Likewise with the beautiful 19th century train depot, the territorial era Bucket of Blood Saloon, or the historic Navajo County Courthouse.

Contrast that with Tombstone, Arizona. On October 26, 1881, the Earp brothers and Doc Holiday faced off against the Clanton-McLaury gang at the OK Corral. The rest, as they say, is history. Tombstone built an entire tourism industry around this single event.

The late Bob Waldmire was a folk artist of legendary stature. Among Route 66 enthusiasts his work and legacy is revered. In 2004, Bob Waldmire earned the National Historic Route 66 Federation’s John Steinbeck Award for his contributions to the preservation of Route 66. His eclectic lifestyle and 1972 VW microbus that served as a studio and home when Waldmire was on the road served as inspiration for the Filmore character in the animated film Cars.

A mural by iconic folk artist Bob Waldmire at TNT Engineering on Route 66 in Kingman, Arizona.

Pontaic, Illinois harnessed Waldmire’s popularity in the Route 66 and folk art community as an integral component in the development of tourism that literally transformed the town into a destination. Kingman, Arizona has an an orignal Bob Waldmire mural, and a display of his orignal work, at TNT Engineering, orignally a Ford dealership built along Route 66 in the 1960s.

Waldmire’s work isn’t recognized or promoted in the Kingman’s official tourism marketing. An innovative narrated self guided historic district walking tour developed by Kingman Main Street finally put the mural and other public art displays in the spotlight. But a year after its introudction the walking tour still hasn’t been included in the city’s tourism marketing initiatives.

Tourism Dollars and Cents

Every community has a story. Every community can use that story as as a component in marketing and in the development of tourism. And, of course, in the context of economic development tourism is easy money.

Leadership that develops cooperative partnerships, that builds a sense of community purpose, and that utilizes all marketable assets is key to succesful tourism marketing. This is crucial if a town is to maximize the economic poential of tourism.

This is the second installment in our series about the economic impact of tourism. As the exclusive Jim Hinckley’s America series continues, I will be sharing action items that have a demonstrable history of sucess in economic development as well as historic district revitalization.


An Eye On The Future

An Eye On The Future

Courtesy Mohave Museum of History & Arts

Personally I liked my adopted hometown of Kingman, Arizona the way it was 55 years ago. Everything was centrally located – a theater, shops, grocery store, drug store, restaurants, saloons and night clubs, and garages. The historic heart of the town was vibrant with multi generational stores, and even a soda fountain in the drug store that had opened in 1898. And there was an endless flow of traffic through town on Route 66. Author and artist Bob Boze Bell and I talked a bit about this on a recent episode of Coffee With Jim, a podcast from Jim Hinckley’s America.

Route 66 was replaced by I40. Strip malls, and national chain restaurants and stores replaced mom and pop shops. The historic heart of the city withered and urban sprawl was viewed as progress. This story has been repeated in small towns and big cities throughout America.

Things change. Whether those changes are for the better, or for the worse, is dependent on leadership, and leaderships ability to foster development of a sense of community as well as translate vision into action.

Kingman, Arizona is at the proverbial crossroads. Passionate volunteers, investors with vision, and small business owners are breathing new life into the historic heart of the city. It is evident in the ongoing transformation of the historic State Theater into the Beale Street Theater performing arts center, Chillin On Beale, the narrated historic district walking tour developed by Kingman Main Street, and renovation of the Hotel Brunswick and similar projects.  All of this translates into economic development.

But a key component is missing. That has been made evident in contentious discussions about the Kingman Downtown Infrastructure Project in recent city council meetings, and proposals to divert project funds to street repair. Obviously this would hinder historic district revitalization, and related economic development.

Historic district revitalization initiatives in the United States are a key component in long term economic development planning. These initiatives preserve and enhance the historic, cultural, and architectural heritage of older and historic commercial districts, while also promoting their economic vitality and social diversity. In this blog post, I will explore some of the benefits, challenges, and examples of historic district revitalization in the United States.

Benefits of Historic District Revitalization

Historic district revitalization provides a multitude of benefits to communities, such as:

– Increasing property values and tax revenues: With proper incentive historic districts attract investment and as a result enhance tourism, which can boost the local economy and generate more tax revenue for public services. Studies have shown that historic districts have higher property values and lower vacancy rates than comparable areas.
– Creating jobs and supporting local businesses: Historic district revitalization can create jobs for construction workers, artisans, architects, planners, and other professionals involved in preservation and rehabilitation projects. It can also support local businesses by providing them with a unique identity, a loyal customer base, and access to financial incentives such as tax credits and grants .
– Enhancing overall quality of life and sense of place: Historic district revitalization can enhance the quality of life within a community and create a sense of place for residents and visitors by preserving the historic character, aesthetic appeal, and cultural diversity of neighborhoods. It can also foster social cohesion and civic engagement by creating opportunities for community participation, education, and cultural events hel within the historic district.
– Promoting environmental sustainability: Historic district revitalization can promote environmental sustainability by reducing waste, energy consumption, and greenhouse gas emissions associated with demolition and new construction. It can also encourage alternative modes of transportation such as walking, biking, and public transit by creating compact, mixed-use, and walkable neighborhoods .

Challenges of Historic District Revitalization

Historic district revitalization can also face some challenges, such as:

– Balancing preservation and development: Historic district revitalization requires a careful balance between preserving the historic integrity and authenticity of buildings and districts, and accommodating the needs and preferences of current and future users. This can involve trade-offs between competing values, interests, and goals among different stakeholders.
– Securing funding and resources: Historic district revitalization can be costly and time-consuming, requiring significant funding and resources from various sources. These sources may include federal, state, local, or private funds; grants; tax credits; loans; or donations. However, these sources may be limited, competitive, or contingent on certain criteria or conditions .
– Navigating regulations and procedures: Historic district revitalization involves complying with various regulations and procedures at different levels of government. These may include zoning ordinances; design guidelines; building codes; historic preservation laws; environmental reviews; or approval processes. These regulations and procedures may be complex, inconsistent, or unclear. But communities that understand the importance of historic district revitalization as a component of historic deistrict revitalization can stream line the process, and initiate zoning initiatives the encourage development.

Examples of Historic District Revitalization

There are many examples of successful historic district revitalization initiatives in the U.S., such as:

Renovation of the historic Stae Theater is an example of positive historic district revitalization. ©Jim Hinckley’s America

– Main Street America: Main Street America is a national network of over 1,600 communities that use a comprehensive approach to revitalize their downtowns and commercial districts. The approach is based on four points: economic vitality; design; promotion; and organization. Main Street America provides technical assistance, training, resources, advocacy, and recognition to its members.
– Beall’s Hill Neighborhood Revitalization: Beall’s Hill is a historic neighborhood in Macon, Georgia that dates back to the 1860s. Since 2004, Historic Macon Foundation has been leading a neighborhood revitalization program that involves rehabilitating existing historic structures; building new houses with historic charm; creating amenities such as a dog park and a shade tree nursery; and partnering with Mercer University to offer down payment assistance to homebuyers.
– Lowertown Revitalization Project: Lowertown is a historic district in Saint Paul, Minnesota that was once a thriving warehouse district. Since the 1980s, Lowertown has been undergoing a revitalization project that involves converting vacant warehouses into lofts; restoring historic buildings such as the Union Depot; creating public spaces such as Mears Park; and supporting arts and culture such as the Lowertown Arts District.


Historic district revitalization initiatives are a key component in long term economic development planning. For communities along the Route 66 corridor the benefits can be magnified exponentially if an agressive tourism department with vision can be created.


The Centennial

The Centennial

The National Route 66 Museum in Elk City, Oklahoma, a stop on our fall tour.

For a brief moment in time it was designated U.S. 60. But by the time that signs had been placed along the highway that connected Chicago to Los Angeles a political compromise had given it a new identity – U.S.66.

Exactly when Route 66 morphed from highway to icon can’t be pinpointed with certainty. But from its inception this highway billed as the Main Strret of America and the Mother Road has benefitted from brilliant marketing campaigns, being profiled in books, and being linked to the Olympics, to movies, and to television programs. And that is one reason it is, perahps, more popular today than at any time in its history even though it doesn’t officially exist.

That is also why the fast approaching centennial in 2026 offers communities along that highway corridor, both large and small, with unprecedented promotional opportunities. And in turn this can result in tourism related economic development as well as historic district revitalization opportunities.

Many states bisected by Route 66 including Illinois, Missouri, and Oklahoma recognized the opportunity quite sometime ago. They formed Route 66 centennial commissions, initiated programs to bolster tourism in the years leading to the centennial, and developed an array of diverse cooperative partnerships. Those endeavors are already paying dividends.

Meanwhile, surprisingly, there are still a few communities that yet to launch centennial initiatives. But, to be honest, some communities along Route 66 only make a half hearted effort to capitalize on assets ideally suited for tourism development. Meanwhile towns like Pontiac, Illinois and Tulsa, Oklahoma are selling everything on the hog including the squeal. Other towns such as Tucumcari and Springfield, Missouri are on the fast track to tapping into this potential goldrush.

It is difficult to find words that adequately describe what makes a Route 66 odyssey special or unique. I have explored a number of old highways, most recently U.S.6. These old highways are peppered with an array of living time capsules. But they lack the infectious magic.

Route 66 is no mere highway. It is the ultimate American road trip. But there is more to this story. It is also the American experience personified. It is opportunity limited only by the imagination, and adventure without equal.

Yesterday’s episode of Coffee With Jim, the audio podcast developed by Jim Hinckley’s America, is example of what makes a Route 66 experience unique. And it is also an example of why I am starting to think that the centennial year will be a 2,200 mile block party of epic proportions.

When you listen to the passion that owner Beth Hilburn has for the Hi Way Cafe near Vinita, Oklahoma, it is hard not to get excited. And when you listen to her families work to use the cafe to build a sense of community, and her story about the cafes fascinating origins, it is impossible to not be inspired.




The Questions Have Changed

The Questions Have Changed

An unusual shift pattern in a 1967 International ©

The more I learn the more I realize how little I know. Those words of wisdom were imparted to me many, many years ago by a grizzled old cowhand that I rode with on the Sierra Mesa spread near Faywood, New Mexico.

To illustrate the validity of the philosophy consider the shift pattern in this 1967 International pick up truck. I have been driving old pickups for almost fifty years but this was a bit of a surprise.

The path that led me to this time capsule truck is a long and twisted one. Several years ago I found myself becoming increasingly frustrated with tourism efforts in numerous Route 66 communities. These towns were flailing about in search of an economic boost and a way to revitalize blighted historic districts. And yet their knowledge of the Route 66 renaissance and the opportunities that this presented was akin to a frogs knowledge of tap dancing.

So, using Jim Hinckley’s America as a platform, I developed a serious of programs to foster a greater awareness of Route 66, its history, its international popularity and the economic potential all of this represented. Then I offered to speak in communities along the Route 66 corridor.

This was followed with a couple of test programs designed for high schools. They were well received at schools in Benld, Illinois, in Germany, and Kingman, Arizona.

Next I used the concept and created a more specific series of programs. Then I pitched the idea of community education classes to Mohave Community College in Kingman, Arizona. The goal was to increase community awareness and spark some excitement.

While all of this was going on I was working with the Route 66 Road Ahead Partnership as a member of the economic development committee. And that led to the provision of assistance to a Rutgers University program that was developing Route 66 community profiles as an early phase in the development of a “tool kit” that would enable communities to capitalize on Route 66.

With the Route 66 centennial fast approaching, I dreamt up an idea that takes key components from each program and combines them with a Route 66 road show. The road show would include special educational programs in Route 66 communities, presentations about Route 66 and tourism in communities off the road, and creation of a time capsule of sort for the centennial.

The time capsule component would include interviews, live and recorded, with people on the road. This would include travelers, tourism officials, tour company owners, business owners, pioneers in the Route 66 renaissance movement, and people with a Route 66 connection in the pre interstate highway era.

Now, when this all started I had know real idea on how this initiative would develop. But I knew funding would be an issue and so I established a crowdfunding program on the Patreon platform.

Sometimes ignorance is bliss. As I fumbled along the multifaceted project developed a clarity.

There were a few detours along the way but these were folded into project template. One of these is the narrated self guided historic district walking tours that I am helping Kingman Main Street develop. As I gain knowledge on how this is accomplished it becomes increasingly obvious that similar projects could be developed for any community.

Now, is where my eccentricity enters the picture. I have decided that the road show will be more successful if a vintage vehicle is used for the endeavor.

A vintage vehicle would magnify media focus. A vintage vehicle could easily ensure brand recognition for the endeavor. In turn this would magnify promotional and marketing initiatives. A vintage vehicle would make it easier to start a conversation with strangers. And a vintage vehicle would make it easier to engage school students.

Well, I have long wanted a Model A Ford. As I see more and more people driving Route 66 in one of these venerable and durable old Fords, the more obsessed I become.

But I must admit, this might not be the most practical option. So I dusted off my knowledge of vintage vehicles honed through of years spent writing about automotive history. And then in the evenings I spent hours in research.

Well, all that has been accomplished is conviction that a vintage vehicle is crucial. And I am increasingly convinced that with the right vehicle it would be practical. And it would also be possible to go vintage and still be fuel efficient.

And so the quest began. To date I have looked at a number of Model A Fords, and found one or two that are almost perfect.

I have also looked at several hundred vehicles that would work well, if they hadn’t been buried in the brush for decades. Or if they hadn’t been on fire, rolled, wrecked, rusted out, used for a chicken coop or if they had an engine.

I have also looked at a number of vehicles that are ideally suited for the endeavor. But as I want to be the best steward possible of the funds from supporters, I am working within a budget.

And that further limited options. But as I am planning on the launch of the road trip next spring, there is still time.

Today I looked at an incredible time capsule. A 1967 International truck with 81,000 original miles. The smile V8 and an overdrive transmission made it even more appealing. And there is the possibility of also acquiring an Alaskan camper that was mounted to the truck in 1967,

The cost is a bit worrisome and negotiations have commenced. But investing that much money makes me wonder, if perhaps, I should just renovate the tried and true old Jeep Cherokee that is the daily transportation. It is almost 25 years old, but I really want to do this in something a bit more vintage.

I also looked at a ’42 Dodge and ’52 Studebaker today. Both had seen better days. Both might serve as parts trucks. I figure either truck could be restored for $20,000 or so. That would surely make them worth at least $10,000.

But that wasn’t a wasted endeavor. The owner and I will be having some conversations real soon. She has stories to tell that are perfect for the Route 66 centennial time capsule. She grew up in Yucca, Arizona on Route 66, and her family operated the Whiting Brothers there.

All of this has led to a bit of reflection. There was a time when I thought that I knew the answers, at least a few of them. I am unsure if it is due to age but as of late it now seems as though the questions are being changed much faster.

A Lick & And A Promise

A Lick & And A Promise

When I signed on with the Sierra Mesa spread out of Faywood, New Mexico, I wasn’t exactly a greenhorn. I had earned my spurs working for the Cedar Springs Ranch based in the Music Mountains of Arizona, and had worn a bit of leather off the tree riding for other outfits in Arizona, New Mexico, and Colorado. I had even tried my hand at bronc riding but soon decided that was a good living if you didn’t plan on living long. During my John Wayne period I learned that as with any profession, there were plenty of folk that are quite adept at giving a lick and a promise. They work harder at appearing to work than if they had simply put their shoulder to the wheel and got the job done. The entire crew pays the price for their showmanship, especially if they can bluff the trail boss or foreman.

When it comes to tourism, a key component in economic development, some communities prefer to give it a lick and a promise. Others put their shoulder to the wheel. In a nutshell the tourism/hospitality classes developed for Mohave Community College, and the presentation/workshop that is a condensed version of those classes was conceived as a means to provide tools for communities that want more than a lick and a promise approach to tourism development. I designed these under the Jim Hinckley’s America banner for places along the Route 66 corridor but can adapt them to work with any town.

Can you see the lick & promise?

A common mistake made by many communities is the transformation of the visitor center into the destination rather than the point of entry. This is the easiest way to give a lick and promise. It’s also the easiest way to fool the trail boss, especially if you can show pretty graphs and numbers. On the ranch the fellow bucking hay could give a lick and promise performance by stacking the bales so the barn looked full, and adding a bit of water to the sweat band in his hat. With tourism the lick and promise approach is just as hollow.

What is being promoted? Hidden behind the banner is a sign advertising the world’s only electric vehicle museum.

The lick and promise approach to tourism works to outshine what is perceived to be competition when in actuality it is an opportunity to build a powerful cooperative partnership. Of course even that requires to much effort so energy is wasted on creating the illusion of success, instead of simply saddling up and getting the job done.

With the lick and promise approach time is wasted deriving excuses for missed opportunity. This works for a bit but soon it is like the story of the emperor with no clothes. Folks notice but don’t want to be the first to point out the farce.

So, what’s the answer for communities where the lick and promise approach to tourism is deemed good enough? Education. Educated grassroots initiatives. Educated grassroots initiatives that can develop cooperative partnerships. Educated grassroots initiatives that can develop cooperative partnerships that maximize use of all available resources. Educated grassroots initiatives that use partnerships and resources that transform the community into a destination for visitors and for people looking for a great place to live, to retire, to open a business and to raise a family.

Pontiac in Illinois is a town where the lick and promise approach isn’t good enough, and it shows. Photo Jim Hinckley’s America

So do you live in a community where a lick and promise is deemed good enough?