A Bit Like Rip Van Winkle

A Bit Like Rip Van Winkle

“The gap between the breaker points is set at .015 to 0.18 in. The gap should occasionally be checked to see that the points are properly adjusted. If the points are burnt or pitted, they should be dressed down with an oil stone. DO NOT USE A FILE.” This is from a 1930 Ford repair manual. This is the world that I am most familiar with (ma said that I was born ninety and never aged).

As I work on the schedule and travel arrangements for the upcoming fall tour it is almost impossible to avoid reflecting on how much this has changed in recent years. The owner of a new 1930 Ford would have groused about the folding of a map. My pa did the same thing in 1960. So did I on my first solo cross country trip in 1976. It was a family tradition. It was a right of passage. Now I complain about setting up the Garmin, a devise that is already an antiquated relic in the age of smart phones and apps.

Motel reservations were something that the rich and famous did. The rest of us drove until we were tired and a neon lit sign that served as a lighthouse lured us from the road. Often we would drive along a strip of motels in search of a room, and on occasion we simply slept in the car along the highway. Imagine doing that today!

If we had a car with a radio, we would count the miles by the fading stations that were replaced by ones that had a stronger signal. As air conditioning was a luxury savored in a theater, at the occasional motel, or in a diner, summer desert travel was done at night. Did you know that many motels in the desert country offered special day rates as many people were on the road after dark?

“Needles, California, Saturday July 17, 1915 – Started west at 6:15 P.M. in procession of eight cars – a Jeffery, two Fords, two Chalmers, two Stutz, and a Cadillac. Thirty miles out Chalmers broke a spring. Roads in desert were fair. Stopped for midnight lunch. Played phonograph, fixed a tire, Stopped at Ludlow for gas, had to wake up the Desert Queen to get it. Arrived in Barstow at 7:00 P.M., sunrise very fine.” Journal of Edsel Ford. Paved roads across the desert like US 66 made the travel a bit easier but this was til the way we traveled in the 1960’s.

This faded relic along Route 66 in the Ozark Mountains hearkens to an earlier time.

I, for one, can’t say that I really miss the “good old days.” Still, especially after a frustrating week spent working on the website, with moderate success, the audio podcast, setting up the shop on the Facebook page to sell books, including my latest, Murder & Mayhem on The Main Street of America: Tales From Bloody 66, I am eager to get on the road. And to be honest, I would n’t mind doing the trip in a 1930 Ford. After all, today I would have the option of visiting the past, not having to live in it. Jim Hinckley’s America strives to keep history alive and relevant, but we also want the modern traveler to enjoy the adventure.


In Answer To Your Question (Telling People Where to Go)

In Answer To Your Question (Telling People Where to Go)

Can you recommend a top “end of summer” drive? What is the best guide to use for traveling Route 66? What is the quirkiest roadside attraction that you have visited? Do you have a favorite Route 66 town? What is the oddest restaurant that you have experienced? Do you have a favorite book store? Can I rent a classic car to drive Route 66? Every week I receive dozens of inquiries about Route 66 travel as well as questions about travel guides, tour companies, motels, road trips, museums, restaurants, and, once, even a question about nudist colonies along Route 66. Followers and fans take our slogan “Telling People Where To Go Since 1990” to heart.

I respond to each and every question though on occasion my response is a bit delayed. To expedite things a bit, on occasion I will answer questions with a blog post. This has the added benefit of providing travel planning assistance to a wider audience. Today I decided to address questions on a different platform, the weekly live stream Adventurers Club program on the Jim Hinckley’s America Facebook page that is then added to the YouTube channel. I started by asking fans to submit questions before and during the program. When launching a new endeavor or program I am as nervous as a long tailed cat in a room full of rocking chairs. But as is often the case, my worries were unwarranted. In fact the program was so well received the decision was made to make it a regular part of the Adventurers Club schedule. As promised on today’s program, here are the questions asked (plus a few others) with the answers provided as well as website links or contact information.

Jay Leno and my dearest friend at Auto Books – Aero Books during a book signing.

Frank, Rice Lake, Wisconsin, “Do you have a favorite book store?” Yes, I do. Auto Books-Aero Books on Magnolia Boulevard in Burbank, California. It has moved a couple of times but it has been on this street since 1953. The little store is a true gem; new books, used books, vintage books, magazines new and old, and so much more. Here is a bit of tip, plan your visit for Saturday morning. The store hosts a very informal cruise in that transforms the very limited parking area, and on occasion for a block or two on Magnolia Boulevard, into a veritable automotive museum. As a bonus, there are often celebrity sightings. Please be respectful!

Gregg, Batavia, New York, “What is the oddest restaurant you discovered while on the road?” Many years ago my dearest friend and I were driving north up the west coast. We were near Coos Bay, Oregon and were intrigued by this obviously ancient little diner with a sign that read, “Mr. Critter’s Pizza.” It was quite different. It was a custom pizza joint where you could order your pie with elk or kangaroo or alligator.

Ed, Niles, Michigan, “Is there an app or guide to Route 66 that you can recommend.” Hands down the best guide book to Route 66 is the Ez 66 Guide for Travelers by Jerry McClanahan. I still travel with this guide. Now, if you are looking for an app there are two reputable ones on the market, the Route 66 Ultimate Guide and Route 66 Navigation. They both receive good reviews and both are reputable products. Still, for my money I would go with Route 66 Navigation. The developer personally tests the product several times per year and is quick to make upgrades that enhance the Route 66 experience as well as adjust for road closures and similar problems.

Gretchen, Pine Bluff, Arkansas, “What is your favorite quirky attraction?” The World’s Largest Hand Dug Well in Greensburg, Kansas on U.S. 54. There is a personal reason for this selection that I will share in a future post. Suffice to say it is a surprisingly fascinating stop, and quite odd in that a major shrine has been built around the well.

Rhonda, American Fork, Utah, “Can you recommend a great end of summer drive?” Yes, but hurry. You will want to make this trip during the brief window between mosquito season and snow season. It is the Lake Superior Circle Tour through the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, across northern Wisconsin and Minnesota, and through Ontario, Canada. This an overlooked adventure that I highly recommend as it blends everything; a sense of wilderness, natural beauty, charming small towns, National Parks, small city’s with a diverse array of superb restaurants, ghost towns, and a relaxing drive.

The amazing Plaza Hotel in Las Vegas, New Mexico

Gregg, Sand Springs, Oklahoma, “What is your favorite Route 66 Town?” That is a damn tough question. In all honesty I can’t narrow it down to one. The best I can do is narrow it down to three; Pontiac, Illinois, Cuba, Missouri, and with the slightest of detours (less than ten miles) Las Vegas, New Mexico.

Okay, I have to ask, what are your thoughts? Is this a feature you would like included in the schedule? Do you have travel planning questions?


Murder, Mayhem & Road Trips

Murder, Mayhem & Road Trips

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.


Laugh or Cry – Your Choice

Laugh or Cry – Your Choice

Regardless of how well things are going everyone has one of those special days where you feel like a one legged man in a behind kicking contest. To make it worse, you take a peek at the clock and realize it isn’t even lunch time. At that juncture there are but two options, laugh or cry.

Today was glaring contrast to a week or so of relatively smooth sailing. A few days ago I received the proof for Murder & Mayhem On The Main Street: Tales From Bloody 66. This week my dearest friend and I will give it a final read through in search of glaring errors. The book was initially scheduled for release last fall but at the last minute there were some editorial changes approved and so additional content was written. And of course this led to a quest for additional historic images, and the writing of more captions. In spite of the frustrations associated with this project, the team at Rio Nuevo Publishing have done a pretty amazing job. I am rather confident that we have a winner on our hands and am eager to launch a promotional campaign.

The October promotional tour is still in the planning stages. However, I have confirmed a presentation about the infancy of the American auto industry and Jackson as the industry’s cradle in support of a fund raising program for the Hackett Auto Museum. This is located in Jackson, Michigan. Tentatively I will also be speaking at the Miles of Possibility Conference in Normal, Illinois. The date has not been set but I will also be speaking in Cuba, Missouri.

The Ten Minutes With Jim audio podcast and the weekly free newsletter are slowly picking up new subscribers weekly. More good news. The Jim Hinckley’s America Facebook page following and engagement is also growing. This is another indication that as a travel planning service the multifaceted media network is providing a valued service.

Last Friday morning I had to cancel the Adventurers Club Live program but made up for it with a special live program from Fender’s River Resort in Needles, California during the relighting ceremony for the motels historic neon signage. I was able to interview a number of people that are deeply involved with the Route 66 renaissance including Jim Conkle, Rosie Ramos, the manager at Fender’s River Resort, Marian Pavel, the developer of the Route 66 Navigation app and the new Mother Road Route 66 Passport, and Delvin Harbour of the California Route 66 Association.

I had a very productive meeting with Marian Pavel, and the vice mayor of Kingman, Travis Lingenfelter, at Beale Street Brews coffee shop in Kingman on Monday morning. The topic of conversation ranged from the newly introduced Mother Road Route 66 Passport, pending updates to the Route Navigation app, an historic district planning session, and attendance of the Dutch Route 66 Association “meet & greet” in Amsterdam this August.

Work on the website has been progressing steadily and with few glitches. And we have picked up a couple of advertising sponsors that see value in what we are doing, and a way to get the biggest bang for their advertising dollar. Linked with this is the marketing of Jim Hinckley’s America as a travel planning portal including a portal in the new Route 66 passport.

This morning, however, I was left feeling as though the wheels had come off the bus and I hadn’t even made it to the end of the driveway. It kicked off with an early meeting of the recently minted Route 66 Crossroads, a nonprofit organization launched to develop tourism related community education programs. I had accepted the position of CEO earlier this spring. Well, not one but two board members gave notice that they would have to resign; one resultant of a family situation and the other a pending job transfer. The meeting of the Kingman Promotional Initiative that followed went well and as always it was rather productive. That was in spite of the fact that several key people had had to cancel rather abruptly.

For a number of reasons I am not a big fan of Walmart. I approach a shopping trip to this store the way I do a proctology exam; with a great deal of dread and apprehension. Still as I live in a relatively small rural town the store is a necessary evil at times. After this mornings meetings I headed for Walmart as there was a need for a couple of repair items, and as I was going there anyway, groceries. I exited I-40 and within two blocks was locked in dead stopped traffic for as the eye could see. A pretty series accident at an intersection had everything blocked. Forty-five minutes later I had traveled the 1.5 blocks to the Kentucky Fried Chicken restaurant driveway. This took me to an alley behind a shopping center and into another fast food parking lot with access to Stockton Hill Road allowing me to bypass the accident. Unfortunately several dozen people had had the same idea.

I have yet to experience the “People of Walmart” – until today. That is, however a story for another day. Suffice to say that venture finished off the morning on a sour note.

Laugh or cry, it’s my choice. I guess I will laugh about this mornings exploits. After all, it has provided fodder for great stories.





The Magic That Is Route 66

The Magic That Is Route 66

Always something to see at Chillin’ on Beale in Kingman, Arizona

I never tire of the fascinating people that are met through Jim Hinckley’s America. Recently I encountered Casey McGowan at a Route 66 Association of Kingman “meet & greet” that was also a cruise to Cool Springs on the old highway to Oatman for local auto enthusiasts. Being a fan of classic cars (surprise!) and history it was easy to find common ground for easy discussion as he was a fan of Route 66 and was driving a fairly rare Rambler Rogue. He had another interest that intrigued me, a quest to photographically document the history of automobile dealerships in Kingman, Arizona.

I encountered McGowan again recently at Chillin’ on Beale, an event held on the third Saturday afternoon of each month March through September in Kingman. He had brought not one but two Rambler Rogues to the event, and a beautiful AMC Javelin. Yesterday there was a bit of a break in the schedule so I accepted his invitation to see his vast collection of all things pertaining to the now defunct American Motors Corporation and to talk Kingman dealerships. The entire venture was a most pleasant surprise. (more…)