The Beast is more than a truck and project. It is has become a parts house, a tool box, and a never ending educational opportunity.
It seemed like a good idea at the time. And on occasion it still does. But that depends on the frustration level as I make a valiant attempt to install a stem to turn wiring harness and upgrade the ’51 Chevy, AKA The Beast, with turn signals, twelve volt gauges, and an alternator instead of generator.
There is a long row to hoe before this old workhorse is back on the road and earning its keep. Still, I am cofident that at some point between now and the Route 66 centennial this panel truck will be a rolling studio for Jim Hinckley’s America programs, a book store, a Route 66 information and travel planning center, and a promotional billboard for sponsors.
If all else fails, I suppose I could sell the wheels and tires, add a mail box to the fender, and call The Beast home. My dearest friend has displayed tremendous patience over the course of the past forty years, but there is a good chance that something like that might be just pushing my luck.
When this endeavor started I was in search of a Model A Ford. For reasons unknown that is a vehicle that I have wanted since before learning to drive. And I am confident that at some point in time one of these old timers will find its way to our house.
But for this endeavor there was an aspect of practicality to consider. This truck will barely make the grade without major upgrades. Ideally I should have been looking at a truck manufactured after 1957.
Sentimentality played a role in my decision to purchse this old truck last December. The Advance Design series of Chevrolet truck is woven into countless memories from childhood and my youth. A ’53 pick up was the first truck I drove solo. This was also the first truck that I drove on a multistate Route 66 adventure. Shortly after my dearest frined and I said “I do” a ’49 panel served as my work truck. When I was a kid we moved from Arizona to Silver City, New Mexico with a ’53 pick up truck. And a ’53 pick up was what my pa used for deliveries at his appliance store.
Transitioning parking lights to turn signals
The goal with this project is to carefully blend the past with present. For a brief moment I had a hair brained idea to blend it with the future with a full conversion to electric. But as much as I am fascinated with modern technology, at heart I am an old timer. And so I will be pushing this old timer down the road with a carburetor on a six cylinder engine and four speed transmission.
The project won’t be fully complete by October. Chances are that it will never be coompletely finished. Still, the loose target date for having it dependable and road worthy is October, and the fall Route 66 tour that includes the Miles of Possibillity Conference in Pontiac, Illinois. Time will tell. Meanwhile, I need to figure out where this green wire goes.
We have a somber anniversary fast approaching – 9/11. The 20th anniversary milestone of that horrendous event linked with the increasingly chaotic and tragic situation in Afghanistan has led to a great deal of reflection on the national tragedies that I have witnessed, and how our response to them has changed over the years. It has also fueled my near obsession for an understanding about the state of the republic that was ignited after watching the assault on our capital on January 6.
This reflection and the quest for answers has led me to read books about the nations leaders as never before. It has also instilled a hunger to visit more of the homes and libraries of previous presidents.
Since January 6, I have read books about Michelle Obama, John McCain, President Trump, the leadership principles espoused by President Eisenhower, presidents Truman, Garfield, Adams, Lincoln, Hoover and Bush, and senators Barry Goldwater and Joseph McCarthy.
For a brief moment in time two decades ago we were united in our grief, our shock, our outrage and in our love for country. Then came the assault on our nations capital, sacred ground, an attack on institutions of government by Americans.
That event scarred me more than the attack on 9/11, or any event witnessed to date. But what has saddened me most about this heinous event, what ignited an almost all consuming hunger for understanding was the aftermath. Elected representatives and faux journalists joined together to justify the assault and to give those involved legitimacy. But most disturbing of all, unlike on 9/11, the American people did not unite in justified anger and demand answers as well as accountability.
This anniversary, this year of reflection has led to thoughts on national tragedies, and how we as a people responded. I was but a kid at the time. Still, with clarity I remember the assassination of President Kennedy, Robert Kennedy and Martin Luther King, the shooting of Malcom X and Governor George Wallace, and the palpable sense that the world had shifted. That sense of uncertainty was magnified by the look on the faces of parents, teachers and adults, and the tone of their voices.
As family farms in Alabama and Tennessee figure prominently in childhood, the momentous civil rights marches of the ’60s are also an integral part of childhood memories. Again, I was just a kid but I remember kin referring to the Civil War as the War of Northern Aggression. I remember seeing large gilt framed pictures of General Lee and Stonewall Jackson hung over the mantle or on parlor walls. I remember segregated drinking fountains. And I remember how disturbing it was to hear gentle people speak in anger about civil rights marches, and curse the name of Martin Luther King and Robert Kennedy.
I was to young to remember details but not so young that I can’t remember my pa’s quaking voice and a long, all night drive after an encounter with the police in some backwater Mississippi Delta town. This was about 1962 or 1963, and my pa had Michigan plates on the car.
As my childhood also had a connection with Detroit, memories of the riots and the burning of cities in the 1960s were refreshed by the events that unfolded this past year. Once again thugs and people who embraced chaos as a catalyst for change had tainted peaceful protests for the righting of wrongs.
And, of course, I was an adult when the Oklahoma City bombing occurred. In fact I had briefly interacted one of the warped men involved with that heinous event through my work in Kingman, Arizona.
Obviously all of these events have played a role in the shaping of my world view and perception. Likewise with the diverse array of books read over the years. Still, last year I found it disconcerting to see the burning of cities exploited for political gain. I found it depressing that people had used peaceful protests as an excuse to destroy property and assault government buildings. But it was even more disturbing to see Americans storm our capital in anger.
To date I have yet to find understanding. I have yet to find historic precedent for this time of crisis. And I have yet to find solace or a clear picture of what the outcome will be. But there are more books to read, most notes to take, and more sunrise walkabouts with deep meditation.
Another birthday is fast approaching. That is always a reason for a bit of reflection, especially during the sunrise walkabouts. This year the thoughts seem to be running deeper than ever.
I am mere weeks away from submitting book number twenty to the publisher, and earlier this week a contract was signed for book number twenty-one. The quest to become a writer when I grow up continues, and that is reason for reflection.
As with any birthday, age is a factor that contributes to deep thoughts as the milestone draws closer. It now takes a hard squint to see sixty in the rear view mirror. Seventy is looming at the top of the hill. That in itself is good reason for reflection.
The fact that my pa passed last year is another. He was a hard man with a truly odd sense of humor. Starting at age forty, he would call me every birthday before 6:00 A.M. The message was always the same, “Another birthday. How does it feel being a day closer to death knowing that your best years are behind you?” Then he would hang up.
Well, at least from that point the day had to get better, and it always did. That summed up pa’s way of teaching, be it swimming, driving or how to confront life with a smile.
By nature, believe it or not, I am a reclusive sort of fellow that is most comfortable in the big empty places, and in towns with less than three stoplights. Still, one of my most memorable birthdays took place a few years ago.
The Route 66 Association of Kingman hosted a meet and greet for members of the Dutch Route 66 Association. Someone figured out it was by birthday. Well, in short order it turned out to be an international birthday celebration shared with friends. Adding to the fun the organizer had aged me by a year as evidenced by the writing on the cake. There was no need to say anything or make an announced correction. It was simply a time for reflection on what a fortunate man I am.
I am confident that having survived the apocalyptical year that was 2020 is another contributing factor. Last April just before the birthday, as sick as I was, survival was in doubt. So, this is reason for introspective thinking, and a tad bit of rejoicing in the year 2021.
Friends and business associates lost in the past year, that too is reason for somber reflection. Likewise with the current political situation that has me wondering when paranoia became as popular as the Super Bowl, and a large percentage of folk decided that it was a good idea to elect representatives that blend the worst of politics with the worst of televangelism.
This has also made me feel as though I have walked into the middle of a French movie with Japanese subtitles, and there will be a test about the film in the morning. Even my search of history for answers (currently reading a biography about Harry Truman) hasn’t provided solace. I just can’t seem to find a period, at least in American history, when people have been so easily and willingly divided.
I really feel sorry for comedians in this era. The politicians are writing material for them at record speed but they have no sense of humor, and it is increasingly obvious that they sure as hell don’t like the competition. I can remember when saying, “don’t tell my mother I am a politician, she thinks I am in prison” was a joke.
Lots of irons in the fire, and those also lead to some deep thoughts. Aside from the books, I am increasingly being asked to make presentations. I am hoping to be doing these in person again soon but meanwhile Zoom is pressed into service.
There is the distinct possibility that Jim Hinckley’s America, at least a few pilot episodes, will be shot for the FastTV Network soon. This is definitely another reason for deep thought.
And of course, a birthday is always reason to give thought on the twists and turns of life, and how I got to this point. This in turn leads to thoughts about what the future may hold, and how much time is left.
So, here is to birthdays. Here is to reflection, meditation, and to giving thanks, to old friends and to milestones. Here is to the grand adventure that we call life.
Memories are funny things. They add seasoning to life, and they can be made fresh and vibrant by a song, a smell, a touch, an empty old highway baking under a desert sky, or even an old truck. Such was the case with the drive home from Needles, California after a day spent with the Nissan Canada Route 66 Road Trip.
For the most part I was cruising on auto pilot with a head full of thoughts about the recent project developed for Nissan Canada, a speaking engagement in Needles scheduled for next February that I had arranged earlier that morning, and how a stunning sunrise had filled me with a longing to get home to my dearest friend. Traffic was light but I reigned in the hunger to make time and instead kept the speed in check. Then I saw it, a ’46 GMC out to pasture.
In an instant I was flooded with memories. As I pulled onto the shoulder of the highway there was a brief moment when the line between past and present seemed to blur. The battered old workhorse looked identical to the truck I owned when my dearest friend and I were courting. My ’46 GMC was the truck I drove on our first date. It was the truck that I drove back to the ranch after my last rodeo ride. Most every weekend, to see my dearest friend, I cruised into Kingman from Ash Fork on old Route 66 behind the wheel of that faithful old truck. For a time I was working on a project in the remote old town of Drake, Arizona and that GMC was the only vehicle that could negotiate the quagmire that was the Perksinville Road after a rain.
Once, after a winters storm, I about froze my backside off on a drive to Kingman as the truck didn’t have a heater. It was a challenge to keep the windshield clear of frost on the inside as well as the outside. I can still feel the warmth of the coffee cup in my hand and the taste of a hot bowl of chili at the Truxton Cafe as the chill was chased from my bones.
In all honesty the sunrise had most likely set me in a reflective mood. Finding that old truck kicked it into high gear. The drive home on old Route 66 through the Black Mountains and over Sitgreaves Pass kicked it into overdrive. I have shared a bit of these memories as well as some of the colorful history found along this highway on the Patreon based crowdfunding site where exclusive content is now being posted.
Suffice to say it was quite an emotional day. Mingled among the smile inducing thoughts were those that cast dark shadows. I can’t drive this old highway and not think of my pa as it was on this road that he taught me to ride a bike, to drive (behind the wheel of a ’53 Chevy pick up truck) and to drive heavy trucks (a WWII deuce and a half tanker truck). It was along this road that he taught me a bit of carpentry as we built a garage and house. And it was on this road that my dearest friend and I had some of our first double dates as we traveled to events in Oatman. It was on a drive to Needles with my dearest friend that the idea for Jim Hinckley’s America was birthed.