Looking back from the perspective of the 21st century it may seem a bit crazy. But perhaps a century from now people will look back in wonder at how quick we were to turn from science to rumors and wives tales in an effort to battle a pandemic.
During the Spanish Flu pandemic of 1918 a rumor about onions swept the country. And soon people were buying them in bushel baskets, slicing them, and then placing throughout the house as it was believed that the onions could “absorb” the virus and thus keep the family safe. The idea was even marketed as a display of patriotism.
Of course in the second decade of the 20th century misinformation, old wives tales, rumors and such didn’t spread quite as quickly. And it wasn’t as easy to give misinformation the façade of credibility. The social media network of the day consisted of hand crank telephones, the telegraph, the rural postman that traveled by horse, and newspapers.
But before passing judgment we must understand that people were desperate. The horrors and brutality of World War I had claimed an estimated 16 million lives. But the influenza epidemic that began sweeping the world in 1918 left an estimated 50 million people. Countless others suffered debilitating health issues for the remainder of their life.
For some the tsunami of death was viewed as the the beginning of the end times. For those who survived relatively unscathed by the war and devastation of the viral plague, it was the end of the beginning, the dawn of a new era.
When the pandemic commenced medical science was firmly rooted in he research of the mid to late 19th century. And this was in spite of the fact that smallpox inoculations had become standard practice since the late 18th century.
The pandemic of 1918 ignited an unprecedented international outpouring of finances for medical research. In 1931, at Vanderbilt University, medical researchers discovered a process to grow the influenza virus in fertile chicken eggs. This was a major milestone as it meant that viruses for study no longer had to be harvested from infected people or animals.
The next stage in understanding the complexities of viral infection came when scientists identified two types of flu viruses, naming them A, capable of infecting both human and animals, and B that infected humans only. But most medical scientists were seeing this discovery as only a small step toward development of vaccines.
With the ability to identify viral characteristics researchers began working on vaccines in earnest. An initial setback in vaccine development was the discovery that immunity against one type of virus does not give immunity against the other or against mutated varieties. As a result the first successful influenza vaccine contained a mixture of dead virus, a precedent still followed today. In time this would allow for the faster development of more effective vaccines.
With concerns about another war in Europe growing by the day, in 1937 British researchers began inoculating soldiers with newly developed vaccines. And in the United States, a team of researchers led by Jonas Salk initiated mass vaccination of military personnel in 1944. Vaccination for civilians followed in 1945.
All of these discoveries and all of this research served as the foundation for the development of medical protocols and vaccines that in coming decades would almost eradicate the scourge of polio, measles and other infections that had plagued man since time immemorial.
Our understanding of genes, their chemical codes, and and how to correct them is also rooted in the post pandemic medical research.
The pandemic of 1918 was the end of medicines beginning chapter. But it remains a long journey to the possible beginning of the final chapter.
In my short time here on planet earth I have survived a couple of hurricanes and tornados, an ill advised attempt to earn my pay on the rodeo circuit, several car accidents, an epic desert dust storm or two, a few blizzards in the north country, a couple of wild monsoon storms, appendicitis, pneumonia, a kayaking trip on the Colorado River (in a leaking kayak), a few broken bones and a couple of good wallops to the head. In a few weeks, Lord be willing and if the creek doesn’t rise, to this list of tragedies that I have survived will be added 2020, the year of the apocalypse. And that takes us to celebrating the holidays in a time of pandemic, a never ending election, two headed sharks, poisonous earth worms invading Georgia, face masks, overwhelmed food banks, unprecedented opportunity, Zoom meetings, and virtual Christmas parties.
Needless to say, the holiday season this year will be different. Travel is questionable. Family gatherings via Zoom is just downright odd. Employees at the post office, Fed Ex and UPS are being buried as people break all records with on line ordering. Walmart is, well, Walmart. Restaurants are closed, or open, maybe.
As you may have noticed I am being a bit facetious today. It is my feeble way of injecting a bit of levity into a tense situation, to try to get people to smile a bit, to make the best of a bad situation, and to find some humor in a generally humorless year. But on more serious note, for your Christmas shopping I would like to suggest that you consider thinking outside of the box this year. With that said, let me give you a few ideas.
Let’s start with One Stop 66. Consider this a virtual flea market for Route 66 businesses, artists, photographers and authors. You will find lots of interesting and unique gift ideas on this site. As a bonus you will be giving small businesses a much needed helping hand, and ensuring that authors or artists don’t become starving artists or authors. Did I mention that the owners of the website have created an array of colorful Route 66 centennial merchandise?
Next, how about handcrafted wooden bowls from a Dutch artisan? These might strain the budget a bit, especially with the cost of shipping from the Netherlands, but they are more than a mere gift. These would be heirlooms shared for generations to come.
Even though we now use our phones as calendars, as well as a device to watch videos about cats and the people of Walmart, and on occasion make calls, the old fashioned wall calendar is a gift that keeps on giving for at least twelvemonths. This is especially true if it is a fine art calendar from internationally acclaimed photographer Jim Livingston based in Amarillo, Texas. His prints depicting scenes from Route 66, the Texas Panhandle and the great Plains are on display in banks, prestigious offices and homes.
Treat yourself or the adventurer in your family with a road trip inspiring book or a series of true crime stories that reads as a novel. Both books, 100 Things To Do On Route 66 Before You Die or Murder And Mayhem on The Main Street of America: Tales From Bloody 66. Both books written by yours truly are available at a special discounted rate on the Jim Hinckley’s Americawebsite. As a bonus, I will deface them with my signature. This will not lower the value of the books. Just kidding. Murder and Mayhem was the recipient of the Independent Publisher silver medal award. Unfortunately I can only offer domestic shipping resultant of prohibitive costs for international mailings.
And of course, if you would prefer putting your holiday funds to something that provides a service there is always our crowdfunding initiative on the Patreon platform. By committing to support you would have access to exclusive content. And you would be supporting our work to develop educational programs such as the forthcoming presentation about Route 66 for the Rotary Club in El Paso, Texas. This year we have used crowdfunding to subsidize discounted advertising on the Jim Hinckley’s America travel network for struggling businesses. It has also made it possible for us to offer free promotional programs such as the coffee cup sponsor initiative on the weekly Coffee With Jim live streamed program, the free weekly travel planning newsletter that includes event promotion, and the creation of other live stream programs.
Bottom line, the folks who own Amazon and Walmart have done rather well this year. Now it’s time to lend a bit of support to the small businesses that add color, vibrancy and life to small town America. This whole year has been unusual and different. Let’s carry that into the holiday season and think about buying gifts that have character, and that are as unique as the person you are buying them for.
Dodge introduced automotive test facilities, an industry first, a their factory in 1916. Photo Detroit Public Library
Horace and John Dodge epitomized the American dream of rising from humble beginnings to vast wealth. They were rough and tumble, hard drinking blue-collar men from Niles, Michigan. John Francis was born in 1864, Horace Elgin in 1868. Their grandfathers, father and uncles were machinists. Both were mechanically inclined. John was somewhat reserved; Horace developed a reputation for a hair trigger temper. Together the redheaded Dodge boys were an inseparable team. They started with the manufacture of bicycles and then together they built an automotive empire, and played an integral role in the success of companies such as Olds Motor Works and Ford Company.
The Spanish Flu pandemic that began its relentless march around the world in 1918, much like COVID 19 today, had far reaching implications. It was while at the January 1920 National Automobile Show in New York City in that both John and Horace Dodge became sick. There is still some debate over their illness but at the time the consensus was that they had been infected with the last wave of the devastating Spanish flu pandemic that killed over 50 million. As with many victims of COVID 19, on January 14, mere days after becoming ill, John was afflicted with pneumonia and died in his hotel room at the age of 55. Even though he suffered from cirrhosis of the liver, the official cause of death, Horace recovered from influenza and pneumonia but was nearly bedridden for most of a year at his home in Florida before dying on December 10 at the age of 52.
President Wilson contracted influenza shortly after arriving in Paris in April 1919 for peace talks aimed at mapping the reconstruction of a post-World War I Europe. White House doctor Cary T. Grayson wrote the diagnosis arrived at a decidedly inopportune moment: “The president was suddenly taken violently sick with the influenza at a time when the whole of civilization seemed to be in the balance.” Plagued by fever Wilson began hallucinating and issuing odd orders. On several occasions he argued about missing furniture, and even displayed paranoia in conversations in which he expressed concerns that he was surrounded by French spies. As a result, he was to play a minimal role in the development of policies pertaining to German reparations, creation of the League of Nations, and the
By Theodor Horydczak – This image is available from the United States Library of Congress’s Prints and Photographs division
negotiation of agreements pertaining to American factories, including automobile manufacturers, being established in Europe.
Roy Dikeman Chapin Sr. was born in Lansing Michigan on February 23, 1880. His automotive career was launched by working for Ransom E. Olds of the Olds Motor Works. For the princely sum of $35 a month he took publicity photographs and performed other tasks. In 1901, he drove one of the new Curved Dash Oldsmobiles to New York City for a display at the second annual Auto Show in 1901. The 820-mile trip took seven days to complete and was a promotional boon for the pioneering automobile manufacturer. As a result of the deplorable road conditions, Chapin became an ardent supporter of the good roads movement. Chapin, along with Henry B. Joy of the Packard Motor Car Company, spearheaded efforts to build the Lincoln Highway.
Chapin was a gifted salesman and helped propel Olds Motor Works sales to record levels. He left the company in April 1906 and played key roles in establishment of Thomas-Detroit Company, Chalmers-Detroit Company, and several others. In 1908, Chapin facilitated a partnership of automotive engineers from Chalmers, and leading businessmen and founded the Hudson Motor Car Company in 1908. He served as the company’s president for several years. In this position he was able to establish the Essex Motors Company in 1918.
On August 8, 1932, President Herbert Hoover appointed Chapin to succeed Robert Lamont as secretary of commerce, a position he held until the end of Hoover’s term in 1933. It was in this position that he developed a series of controversial measures to stem an escalation of bank failures that threatened to surpass those of the post WWI recession. His initiative centered on evaluating which banks were to big to fail, creation of the Reconstruction Finance Corporation, and then facilitating cooperative partnerships to bail them out.
As he was associated with Detroit banks through Hudson, efforts to protect several of the largest financial institutions stirred a great deal of political controversy. In mid 1930, a run began on Detroit’s largest banks. Prior to February, 1933, more than $250,000,000 was withdrawn from the First National Bank of Detroit, the Union Guardian Trust Company and the Guardian National Bank of Commerce. The situation became so serious that the First National Bank was forced to liquidate most liquid and unpledged assets, and the Union Guardian Trust Company was compelled to borrow from the Reconstruction Finance Corporation (RFC). Edsel Ford was Chairman of the Board of the Union Guardian Group, a banking consortium that was a part of Chapin’s investment portfolio. The group was also linked with Hudson.
A last ditch series of negotiations that centered on Henry Ford’s bailout of the Guardian Group was initiated. Ford’s refusal to assist and avert a financial failure led to the Michigan Bank Holiday, the first in a series of bank holidays. This ultimately led to the passage of Roosevelt administration’s Emergency Banking Act 1933.
The formative years of the American auto industry were not just steered by innovation, technological advancements, and an unbridled entrepreneurial spirt. It was also guided by politics, natural and man made disasters, sudden death and pandemics.
The year 2020 is a truly historic moment in time. In the blink of an eye the entire world was transformed. Travel, education, politics, shopping, employment, none of these will be the same as they were before March 15. It is is a time of tremendous worry and anxiety, of opportunity and of loss. How unnerving. How exciting. Still, there are those instances when I give thought that it would be best to read about all of this in a history book than live through it.
Personally the year dawned with great promise. I had a recently published book to promote, Murder and Mayhem on the Main Street of America: Tales From Bloody 66. In the midst of the pandemic I would learn that it had been awarded the Independent Publishers silver medal award. Linked with this was a growing calendar of speaking engagements; the El Garces in Needles, California, a northwestern tour with five engagements, the International Route 66 Festival in Zlin, Czechia and Miles of Possibility Conference to name but a few. As an added bonus I had finalized arrangements with another tour company, number 32, that would utilize my services. I had every reason to be happier than fleas on a puppy.
A packed house for my first presentation of 2020 at the historic El Garces in Needles, California.
The clouds on the horizon gave little indication of the magnitude of the storm that was fast approaching. There were growing hints of a troublesome virus brewing in China. Whether it would develop as a new strain of influenza, something a little more serious like SARS or a pandemic such as that which swept the globe in 1918 was still a matter of conjecture. The swirling conspiracy theories on social media muddied the water and made it difficult to garner an accurate picture of the situation. And as with every crisis or potential crisis of the past few years, the virus and any potential threat was manipulated for political gain and to foster carefully crafted divisions.
In February my pa passed away. It wasn’t unexpected as he was 92 years of age and quite ill. Still, that left a bit of a hole, and I was in a fog most of the month. And I had become adept at ignoring the drum beat of incendiary political rhetoric and the cacophony of conflicting news. This meant that I missed storm warnings, not that I could have done a great deal to prepare for what was coming. With the luxury of hindsight this might have been a blessing. If I had been paying more attention, and had been more aware of how many countries were preparing for a serious crisis while here in the good old USA we were whistling past the graveyard, I would have been as nervous as a long tailed cat in a room full of rocking chairs.
March is when the proverbial dog doo hit the fan. My dearest friend and I celebrated her birthday with a quiet dinner and talk about our friends that would we would be visiting with soon as well as the adventures awaiting us. Within days it all unwound. Tour companies began canceling for all of 2020. The college canceled the community education programs on tourism that I had developed. Like dominoes speaking engagements were canceled one after the other. I have never really learned to swim. Still I have long believed there is no better incentive to learn than when the ship is going down and the ice water is swirling around your testicles.
In April it felt like I was having a root canal during a tax audit and a prostate examination. The cascade of cancellations escalated. Then I got sick; fever hitting 103.9 degrees, shortness of breath, extreme fatigue. After several days without improvement I trudged to the COVID-19 evaluation tent at the hospital. It was there that I first learned that the entire country, not just me was in severe trouble. That was when I realized the national response to a potential disaster of epic proportions was akin to a one legged blind man playing darts. After a cursory examination I was give a simple single sheet that explained my condition. “You do not currently meet testing criteria for COVID-19. However, your symptoms are highly suggestive of infection of COVID-19 or a closely related viral illness. If your shortness of breath continues, worsens or is accompanied by a new symptom please return for further evaluation. It is imperative that you self quarantine immediately.”
It has been a long and interesting road to recovery. I picked up the morning walkabout, an ideal time to make a valiant attempt to see through the fog to get a hint of what the future of tourism might looked like and meditate on what I need to do to keep Jim Hinckley’s America afloat, to provide support for the Route 66 community during this time of crisis, and to ensure that my dearest friend and I continue eating on a regular basis, a habit I picked up many years ago.
Thanks to a friend in New Zealand, I began writing a weekly feature column on automotive history for MotoringNZ. Next I began writing blog posts for various companies. And I made a valiant attempt to figure out the labyrinth that was the Pandemic Unemployment Insurance program as income had plummeted by something like 95%. And then there was the ongoing attempt to teach the old dog new tricks; paid presentations on Zoom (a work in progress), creation of new programs such as On The Road With Jim and Coffee With Jim, a complete revamp of packages for advertising sponsors, solicitation of consultation work all launched with a large modicum of hope.
Now,, if could just figure out if this the beginning of the end or a new beginning.
Charles Nash, born in 1864, was an abandoned child that became a ward of the court. He ran away from an abusive situation at age 12, got a job on a farm, and in the years that followed learned carpentry skills, clerked in a grocery store and worked stuffing cushions for a wagon company. And he read books. In 1895 he was employed as the manager of the Durant Dort Carriage Company. Fifteen years later he was in charge of Buick, and in 1912 was president of General Motors. In 1916 he launched the Nash Motors Company and became one of the leading manufacturers of automobiles in the United States.
Henry Martyn Leland was born in 1843 and apprenticed under Samuel Colt, the firearms manufacturer, to learn precision tooling. He developed a hair clipper that revolutionized the barbershop. In 1894 he launched the first precision machine shop in Detroit specializing in gear manufacturing. Two years later Leland developed a line of gasoline and steam engines for use in streetcars as well as boats. In 1901 he developed an innovative engine for Ransom E Olds. Resultant of a factory fire that prevented Olds from the envisioned expansion, Leland took his engine to the men behind the Henry Ford Company. And that led to reorganization and the launch of a new company – Cadillac. In 1917 Leland organized a new company to produce aircraft engines under the Lincoln name. This company would become a leading manufacture of luxury automobiles.
There are lessons to be learned in history. Consider these two me as a case study. Nash overcame debilitating poverty and hardship, and never forgot. When new equipment was installed at Nash, he donned overalls and worked on the factory floor to learn its operation side by side with employees. During the depths of the Great Depression he had coal and apples delivered to laid off employees. And he survived and thrived during the economic collapse of the 1890s and the post WWI recession, and a world wide pandemic.
Leland may not have endured poverty but he was well acquainted with business disasters. After spending years working to develop Cadillac he was roughly shown the door. At an age when when most people have been enjoying retirement for nearly a decade, he launched a new company, and lost control of a company. He too survived economic downturn, and a couple of pandemics.
So, what lessons can be learned. Tenacity, perseverance and knowledge are key to surviving crisis, economic or natural. You are never old to learn. Linked with that, when you quit learning the world will pass you by. Flexibility is needed to survive changing times.
So, don’t be so quick to accept and regurgitate what you hear. Learn from history. You might just discover that when ever you are alive it is the best of times, and the worst of times. You might just find that politicians are playing you for a sucker. You might just find opportunity in a time of crises.