End of An Era

End of An Era

The Dunton Garage along Route 66 in Goldroad, Arizona.

Sales never met expectations. But in the era of renaissance on Route 66, the reprint of the little guide published by Jack Rittenhouse in 1946 is a treasure for legions of passionate U.S. 66 adventurers.

In A Guide Book To Highway 66, Rittenhouse noted, “For eastbound cars which cannot make the Gold Hill grade, a filling station in Goldroad offers a tow truck which will haul your car to the summit. At last inquiry their charge was $3.50, but may be higher. Cars with trailers may need this service.”

More often than not, the tow truck driver alluded to in the guide was Roy Dunton. In 1946, Roy was a young man that had recently returned home after serving a stint in the Navy during WWII. He simply slipped back into his prewar life.

While still in his teens in the late 1930s, Roy’s uncle, N.R. Dunton had helped him relocate from Spokane, Washington, and had given him a job at the garage. Driving the tow truck was just one of his jobs as N.R. also had the garbage and school bus contract in Goldroad. He also rented and sold mining equipment, repaired cars, sold auto parts, and had a very busy gas station.

Roy and N.R. were kept quite busy as the flow of traffic over this steep, twisted section of Route 66 in the Black Mountains of western Arizona had reached epic proportions by the late 1930s. At the end of 1939 the state highway department reported that for that calendar yer, more than one million vehicles had entered Arizona on Route 66.

On a warm spring day when Scott, Roy’s son, and I drove to Oatman with Roy, stories were shared about life in Goldroad and working on Route 66 in those pre war years. Over lunch and a cold beer at the Oatman Hotel, Roy, then about 90 years old, talked of flirting with the daughter of the owners of Snell’s Summit Station, of pumping gas at Cool Springs, about towing vehicles to the summit, and of an accident at the garage that almost ended his life.

In western Ariizona the Dunton family has played a big part in the Route 66 story since that road was the National Old Trails Road. And for more than thirty years that family has been an integral part of my work to promote Route 66, and to assist ongoing efforts to revitalize the historic heart of Kingman, Arizona, my adopted hometown.

For reasons unknown, Roy took a shine to me. And I let him drag me into some interesting political adventures. I served as the committee man for the Republican Party in my district, wrote press releases for events such as the annual party picnic. I also met some fascinating people such as Senator John McCain.

The unexpected death of Scott Dunton about ten days ago was the end of era for Kingman, for Route 66, and for me personally. Scott and I began working on projects to utilize the growing interest in Route 66 as a catalyst for historic district revitalization back in about 1992. That was shortly after he and his father had purchased the venerable old Kimo Cafe that dated to 1940, and initiated its transformation into Mr. D’z Route 66 Diner. As a bit of FYI, the “D’ in the name is for Dunton.

In 1994, Scott and I launched the Route 66 Association of Kingman Arizona. Fueled with a passion for the endeavor we hit the ground running. But as so often happens, life got in the way and the association went into a holding pattern for a few years.

But shortly after the turn of the century, Scott and I began working together in earnest. I had resigned from the associations board of directors, but this didn’t prevent Scott from using the association to help me promote Kingman, and Route 66.

We served on a few city commissions’ together. Scott was opiniated to a fault. But there was never any doubt where Scott stood. He was also generous, passionate about his hometown, Kingman, and unreservedly dedicated to his family.

Left to right, Scott Dunton, Kingman Mayor Jen Miles, author Jim Hinckley and Dries Bessles of the Dutch Route 66 Association.

I was as stubborn as Missouri mule. My weakness was the oppposite of Scott’s. I was obsessesed with diplomacy, even when it wasn’t warranted or was was detrimental to a project. So, we butted heads a bit here and there but with the passing of time we learned how to work together. Our strengths and weaknesses provided balance. The association, Scott, and I became a team.

Scott or the association often covered a portion of my travel expenses when we took Jim HInckley’s America on the road promoting Kingman and Route 66. Scott provided an office at the historic Dunton Motors dealership that I could use as a studio for live programs, or to meet with media for interviews.

The associations monthly meet and greet held at different businesses became a venue for networking, for building a sense of community, for developing a diverse array of cooperative partnerships, and for creating an awareness about Route 66 and how the interest in that road could be a transformative force in Kingman. Working with local clubs and the organizers of Chillin’ on Beale, the meet and greet was often transformed into a reception for visiting groups such as Route 66 Germany.

Neon sign acquisition and restoration, grafitti clean up, public arts projects such as the murals on the water tanks along Route 66 and the Running Hare scultpure created by Don Gianella are all manifestations of Scott’s commitment to the city of Kingman. Mr. D’z Route 66 Diner, Dunton Motors Dream Machines, and the Route 66 Association of Kingman Arizona are also manifestations of his passion for Route 66, and his desire to ensure travelers had memorable stops in Kingman.

Scott’s passing is truly the end of an era.




Dusty Gems

The White Rock Court on Route 66 in Kingman, Arizona is a manifestation of Conrad Minka seizing the day.

Dusty gems abound along the Route 66 corridor (Andy Devine Avenue) in Kingman, Arizona. Each is a tangible link to the glory days of this storied highway. Each tantalizes the imagination. With thought given to the fast approaching Route 66 centennial, each quickens the spirit as one envisions the town beoming a living time capsule where the past, present, and future blend seamlessly.

As with Route 66 and the automobiles that traveled that highway, the motel evolved with the passing of time. In the era of the National Old Trails Road and the infancy of Route 66 railroad hotels remained a popular option. Free public campgrounds and primitive cabin camps were also popular lodging choices. In spite of the Great Depression by the mid-1930s many travelers wanted modern amenities such as hot and cold water in the room and radios.

This was the era of the auto court, motels with garages between the rooms. In the post war years as traffic on Route 66 grew exponentially, and larger cars become more popular, the garages were viewed as wasted space. And so, motel owners often transformed them into additional rooms or used them to enlarge existing rooms.

Then in the 1950s chains such as Holiday Inn, Ramada, and Hiway House increasingly made it difficult for the mom-and-pop motel to compete. With a decline in profits, maintenance was deferred, the property was abandoned, or the motel complex was converted into low rent apartments.

The World Monuments Fund recently listed Route 66 motels as some of, quote, “America’s Most Endangered Historic Places.” Counted among the rarest of surviving motels are those with their prewar auto courts. But the rarest of all are the auto courts that were listed in the Negro Motorist Green Book. 

The White Rock Court is counted among the rarest of Route 66 motels. It is a prewar auto court. And it was the only motel in Kingman to be listed in the Negro Motorist Green Book. There was at least one other motel, Hoods Auto Court, that would provide lodging to African American travelers. But for reasons unknown it was not listed in the guidebook.

The White Rock Court in Kingman is counted among the rarest of historic buildings with a direct Route 66 connection.

The White Rock Court with owners’ home was built of locally quarried stone by Conrad Minka in 1935. Purportedly he was a former hard rock miner. That would explain his innovative approach to besting the competition.

On the hill below the Sleeping Dutchman rock formation behind the motel he dug an air shaft, and then a tunnel connecting it to the utility corridors carved from the rock under the complex. At the bottom of the shaft, he installed a tank that he kept filled with water. Sheets of burlap hung in the water acted as a wick. Fans pulled the cooled air into the rooms.

As a result, while other motels suffered a lower occupancy rate in the moths of summer due to heat, the White Rock Court was always full. This and the provision of service to African Americans fueled rumors. Decades later there were legends that Minka had run a still under the parking lot and engaged in voyeuristic activities.

The White Rock Court was listed in A Guide Book to Highway 66 published in 1946. The 1952 edition of the American Motel Association Guide with a logo of Sleeprite, Eatrite, Travelrite provided a detailed summary of the motel. Quote, on Highway 66 east end of Main Street, 15 modern cottages, conveniently located. Short distance to ideal fishing and hunting. Seventy miles to Boulder Dam. Our motto is always courteous. Mr. and Mrs. Conrad Minka. The motel remained operational into the 1970s.


Disasters And Tales of Tragedy

Truck wreck on Route 66 near Sullivan, Missouri. Photo Joe Sonderman collection

On August 11,1955 a horrendous accident along Route 66 a few miles west of Clines Corner, New Mexico claimed the lives six men. In May 1957 at a highway junction near Cuba, Missouri a two car collision killed five members of a Chicago family. Two weeks prior on Route 66 in western Missouri another wreck took the lives of five people from Indiana. The Indiana Gazette carried the story as filler as wrecks along Route 66 were a common but tragic occurrence. ,

Dateline Springfield, Missouri – Five persons died in an automobile accident about 15 miles northeast of here Saturday night. Sergeant Al Leslie of the Missouri Highway Patrol said the brand new hardtop apparently was doing between 100 and 110 miles per hour when it ran of U.S.66. Four of five occupants thrown from the vehicle died instantly. The fifth succumbed to injuries before he could be extricated from the wreckage. He had been pinned in the vehicle by the engine and impaled by the steering column.

Today in the era of Route 66 renaissance we can have our cake and eat it as well. We can enjoy the essence of the historic Route 66 by cruising the shade dappled highway through the Ozarks, spending a restful night at the time capsule that is the Wagon Wheel Motel, and enjoying a hearty breakfast at Shelly’s. And if we are in a hurry, the interstate highway is an option.

We tend to see Route 66 in the context of neon and tail fins. It is easy to forget that the highway was know as bloody 66 for good reason. And we also forget that the highway was more than a linear theme park. It was an artery of commerce, both legal and illicit.

It was a highway of commerce traveled by truckers and salesman. Vacationing families traveled the well promoted highway on trips to the Grand Canyon, to California, to the newly opened Disneyland and to see the scenic wonders of the southwest. Gangsters and outlaws traveled the highway in flight from the law. And serial killers and grifters drove the highway in search of victims.

Wreck on Route 66 from the Joe Sonderman collection

It was also a segregated highway. The accident at Clines Corners sparked an investigation by the NAACP, National Association for the Advancement of Colored People. In article published by the Albuquerque Tribune  on August 16, 1955, Edward L. Boyd, special assistant with the NAACP said that the accident was not surprising. Neither was the determination that fatigue had been the cause of the accident. He noted that the men killed, African-Americans, “…could not have found a welcome at any of the courts, motels, or hotels on Route 66 from Amarillo to Albuquerque.” He also noted that the investigation had determined that less than eight percent of the more than one hundred motels and auto courts along Central Avenue (Route 66) in Albuquerque would provide lodging to “Negro travelers.”

Like tens of thousands of Route 66 enthusiasts I derive a great deal of enjoyment from traveling this storied old highway. But knowing its history enhances the sense of time travel. Being aware of the stories of tragedy and disaster blur the line between past and present seamlessly.



The Quest

A desert oasis on Route 66 in western Arizona

With the luxury of a half century of hindsight I can now see that the quest began in the summer of ’69. That was when I began trading hours of my life for money. That was the summer that I began working for Ed of Ed’s Camp on a long abandoned alignment of Route 66 in the Black Mountains. I now see that this is when the hunger to write, to share stories and to preserve history was sparked.

Ed was a geologist of some renown that had arrived in Arizona from Michigan shortly after WWI. He had established the camp sometime around 1928, and created a rough around the edges empire built on a desert oasis. The business evolved with Route 66 and in the years after WWII, Ed’s Camp offered an array of services to the traveler. There was a small cafe, cabins, gas station, garage, rock shop and produce market where Ed sold tomatoes and melons grown on site. Ed was also a prospector, was rumored to be involved with the burning of King’s Canyon Dairy and was internationally renowned for his geologic discoveries in the deserts of western Arizona.

IN western Arizona Route 66 course though a breathtaking landscape.

My primary job was to help with the gardens; weeding, helping with irrigation system repairs and other chores. But Ed had taken a shine to me and found other ways to put me to work. He also found ways to share his vast knowledge of the desert but I was far to young to fully appreciate the opportunity a summer with Ed represented. Still, I enjoyed books, especially books about adventurers and I was living an adventure of epic proportions.

Years later, even though I didn’t remember all of Ed’s quirky comments, details about the time a Pickwick bus missed a curve on Sitgreaves Pass and nosedived into a bank or his geology lessons, when I started writing about adventures memories of that summer often dominated my thoughts. That was when the seeds of my quest to become a writer were sown.

The pre 1952 alignment of Route 66 in the Black Mountains of Arizona

Even though I have had nineteen books and countless feature articles published, the hunger is still there. I am still hungry to share and to inspire adventures. I am still eager to make new discoveries and to share them. And that is, perhaps, the cornerstone for Jim Hinckley’s America. It may have started as a platform to market my work, it has become a venue for sharing my talent for telling people where to go. And as a bonus, it has become an opportunity to provide a service, to assist communities, small businesses, authors and artists by providing them with a promotional boost.

To date the quest, the writing, the search for adventure and the development of Jim Hinckley’s America as a venue for telling people where to go has been a truly grand adventure. And now a new year and new decade is underway, and indications are that this will be the most amazing year to date.

Growth of the audio podcast, Five Minutes With Jim, is up 1,200% year to date. We now have 6,000 followers on Facebook. On February 7, I will be speaking about the Old Trails Road at the historic El Garces Hotel in Needles, California. On June 4, I will be talking about Route 66 travel in Spokane. And now the quest is on for sponsors as I have received a request to speak at the International Route 66 Festival in Zlin, Czechia. The plans for a Route 66 centennial conference at Grand Canyon Caverns is underway. In limited partnership with Desert Wonder Tours, I am now leading walking tours in the Kingman historic district, and along the Cerbat Foothills Recreation trail system. The fall tour on Route 66 is under development and it includes attendance of the Miles of Possibility Conference in Pontiac, Illinois. In answer to requests received, I am now writing an autobiography as exclusive content on the Patreon based crowdfunding website.

And so as the quest continues, I give thought to Ed, to a summer of adventure and to a the living of a life of adventure.

It’s More Than Just A Highway

Route 66 connects the past with the future, it is a magic carpet made of asphalt and concrete.

The tradition of the Keresan speaking Pueblo Indians is that their people have lived at the site of Laguna Pueblo for at least seven hundred years. Legend has it that the people were led to the location where a natural dam on the Rio San Jose that created a lake. The Keresan word for lake is Kawaik. The Spanish word for pond or marsh is laguna. The first European references to the lake and the people here are contained in reports from the Coronado expedition of 1540. Construction of the current pueblo dates to 1698. The following year the governor, Pedro Rodriguez Cubero, stopped at the pueblo for a ceremony that resulted in the naming of the community as Laguna. As the population grew, numerous satellite villages were established including Cuba and New Laguna.

The America era of association predates establishment of post office at Laguna Pueblo since 1879, and in New Laguna in 1900. Laguna was originally named Nacimiento, a village that appears on maps of the Dominguez-Escalante expedition of 1776. The site for this settlement is just to the east of present day Laguna. Persistent Navajo raids led to abandonment in the first years of the 19th century. Resettlement commenced in about 1878 under the name Cuba. Shortly after this date establishment of a suburb at the present site eclipsed the original community resulting in a second abandonment. For reasons unknown the Cuba name was not continued. Jack Rittenhouse in his guidebook published in 1946 provided a lengthy overview of Laguna Pueblo and Laguna. He noted that services were limited to a small grocery store and service station.

This is but one example of why Route 66 is often referenced as a bridge that links the past and the future. All along the highway corridor there are tangible links to centuries of history. However, it is in New Mexico where the blurred lines between past, present, and future are most evident. Consider San Jose, a favorite little village of mine.

Located along the pre 1937 alignment of Route 66 as well as the Santa Fe Trail and National Old Trails Road, the Pigeon Ranch dates to the 1850’s. It served as a field hospital during the American Civil War battle of Glorieta Pass and as a tourist trap for Edsel Ford in 1915.

Located along the pre 1937 alignment of Route 66, as well as the National Old Trails Highway and the Santa Fe Trail, this remains as one of the oldest communities in San Miguel County. Farming at this site along the Pecos River in 1803 by colonists from Santa Fe predates the actual settlement of the community. There are tangible links to villages lengthy history. Most notable is the small adobe church in the square has cast its shadow across all three of these historic roadways. It dates to 1826. Of particular interest for Route 66 enthusiasts is the single lane, steel truss bridge spanning the Pecos River at the east end of the community. This bridge opened to traffic in 1921.

Route 66 is more than a highway. It is an almost magical place, a drive through time. It is the ultimate road trip.