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 Americaas 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.
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.
“By most accounts it was a surprisingly mild day in late March 1933 when McLean County sheriff’s deputy Charles Adams, accompanied by a DeWitt county deputy, went to the grocery store located at 1410 S. Main Street, Route 66, in Normal to arrest a suspect on a charge of contributing to the delinquency of a minor. The suspect was also wanted for questioning about the robbery of a diner in Clinton. It should have been a simple, easy arrest.”
When the editor at Rio Nuevo Publishing approached me with a proposal to write a book about the dark side of Route 66, the idea intrigued me. In all that I do, be it books, presentations, podcasts, or walking tours, adding depth and context as well as historical perspective is a goal. Still, in the modern era Route 66 is viewed as an almost magical time capsule where only the remnants of good times are preserved. If the project was accepted I would be adding context and historical perspective, and tarnishing the romanticized image of a highway that has become an almost sacred place where the very best of America is enshrined.
Photo courtesy Joe Sonderman
Well, for better or worse the book is complete and pre-orders are now being accepted. And as been the case with the publication of the previous eighteen books, I can now begin worrying over content. I was fortunate to have a strong editorial team. Still, are there errors? Will the stories reopen old wounds? Will these stories from Route 66 and its predecessor, the National Old Trails Road, bring closure? Is it possible that these stories will solve decades old mysteries?
“By 1940, the era of the fast-driving roving bank-robbing gangs had passed. But Tulsa had grown into a bustling city, and cities had crime. In the early to mid-1940s the city faced something far more terrifying than an occasional murder, burglary, theft, or assault. There was a serial killer prowling the Brady Arts District a few blocks north of the Route 66 corridor.”
“Chester Comer, who often used the alias Jack Armstrong, was an itinerant oil field roustabout who never stayed in one place, or on a job, for long. His first wife, and possibly his first victim, was Elizabeth Childers of Oklahoma City. Initially identified and buried as a Jane Doe, she was shot five times in the head, and her body burned, near Kansas City, Kansas. Eighteen-year-old Childers was pregnant at the time of her death. Lucille Stevens, unaware of his first marriage, wed Comer in December 1934, four months after Childers went missing. A postcard with a McLean, Texas, postmark dated September 16 was her last correspondence with family. Comers killed her in the late summer of 1935, burned the body, and dumped it in the brush along the highway near Edmond.”
Joe Sonderman collection
In every book and feature article written I learn something new. My perspective of the past is changed as it is brought into sharper focus. With this book I developed a deeper understanding of hard times, of desperation, of how lawlessness can be nurtured and fostered, and the consequences of turning a blind eye to or making excuses for evil. With clarity this book illustrated the ripple affects of violence, and how a decision as simple as turning left instead of right can unleash a series of events that end in death and mayhem. To say the very least it was a sobering and fascinating project. It is my hope that readers will find value in it beyond simply adding depth to the Route 66 story.
The tag line in promotion for the Hiway House Motel chain was “Sleep Is Our Business.” It appeared in brochures and on the motels distinctive signage that cast a neon glow on Route 66 in Albuquerque, Arcadia in California, Tulsa, Flagstaff, and Holbrook. For a brief moment in time the chain that was established in 1956 vied with another pioneer in the industry, Holiday Inn.
The first hotel opened in Phoenix, Arizona. The idea was the brain child of Del Webb, a construction tycoon that is today best known for the Sun West retirement communities that are peppered throughout the southwest. He was hoping to improve upon the Ramada Inn model, another pioneering chain. Webb had been an initial investor.
Only one motel remains intact with its original signage. Located in the 3200 block of Central Avenue, Route 66 in Albuquerque, the distinctive sign is a favored photo op for Route 66 enthusiasts visiting the Nob Hill district in that city.
Route 66 is no mere highway. And even though it is the most popular highway in America, it is more than the nations longest theme park. It is a linear museum where vestiges from more than a century of development on the Main Streets of America are preserved. The Hiway House Motel with its original signage and fascinating back story is but one example.
Next door to the venerable old motel on Central Avenue is Kelly’s Brew Pub. The popular restaurant and tap room is housed in another time capsule, the Jones Motor Company built in 1939. Ralph Jones was a prominent businessman in Albuquerque and a member of the chamber of commerce. As president of the U.S. Highway 66 Association he recognized the value of a modern, state of the art dealership and repair facility at a prominent location on the eastern edge of the city.
Designed by architect Tom Danahay the facility with brilliant white stucco and distinctive tower adorned by a neon Ford sign stood out prominently. In 1957, a new Jones Motor Company was built and the old facility was used by a variety of companies before it was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1993, and its renovation as Kelly’s Brew Pub in 2000.
Photo Mike Ward collection
Surprises such as this are found all along Route 66. The Kentwood Hall Dormitory at Missouri State University has a fascinating history that is linked directly to the creation of U.S. 66. John Woodruff was the first president of the U.S. Highway 66 Association. On April 30, 1926, in Woodruff’s office in the Woodruff Building, Cyrus Avery and associates met to negotiate assignment of numbers to the newly created US highway system. One of these highways was U.S. 66.
In the same year Woodruff built the Kentwood Arms Hotel, now the dormitory. The Hotel, Garage, Service Station & AAA Directory published in 1927 described the property as a “100 room hotel with private bath or in connection. European plans $2 – $4 single, $3 – $6 double. Main dining room and grill with la carte and table d’hote service. In the heart of the city with three acres of lawn shaded by giant forest trees. 18 hole golf course, roof garden and concerts.”
Route 66, highway. Route 66, the ultimate road trip adventure. Route 66, America’s longest small town. Route 66, America’s most fascinating museum.
In 1966, US 66 was the highway that my family followed west to Arizona. In 1968, I rode my bicycle along Route 66 to my first paying job, watering the tomato gardens at Ed’s Camp. In 1978, Route 66 was one of the highways that I followed on my runs to Oklahoma City and Wichita during my brief career as a truck driver. In 1982, I was driving my 1946 GMC to Kingman from a ranch near Ash Fork to court my dearest friend.
Fast forward to 2015. Courtesy Jan and Henk Kuperus of Netherlands based U.S. Bikers my dearest friend and I made our first trip to Europe. Four years later and we have added several more European adventures, been blessed with countless international friendships, and traded the traditional nine to five job for the wild and woolly adventure that is Jim Hinckley’s America. The common link is legendary Route 66.
As I was updating the project board this morning, setting the schedule for the coming weeks, and putting together a calendar for publication of advertisements for sponsors, I couldn’t help but reflect on the amazing transformation of Route 66 from highway to icon and destination. I also had to reflect on how this mere highway has transformed our lives. To date this year we have served as an unofficial welcoming committee in Kingman to people from Florida, Michigan, Alaska, Japan, England, and Slovakia. Before the end of May we have friends from Germany, Australia, New Zealand, Netherlands, Canada, the Czech Republic, Indiana and California due for a visit. I am also scheduled to meet with tour groups from throughout Europe, New Zealand, Australia, and North Carolina.
The Jim Hinckley’s America website has had more than 20,000 visitors since the first of the year. There has been a 75% increase in Facebook page followers in less than a year. The podcast is picking up steam. Jim Hinckley’s America is becoming an internationally recognized travel media network. Route 66 is the foundation.
And what looms on the horizon? Why Route 66 adventures, of course! This coming Saturday there will be a fun filled Route 66 Q & A session at Grand Canyon Caverns. Next week I begin teaching classes on Route 66 history and tourism at Mohave Community College. I am tentatively scheduled to speak at the Miles of Possibility Conference in Normal, Illinois. New sponsors of Jim Hinckley’s America include the Blue Carpet Corridor in Illinois and Calico’s restaurant in Kingman, Arizona. This morning an invitation was received to attend a gathering of the European Route 66 faithful in Amsterdam. The organizer for the 2020 European Route 66 Festival that is tentatively set to take place in Poland is planning to be in attendance as is Marian Pavel, developer of the Route 66 Navigation app and the forthcoming Mother Road Route 66 Passport. The arrangement to assist with development of Cuba, Missouri promotion has been given the green light for the second year.
Then there is the publication of the new book. It is actually going to happen by fall! And that opens more doors for grand adventures on the old double six.