The international popularity of Route 66, a highway that no longer officially exists, is rooted in the work of Cyrus Avery and his team of firmly grounded visionaries. U.S. 66 is not our most historic highway or its most scenic but from its inception it has always had the best publicity. That provides the communities and the businesses along the highway corridor with a tremendous marketing advantage. Still, in this the era of renaissance what is lacking is a sense of community, a sense of unified purpose. This has hindered preservation and marketing. It has blunted its potential. This was a very serious issue before the COVID-19 crisis. Now it is a critical issue.
Before the advent of the federal highway system in the mid 1920s organizations had been established to promote the Dixie Highway, the Lincoln Highway, the National Old Trails Road and the myriad of named “highways” that traversed America. They all had a commonality. The organizations were self serving in that the promotion of a specific road was linked with business interests. The organizations realized the importance of promoting a linear corridor rather than a single destination. The organizations realized that travelers had options and marketing was key if one road was to become more popular than another.
Photo Joe Sonderman collection
Cyrus Avery of Tulsa was well versed in the development and promotion of a road or highway as he had assisted with the organization of an Oklahoma branch of the Ozark Trail Association (OTA) in 1914, and had been instrumental in organization of related conventions. In 1927 Avery was a leader in the organization of the U.S. Highway 66 Association for the promotion of tourism along the newly minted highway, and lobby for its paving from Chicago to Los Angeles.
Avery had a vested interest in the success of Route 66 as he had business interests along the highway in Tulsa. Still, he knew that his interest, those of fellow business owners and the City of Tulsa would be best served by promoting the highway in its entirety. Author Michael Wallis summed up the concept nicely when he once quipped that Route 66 was linear community. From this perspective Kingman or Tulsa or Claremore are the neighborhoods that add diversity and color to the Route 66 community.
There is little doubt that some communities, some sections of the highway corridor will survive and even thrive during the crisis as well as into the centennial and beyond. However, without the unified sense of purpose and of community made manifest in the U.S. Highway 66 Association, Route 66 itself can not survive. Simply put, we can no longer afford the luxury of myopia or a self serving focus.
I have long been hoping for a reincarnation of the U.S. Highway 66 Association, a chamber of commerce for the Route 66 community. There have been a number of initiatives in recent years. However, while each has made contributions to the Route 66 community all have fallen short. So until that organization is reborn we must work together at the grassroots level; the community organizers, the tour company owners, local tourism offices and business owners, the authors, artists, and photographers.
And we must realize that this grassroots network is not just American in nature. As with the travelers that contribute so mightily to the economy of the Route 66 community, the grassroots network of business owners and event organizers is also international in nature. This is made manifest in the European Route 66 festivals (canceled for 2020) the Route 66 Navigationapp and Mother Road Route 66 Passport developed by Touch Media based in Bratislava, Slovakia and the Route 66 associations in Europe, Japan, Australia, Brazil and Canada.
The gift shop at Route 66 Navigation
It is imperative that we build cooperative partnerships. It is imperative that we pool resources for marketing. It is imperative that we harness modern technologies – social media, live stream programs, Zoom, etc. for promotion as well as for streamlining communication. It is important that we build networks.
Now, with all of this said I would like to share a bit about Jim Hinckley’s America, the services we can offer, and how you can help ensure that this travel network continues with the promotion of the Route 66 community. First a short overview.
Jim Hinckley’s America is an expansive website, a multifaceted social media network (almost 6,000 followers on Facebook), live stream programs, presentations, audio podcast, feature articles, YouTube channel, consultation service (for communities as well as groups), and guide service. The network is in a near constant state of growth and transition to ensure that we provide the best value for advertising sponsors, the best service for the traveler and that we can contribute to the building of a stronger Route 66 community.
As with most every tourism centered business in the world we have been adversely affected. All presentations scheduled through October have been canceled. The classes on the economics of heritage tourism developed for the local community college were canceled. More than 95% of advertising sponsors have had to temporarily suspend advertising. Support for the crowdfunding initiative has been curtailed. All work as a tour development consultant and as a step on guide have been canceled.
Still, our work continues. We have launched a new series of live stream programs that are added to the YouTube channel after broadcast. Uranus General Store & Fudge Company has signed on as a partial sponsor. Connie Echols of the historic Wagon Wheel Motel in Cuba, Missouri has continued with her support even though her business was severely curtailed. This and continued support from the City of Cubahave enabled development of the Coffee With Jim program scheduled for Saturday mornings and continuation of the 5 Minutes With Jim audio podcast. Still the dramatic decline has greatly restricted our program schedule as well as plans for development of other initiatives.
The National Route 66 Museum in Elk City, Oklahoma, a stop on our fall tour.
So, we are offering advertising opportunities that will fit any marketing budget. We are also offering exclusive content for contributors to the crowdfunding initiative. The entire travel journal from Edsel Ford’s 1915 odyssey along the National Old Trails Road was published in serial format. A short time ago I began writing my autobiography in serial format as well. And we are also planning for the future by scheduling speaking engagements.
So, I do hope that you will consider lending support to Jim Hinckley’s America. And I sincerely hope that you will find ways to build a sense of community as well as community purpose, and to build a network of cooperative partnerships.
If you don’t have something good to say, don’t say anything at all. That old adage underlines the primary reason that I haven’t written a post in the last week or so. There are other factors as well; being so sick that I felt like one foot was in the grave and the other on a roller skate, navigating the labyrinth in a quest for unemployment compensation, work to steer Jim Hinckley’s America in a new direction and a quest for income to name but a few.
By nature I am an optimistic pessimist that can find humor in most any situation but in recent weeks it has been a challenge to maintain my signature dry wit and quirky since of humor. This isn’t to say that there isn’t much to laugh at. Just flip through the news programs in the morning, cruise Facebook and read a few of the posts from people passionately defending the latest conspiracy theory or spend a few minutes trying to decipher the us versus them political soap opera. But the daily dose of gallows humor has worn thin.
So, aside from recovery, I have been spending as much as time as possible salvaging Jim Hinckley’s America and ensuring that we continue telling people where to go for years to come. I have revamped the weekly newsletter and am offering authors an opportunity to promote their books and restaurants that offer carry out service a marketing platform as well as encouraging people to keep dreaming of road trips. I have also launched the weekly live stream program Coffee With Jim on Saturday mornings. The idea is to avoid the daily dose of bad news and instead give folks a reason to smile. Aside from a few technical difficulties, such as internet issues, the program has been well received. As a bonus it is something I enjoy doing and it helps lift the spirits, mine as well as the audience.
And I have returned to my roots. For the first ten years of my career as an author writing centered on the American auto industry between the years 1885 and 1940, and the corresponding societal evolution. This past week I began writing a weekly feature for Motoring NZ, an online automotive publication based in New Zealand. In addition to a weekly column on automotive history I am also recording an audio podcast. This is in addition to the weekly 5 Minutes With Jim audio podcast that is published on Sunday morning.
A few months ago I embarked on a rather strange odyssey, the writing of my autobiography. I have been providing this as exclusive content on the Patreon based crowdfunding site. I feel a bit awkward about this as by nature I am a private person. And some of the stories are hard to share as the guilty parties are still among us. And as with some of my other projects I am amazed by the comments and response. It never ceases to amaze me that people find me interesting and even fascinating. That is an odd sensation that I have trouble getting used to.
Another endeavor is short live stream programs from sites such as Fort Beale Springs. Aside from giving advertising sponsors a bang for their buck, I want to inspire people to get out, to explore, and to find a bit of solace in troubling times. This is going to be a challenging year. We have all gotten used to road trips and the occasional international adventure. It looks like 2020 will be the year that we discover or rediscover wonders in our neighborhood.
Stay tuned. Jim Hinckley’s America is here to stay. Jim Hinckley’s America will keep telling people where to go, we will just be doing it in a different way.
Shortly after the U.S. Highway 66 Association was established in early 1927, a marketing campaign was launched that branded the newly minted highway as the Main Street of America. It was a brilliant strategy as one of the most famous “named highways” in America, the National Old Trails Road, had been branded the Main Street of America by Judge Lowe of the National Old Trails Road Association in 1913. Linking Route 66 to a road with an established reputation, a road popular with tourists traveling to see the natural wonders of the southwest was the cornerstone for the eventual transformation of this highway into an an icon with an international fan club.
The National Old Trails Road, after 1913, coursed across northern New Mexico and Arizona, and across the California desert to Los Angeles. It provided travelers with access to the Painted Desert, the Petrified Forest and the Grand Canyon. Near Peach Springs, Arizona a popular side trip was Diamond Creek which is still the only road that allows for vehicle access to the Colorado River at the bottom of the Grand Canyon. These natural wonders were one reason the then twenty-one year old Edsel Ford and his college buddies traveled along this road to the Panama-Pacific Exposition in California during the summer of 1915. Likewise with Emily Post. Attesting to the popularity of the National Old Trails Road in the southwest is the fact that more than 20,000 people attending the Panama Pacific Exposition from outside California arrived by automobile and the overwhelming majority traveled this road.
While much of the National Old Trails Road history is documented there are still secrets hidden in dusty archives, road departments, family photo albums and old travel diaries. One of these mysteries is found on the western slope of Sitgreaves Pass in the Black Mountains of Arizona. Route 66 enthusiasts are intimately familiar with this section of highway that began as the National Old Trails Road. Arguably it is one of the most scenic portions of this storied old highway and Oatman is known throughout the world.
This old road dates to about 1907. It was upgraded to meet the needs of the National Old Trails Road in about 1913. When was it bypassed? When was it realigned to the current course for the pre 1952 alignment of Route 66?
This rare map from the state of Arizona shows U.S. 60 instead of U.S. 66
Much of this morning was spent with an engineer and unofficial archivist at the Mohave County Road Department in search of answers. Instead of what I was looking for, I found new mysteries that need answers as well as rare and obscure historic footnotes. As an example, did you know that originally U.S. 66 was designated U.S. 60? Early 1926 Arizona maps show U.S. 60 and it is also designated the National Old Trails Road in places. This takes us to another mystery. U.S. 66 and the National Old Trails Road shared the same road in much of the southwest. There are postcards that show both designations. When did the first U.S. 66 signs go up? Was the road ever signed as U.S. 60?
Author Jim Hinckley signing books after leading a neon nights walking tour in Kingman, Arizona. Photo Anita Shaw
In our home we celebrate Valentine’s Day every day of the week. Never is there is a day that I don’t reflect on how fortunate I am that an amazing woman looked beyond my down at the heels, rough around the edges exterior and accepted my invitation to share the grand adventure that is life. This year my dearest friend and I will be celebrating 37 years of marriage as well as countless shared adventures, both good and bad. And make no mistake about it, it has been an epic adventure.
When we first met, after the mines had shut down, I was working as an itinerant ranch hand and part time truck driver earning a few dollars while searching for more permanent employment. I drove a battered old ’46 GMC pickup truck, and on occasion we would double date in an even more battered ’26 Ford touring car. I had spent most of my life on the road. My folks often joked that I had been potty trained along Route 66. She was a quiet, but beautiful, clerk working in a local department store that drove a ’70 Charger. Her travels had been limited to a family reunion in Tombstone, a family vacation to Disneyland, a trip to the Grand Canyon and regular visits to family in Phoenix.
Me and my old dog, Critter, called a line shack about 25 miles from town, on a dirt road that turned into a quagmire when it rained home. I had an outhouse, kerosene lamps for lights and a word burning stove for heating as well as cooking, and hauled my water. To escape the heat of summer I often slept on the porch under the stars at night. She still lived with her parents. I will be sharing more of our story in the autobiography that I am writing in serial format as exclusive content on our Patreon based crowdfunding site.
Several years ago we launched our most amazing adventure to date, and it is still unfolding – Jim Hinckley’s America. Books, presentations, the website, a weekly travel planning newsletter, live stream programs, 5 Minutes With Jim podcast and more; a travel network and marketing venue for small businesses and communities as well as artists, authors, photographers, museums and nonprofit organizations with very limited promotional budgets. We provide a service for travelers, have made the most amazing friendships, and traveled to places we could never have imagined 35 years ago.
Kick off for the new presentation series in Needles, California
And now we are taking this to an all new level. We have developed promotional packages for most every budget, and created opportunity for partnerships invested in tourism related economic development. Three new presentations have been developed and we are now in the process of organizing a series of speaking tours linked with book signings. This was launched last week to a packed house in Needles, California and to date we have appearances confirmed in Spokane, Kingman, and Zlin, Czechia. We have tentative appearances in Ely, Nevada, Pontiac, Illinois, Cuba, Missouri and Kalamazoo, Michigan.
Meanwhile we are chasing promotional partners for the two big projects this year; the Route 66 promotional tour that includes the Miles of Possibility Conference in Pontiac, Illinois and the International Route 66 Festival in Zlin. And we are moving ahead with development of community education programs through Mohave Community College and Route 66 Crossroads, a recently organized nonprofit developed to foster creation of cooperative partnerships in communities.
In recent years things have turned full circle. The quest for information that led to the writing of my first book began in Jackson. And last October we returned to Jackson for a speaking engagement, and the launching of a new chapter in Jim Hinckley’s America.
Thirty-eight years ago I would never imagined that telling people where to go could be so much fun or be so rewarding. And I surely never imagined having such an incredible friend to share the grand adventure that is life.
A great way to start the day, sunrise on the Colorado River at Fenders River Resort in Needles, California.
It was a perfect morning for a bit of reflection and some desert exploration. I was alone with my thoughts for the first time since hearing that my pa had passed, and there was a hint of a chill in the air as the light of dawn chased the shadows. Seldom do I sleep in later than 5:00 A.M. and this morning was no exception. That habit was a part of my legacy. For as long as I can remember the day started early and years spent working farms and ranches have ensured that it is an ingrained habit.
I had held emotions and thoughts in check even during the drive to Needles, California at the historic El Garces. That also was a part of my legacy as there was a job to be done but it was a challenge since the drive took me past the ruins of the old homestead that I had helped pa build in the late 1960s and along old Route 66 where I had been taught to drive.
An abandoned alignment of Route 66 in the Mojave Desert near Needles, California.
Now, however, was time to give thought to the loss. For more than a half century I have found solace in the desert. And so I slipped from our room at Fenders River Road Resort, the only motel that is located on the National Old Trails Road, Route 66 and the Colorado River, and walked to the river as the sun broke in the east. Then after a bit of reflection I began walking into the desert along Route 66 with little to no thought as to distance or direction. And so it was a bit of a surprise to notice that at some point in my wanderings I had left the highway and was following a long abandoned segment of iconic Route 66.
Route 66 figures prominently in my life and so I consider it a part of my legacy as well. Aside from being taught to drive on a bypassed alignment, I learned to ride a bicycle on this iconic old highway. My first job was on old Route 66. I learned to drive a truck on Route 66. And Route 66, and the desert, figures prominently in the story of how my inquisitive nature and passion for the quest, for exploration was kindled.
A long vanished truck stop along Route 66 in the Mojave Desert of California.
As I followed the broken asphalt and faded white line deeper into the desert, the ruins of a once thriving truck stop or service station complex was discovered. Judging by the extensive trash piles, and the pile of bulldozed ruins, my best guess is that it had been in operation during the mid 1950s and into the 1960s. Had we stopped here during my childhood travels?
As I wandered around the overgrown remnants of the complex a tsunami of memories engulfed me. The road trip figured prominently in my relationship with pa. We hauled hay from Mohave Valley over Sitgreaves Pass to the homestead in the Sacramento Valley. We hauled scrap metal from Silver City in New Mexico to Phoenix and Tucson. We hauled appliances in Michigan. We moved the family from Arizona to New Mexico, from New Mexico to Michigan and from Michigan to Arizona. And we stopped at thousands of dusty old truck stops and gas stations on our desert odysseys.
Dusty memories and remnants abound in the desert.
With my eyes closed I could hear the ringing of the gas station bell and smell the hot engines. I could smell the tires, the oil, the gear oil, the diesel fuel and the exhaust. I could feel the hot desert sun on my face, and see pa checking the radiator as the gallons pouring into the tank were counted with the clanging of the gas pump. I could taste the cold soda pop, the hamburger and hear the accents as people from Michigan and Florida and Wyoming mingled in the cafe.
It was here that I bid adios to the man that instilled in me a hunger for the open road, for adventure, and a passion for the empty places and the desert.