The historic El Garces depot and Harvey House in Needles, California is a blank slate.
The monthly meetings organized by Mohave County Economic Development and Tourism are always fascinating. Aside from opportunities for networking, to learn about regional tourism developments and to build cooperative partnerships the meetings also foster a greater awareness about area history.
Yesterday’s meeting in Needles, California included a tour of the historic El Garces complex and the Needles museum. Our knowledgable guide shared the history of the building and Needles, and he also provided some personal history. His family’s association with Needles began with his grandmother, a Harvey Girl at the El Garces.
Named for Father Francisco Garces, a Franciscan missionary that explored the area with the DeAnza expedition in the 1770s, the El Garces opened in 1908. Indicative of its size, a walk around the circumference of the building on the upper mezzanine was more than one mile.
Aside from stylish lobby and dining room, there were sixty four rooms for guests and the Harvey Girl staff. The searing summer heat was tempered with an innovative system that was linked to the nearby ice plant that produced 300 pound blocks for the cooling of produce being shipped by rail.
Aside from the railroad, the hotel and restaurant served travelers on the National Old Trails Road and the first alignment of Route 66. These roads passed in front of the El Garces as they circled the plaza.
During WWII the El Garces and Needles boomed. The hotel and depot complex was a stop for troop trains. It was also used by the command of the Desert Training Center, the largest military training area in the history of military maneuvers. During this period General Patton was a frequent guest.
Route 66 in Needles, California as seen from the El Garces mezzanine Joe Sonderman collection
The hotel closed in 1949. But as Needles was an important center for Santa Fe Railroad operations, the building was used until 1988. A section at the east end of the complex was razed to create a parking lot for railroad employees. After years of abandonment and vandalism it was slated for demolition. A last minute reprieve came with formation of Friends of the El Garces, and acquisition of the property and Santa Fe Park by the City of Needles.
Aside from some original tile flooring, the building is largely just a shell with new windows and doors. There is an excellent conference room, and rooms available to rent for events. Increasingly it is booked for weeks at a time. In February the Route Info Fair will take place at the El Garces.
The El Garces figures prominently in the history and development of Needles. Now it is figuring prominently in the city’s future.
This meeting was the kick off for the second phase of my annual fact finding tour. Phase one was the trip east to the Miles of Possibility Conference, and meetings with tourism officials in various Route 66 communities. It will continue with a trip to the Los Angeles area.
Cooperative partnerships are key to community development and revitalization. They are also instrumental in the transformation of a region or community into a destination. I am eagerly looking forward to the meeting series in 2023, to moving projects toward fruition, and to seeing this region transformed into a destination.
The White Rock Court on Route 66 in Kingman, Arizona is a manifestation of Conrad Minka seizing the day.
Why a coat of white paint was recently added to the stone walls of the old auto court on Route 66 is anybody’s guess. I know that it was named the White Rock Court when it opened back in the mid 1930s. Still, the paint is not an improvement for the tired old relic.
It is an example of the treasures, the places with fascinating stories that hide in plain sight. They are found in every community in America, large and small. They are often overlooked. And when they are eventually erased through urban development, condemnation and razing because they have become eyesores or fire, seldom is the loss given a great deal of thought.
The White Rock Court is a rarity since it is a prewar Route 66 auto court that retains its garages between rooms. And it is a rarity because it is a tangible link to a dark period of American history. This was the only motel in Kingman, Arizona that was listed in the Negro Motorist Green Book.
In Kingman, Arizona these treasures hiding in plain sight have been put in the spotlight with the innovative narrated, self guided historic district walking tourdeveloped by Kingman Main Street. Completion of phase one brought the history of the White Rock Court to life. And it brought to life the history of the long vanished Harvey House, the Ramblin’ Rose, an early Travelodge from 1959, with original architectural details, the territorial era Mohave County jail and more than thirty other locations by sharing the stories of the people associated with these time capsules.
It is my hope that this project will serve as a template for other communities that want to preserve the history, the story of places, especially with the Route 66 centennial fast approaching. To date the endeavor in Kingman has exceeded my expectations that it would foster develop a sense of community and community purpose, and that it would become an attraction. Now, I am hoping that the increased awareness translates to preservation.
Left is the original Mohave County Courthouse in Kingman, Arizona. With completion of the new courthouse it was relocated and converted to the Commercial Hotel. The jail was built between 1909 and 1910. Photo Mohave Museum of History & Arts.
The volunteers that brought this long envisioned project to fruition are tired. They poured themselves into the endeavor. Still, we are discussing phase two. In phase one we told the story of the world famous Mr. D’z Route 66 Diner, 1946 Dunton Motors, Locomotive Park, Hotel Beale, 1917 Central Commercial complex and the site of the Pioneer Cemetery where bodies are still discovered during high school improvement projects.
So, what would I include in phase two? Well, I have a hundred so places in mind! There are alot of sites along the original alignment of the National Old Trails Road on South Front Street, now Topeka Street that have interesting stories.
And I would really like to document the surprising array of early automobile dealerships in Kingman. The first Ford agency opened in about 1910. There was a Packard and Chandler dealership on South Front Street in about 1916. The former Edsel dealership still stands along Route 66. Star, Cadillac, Mack, Hudson, Studebaker and DeSoto all had dealerships in Kingman.
The walking tour is a monument to patience. It was first proposed after the International Route 66 Festival in 2014.
So, I hope that this tour provides a bit of encouragement for anyone that works tirelessly to breathe new life into an historic district, to build a sense of community and community purpose, and to bring history to life. Don’t give up!
Introducing a Dutch tour group to the intricacies of driving a 1923 double T Ford truck. Photo Daniel Kuperus
Awhile back a 76-year old fellow contacts me and says, “I listen to your podcasts, and think that you need to talk with my dad. He started his truck drivinig career on Route 66 in the Mojave Desert.” Needless to say, he had my undivided attention.
Even though his memory was a bit fuzzy in places, I was mesmerized by his tales of driving a big Moreland truck from Los Angeles over Cajon Pass and across the Mojave Desert on Route 66 to deliver produce to markets and cafes in Victorville, Barstow, Newberry Springs, Ludlow, Amboy, Chambless, Essex, Needles, Oatman and Golroad.
He started driving for his father’s company at age 16. At first he drove large one or two ton Ford or Dodge trucks into Oatman and Goldroad delivering produce to the Central Commerical markets. A year or so later his dad bought a used six wheel Moreland with large Hercules engine. The following year he bought a new Moreland with a Hercules diesel engine.
That was the birth of his career as a truck driver. With the exception of the WWII years, he spent nearly fifty years drivinig the big rigs from coast to coast, border to border and into Canada. His stories of exploits behind the wheel of a B model Mack brought back a lot of memories as my first attempts at driving a big rig were in one of these beasts outfitted with a Quadbox.
The stories I tell are a rich tapestry woven from colorful thrteads collected over the years. Books have been an integral part of my life for as long as I can remember. Travel journals such as By Motor To The Golden Gate that chronicles Emily Post’s journey along the National Old Trails Road in 1916 fill the office library.
And I have long been a listener. That has led to some inspirational conversations, unexpected friendships, and a rare opportunity to see history as seamless. It has also provided me with a different perspective on history.
Years ago I was working in Winslow, Arizona, and was a regular at that city’s premiere dive bar, White’s Cafe. It was there that I struck up a conversation with an assuming older Navajo fellow that I had met through my work at the hardware store. As it turned out, he had been one of the legendary code talkers during WWII.
National Old Trails Road
While working in the garage on a car lot in Arizona, I met Johnny. He was an unassuming retired fellow that worked part time running errands, sweeping floors, and cleaning the restrooms. Asking him to breakfast one morning turned out to be a portal into a forgotten chapter in American history, and the beginning of a long friendship.
As it turned out, his grandfather had been a slave. Johnny had been the Navy’s black bantam weight boxing champion just before WWII. He had served with distinction in the Atlantic during the war, and had been involved in the civil rights marches led by Dr. Martin Luther King.
That comment about sharing America’s story was an apt descriptor. So, I added it to our promotional materials. Perhaps it will inspire other people to reach out, and let me share their story.
And that simple comment has also provided a bit of incentive. The goal for 2023 will be to expand the reach of the podcasts, to take the show on the road, and to collect stories. And so I am creating a new series of programs that tell America’s story through the eyes of ordinary people.
If this story opened like a film noir classic such as The Big Sleep starring Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall, the first line would be, “It started with a typewriter, advice from a trusted friend, troubled thoughts, and reflection.”
The opening would continue with, “The storm coulds gathering over the distant mountains mirrored his thoughts. As he wiped the sweat from his weathered face, and contemplated the countless stories the battered old Stetson held, a conviction grew that a decision had to be made.”
My dearest friend had gently encouraged me to pursue a childhood dream for several years. Conviction grew. A decision had to be made. And so, with more than a fair degree of trepidation, I had called the editor of Special Interest Autos, a publication by Hemmings, and pitched the idea of writing a story about Myloe’s Fort Auto Parts in Huachuca City, Arizona.
Much to my surprise, the editor gave tentative approval. And so with a cheap camera from KMart, and a 1940s Underwood typewriter from a second hand store, I cranked out an article about an ancient desert rat that was the guardian of an automotive treasure. It was titled Myloe’s Marvelous Mechanical Menagerie.
That was 1990. That was the dawning of Jim Hinckley’s America. The writing of feature articels for various publications gave way to the penning of books. And in turn that forced me to hone needed skills for interviews and speaking engagements. It was all built on a desire to share America’s story, to inspire road trips, and to use my God given skills for telling people where to go.
Fast forward to the closing weeks of 2022. The Jim HInckley’s America website continues to evolve as a travel planning and inspiring portal. The latest iteration has embedded players for Coffee With Jimand Car Talk From The Main Street of America, our audio podcasts. Yesterday a section with recommended podcasts such as Evan Stern’s acclaimed Vanishing Postcardswas added. It joins a section for recommended blogs that was added several weeks ago.
A section with Jim HInckley’s America recommended lodging options, restaurants, museums and other businesses has also been added. This will continue to grow in scope as we as make new discoveries. The website also has video from our YouTube channel, links to blogs I write for clients, my schedule of appearances, advertisements from carefully selected promotional partners such as RouteTrip USA and the Roadrunner Lodge in Tucumcari, New Mexico, and an archive of our weekly blog posts spanning more than a decade.
On the planning board are an array of additions, when I can figure out out how they work and how to embed them in the website, and get a few spare minutes in the schedule. Counted among them are an interactive schedule of Route 66 events, a section for regularly scheduled live stream programs, and for our sponsors, interactive content as well as product placement and reviews.
Meanwhile, aside from wesbite development, what is on the Jim Hinckley’s America schedule for the last weeks of 2022?
Well, I need to evaluate a request received from a publisher for two books to be written in 2023. I know there is a lot of wasted time between midnight and 4:00 in the morning but am not sure if two books in one year is feasible unless we are forced back into hibernation by another apocalypse. If, by chance, I am kicked in the head by a mule and decide to accept the challenge, then I will need to write outlines for both of these books.
On November 30th, I drive to Needles, California for the Mohave County Regional Tourism meeting. As the community is on the cusp of renaissance, I am eager to see what is in the works.
On December 2, I leave for Los Angeles. Aside from a few meetings about the forthcoming Route 66 centennial and related celebrations, I will be visiting our old friends at Auto Books Aero Books in Burabnk, and signing some books. And also on the schedule is photography for an upcoming project, signing 165 books for a non profit that is giving them as gifts to supporters, and a bit of a fact finding mission.
Scheduled for the 21st of December is the Route 66 Association of KIngman Arizona Christmas party. As this organization was a sponsor of the recent Heartland Toute that included the Miles of Possibility of Conference, I am to make a presentation about tourism trends, the conference, the Route 66 centennial, and how communities can be transformed into a destination even with an anemic or nonexistent tourism office.
There is also a need to revamp our crowdfunding website on the Patreon platform before the end of the year. This is long overdue.
A couple of years ago I launched A Year With Jim, a daily posting about life in my corner of the world on Instagram and the Jim Hinckley’s America Facebook page. I was rather surprised by its popularity, and expected a sharp decline in followers when our Facebook page was locked (still haven’t been able to resolve the problem) in February.
Instead its popularity soared. Soon we had more than 1,000 followers on Instagram, and a growing number of requests to keep it going when the year ended. And that was how Decade With Jim came into being. Yesterday I shared a special post as it was a milestone, day number 800.
Podcast development is also on the list. Promotion and marketing needs to be developed. Program sponsors are needed for expansion of the programs. And for 2023, as I want the podcasts to be more interactive, there is a need to line up some guests.
And if I get bored, there is always The Beast, the 1951 Chevrolet panel truck that is envisioned as a rolling Route 66 information center, book store and studio for the various Jim Hinckley’s America programs. With the exception of the gas tank and gas gauge the installation of a wiring harness is complete. But I have a grounding issue to resolve. Now that a suitable donor differential has been located, that will be the next issue to address.
So much has happened since I made a decision and took that first step. It has me rather excited about the next thirty two years at Jim Hinckley’s America. I can only imagine the technologies that will allow me to share the adventure. I can only imagine the discoveries that we will make on our odysseys.
Author Jim HInckley talking about the power of grassroots initiatives at the 2022 Miles of Possibility Conference. Photo Penny Black
Well, the verdict is in. Author Cheryl Eichar Jettwho is also an historian, playwright, founder and President, Route 66 Miles of Possibility, and Associate Editor, ROUTE Magazine, sent an email last evening. She shared the results of the survey from the recent Miles of Possibility Conference in Pontiac, Illinois.
“We were privileged to have you as a speaker at the 7thannual Route 66 Miles of Possibility Conference. Thank you so much for sharing ways that communities can be transformed by working cooperatively. Your remarks on the panel showed just how important Dave Clark was to the Route 66 community and his generosity in sharing his knowledge. You brought your great sense of humor to the presentation and we heard several people at the conference quoting some of your one-liners, including something about “selling everything on the hog but the squeal!” You earned the highest evaluations (4/4) in every category and several people commented on your presentation: “Very good content” “Easy to understand” “Informative, interesting.” Kudos for a job well done.”
The comments were humbling, an honor, and a surprise. I am still amazed that people turn out to hear me beat my gums, and that I am paid to tell people where to go as well as share America’s story. And when I take time to reflect on the long and winding road that led to the stage in Pontiac, Illinois, my amazement grows.
This little factoid may surprise a few folks but I lean toward the quiet, reclusive life. As my dearest friend shares a similar course in life, we have been enjoying each others company, and adventures to empty places, for forty years.
The enjoyment I derive from sharing adventures with people from the stage is a recent phenomena. Public speaking is something I never thought of mastering, let alone attempting. While in school I would sit in the back of the class, and dress so I blend in with the wall.
Author Jim Hinckley talking Route 66 history with some Dutch motorcyclists.
During my John Wayne period, which I never outgrew, I was quick to volunteer for the jobs on the ranch that required heading for the back country, alone, sometimes for days on end. It was just me, the dog, a horse and gear, books and food. And I enjoyed that life with a passion.
But in time, and with encouragement from my dearest friend, I move tentatively from the shadows into the spotlight. And I became moderately comfortable standing before a crowd, sharing America’s story, and putting my God given talent for telling people where to go to work.
It has been a challenging transition. And it has been a rewarding one as well. Inspriting road trips. Bringing history to life. Encouraging people to dream, and then to make the dream a reality. I derive tremendous satisfaction from all of this.
With this as a rather lengthy introduction, I would like to offer my services. Can you use a gum beater that makes people smile, that encourages them, that brings history to life, and that encourages people to transform their community to add some zest to an event, a conference, or convention?
If, so, let’s talk. Meanwhile take a listen to our podcasts, Coffee With Jim and Car Talk From the Main Street of America, just two of the programs developed by Jim Hinckley’s America.