Organized in early 1927, the U.S. Highway 66 Association was similar in nature to many organizations and businesses established before the creation of the federal highway system to promote roads such as the Lincoln Highway and the National Old Trails Highway. The association had two primary goals; lobby to have U.S. 66 fully paved from Chicago to its western terminus at Seventh and Broadway in Los Angeles, California and the development of marketing initiatives to promote tourism on the highway. The organizations marketing endeavors were so successful, U.S. 66, iconic Route 66, is arguably the most famous highway in America even though it hasn’t officially existed for more than three decades.
A key component in the organizations success was the development of cooperative partnerships with businesses and communities. Many of the challenges faced by the Route 66 community today are the same as those addressed by that pioneering organization more than nine decades ago. So, isn’t it logical to assume that development of a community of partners would resolve issues that range from preservation to marketing, and ensure that the old highway remains vibrant into the centennial and beyond?
The National Route 66 Museum in Elk City, Oklahoma, a stop on our fall tour.
Jim Hinckley’s America is about, well, America. Still at the center of all that we do is Route 66, the Main Street of America. It was never my intent to replicate the original U.S. Highway 66 Association. However, I have volunteered my services to every reputable effort to create a modern incarnation of this entity. And I have developed a multifaceted promotional platform that promotes Route 66 as a destination, a distinct difference from early marketing designed to promote U.S. 66 as a preferred highway for those making a cross country jaunt.
Have no doubts. Today Route 66 is no mere highway. It is a destination. It is, to borrow an adage from author Michael Wallis, a linear community. The problem is that with the exception of passionate travelers affectionately referred to as roadies, few communities or businesses along the highway corridor see Route 66 as a destination.
And so I launched the development of community educational initiatives. Linked with this was creation of a marketing network designed to provide businesses, and communities, with an opportunity to magnify their promotional initiatives regardless of budget. One component was the crowdfunding initiative on the Patreon platform. If five hundred followers of the Jim Hinckley’s America travel programs each contributed as little as $1 or $5 per month, I could purchase needed equipment, keep necessary subscriptions updated, cover some travel expenses and dedicate time for the creation of programs such as the recent Adventurers Club in which I interviewed the president of Route 66 Association of New Mexicoand Texas Old Route 66 Association.
As the concept of creating a pooled resource cooperative evolved I began providing businesses with advertising opportunities for as little as $12.50 per week. With each and every step of development my focus has been on using Jim Hinckley’s America as a venue for the promotion of Route 66 as a destination. I am quite pleased by the comments received from advertising sponsors, major sponsors including the City of Cuba and Grand Canyon Caverns, and most importantly, travelers.
Promotional materials distributed along Route 66
Together, one partnership at a time, we can transform Route 66 into a linear community of partners. Together we can market and promote the most famous highway in America as a destination. So, with that said, can your community or business use a promotional boost?
When I signed on with the Sierra Mesa spread out of Faywood, New Mexico, I wasn’t exactly a greenhorn. I had earned my spurs working for the Cedar Springs Ranch based in the Music Mountains of Arizona, and had worn a bit of leather off the tree riding for other outfits in Arizona, New Mexico, and Colorado. I had even tried my hand at bronc riding but soon decided that was a good living if you didn’t plan on living long. During my John Wayne period I learned that as with any profession, there were plenty of folk that are quite adept at giving a lick and a promise. They work harder at appearing to work than if they had simply put their shoulder to the wheel and got the job done. The entire crew pays the price for their showmanship, especially if they can bluff the trail boss or foreman.
When it comes to tourism, a key component in economic development, some communities prefer to give it a lick and a promise. Others put their shoulder to the wheel. In a nutshell the tourism/hospitality classes developed for Mohave Community College, and the presentation/workshop that is a condensed version of those classes was conceived as a means to provide tools for communities that want more than a lick and a promise approach to tourism development. I designed these under the Jim Hinckley’s America banner for places along the Route 66 corridor but can adapt them to work with any town.
Can you see the lick & promise?
A common mistake made by many communities is the transformation of the visitor center into the destination rather than the point of entry. This is the easiest way to give a lick and promise. It’s also the easiest way to fool the trail boss, especially if you can show pretty graphs and numbers. On the ranch the fellow bucking hay could give a lick and promise performance by stacking the bales so the barn looked full, and adding a bit of water to the sweat band in his hat. With tourism the lick and promise approach is just as hollow.
What is being promoted? Hidden behind the banner is a sign advertising the world’s only electric vehicle museum.
The lick and promise approach to tourism works to outshine what is perceived to be competition when in actuality it is an opportunity to build a powerful cooperative partnership. Of course even that requires to much effort so energy is wasted on creating the illusion of success, instead of simply saddling up and getting the job done.
With the lick and promise approach time is wasted deriving excuses for missed opportunity. This works for a bit but soon it is like the story of the emperor with no clothes. Folks notice but don’t want to be the first to point out the farce.
So, what’s the answer for communities where the lick and promise approach to tourism is deemed good enough? Education. Educated grassroots initiatives. Educated grassroots initiatives that can develop cooperative partnerships. Educated grassroots initiatives that can develop cooperative partnerships that maximize use of all available resources. Educated grassroots initiatives that use partnerships and resources that transform the community into a destination for visitors and for people looking for a great place to live, to retire, to open a business and to raise a family.
Pontiac in Illinois is a town where the lick and promise approach isn’t good enough, and it shows. Photo Jim Hinckley’s America
So do you live in a community where a lick and promise is deemed good enough?
The “A Year With Jim” project provides a behind the scenes tour of Jim Hinckley’s America.
To be honest I have been surprised by the popularity of the A Year With Jim project. I knew that some aspects of my daily routine such as the search for good pie, the meeting of tour groups from throughout the world, travel, and the visiting of historic sites would be of interest. However, I never imagined that people would be fascinated with the day to day life of an author who lives with a 21-year old cat that suffers from incontinence, that is consistently seeking new ways to generate income to support the writing habit, and that rambles about in an ancient Jeep.
A Year With Jim
“A Year With Jim, day 37. This week has left me feeling like the loser in a behind kicking contest for one legged men. Still, to ensure the habit of eating on a regular basis continues we soldier on. This mornings schedule included …” The best adventures are shared adventures. That is more than a motto here at Jim Hinckley’s America, it is the very foundation of all that we do from books to presentations, from community development projects to receptions for touring groups. It is also the slogan that inspired my launch of the rather voyeuristic endeavor that is the A Year With Jim project using the hashtag #yearinlifeofjim and #jimhinckleysamerica
Floyd & Company in Kingman, Arizona, a favorite of mine for good barbecue or gourmet wood fired pizza.
The concept was relatively simple; provide fans and followers with a behind the scenes tour of Jim Hinckley’s America. As with all of our projects, the goal was to provide inspiration for road trips, for fledgling writers, for community organizers, and for the curious individual that is considering the launch of a podcast, blog or YouTube channel for fun or profit. And of course there was also a marketing angle as the selling of books, of presentations, of my work as a tourism development consultant and of other services is what keeps beans on the table and the wheels turning on the Jeep (or rental car).
Isn’t funny how we can become so accustomed to the unusual that it seems normal, at least until someone points it out to us. That is what I glean from the comments posted about the A Year With Jim project. To me this wild, unpredictable, fun filled, often out of control ride has come to seem normal. In retrospect, I may have been preparing for this crazy adventure for the last fifty years or so.
In Kingman, Arizona, an outback adventure begins on the edge of town with the Cerbat Foothills trail system.
So, as our theme song recorded by the Road Crew says, come along for the ride. Follow the Year With Jim adventure on our Twitter or Instagram pages and meet some fascinating people, find a bit of inspiration for a road trip or an adventure, and see what goes on behind the programs, the books, the road trip planning, and behind the scenes at Jim Hinckley’s America.
It was an era of hand crank telephones, Model A Fords, and unprecedented economic collapse. The onslaught of the Dust Bowl that would transform families into refugees and prosperous communities into ghost towns was worsening. In 1931 more than 2,200 banks were shuttered and tens of thousands of people lost their savings, their homes, and their businesses. By January of 1932, unemployment had reached 40% in Michigan, and entire families were freezing to death or dying of starvation.
It was against this bleak and hopeless backdrop that Cyrus Avery and the visionaries of the U.S. Highway 66 Association campaigned for the highways paving. They were also fostering development of tourism marketing campaigns as they realized the economic importance of tourism, especially in struggling rural communities. Their first campaign commenced in 1927 with the branding of US 66 as the Main Street of America. In 1931 the association held a convention in Elk City, Oklahoma and the number of attendees was counted in the tens of thousands. The association was quick to seize upon the opportunity that was the 1932 Summer Olympics that were to be held in Los Angeles, and on July 16 of that year an advertisement appeared in the Saturday Evening Post, inviting Americans to travel the “Great Diagonal Highway” to the games. In spite of the harsh economic conditions, within a week, the Association’s office in Tulsa, Oklahoma, was overwhelmed with requests for information about Route 66, Los Angeles, and the Olympics.
Fast forward to the modern era. Tourism, especially with a Route 66 component, still represents an incredible economic opportunity. That can be exponentially magnified if it is linked to a communities unique attributes such as cultural or heritage sites, experiential opportunities, or ecotourism activities such as mountain biking. With the Route 66 centennial fast approaching, a community that taps into this historic event NOW can reap tremendous rewards all the way to 2026 and beyond.
Surprisingly, only a few communities have tapped into the international fascination with Route 66, and most of these have been content with simply letting the tourists come to them rather actively enticing them. A very rare number of Route 66 communities have managed to sell everything on the hog including the squeal and as a result, have been transformed into destinations. More often than not the marketing of the city as a destination, as a Route 66 community with an array of attractions, is anemic at best, even with a sizable budget. Grass roots initiatives operating behind the scenes become the driving force in towns such as this. This is the case with my adopted hometown of Kingman, Arizona.
Grassroots initiatives have been been the driving force behind the historic district renaissance. And now the city is beginning to assist rather than hinder. After the city’s tourism department failed to capitalize or even develop the Route 66 Walk of Fame that showed such promise, grassroots initiatives spearheaded by the Route 66 Association of Kingman took the lead in honoring the people that have played a key role in the transformation from highway to icon. When the city’s tourism department neglected to build on opportunities derived from initiatives that fostered development of a working relationship with international Route 66 associations, business owners and community leaders launched the Kingman Promotional Initiative. When the city’s tourism office chose to forego receptions for tour groups, media and Route 66 associations representatives, cooperative partnerships were formed to fill the void.
It was the study of the original US Highway 66 Association and their marketing campaigns, and my involvement with these grassroots initiatives in Kingman that led to the development of community education programs as a pilot project for Mohave Community College. And it was these classes which led to the development of a new presentation, Route 66 Dollars & Cents, a condensed version of the college program.
This October, I will be taking the show on the road. I am anxious to share lessons learned, to provide incentive and tools for building strong, effective grassroots initiatives that overcome apathy and complacency, and that foster development of cooperative partnerships. If this program is of interest to your organization or your community, please drop me a note as the travel schedule is being planned at this time.
I will close this out with a few points to ponder. Every community has marketable assets. If you make a community a place that people will want to visit, you make it a place where they will want to live, to raise families, to retire and to open businesses. Apathy, complacency and incompetence can trump a handful of assets. Passionate people armed with knowledge, partners, and leaders with vision can transform a community.
It was a time of transition. Highways like U.S. 66 were being replaced
by the interstate, the gas station with its clanging bell was being replaced by the self serve mini-mart, and a tsunami of generic chain motels and restaurants were transforming the roadside landscape. The demise of venerable automobile manufactures Packard, Hudson, Studebaker, and Nash was a recent event and cars that had rolled from those companies factories still shared the highways with Fords and Dodges. (more…)