The Route 66 Chronicles: Unraveling mysteries

Author Jim Hinckley signs copies of “Ghost Towns of Route 66” after talking about the highway’s colorful history with a tour group from Australia. (Courtesy)

Author Jim Hinckley signs copies of “Ghost Towns of Route 66” after talking about the highway’s colorful history with a tour group from Australia. (Courtesy)

History is a lot like a good pot of stew. If we merely skim the surface, we miss the meat and potatoes at the bottom. This leaves the impression that the stew is a bit thin and without a great deal of flavor. Then we tell folks that the stew wasn’t very good and the story is repeated until it becomes fact.

With the passing of time, even photos are not always enough to separate myth from fact. Recently, the Route 66 Association of Kingman initiated an ambitious plan to partner with property owners in the historic business district to restore facades, as well as historic signage.

One of these projects was the Old Trails Garage owned by the Graves family. As historic research is something I engage in regularly, I was asked to assist in determining the date of construction and to find images of the garage that would allow for a more accurate recreation.

The earliest view of the garage was a postcard from about 1918 in the possession of the Mohave Museum of History & Arts. However, something did not seem right as the garage was supposed to have been built in 1912 or 1914, and I didn’t see the Brunswick Hotel that was built in 1909. This was accredited to a bit of photo editing, common in many early post cards. Then, with assistance from Steve Rider, a prolific collector of National Old Trails Highway era postcards, a similar postcard was discovered, but this one indicated a Needles, California location.

Even though the owners have decided that the facade renovation of the Kingman garage will mimic its 1940 appearance, complete with towering neon Packard sign from about 1930, it was interesting to have a more complete photo record of the facility’s evolution.

As the association’s initiative progresses, I am confident that further adventures in historic research will take place. In fact, I am currently in search of a mystery contractor that added a unique signature to his work – the use of white quartz to frame windows and doors.

To date, I have documented this signature at the Siesta Motel, 1929; the recently razed Bell Motel, 1946; the Assembly of God church, 1939; a circa-1930 cafe, and the last remnant of the pre-1937 Richards Auto Court. Perhaps the most intriguing of these buildings is the old church, as stones with Native American petroglyphs were used in the construction!

A few days ago I delved into the new Facebook live and posted several early morning discussions. A regular morning broadcast is something I may do in the near future. To have direct interaction with followers and Route 66 enthusiasts from throughout the world was a most interesting experience.

https://www.facebook.com/plugins/video.php?href=https%3A%2F%2Fwww.facebook.com%2Fjim.hinckley.39%2Fvideos%2F10154743693444933%2F&show_text=0&width=560

In the most recent of these I noted that a video from the site of Camp Beale, a mid-19th century military outpost on the Beale Wagon Road and Mohave Prescott Toll Road, would be shared. Recently, I went live with this short video and in the coming days will post a more detailed video on the Jim Hinckley’s YouTube channel.

This historic site is another location where the passing of time has greatly obscured its actual location, size, and even years of operation. The Mohave Museum of History & Arts has created some superb then-and-now photos that have resolved a few of these mysteries. The area is another gem in the Kingman region as the springs, a veritable desert oasis, and the miles of trails for hiking or mountain biking in the Cerbat foothills.

In school we may have been given the impression that history is as dull and boring as a three-day insurance seminar. Nothing could be further from the truth. Unraveling mysteries, chasing ghosts, and discovering tangible links to the dreams and vision of people long passed empower us to look toward the future with eager anticipation.

Until we meet again on the road in Jim Hinckley’s America, adios mi amigos.