Today’s guest, Jim Hinckley, has shared his love of old trucks and lost highways through the publication of three books and as a contributor to Old Cars Weekly, Classic Auto Restorer, Hemmings Classic Car, The Kingman Daily Miner and American Road.
Shelagh: Hi Jim, please tell us more about yourself and your background.
Jim: When I first moved to the deserts of Arizona in the summer of 1966 my initial impression was a deeper understanding for the place warned about in Sunday school. To say the very least, it was a far cry from the meadows and forests of Michigan or the hills of Tennessee with which I was familiar.
As the years passed, a deep love for the empty places, the raw landscapes, the history, and the people that called the desert southwest home grew. Fueled by the writings of Zane Grey and other western writers this passion soon developed into a near complete immersion in the romanticism of the west that I now jokingly refer to as my “John Wayne” period.
I found employment on ranches in Arizona and New Mexico and became enamored with the rodeo life though I never mastered the craft of either. Then I discovered mining which in turn led to adventures among the ghost towns of the southwest.
Books about history have been an integral part of my life since childhood. However, histories relevance to the present and future never really manifested until I walked the streets of Tombstone, rode the rutted tracks of the Butterfield Stage Line across the desert plains of New Mexico, or experienced Route 66 behind the wheel of a 1950 De Soto.
Tying all of these things together were the tangible links to the past with which I began to fill my life. The most notable of these were the vehicles I chose, and still choose, for daily transportation – 1942 Chevrolet pick up, 1926 Ford, 1946 GMC, 1955 Ford, 1968 Dodge – to name but a few.
Shelagh: When did you first begin writing, and how did it hook you?
Jim: From my earliest memory writing was something I wanted do, but oddly enough did nothing to develop that interest and passion. Then, in 1990, with gentle encouragement from my loving wife, I decided to take the plunge and give it a try. As I know now my first success was truly a fluke.
I felt the discovery of an extremely interesting wrecking yard in southern Arizona near the Mexican border would serve as an excellent introductory tool. So, I picked up my favorite automotive magazine, obtained the name of the editor from the title page, and called their office.
After a brief discussion the story was approved. No query letter! No formal introduction! No name dropping! The photos were taken with a $25.00 Kmart camera. The story was written on a 1948 model Underwood typewriter.
Eight weeks later I had a check for $250.00 and publication in a major publication. I was hooked!
Shelagh: What goals did you want to accomplish after that, and is there a message you want readers to grasp?
Jim: Well, with receipt of that first check my childhood dreams were instantly renewed. Visions of acclaim and riches danced in my head. However, most of all was the unshakeable conviction that soon I would be quitting the day job.
Since that time I have written five books, have had more than one thousand feature articles published, and have penned two weekly columns for newspapers. I also still have a day job that pays the lion’s share of the bills.
For aspiring writers the lessons in all of this are rather simple concepts. Rejection and disappointment are merely dues to be paid. Thinking outside of the box will generate reward as well as set back.
Don’t give up; if writing is something you have a passion for then do it. Let the writing be its own reward. If you happen to make a million in the process, great!
Shelagh: Briefly tell us about your latest book, Jim.
Jim: Ghost Towns of the Southwest is a book that was more than twenty years in the making. Between the covers are more than snapshots and time capsules from the western frontier, this book is a tapestry of my adventures hung against a backdrop of Technicolor western landscapes and centuries of history.
The towns, communities, and mining camps profiled in this book include famous locales such as Tombstone and Chloride. However, to add depth and context to their story I also included lesser known places such as Columbus and Ruby as well as Spanish colonial outposts like Cabezon and Native American cities like Gran Quivira.
This book is the third in a loose series that profiles the overlooked and forgotten destinations. My first travel related title was Backroads of Arizona. Next came Route 66 Backroads, a travel guide to that iconic highway with a twist. The current project in the works, Ghost Towns of Route 66, continues these themes.
Shelagh: What is the hook for this book?
Jim: There are really several. First, there is the twist of presenting the ghost towns as the vehicle for providing continuity to the history of the southwest that spans centuries as well as cultures.
Next would be the unique and colorful characters introduced to readers. As an example consider Jefferson Davis Milton, a lawman whose career included a stint with the Texas Rangers, being the only law in lawless frontier towns and even escorting arrested Russian anarchists back to Russia during the teens. The latter job was done after a shootout left him with the use of only one arm!
However, the primary hook has to be the stunning western landscapes framed by the imposing and forlorn ruins of these bygone communities as captured by award winning photographer Kerrick James.
Shelagh: How do you decide what locations to include in your travel guides?
Jim: I draw from experience and my travels as well as conversations with a wide array of individuals from Native Americans to European tourists.
Shelagh: If you were limited to one region or location for recommendation where would it be and why?
Jim: That would be the area around Silver City in New Mexico. The diversity of the landscapes in this area is enhanced by vast tracts of wilderness that make it possible to experience the west as it was before the advent of the modern era.
Adding flavor to this would be the truly amazing depth of history found here as represented by sites as diverse as Billy the Kid’s mother’s gravesite, ghost towns, cliff dwellings and the longest continuously operated mine in the United States.
Then you have the people. There is something very invigorating in having breakfast in a quaint café, family owned for more than a half century, where representatives of four generations of a ranching family, outfitted with worn jeans, equally worn boots, and spurs, share the counter with liberal college students and professors while grandma teaches her granddaughter how to make tortillas in the open kitchen.
Shelagh: How does your environment and upbringing color your writing?
Jim: My mother often quipped that it seemed I was born ninety and never aged. Perhaps that is why I have always felt most comfortable in the company of those who are my peers by a half century or more.
These relationships allow me the unique opportunity to add a first person feel to events that took place long before I was born. In a similar manner my transportation choices and wide array of adventures enhance the ability to flavor my automotive and travel writings with a hand on authority.
Shelagh: Please share one of your favorite reviews of your work.
Jim: “I have a copy of Jim Hinckley’s new book and want to share with all of you some facts and my thoughts on the book. Route 66 BACKROADS has over 200 photos, some new and a few old, all are worth the price of the book alone. Then add in some maps to show folks how easy it is to get to and from these sites from Route 66. Now the instructions, information and data that Jim has added in the text shows the reader just how thoroughly he has done his research. I plan on taking this book with me when traveling the road, just in case I find time to take some detours. For you retailers, like Rich, that offer this book for sale, I feel it is going to make a GREAT addition to your inventory. For you fellow roadies this is just the kind of book you need to make you want to get back out on the road. I will be recommending this book to everyone that travels the road or just wants to add a wonderful book to their collection.
I have one question for Jim Hinckley, who by the way I know and he is a good friend. WHEN IS YOUR NEXT BOOK COMING OUT?”
Shelagh: What are your current projects?
Jim: I am under contract for another book, Ghost Towns of Route 66, and am deep into research. Then there is the monthly column, The Independent Thinker that I write for Cars & Parts magazine.
On a number of levels my monthly column for Cars & Parts is one of my most satisfying jobs. Through it I am able to share my fascination with automotive history, give some obscure individuals that made large contributions to the industry some overdue kudos, and delve deeper into mysteries pertaining to the conflicted origins of inventions as well as manufacturers.
Shelagh: Where can folks learn more about your books and forthcoming projects?
Jim: I have a public profile on Google and also maintain a daily blog, Route 66 Chronicles: www.route66chronicles.blogspot.com
In addition, I maintain a website Route 66 Info Center: www.routeinfocenter.com where travel tips are shared with commentary and links, and enticing photographs from our collection are presented. I also have an author’s blog on Amazon.com.
Shelagh: Thanks for stopping in on us today, Jim.
Jim: Thank you very much for this opportunity.