Anecdotes of the Mother Road

Using a water bottle for a prop author and speaker Jim Hinckley tells an amusing story of the very early days of overland travel in the American West and the origins of Route 66.

NEEDLES — Jim Hinckley regaled a large audience in the El Garces with a cast of hundreds in a rapid-fire and often-comic rendition of the origins of Route 66 on Feb. 7; a special presentation of the Needles Regional Museum.

The author of 18 books and a renowned promoter of the Mother Road began with pre-history: the ancient trade routes of indigenous peoples which many early routes followed across the American West, quickly moving on to what he described as a period of incredible transition between 1880 and 1930.

The League of American Wheelmen, he pointed out, began a drive for better roads for bicyclists in 1880, a dozen years before Ransom E. Olds discussed the advantages of the automobile in the magazine Scientific American.

The Barnum and Bailey Circus was promoting automotive travel by 1896 and Alexander Winton attempted the first coast-to-coast drive in 1901. “It took him almost 10 days to get from San Francisco to the east side of the Sierra Mountains,” Hinckley chuckled.

Horatio Nelson Jackson and Sewall K. Crocker finally made it all the way across in 1903, taking 63 days to travel from San Francisco to New York, in a car built by the company founded by the 1901 adventurer: the Winton Motor Carriage Company.

Roads were bound to improve: Hinckley claimed that by 1919 three of five Americans owned autos. One in five had indoor plumbing.

Roads tended to stick close to railways: that’s where food and lodging could be found as in the El Garces itself, an historic Harvey House. Hinckley quipped that it also allowed drivers to board a train after their car fell apart.

Today, Hinckley works with tour companies in five countries that specialize in Route 66 tours. An International Route 66 Festival convenes this year in the Czhech Republic. The latest? Electric vehicles availing themselves of charging stations making an appearance along the Mother Road.

The museum’s lecture series continues with a presentation by Laura Tohe on World War II’s famous Navajo Code Talkers on Friday, March 13, in the El Garces. The museum is hoping to sell all 125 tickets in advance of the event, to avoid waiting in line to enter and the possible disappointment of finding no seats available.

Visit the museum between 10 a.m. and 2 p.m. Pacific, Mondays through Saturdays, at 929 Front St. Write to P.O. Box 978, Needles, CA 92363; call 760-326-5678; send email to Visit

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