King of the Road

Jim Hinckley calls Kingman, Arizona, his adopted hometown. There he met and courted his wife of 40 years, Judy. Before turning to writing 22 books and speaking engagements, Hinckley worked a diverse array of jobs. He worked on ranches in Arizona and New Mexico, and in mines, both open pit and underground, throughout the West. He also worked as a truck driver, mechanic, repossession agent and as the manager of a finance company.

I was raised on the road. My folks used to tease me that I was potty trained along the highway. We made our first trip west in the summer of 1959, when I was still in diapers. And most every year until I left home we made one or two epic cross-country trips worthy of Jason and the Argonauts.

My parents were a bit different. For my dad, there was a right way, a wrong way, and his way of doing things. And his way was the only way.

I grew up in the Kingman area, and around Silver City, New Mexico, as well as Jackson, Michigan. I learned to ride a bicycle, and to drive a truck, on an old alignment of Route 66 near Kingman.

A favorite teacher wasn’t found in school. Brad was an old ranch hand in New Mexico. He was somewhere between 60 and 200 years old and referred to himself as an optimistic pessimist. His philosophical outlook was transformative, and the lessons he taught still serve me today.

An early hero of mine was Clyde A. McCune, a justice of the peace in Kingman. He worked tirelessly to keep wayward fellows on the right track. He was fair, tough and no nonsense. I owe him a lot.

Westerns and the romanticism of the West were a big part of my formative years. However, unlike most kids of my generation, it wasn’t the movies as much as the books and stories that sparked my imagination.

My first car I bought with my own money was a well-used 1963 Rambler American station wagon. But in less than a year I traded that car and bought an even more battered 1942 Chevy pickup.

A roadside diner that I enjoy immensely is Clanton’s Cafe in Vinita, Oklahoma. One family has owned the cafe since the 1920s!

A piece of pie or a good cobbler have always trumped cake for me. Strawberry rhubarb, cherry, a berry or peach cobbler is the best way to round out a meal.

Writing is something that I just have to do. Since childhood I have been obsessed with books, and often dreamed of being a writer when I grew up. That childhood goal is one that I am still pursuing. But as with many childhood dreams I put it aside and let life get in the way. With gentle nudging from my dearest friend, I began trading the written word for cash and food in 1990. It has been a wild ride and grand adventure.

If I could drive is a subject I could fill a book or two with. I am obsessed with road trips, and most anything with four wheels. And if I were being honest with myself, perhaps I am also a glutton for punishment.

To me a perfect day is the open road at sunrise, discovering a little diner where the coffee is hot and the pie is fresh, and closing it out with a cold beer and lively conversation with old friends.

One of my favorite stories about old Route 66 is the one waiting to be written. Each adventure on that old road is better than the last.

I don’t know why folks always refer to the good old days as something in the past. If you’re breathing, it’s the best of times.

History has taught me a few lessons. Politics is sort of like cleaning stables. It comes in different colors but it all smells about the same. Times change but right and wrong don’t. It’s hard to get excited about the road ahead if your focus is on the rearview mirror. Study history, it’s the only way that you can tell if this is the best of times or the worst of times.

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