My Word: The Re-Discovery of Tin Cup

September 3, 2014 Comments (3)

By Denise McCluggage

Welcome to Historic Tin Cup

Car companies have gone through several stages in how they introduce the press to their new vehicles. And thus to readers of the publications represented. There was a time when the car makers spent lavishly. One might say even foolishly. The P.R. or marketing folks handed out first class plane tickets to deliver the writers to the posh resorts where the new vehicles were met with and driven. Just to prove that was foolish some of my colleagues would swap the single first class passage for two economy tickets (it was easier and fee-free in those days) and their wives were miraculously whisked to the same seaside or mountain spot.

On the q.t. (all hoped) and housed in a lesser hostelry. When his time at the “Ride and Drive” of the car company ended the writer would transfer to those more modest digs and stay on a few days. (Departure changes were free then, too.) The couple had a pleasant few days with no transportation cost to them.

One fellow journalist stretched his first-class tickets into as many miles as possible even if such a ruse involved more stops. He was compulsive about frequent flyer miles and could probably take every cousin he had around the world. My suggestion that maybe the host car company paid for first class seats so that the writers would be rested when they arrived met with a return suggestion that I mind my own business.

What the hospitality trade calls “room gifts” were equally lavish at that time. Pieces of superior luggage maybe. Almost always a racing jacket with the company logo. Wine. A welter of electronics. The European press really expected high-ticket items, even more than Americans. An oft-told story was a car introduction in which an American company was hosting a collection of European reporters. The gift was something like an iPod with a small note of “hope you enjoy this” or some such. In some rooms this was apparently left on the TV set.

Yep, you guessed it. At checkout time a few of the European journalists came off the elevators lugging a great armful of TV. Hearing of this we Americans tried to imagine embarrassed P.R. types struggling to deal with this cross-cultural misunderstanding.

All the excesses of hospitality faded even before the economy stumbled and car companies cut back to what was after all the essentials of getting a new model car into our hands in a pleasant setting with knowledgeable executives nearby to answer questions about the vehicle, its design and performance and a description of the marketing plans laid out for it. That’s what a public relations department was supposed to do.

Range Rover

The thing is some did it with more class, style and originality than others. And Louis Vuitton garment bags had nothing to do with it. The programs themselves were the draw. Bill Baker, a prince among P.R. people, ran such programs for Land Rover. Everyone wanted to be on a Bill Baker trip because his trips were always germane to the vehicle involved, always well organized and well-realized. And always great fun.

Great Divide Expedition

This week I will be in Colorado’s Rockies to celebrate the 25th anniversary of one of Bill Baker’s programs for Land Rover. The reunion is called the Great Divide Expedition. The original 25 years ago wended its way—working north to south, heading eastward now westward—over trails and passes that crossed that incredible line that split the country into watersheds, east or west. This trickle of melt from summit snowfall will find its way on this side of that pebble then farther on that side of that boulder, joining more glinting run offs, growing larger, more intentional. And quite obviously gaining a destination as these streamlets become creeks and rivers.

It’s the Atlantic ocean for one part of that tiny streamlet; the Pacific for another. That’s the drama of the Continental Divide. You see a drop join another drop, separate from another and a watershed is created before your eyes. Push down here and you’ve altered a destiny for a sun-melted Rocky Mountain snowflake.

Hey, that gets to me.

The Great Divide Expedition

When Bill Baker chose criss-crossing the Great Divide to show off Land Rover’s adept ways with steeps and deeps and rocks and ravines he did not know my family had a history with one of those passes. One called either Tin Cup Pass or St. Elmo’s depending on which way you’re heading. (Tin Cup is on the western slope.) My Daddy at seven or eight—a Kansas farm boy then—had been on a horse-drawn wagon from St. Elmo with his mother to visit his Uncle Will in Tin Cup, an active mining town as the 1800s tumbled toward the 20th Century.

Tin Cup Log Cabinc

In Tin Cup Daddy’s Uncle Will had a sturdy log house that stands to this day and had a store that succumbed to a downtown-devouring fire. The next year the other half of the downtown burned. By the 1930s Tin Cup had one year-round resident—a young man named, if I recall across the years, Ross Seton. He stayed through the snowed-in winter to keep an eye on his gold mine.

I was there in the ‘30s when I was just a few years older than Daddy had been his first visit. Memories pulled my Daddy back to the Colorado ghost town which his mother had not liked. She kept whispering promises of watermelon if he would say he wanted to go home to Kansas. Or so he would tell us as the sun, which oddly seemed to set in the East in Tin Cup, turned the mountain opposite a rosy pink every night.

Daddy’s grandmother is buried in Tin Cup in one of those mountain cemeteries with oddly elevated wooden fences around each grave. We found it on the Land Rover expedition when we went through Tin Cup on the way over the Continental Divide yet again. To St. Elmo. Hey, my kinfolk are in that rugged outpost that Bill Baker had sent a collection of Land Rovers through. And new Land Rovers will do the same this week with old people to drive them.

Tincup PAss Continental Divide

I don’t know if the anniversary visit to the Great Divide will visit either Tin Cup or St. Elmo this time. I’d rather just find out than ask. I’ll have memories stirred either way. There will be some of the original expedition drivers on this return. And Bill Baker will be among them which will represent a strong will and a stalwart spirit. He has spent much of his recent life in a battle with cancer and is recovering with effort.

As for me, I’ll be returning with a right hip and a right knee that are not original equipment. And a left hip soon to be discarded in similar fashion. I’m a lot older than my Daddy ever got to be. I haven’t been to Tin Cup since that first Land Rover trip. No matter what it will be a memorable weekend.

I wonder if the mountain is still pink as the sun drops into a mysterious East.

I know there will be no one lugging TV sets out of any hotel. And I’ve got an iPod, thanks.

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Comments (3)

  1. Keith Carlson:
    Sep 05, 2014 at 09:47 AM

    Another excellent piece , or two well-connected, dear and charming lady, plus great shots. Many tks once again.

  2. Gary Anderson:
    Sep 14, 2014 at 10:14 PM

    I came on the auto journo scene just as the last great press launches were taking place (including a few organized by Bill Baker), and on one of my first, hosted by Jaguar, I met Denise and some of the other marvelous individuals that Phil Llewellin called "the good guys." Fortunately, some of those folks, like Denise, are still in the business so, even though the launches are a bit more professional and less grand, they still provide opportunities to catch up. I'll look forward to reading her blogs on this site.

  3. Rex Woodgate :
    Oct 04, 2014 at 09:47 AM

    Denise doe it again, great reading, Damn it she does everything well..I remember her well in her racing days circa the 50's & 60's....How time passes when you are having fun!!!
    Keep up the good work Denise and ENJOY
    Rex


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