1919: ‘The Interstate Expedition”

THE LINCOLN HIGHWAY FORUM

Vol. 1, No. 3—Spring 1994 - The Official Journal of the Lincoln Highway Association

1919: 'The Interstate Expedition” by Vaughn Smartt

The following article appeared in the August 1973 issue of Constructor, the magazine of the Associated General Contractors of America. Of the dozens of accounts we have read of this amazing enterprise, this is by far the best. It is reprinted with the permission of Constructor editor Bill Heavey. We also thank LHA director Beth Savage, who spent part of her Christmas vacation copying these Photographs from originals in the National Archives.

Editor Note After Ike: Not all statistics in this article are consistent with convoy reports

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The interstate highway system would probably have been built sooner or later, but the fact that it was built sooner is due in large measure to the military. More specifically, it happened because a military man who had some first-hand knowledge of the condition of the nation's roads was president when the Interstate Highway Act was passed by Congress in 1956.

The image is a map of the United States with a dotted line running across it horizontally, from the East Coast to the West Coast. The dotted line appears to represent a route or path that traverses several states. This line begins on the eastern seaboard and moves westward, passing through states like New York, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, Iowa, Nebraska, Wyoming, Utah, and Nevada, before reaching the western coast. The route likely represents a historical journey or a significant trail.

This map of the route of the convoy was found in the National Archives. The vehicles proceeded north from the Ellipse in Washington to join the Lincoln in Gettysburg. Source: National Archives.

The "U.S. System of Interstate and Defense Highways" was conceived and laid out by the Bureau of Public Roads in 1936, some twenty years before the Congress finally authorized it.

The military has always been in favor of good roads as a means of moving troops back and forth. During World War Il, Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower and other American military officers were tremendously impressed by the German autobahns and the ease with which the Germans could move troops around on this network of super highways.

The image is a black-and-white photograph featuring a military truck, prominently displaying a banner that reads "MOTOR TRANSPORT CORPS MOVES THE ARMY." The truck is large and rugged, indicative of early 20th-century military vehicles. Two men in uniform are seated on the truck, with one man in the driver's seat and the other in a raised seat behind him, possibly operating machinery or overseeing the cargo. The truck's design includes large spoked wheels and an open cabin, typical of military transport vehicles from the era. The banner suggests that the truck is part of a demonstration or campaign to highlight the capabilities of the Motor Transport Corps, an essential component of military logistics that ensured the mobility of troops and supplies. The background shows trees and power lines, suggesting the truck is either parked or moving through a rural or semi-rural area. The image captures the essence of early military transport innovation and the critical role of logistics in military operations. The overall atmosphere reflects a period of technological advancement and organizational pride within the military, emphasizing the importance of transportation in the success of military missions.

Mechanical difficulties plagued the caravan from the moment they left Washington. These men had an enforced rest while the boiling radiator of their truck cooled down. The caravan was halted west of Marshalltown, Iowa. The crawler tractors were used time and again to extricate trucks from mud, deep sand, or collapsed bridge floors. Source: National Archives.

Writing in his book, At Ease—Stories I Tell to Friends, General Eisenhower said, “after seeing the autobahns of modern Germany and knowing the asset those highways were to the Germans, I decided, as president, to put an emphasis on this kind of road building. When we finally secured the necessary congressional approval, we started the 41,000 miles [since extended to 42,795 miles] of super highways that are already proving their worth. This was one of the things that I felt deeply about and I made it a personal and absolute decision to see that the nation would benefit by it."

Eisenhower gained his first knowledge of the condition of the nation's highways in 1919, when he accompanied an army convoy which left Washington on July 7, crossed the country and arrived in San Francisco Sept. 5, nearly two months later. He subsequently wrote that this convoy “started me thinking about good, two-lane highways, but Germany had made me see the wisdom of broader ribbons across the land."

The image is a black-and-white photograph capturing a bustling street scene in Tama during a special event or parade. The street is crowded with people, many of whom are dressed in early 20th-century attire, including hats and light summer clothing. The crowd appears to be engaged and animated, suggesting a festive or significant occasion. Both sides of the street are lined with buildings, typical of small-town commercial districts, featuring awnings and signs advertising various businesses. The architecture reflects early 20th-century styles, with brick facades and detailed cornices. Among the crowd are numerous vehicles, including covered trucks, which may be part of a convoy or parade, contributing to the lively atmosphere. The overall scene is dynamic and lively, filled with the energy of a community coming together to celebrate or participate in a noteworthy event. The photograph captures a moment in time when small-town life was marked by communal gatherings and public festivities, highlighting the social fabric and vibrancy of early 20th-century American towns.

Townspeople in Tama, Iowa, turned out en masse to welcome the army caravan. Fun at first, the party became boring as the trekkers downed gallons of lemonade and heard the local gasbags pontificate over their feat. Source: National Archives.

The 1919 transcontinental army convoy had a Homeric flavor to it. The internal combustion engine was still in its infancy and was not as dependable as it is today. A transcontinental convoy had never been attempted before and the army, in fact, was not sure that it could be done. As it turned out, the convoy made the journey in slightly less than two months, only two days behind schedule. It traveled at an average speed of ten to fifteen miles an hour, covered about sixty miles a day, and, in all, clocked about 3,200 miles (After Ike eds, the real average speed was 6.07 mph).

The expedition had several objectives. The War Department wished to test several different types of equipment and it wished to give the drivers some experience. It wished to demonstrate the practicability of motor transportation and, in the dry language of officialism, it wanted to “demonstrate the necessity for the judicious expenditure of federal government appropriations in providing for the necessary highways.”

The convoy was seen as a contribution to the Good Roads movement and it also had a recruiting mission (though why the army should be recruiting in the summer of 1919 is hard to understand). Finally, it was to be an exhibition to the general public of the development of the motor vehicle for military purposes.

The image is a black-and-white photograph of a serene, tree-lined street identified as the Lincoln Highway in Mechanicsville, Iowa. The photograph captures a wide, dirt road flanked by tall trees, with their branches forming a canopy over the street, providing a picturesque and shaded environment. The houses along the sides of the street are characteristic of early 20th-century American small-town architecture, with front porches and modest, well-kept lawns. Utility poles line the street, indicating the presence of electricity or telegraph services, adding to the sense of a community that is connected and developing. The perspective of the photograph draws the viewer's eye down the length of the road, creating a sense of depth and inviting curiosity about what lies beyond the visible distance. The image conveys a tranquil, almost idyllic sense of small-town life in early 20th-century America, reflecting the peacefulness and simplicity of the time. The Lincoln Highway, known as one of the earliest transcontinental highways for automobiles in the United States, is highlighted here as a vital thoroughfare that brought progress and connectivity to communities across the nation.

This Postcard depicts the Lincoln Highway coursing down the still-unpaved main street of Mechanicsville, Iowa, east of Cedar Rapids. It was mailed to Jack Coleman, with Company E of the 5th Engineers at Camp Humphreys, Va. —with the "Transcontinental Truck Train." The text: "Received Card this A.M. sure Was surprised to hear from you so soon for I know you have so many to write to along the Way & I hope you get out of the sand & even the Mountain safe & sound. Park F. Yule, Mechanicsville.” Source: Abraham Yalom.

The convoy consisted of about sixty trucks, identified in army language as "Class B vehicles." Some of the trucks were equipped with pneumatic tires while others had solid rubber tires. Two trucks had been converted into ambulances and two others were made into rolling machine shops. There were about a half-dozen staff cars of different manufacture and an equal number of motorcycles, some equipped with sidecars. There was also an engineer unit and a couple of kitchen trailers. In all there were seventy-two vehicles and about 280 officers, observers, and enlisted men— all commanded by Lt. Col. Charles W. McClure.

The convoy started in Washington, moving north to Pennsylvania, then turning due west across Ohio, Indiana, and Illinois. It would cross the Mississippi River at Clinton, Iowa, and then continue through Iowa, Nebraska, and southern Wyoming. The route then dipped down to Salt Lake City, turned west again across Nevada and dropped down the western slope of the Sierra Nevada to Sacramento and San Francisco.

The image is a black-and-white photograph depicting a convoy of military vehicles, with a clear focus on two trucks. One truck is labeled with a banner reading "WE'RE OFF FOR FRISCO" and another banner proclaiming "THE FIRST OCEAN TO OCEAN ARMY TRUCK TRAIN." The trucks are loaded with equipment, including a boat on the second truck, indicating a significant and well-publicized journey. The scene is set on a dirt road, with several men standing around the vehicles, dressed in military uniforms and hats. The convoy appears to be part of an organized effort, possibly a demonstration of military logistics or a promotional event showcasing the capabilities of the Army's transportation technology. The background features a hillside covered with vegetation, further emphasizing the rugged terrain that the convoy is navigating. The image captures a moment of excitement and ambition, reflecting the era's spirit of exploration and the military's push for innovation in transportation and logistics. The overall atmosphere is one of determination and progress, highlighting a historic journey that likely had significant implications for military and civilian transportation alike.

This truck, hauling a heavy wooden boat, broke down on a sandy detour west of Sterling, Ill. Source: National Archives.

During the course of the trip, the engineer unit remodeled or rebuilt entirely sixty-five bridges in order to accommodate the heavy trucks. On one occasion, fourteen bridges were rebuilt in a single day. The convoy was delayed for one day by heavy rains in North Platte, Nebr., which turned the road into a sea of gumbo.

Crossing the Nevada desert, the convoy encountered a sand drift 300 feet high and three miles long. Every vehicle in the convoy had to be pushed or pulled through and it took the men eleven hours to make twelve miles. This accounted for the second day's delay in meeting the prearranged schedule.

It was only by chance that Eisenhower went along. At this time, he was a lieutenant colonel with the permanent rank of captain. He was stationed with the infant Tank Corps at Camp Meade, Maryland, and not very happy with his assignment, especially since there were no quarters on the post available for his wife and son. When he heard about plans for the convoy he wrote that he was "immediately excited." And he added, "I wanted to go along partly for a lark and partly to learn."

The image is a black-and-white photograph showing a scene of men working with heavy machinery in a rural or agricultural setting. In the foreground, several men are gathered around a piece of machinery or a vehicle, which appears to be connected by a chain or cable to another large vehicle on the right side of the image. The men are dressed in work clothes, including hats and overalls, indicative of the early to mid-20th century. The vehicle on the right is large and possibly military or industrial, with a covered section and large wheels, suggesting it is designed for heavy-duty tasks. The scene appears to involve some kind of towing or recovery operation, where one vehicle is assisting the other, possibly pulling it out of a difficult spot or helping with transportation. The background shows open fields and a few trees, further emphasizing the rural setting. The overall atmosphere of the image is one of teamwork and manual labor, capturing a moment of practical, hands-on problem-solving in an agricultural or industrial context. The image reflects the era's reliance on machinery and the collaborative efforts required to manage and maintain it in challenging environments.

The heavy trucks frequently were sucked off the road by loose dirt or mud. Several men had to add weight to the crawler tractor to give the cleats biting power. Source: National Archives.

“To those who have known only concrete and macadam highways of gentle grades and engineered curves," he continued, "such a trip might seem humdrum. But it had never been attempted before and in those days we were not sure that it could be accomplished at all.”

In his view, Eisenhower wrote, “The trip would dramatize the need for better main highways. The use of army vehicles of almost all types would offer an opportunity for comparative tests. And many Americans would be able to see samples of equipment used in the war just concluded. Even a small Renault tank was to be carried along." In any case, Ike and a friend, Maj. Sereno Brett, were assigned to the truck train as observers from the Tank Corps.

An elaborate ceremony marked the start of the transcontinental expedition. The event was held at the "Zero Milestone," a pink granite marker on the Ellipse, just south of the White House grounds. Present were the secretary of war, Newton D. Baker; the chief of staff, Gen. Peyton March; a handful of general officers; several senators and representatives.

The image is a black-and-white photograph showing a rural scene with a man standing on a small wooden bridge. The man appears to be leaning against the railing, looking down into the water or possibly inspecting the bridge. He is dressed in simple work clothes and a hat, indicating a casual or working scenario. The bridge itself is a modest, functional structure, with a few planks and beams visible, suggesting it might be either under construction or in need of repair. Surrounding the bridge are fields with tall grass and crops, indicating an agricultural setting. The overall scene is tranquil and somewhat rustic, capturing a moment of rural life, possibly from the early to mid-20th century. The image conveys a sense of simplicity and connection to the land, characteristic of a bygone era.

The heavy trucks broke through eighty-eight bridges during the trip. This casualty required a lengthy detour for the rest of the convoy. Source: National Archives.

Each of them had something to say about the road pioneers. Secretary Baker had watched the long lines of vehicles leading up to the front lines in France during the closing days of World War I and he was keenly aware of the importance of motor transport to the army. He directed the convoy to "proceed by way of the Lincoln Highway overland to San Francisco without delay, etc., etc.

General Eisenhower commented wryly that "delays were to be the order of the day." He didn't think much of the drivers either.

He wrote, "The convoy had been literally thrown together and there was little discernible control. All the drivers had lengthy experience in driving trucks, but some of them, it turned out, had never handled anything more advanced than a Model T. Most colored the air with expressions in starting and stopping, that indicated a long association with teams of horses rather than internal combustion engines.”

The image is a black-and-white photograph of a man and a woman standing on a set of stone steps in front of an ornate door. The man is dressed in a military uniform, likely from the early 20th century, complete with a cap and tall boots. His posture is upright and formal, with a slight smile on his face. The woman beside him is dressed in a long, dark coat and a hat, with her face mostly obscured by her high collar or scarf. The setting appears formal, possibly capturing a moment before or after a significant event, such as a departure or return from military service. The overall atmosphere of the image is one of dignity and composure, reflective of the period's fashion and social norms.

Ike and Mamie, at an unknown location about the time of the cross-country caravan. Source: Eisenhower Library.

General Eisenhower's account of the trip is considerably more colorful than the official reports turned in daily by the so-called morale (public relations) officer. Eisenhower wrote, "It took a week or ten days to achieve any kind of march discipline. Roads varied from average to non-existent. Even in the earliest days of the trip where the roads were usually paved, sometimes with concrete, we were well supplied with trouble."

The convoy left Washington on July 7 shortly before noon and immediately after the ceremony. It made Frederick, Md., that night about 6 P.M. and camped at the fairgrounds, having covered forty-six miles in seven and one-half hours. There was trouble after the first three hours. One of the kitchen trailers broke its coupling, the fan belt broke on one of the staff cars, and one of the big trucks had to be towed into the campgrounds with a broken magneto.

[The precise route of the caravan in relation to today's roads is unclear. Presumably it followed Constitution Avenue west to the river, and followed northwest to Wisconsin Avenue, which becomes Rockville Pike in Chevy Chase. By the time they were in Gaithersburg they were on the Frederick Road, paralleling the Dwight D. Eisenhower Highway. —ed.]

The image depicts a black-and-white photograph of a group of men standing near a large piece of machinery or vehicle. One man is in the foreground, wearing a coat and hat, and smoking a cigarette, with a somewhat relaxed posture and his hand on his hip. Behind him, two other men appear to be working or inspecting the machinery, with one of them lifting a large panel or hood. The machinery seems to be industrial or military in nature, given its size and the context of the men's attire. The image evokes a sense of mid-20th century industrial or wartime activity, likely related to repair, maintenance, or operation of heavy equipment.

Near Greensburg, Pa., engineers raise the hood of a "Militor," which had just been driven more than nineteen hours nonstop by the young sergeant at right. Source: National Archives.

The second day, the convoy covered sixty-two miles in a little over ten hours and camped at Gettysburg. Lt. E. R. Jackson, the ordnance observer, was a meticulous recorder of all accidents and mishaps. This is how he described the second day:

“Departed Frederick, 7 A.M., fan adjustment let go on Class B [truck] 8:30 A.M. Unsafe covered wooden bridge, one mile south of Emmitsburg, reached at 9 A.M. Two hours delay due to unsafe and covered bridges too low for shop trucks, necessitating detours and fording. Engineers rendered valuable work in bridge inspection. Militor pulled Class B machine shop 10-ton truck out of mud on bad detour near Emmitsburg after two Macks in tandem had failed. Towed in another Class B with disabled magneto 12 miles over rough detour. Militor made Piney Mountain on third speed with tow . . . Mack trucks had difficulty making this grade in low gear. Packards were also lazy on hills. Mack machine shop truck damaged top on low bridge between Emmitsburg and Chambersburg. The roads were excellent with the exception of the two detours because of the unsafe bridge and repairs to the highway."

[The caravan probably took present U.S. 15 to the northeast in Frederick, and struck the Lincoln Highway in downtown Gettysburg. —ed.]

On the third day, the lieutenant's journal became repetitious. He wrote, "The convoy moved out at 6:30 A.M. One vehicle bent its steering wheel drag link by going into a ditch at 7:45, another was held up by a broken accelerator spring, and a third by a stuck exhaust valve which caused the truck to lose compression. It also had ignition trouble.”

The image is a black-and-white photograph capturing a military band performing outdoors. The soldiers, dressed in early 20th-century military uniforms, are gathered under the shade of large trees, playing various brass and percussion instruments. The scene is informal and relaxed, suggesting a moment of respite and camaraderie amidst their duties. The musicians are arranged in a loose circle, with instruments including tubas, trombones, and drums visible. The presence of the band indicates an effort to boost morale and provide entertainment for the troops, a common practice during long and challenging assignments. The background features dense foliage, providing a natural setting for this impromptu concert. The relaxed posture of the soldiers, some standing with hands in pockets or leaning casually, adds to the sense of an informal and enjoyable gathering. This photograph captures a slice of military life that contrasts with the demanding and often strenuous aspects of their duties. It highlights the importance of music and leisure in maintaining the spirits and well-being of soldiers. The image reflects the human side of military life, emphasizing moments of unity and relaxation amidst the broader context of their challenging mission.

The army band accompanying the convoy serenaded the families of the Orr brothers at the famous Orr's Ranch, in Skull Valley, Utah. Source: Dennis & Shirley Orr Andrus.

"It was then ten in the morning. A Class B delayed by bad valve tappet. Ignition trouble on Packard. Class B lost starting crank pin and had to be pushed or towed to start motor. Another Class B had valve and magneto trouble. Considerable magneto trouble on various types of trucks. Encountered heavy grades and altitudes exceeding 2,200 ft. . . . “

In any case, the convoy made Bedford by nightfall and camped there. The convoy got an enthusiastic reception in Bedford. There were 2,000 people on hand, a band concert, dancing in the streets and the inevitable speeches.

For the moment the faulty ignitions, the broken magnetos, the sticky valve tappets, and the pesky fan belts were forgotten and everyone had a good time.

But Eisenhower was taking a gloomy view of the trip. He noted that in the first three days, the convoy had spent twenty-nine hours on the road and covered a distance of 165 miles for an average hourly speed of five and two-thirds miles an hour, which he observed "was not quite so good as even the slowest troop train.”

The image is a black-and-white photograph showing a covered military truck navigating a muddy and uneven dirt road. The view is from behind the truck, emphasizing the challenging conditions of the terrain. The truck's wheels are deep in the ruts of the road, kicking up dust as it moves forward. The canvas cover on the truck is tightly secured, protecting the cargo inside. In the background, other vehicles and soldiers are visible, indicating that this truck is part of a larger convoy. The soldiers, dressed in early 20th-century military uniforms, are either walking alongside the trucks or working on keeping the convoy moving. The rough and muddy road highlights the difficulties faced during this journey, requiring significant effort and coordination from the soldiers. The photograph captures the determination and resilience of the military personnel as they navigate through challenging environments to achieve their objectives. This scene likely represents a segment of the historic transcontinental motor transport convoy, illustrating the logistical challenges and the perseverance required to undertake such a monumental journey. The image evokes a sense of grit and determination, showcasing the tough realities of early military transportation efforts.

Only the FWD trucks were able to churn through this stretch of deep sand without assistance. This portion of the Lincoln Highway is about seven miles west of Tipton Station, Wyo. That long-disappeared settlement was about midway between Rawlins and Rock Springs. Source: National Archives.

“Before we were through, however," he wrote, “there were times when the pace of our first three days would seem headlong. In some places, the heavy trucks broke through the surface of the road and we had to tow them out one by one with the Caterpillar tractor. Some days when we had counted on 60 or 70 or 100 miles, we would do three or four. Maintenance crews were constantly on the job to keep the vehicles running. They did good work, as I recall. We lost only two vehicles by accidents and one was beyond their help—it rolled down a mountain."

Eisenhower leaves off his detailed account after the convoy left Bedford and the narrative is picked up by the convoy's unidentified public relations officer who sent back a report each night. The fourth day, the convoy made Greensburg, Pa, covering a distance of about sixty-five miles. It encountered steep grades and heavy rains and dragged into Greensburg at 11 P.M. The machine shop truck mired down while fording a stream and had to be pulled out by the tractor.

They reached Pittsburgh the next day and received a warm welcome when they paraded through that city about midday. Traffic in downtown Pittsburgh was held up for six hours during the parade. Later in the day they crossed the Ohio state line and camped at East Palestine. They spent the weekend there and enjoyed the picnic given by Harvey Firestone at his estate in Columbiana for the officers and men of the convoy.

The image is a black-and-white photograph depicting a convoy of military trucks traveling along a winding, dirt road. The terrain appears rough and dusty, with deep tire tracks marking the path. In the foreground, a covered truck is seen from behind, making its way along the road. Its canvas cover is tightly secured, protecting whatever cargo it is carrying. In the background, another truck is visible, also covered and following the same path. There is a third vehicle farther in the distance, likely part of the same convoy. The trucks are navigating through a barren landscape, suggesting they are traversing a remote or undeveloped area. The photograph captures the challenges faced by early 20th-century military convoys as they moved across difficult terrain. The winding road and the rugged conditions highlight the perseverance and logistical efforts required to transport supplies and personnel over long distances. This image likely represents a segment of the historic transcontinental motor transport convoy, showcasing the determination and resilience of the soldiers involved in this pioneering journey. The scene evokes a sense of adventure and the relentless push towards progress, underscoring the significance of this event in the history of military logistics and transportation.

This FWD truck grinds down in low gear to negotiate the grade in this rutted road leading into Cheyenne. Source: National Archives.

The next week the convoy made fairly good time through Ohio, Indiana, and Illinois over what was described as "good dirt roads.” It rumbled through Wooster, Bucyrus, Delphos, Fort Wayne, South Bend, and reached the outskirts of Chicago by the end of the week. The public relations officer reported that a tank truck crashed through a wooden bridge near Bucyrus and the engineers had to rebuild the bridge. By the time the convoy reached Chicago, it had been on the road for eleven days and covered 730 miles.

The third week; the convoy crossed the Mississippi River and encountered a new enemy—dust. The public relations officer reported very heavy dust and said at times it was impossible for the drivers to see more than twenty yards ahead. Dust lay on the road four to ten inches deep. It blinded the drivers and clogged the carburetors. But by the end of the week the convoy was in the tall corn country in the middle of Iowa.

[Bob Ausberger reports that the convoy abandoned the Lincoln Highway for some distance near Beaver, preferring a somewhat better road on the south side of the Chicago and Northwestern Railroad tracks. —ed.]

On August 1 the convoy reached the halfway mark at North Platte, Nebraska. It had covered 1,600 miles but the going was getting increasingly tougher. The roads were mostly sand, badly rutted, and narrow. The tires were wearing out and many had to be replaced. One truck skidded around a sharp turn and was so badly damaged it could not proceed.

The image is a black-and-white photograph of a medal commemorating the "First Trans-Continental Motor Transport Convoy." The medal consists of a ribbon and a medallion. The ribbon is divided into two vertical halves, one dark and one light, with a small rectangular box in the center containing the letter "L." Below the ribbon is a cross-shaped medallion featuring intricate details. At the center of the medallion is an eagle with outstretched wings perched atop a wheel, symbolizing transportation and movement. Around the eagle, the words "LINCOLN HIGHWAY" are inscribed, highlighting the significance of the Lincoln Highway in the convoy's journey. The medal serves as a commemorative piece, celebrating the historic achievement of the first transcontinental motor transport convoy, which traversed the United States, showcasing the feasibility and importance of long-distance motorized transportation. The convoy demonstrated the potential of motor vehicles to connect distant parts of the country, influencing future infrastructure developments and military logistics. This medal likely honored participants or supporters of this groundbreaking endeavor, symbolizing their contribution to a pivotal moment in transportation history.

This medal was authorized by the War Department and awarded to every officer and enlisted man of the First Transcontinental Army Convoy by the board of directors of the LHA. Source: National Archives.

West of North Platte the convoy ran into real trouble. The PR officer reported heavy rains had made the road “as slippery as ice." The trucks had to be angled across the steep crown to keep them on the road.

Twenty-five trucks skidded into the ditch and had to be pulled out. Where the road was not slippery, it had turned into gumbo and all but two of the motorcycles were "put out of action."

The convoy made twenty-five miles in nine hours. For ten miles the road ran through what was described as "quicksand." The trucks sank to their hubs and had to be pulled out by the tractor and by manpower straining at the wheels. The machine shop went through another bridge. A second bridge was damaged and a third had to be strengthened to prevent it from collapsing. The PR officer reported blown-out cylinder head gaskets, burned out bearings, and all sorts of mechanical trouble. Beyond Big Springs, the road was described as "wretched" and "almost impassable."

The engineers had to build a corduroy road about sixty feet long to cross a dry sand ford. At Kimball, one of the trucks caught fire, though the PR officer never said what the outcome of this was. When the tired and worn-out crew pulled into Cheyenne, the men were greeted by cowpunchers and the 16th U.S. Cavalry. Also there was a movie company on location and the men goggled at Fred Stone and Viola Dana, movie stars of a bygone era.

The image is a black-and-white photograph showing a group of soldiers gathered around a large military truck on a dirt road. The scene depicts a moment of activity and possibly repair or maintenance, as several men are focused on the truck, which has stopped, possibly due to mechanical issues or the rough condition of the road. The soldiers are dressed in early 20th-century military uniforms, complete with caps and high boots. They appear to be working collaboratively, with some inspecting the truck's wheels and others standing nearby, perhaps providing assistance or awaiting further instructions. The truck itself has a covered cargo area, suggesting it is used for transporting supplies or personnel. In the background, the road stretches into the distance, bordered by fields and sparse vegetation. The overall setting is rural, and the conditions appear to be challenging, reflecting the difficulties of overland travel and military logistics during this period. The photograph captures the essence of military life, emphasizing the importance of teamwork and resilience in the face of obstacles. It highlights the soldiers' adaptability and the practical challenges they faced while ensuring the mobility and functionality of their equipment. The image serves as a historical snapshot of the everyday realities and efforts involved in maintaining military operations in challenging environments.

This truck slid off the Lincoln Highway into a hole three feet deep, near North Platte. Enlisted men push, officers watch. Source: National Archives.

The convoy rolled on across the southern part of Wyoming, stopping at Laramie, Medicine Bow, Rawlins, Tipton Station, and Fort Bridger. The PR officer noted that the roads were, in fact, only trails in fair condition and made of natural gravel and sand. Near Medicine Bow, the engineers had to reinforce twelve bridges before the convoy could move ahead. The road from Rawlins to Tipton Station was "desolate and monotonous with clouds of dust." He reported the convoy "rolled, tumbled, rocked and tossed over an abandoned rail-road single track grade with holes of varying depths and size."

On into Utah the roads improved and were reported as "good," but there were still complaints about the dust choking the carburetors. It was in Nevada that the convoy had its worst experience. On the last fifty-mile run from Fallon to Carson City the convoy ran into a huge sand drift and every vehicle had to be pushed or pulled through it. It took the convoy twenty hours to make this fifty miles. Two tank trucks sank in the sand to a depth of five feet, requiring a major excavation to get them out. They hauled in railroad ties and built sections of a corduroy road. The drivers were subjected to extreme heat and water was rationed. Wind-driven sand almost blinded the drivers, and the trails were narrow, crooked, and steep. It was miserable, but the convoy moved doggedly on and finally reached Carson City, where they were greeted by the governor and other state officials. On top of all their other troubles, the men had to listen to another series of speeches.

The image is a black-and-white photograph of a vast, muddy field with deep ruts carved into the earth, indicating the passage of heavy vehicles. The scene is expansive, with the muddy tracks stretching into the distance, flanked by rows of crops or low vegetation. In the far background, a solitary vehicle is visible, likely an early 20th-century automobile or military truck, traveling along the rough, makeshift road. The presence of utility poles running parallel to the tracks suggests some level of infrastructure development, though the terrain remains challenging and undeveloped. The overall atmosphere of the photograph is one of ruggedness and perseverance, capturing the difficulties faced in traversing and maintaining mobility in such demanding conditions. The deep ruts in the mud emphasize the impact of repeated vehicle traffic, highlighting the challenges of early transportation and logistics in rural or undeveloped areas. This image likely reflects the harsh realities of overland travel during this period, whether for military operations, agricultural activities, or early automobile journeys. It underscores the resilience and determination required to navigate and operate in such environments, showcasing a historical moment of endurance and adaptation.

The Lincoln Highway was anywhere inside the fence rows in deeply rutted land between Gothenburg and North Platte, Nebr. Source: National Archives.

Crossing the Sierra Nevada the convoy encountered its steepest roads. The grade ran over seventeen percent in some cases and the vehicles crawled over the mountains to Myers, California. From there they rolled on down to Placerville and Sacramento, where they were again greeted by high state officials. The journey from Sacramento to Stockton, Oakland, and San Francisco was a piece of cake. Eisenhower reported California had the best roads they'd seen. But Lieutenant Jackson noted that even though this was the best section of the Lincoln Highway, "two Rikers and a Packard broke fan belts. Class B trucks had broken spark plug porcelain, broken fan belts, and brakes which required adjustment. Indian motorcycle broke control wire."

Eisenhower reported that "the last of our troubles were over except for the final speeches. We were met east of Oakland by city officials and the fire department, were escorted through the flag-festooned streets, with whistles blowing around the bay. There were electrical and fireworks displays."

And he concluded, "The trip had been difficult, tiring, and fun. I think that every officer in the convoy had recommended in his report that efforts should be made to get our people interested in producing better roads."

Just what did the army think it had accomplished by the convoy? In its official report, the War Department said the trip "forcibly demonstrated several lessons of the utmost and far reaching importance.”

“The necessity for a comprehensive system of national highways, including transcontinental or through routes east and west, north and south, is real and urgent as a commercial asset to further colonize and develop the sparsely settled sections of the country, and finally as a defensive military necessity.”

The image is a black-and-white photograph showing a group of soldiers, engaged in a recovery operation for a vehicle that has overturned. The scene appears to be in a rugged, rural area with sparse vegetation. In the background, a large military truck with a covered cargo area is visible, connected by a chain to the overturned vehicle. The men, dressed in military uniforms, are working together to right the overturned vehicle. They are positioned along the side and rear of the vehicle, using their collective strength and coordination to lift and stabilize it. The overturned vehicle seems to be a large, heavy-duty truck or piece of machinery, possibly part of a convoy or transport operation. The scene captures a moment of intense physical effort and teamwork, highlighting the challenges and realities of military logistics and operations in difficult terrain. The overall atmosphere is one of determination and cooperation, with the soldiers working diligently to resolve the situation. The photograph reflects the resourcefulness and resilience of military personnel in the face of unexpected obstacles, illustrating the critical importance of teamwork and perseverance in overcoming operational challenges.

A "Class B tanker" tipped over on its side in Nebraska. Source: National Archives.

"Second, that the existing roads and bridges, especially in the sparsely settled sections of the middle and western states, are absolutely incapable of meeting the present-day traffic requirements.”

"The road problems of the Middle and Western states are national rather than local problems, as these states . . . have only a sparse population which cannot possibly undertake the needed highway improvement work which is of greater importance to the country as a whole than to the individual states."

The image is a black-and-white photograph of a lively downtown street, likely from the early 20th century. The street is bustling with activity, featuring a mix of pedestrians, automobiles, and storefronts. The architecture of the buildings is ornate, with detailed facades and large signage advertising various businesses. Prominent signs include one for "C. KNODLE" atop a building, and another vertical sign for a theater. There is also a sign for "Mrs. Solon Hair Dressing," indicating the presence of a beauty salon. The street is lined with awnings and shop fronts, showcasing the commercial vibrancy of the area. Automobiles of the era, with their distinctive shapes and features, are parked along the street and moving through the scene. Pedestrians, dressed in period attire, are seen walking along the sidewalks, engaging in various activities, and interacting with one another. The photograph captures a moment in time that reflects the energy and dynamism of urban life in early 20th-century America. The presence of both automobiles and horse-drawn carriages suggests a transitional period in transportation. The overall atmosphere is one of progress and community, with the bustling street scene embodying the economic and social vitality of the era.

Small town America came curbside when the roaring caravan eased down Main Street. Source: National Archives.

The War Department stated the case for the development by the federal government of an interstate highway system. But the report collected dust in the War Department's files for the next thirty-five years. It is significant that when the interstate system was finally approved in 1956, it came during the administration of one of the army officers who accompanied this pioneering journey.

America's 42,795-mile, $129-billion interstate highway system was dedicated to the memory of President Dwight D. Eisenhower on Oct. 15, 1990, by an act of Congress, when Public Law 101-427 changed the official name of the network to The Dwight D. Eisenhower System of Interstate and Defense Highways. The action recognized the tremendous vision and leadership of President Eisenhower, who guided to reality the concept of a national system of high-speed highways connecting all the major population, industrial, and agricultural areas of the United States.—ed.

The image is a panoramic black-and-white photograph capturing a long line of military vehicles in a rural setting. The convoy consists of various trucks, including covered cargo trucks and possibly tanker trucks, all arranged in a line stretching into the distance. The vehicles are spread out over a grassy field, with soldiers milling around them, attending to various tasks. In the foreground, there is a notable presence of an American flag, which could be attached to one of the vehicles or being held by one of the soldiers. The men are dressed in military uniforms, typical of the early 20th century, suggesting a period of mobilization or a significant logistical operation. The scene is set against a backdrop of open fields and gentle hills, indicating a remote or rural environment. The composition of the image, with the convoy extending far into the horizon, emphasizes the scale and organization of the operation. The photograph captures a moment of preparation or transit, reflecting the extensive logistical efforts required to support military movements across challenging terrains. The overall atmosphere of the image conveys a sense of determination and readiness, highlighting the importance of coordinated efforts and the resilience of military personnel in managing large-scale operations. The convoy represents a critical aspect of military strategy, showcasing the reliance on transportation and supply chains to maintain operational effectiveness.

The convoy halted for a rest stop on the High Plains, between Ogallala and Big Springs, Nebr. Source: National Archives.

Posted with the permission of the Lincoln Highway Association (2024).


Transcontinental Motor Convoy Report by Col. William T. Carpenter – 1920
Divided Paths: Urban Renewal and the Legacy of the Interstates
The Federal-Aid Highway Act of 1956, commonly known as the National Interstate and Defense Highways Act
Image Gallery – After Ike Documentary