Oh Yes We Did Build It!

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In 2012 Obama and many other statists asserted that private businesses in the United States have only been able to succeed because the public sector big government built the roads and infrastructure necessary for their success. No private business ever built it themselves. This is a big lie, and especially a noteworthy big lie when we are celebrating the 100th year anniversary of the Lincoln Highway.

In 1912, there were almost no good roads to speak of in the United States. The relatively few miles of improved road were only around towns and cities. A road was “improved” if it was graded; one was lucky to have gravel or brick. Asphalt and concrete were yet to come. Most of the 2.5 million miles of roads were just dirt: bumpy and dusty in dry weather, impassable in wet weather.

Carl G. Fisher. president of the Prest-O-Lite company, recognized this situation, and an idea started to take hold. “The highways of America,” Fisher wrote his writer friend Elbert Hubbard, “are built chiefly of politics, whereas the proper material is crushed rock or concrete.” At a Sept. 1, 1912 dinner party for automobile manufacturers at the Deutsches Haus in Indianapolis, Fisher unveiled his plan for a highway spanning the country from New York City to California. “A road across the United States! Let’s build it before we’re too old to enjoy it!” Fisher urged the auto executives. His idea was to build a coast-to-coast highway in time for the May 1915 Panama-Pacific International Exposition in San Francisco. Fisher estimated that a transcontinental highway would cost $10 million and sought pledges from the auto officials at the dinner. Just 30 minutes after his talk, Fisher received $300,000 from Frank A. Seiberling of Goodyear, who pledged the amount even without first checking with his board of directors.

A few months after the Indianapolis dinner, Fisher received a letter from Henry Joy, Packard Motor Company president, pledging $150,000 for the proposed roadway. Joy, a leading force behind getting the coast-to-coast highway built, also suggested that the road be named for Abraham Lincoln. On July 1, 1913, the Lincoln Highway Association was created with Joy as president and Fisher as vice president. The association’s goal was to “procure the establishment of a continuous improved highway from the Atlantic to the Pacific, open to lawful traffic of all description without toll charges: such highway to be known in memory of Abraham Lincoln, as ‘The Lincoln Highway.’”

As far as Joy was concerned, directness was the most important factor. By bypassing many scenic attractions and larger cities along the way, narrow winding roadways and congestion could be avoided. The highway started in Times Square in New York City. It passed through New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, Iowa, Nebraska, Wyoming, Utah, Nevada, and California, ending in Lincoln Park in San Francisco. The route did not deviate from a straight path in order to go through larger cities or national parks.

During the early years, a trip from the Atlantic to the Pacific on the Lincoln Highway was, according to the LHA’s 1916 Official Road Guide, “something of a sporting proposition.” At a time when a service infrastructure to support the automobile did not exist, the guide urged motorists to buy gasoline at every opportunity, no matter how little had been used since the last purchase. As the motorist approached Fish Springs, Utah, he could take comfort in the guide’s advice:

If trouble is experienced, build a sagebrush fire. Mr. Thomas will come with a team. He can see you 20 miles off.

For the most part, the LHA used contributions for publicity and promotion to encourage travel over the Lincoln Highway, as well as to encourage State, county, and municipal officials to improve the road. The LHA did, however, help finance construction of short sections of the route. For example, the LHA arranged contributions from the Goodyear Tire and Rubber Company to build the “cut-off” that was intended to relieve Mr. Thomas and his horses of their role of helping stranded motorists near Fish Springs, Utah. (Goodyear President Frank A. Seiberling was President of the LHA for many years.)

The LHA also sponsored short concrete “Seedling Mile” object lesson roads in many locations (the first, built in the fall of 1914, was just west of Malta, Illinois). The “Seedling Miles,” according to the LHA’s 1924 guide, were intended “to demonstrate the desirability of this permanent type of road construction” and “crystallize public sentiment” for “further construction of the same character.” Generally, the LHA worked with the Portland Cement Association to arrange donations of cement for the seeding mileage.

Actually, one of the Lincoln Highway’s greatest contributions to future highway development occurred in 1919, when the U.S. Army undertook its first transcontinental motor convoy. The highly publicized convoy, promoted by the LHA, was intended, in part, to dramatize the need for better main highways and continued Federal-aid. The convoy left the Ellipse south of the White House in Washington on July 7 and headed for Gettysburg, Pennsylvania. From there, it followed the Lincoln Highway to San Francisco. Bridges cracked and were rebuilt, vehicles became stuck in mud, and equipment broke, but the convoy was greeted warmly by communities across the country. The convoy reached San Francisco on September 5.

By the late 1940s, the Lincoln Highway started to fade away. A new generation of Americans were born, one which had grown up with paved roads and a numbered highway system. Most Baby Boomers, and even more of their children, have never heard of the Lincoln Highway.

A century later a couple of Russian tourists express in words the significance of the Lincoln highway that so many young people with heads full of mush have never understood. Not everyone back home in Russia — or here in the USA, for that matter — understands the desire of Yuri Pogorely and his brother, Alexy, to drive across America on the back roads.

But here they are in the lobby of a Holiday Inn in Kearney, Neb., at the midpoint on their New York-to-San Francisco tour, and fresh off a parade that had them cruising down Central Avenue in a rented 2013 Mustang.

“People say, ‘You’re going across Nebraska? Why are you so happy?'” says Yuri, a journalist in Moscow. “But every day something happens that’s so interesting. In these small towns, we are an event. And it’s an event for us.”

Paul Gilger, chairman of the LHA’s mapping committee, hopes the interest surrounding the centennial will help fuel a “slow travel” movement.

“People rush to get to a destination — how many times do you go on vacation and come back exhausted?” he says. “But it’s not the destination that’s important. It’s what happens in between.”

To that end, “the Lincoln Highway was more than just a road,” he continues. “It was an inspiration and it can still inspire. It makes you realize we’re much more than bicoastal. Every place across the country has beauty, and first and foremost, it’s in the people.”

Half way into their journey across America, the Pogorely brothers have discovered that, too.

“It is like a poster,” Alexy says.

“You see the houses and the nice cars outside and the cultivated fields,” Yuri adds. “And you realize this is where a lot of Americans live. This is what these people are doing. This is why America is so wealthy.”

Its original 3,389 miles, as conceived in 1913, cut through 13 states. Subsequent realignments shortened the route, taking it into a 14th state and 700 communities, most of them small, some now long forgotten.

If you are not able to traverse the entire highway, then Nebraska is a good place to enjoy a portion of it. Nebraska’s Lincoln Highway Scenic and Historic Byway is the only byway that traverses the entire state totaling 400 miles. Now known as US Highway 30, this historic route lets you enjoy a leisurely tour. You will discover diversity, nostalgia and small-town charm.

Another good reason for choosing Nebraska is the possibility of buying a classic car with none of the GPS and computer crap that is in mint condition. A dream come true for lovers of old Chevrolets… Get a ticket to Pierce, Nebraska. On September 28 and 29 about 500 old chevys will be auctioned. The have been sitting in the old Lambrecht Chevrolet building since they were new. Up for sale? A seemingly endless list of 1950’s, 60’s Impalas, TRi-Fives, Chevelles, including a 1956 Chevrolet Cameo Pickup and a 1963 Impala with less than 10 miles on the clock.

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