On the eve of our planned trip to Tucson, Arizona, for the annual meeting of LCOC National, a one-day, 475-mile trip from southern California over excellent freeways all the way, I can’t help but wonder what this effort would have been like 100 years ago.
A recent online issue of Hemmings Daily carried a fascinating story of the origin of the nation’s Interstate Highway System, which drastically changed the history of the country and greatly contributed to the popularity of the collector car hobby we enjoy today.
Everyone knows the Interstate system began in the 1950s under President Dwight Eisenhower, but who knows the REAL story behind the germ of an idea that grew into the massive national highway network we enjoy today?
According to Hemmings, the idea first took root 100 years ago when then-Lt. Col. Dwight Eisenhower participated in the first military motorcade to attempt a cross-country trip. With few improved roads in 1919 making the crossing was no easy feat.
Although the convoy did make it from Washington, D.C. to San Francisco, logistically the mission was a disaster. According to the article, the Transcontinental Army Motor Transport Expedition in the summer of 1919 “arrived several days late, abandoned nine vehicles and all but one of its kitchen trailers, destroyed 88 bridges, and had more than 200 unintentional off-road incidents,” mostly due to the horrendous condition of the roadways along the way.
Young Eisenhower’s report of the 62-day journey along the original Lincoln Highway noted that “It seemed that there was a great deal of sentiment for the improving of highways, and from the standpoint of promoting this sentiment, the trip was an undoubted success.”
The convoy was memorable enough for the 28-year-old Eisenhower to later include a chapter about the trip, titled “Through Darkest America With Truck and Tank,” in his book At Ease: Stories I Tell to Friends (Doubleday and Company, Inc., 1967). “The trip had been difficult, tiring and fun,” he said.
“The old convoy had started me thinking about good, two-lane highways, but Germany had made me see the wisdom of broader ribbons across the land.” His “Grand Plan” for highways, announced in 1954, led to the 1956 legislative breakthrough that created the Highway Trust Fund to accelerate construction of the Interstate System.
The Federal-Aid Highway Act of 1956 was enacted on June 29, 1956, when President Eisenhower signed the bill into law. With an original authorization of $25 billion for the construction of 41,000 miles (66,000 km) of the Interstate Highway System supposedly over a 10-year period, it was the largest public works project in American history through that time. Hmmm, more than ever We Like Ike.
Besides the Interstate highways we use every day, what makes this epic convoy topical today is that two caravans will recreate the original convoy’s feat in 2019. The first, the Military Vehicle Preservation Association’s 2019 caravan, will depart the MVPA’s annual convention in York, PA, on Aug, 10 and end up in San Francisco on Sept. 14. This will be its second caravan to retrace the path of the original journey; the first recreation was in 2009.
The second 2019 cross-country trip, the Lincoln Highway Association’s Centennial Tour, will be open to military and civilian vehicles, and will depart Washington, D.C., on Aug 30 and wind up in San Francisco on Sept. 16.