The Greatest Road Trip in American History: Fascinating Account of Auto History (2002)

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The Greatest Road Trip in American History: Fascinating Account of Auto History (2002)

Pete Davies author of American Road what’s your book about the book is about the first transcontinental motor train which went from Washington DC to San Francisco in 1919 really though it’s three stories for the price of one the general background is the dawn of the motor age and the explosive expansion of the automobile industry in the first two decades of the 20th century more specifically you have the story of the Lincoln Highway which is the first transcontinental Road in the USA and then the convoy which this book tells the story of crystallised way of the need for that road had arisen and they were trying to get from Washington DC to San Francisco they had no certain idea that they actually could get there but they were trying to get there and prove why that the federal government needed to get into the road building business and crystallizing in the process that really pivotal moment in the United States history when the American people were motorized if you like to put it that way you say you’ve first learned about this when you’re reading the prize by Daniel Yergin a book about all did you do this that would have been in late 2000 and I was interested in the history of the oil industry and yoginis book is a magisterial account of that business and by chance I mean a lot of the best stories you stumbled on them by chance and the first three paragraphs of chapter 11 so just live literally a matter of a few hundred words he talked about a young man named wide the Eisenhower crossing the country with this convoy and it just caught the imagination I wondered if anybody had looked into it and to be frank was astonished when I found out that no one had told this story because the 49ers the Pioneer Trail the Transcontinental Railroad everybody has a consciousness of those two things it seems to me that I would have thought everybody would have known about the First Transcontinental Road as well because that’s the next chapter in the story but I emailed a whole lot of my friends in the States and said have you heard of this and university they all said no and I could not believe that so Jurgen talked about it being a pivotal moment and I went down to the British Library and started researching it and it just struck me as absolutely fascinating it’s fascinating the fact that you have that convoy to give you a narrative and it is an epic story it’s an amazing story it’s incredible that they got across and only lost six vehicles along the way it’s actually incredible that they got across without anybody dying the fact that that happened and the huge import of the event was interesting to me but doubly interesting because it had just fallen off the map of history and that seemed bizarre that people should not know about this so we can get right into their thick of things we’ve got some video shot by the army I had the Signal Corps shot listen it was shown on theatres all along the route and I would love to have been in those theaters to see the reaction of people to what they were seeing three and a quarter million people were along the route of this crumble as it went across the country 1919 who are they all military not all almost exclusively that the personnel of the convoy was I believe about thirty-seven offices and I think 258 enlisted men but alongside of them were journalists and representatives of the motor industry because the mantra industry were Foursquare behind this it was really their idea it was Detroit’s idea and Detroit went to the Motor Transport core which was a new arm of the military that had been formed up during World War one and said look we you know we have all these trucks we have this need for roads let’s do this together started July 7th 1919 from the White House yep from the White House on an end how long did it take took them 62 days and I think the last day was September 6th at the Presidio in San Francisco did they stop every night yep they stopped every night they had a route out of schedule they weren’t always able to stick to it because as you can see their road conditions weren’t always too good they were I think six days late as against the ideal schedule that was laid out from where they set off road conditions once they got past the Mississippi really they were lucky and I were because it didn’t rain if it had rained in eyewear they would have been employing gumbo up to the hubs all the way across instead they were in clouds of choking dust we’re talking give or take three thousand two hundred and fifty miles of which less than a third is paved by the time you get into western Nebraska Wyoming Utah Nevada all there was there was two wheel tracks through the sagebrush showing a photo earlier and the man on the right is Dwight Eisenhower how old was he in this

place he was 28 and he was a lieutenant colonel which was a temporary honor was a temporary promotion put it in wartime and he was about to be demoted back to his standing rank captain right above that it’s a photo that has a famous name in it Harvey Firestone have you first done he was he sent a truck alongside the convoy Dwight Eisenhower there on the right 265 other six-foot oh yeah the good-looking blonde that was at Harvey fast stones Manor ha Bell manner it was called it was outside a little town called Columbiana in Northeast Ohio and the tire magnates were important it wasn’t just Detroit it was also at Crum it was very big on this Frank Seiberling who was the president of Goodyear Tire and Rubber was a big shaker and mover in this exercise as well the motor ad was dawning and they wanted to make sure that the Army was running on the rubber that they sold who paid for this trip oh you know it’s not me paid for it but I think they had some deals I think they had Standard Oil supplying them with gas here and there but no it was an Army exit exercise it was a war departments exercise but no book has ever been written about this no which as I say I find amazing but also very fortunate for me there is a very nice book called the Lincoln Highway main street across America that was published in 1988 I know if they’re called Drake Hawkinson that is a very nice account of the road and of the guys who created the idea of it and promoted it it’s got nice illustrations it’s admirably clear it’s got a deft wit about it it’s a nice book but that is 14 years ago and as I say it why has no one addressed this possibly because roads are mutable things when you’re looking at the first transcontinental railroad you vote you’ve only got the truck and the trains got to go on it but no point of that the car is it’s it’s a personal liberation and once people are starting to drive in cars well it can go off here they can go off there and maybe because of that may be because the Lincoln Highway only survived under that name until the mid 20s and then the federal government stepped in and started giving roads numbers instead of names it just has slipped the memory slip the national memory the connection between Dwight Eisenhower and the interstate highway system in the United States that’s a really important issue it would be very simplistic to say that because he went across the continent in 1919 in 1956 he starts saying let’s have interstates and science the authorization he himself said that the 1919 convoy gave him the idea that America needed good two-lane highways which was adequate for the traffic at the time in Germany during World War Two he saw the autobahns that Hitler had built and that was more of a spur to the creation of the interstate system nonetheless because he’d done that trip in 1919 he never forgot it and one of the officers that was with him on the trip when he retired from the motor industry in Detroit his colleagues wrote to President Eisenhower and said would you care to acknowledge this man’s career now that he’s retiring and he wrote him a really nice letter really nice letter saying you know you may recall some years ago we went on a little journey come back to the beginning of this you were reading the prize again about what month of mm what October maybe October 2000 okay what did you do then well as I said went to the British Library and looked into it and became fascinated with how much it told about that time about the change the transformation and society that the way Americans took to the automobile and at that point you have the evolution of the modern societies you’re a living where I’m living I live in West Yorkshire in northern England and how far is that from London 200 miles north of London so you go the British Library in London uh-huh and then when do you get to the United States well I’ve been to the United States more times than I can count what did you come on that trip well I did I did the background research and then I first of all I went to the Eisenhower Center in Abilene Kansas because there’s a wealth of material there connected to the trip Mike’s own reports on it because he went along as an observer for the tank corps but it also reports by many of the other officers involved and crucially for the practical nuts and bolts of the story the most junior officer on the trip was a guy called Elwell Jackson who was a first lieutenant from Philadelphia and he was a reserve reserve officer and he was a member of the American Society of Mechanical Engineers and he went along and wrote telegrams that went back to Washington every day reporting on their progress where they stopped how they fared how the vehicles worked and he was a meticulous extraordinarily diligent

reckoner of snapped fan belts and clogged carburetors and with that in hand you have a daily record of everything that they went through the convoy commander Colonel Charles mcclee are also sent back telegrams which I found in the National Archives in Washington so you have two daily records there but you drove this trip oh yeah yeah so I did the Abilene the Eisenhower Center in Abilene and then there are some marvelous collections in Ann Arbor Michigan where I was able to get a lot of historical background research done and then on I think it was a 7th of April 2001 I bought a pea green 1995 Chevy Caprice for $2,000 where jimmies autos on New York Avenue Northwest right here uh-huh he said I could buy a more expensive car but if all I wanted to do was get to San Francisco then in that car would get me there and it did it did 6,000 miles and all it asked for was one quart of oil all the way now when you do something like that is that that your expense well you have a contract and you’re out there spending that money yes but I mean is that all part of the I’m spending my money to get the story and I mean without wanting to sound frivolous about it have fun because anybody that’s touch with wanderlust has a list of journeys they want to make in their life and without ranking them in any order of preference the top five for me would be to go to the lost city of Machu Picchu in the Peruvian Andes to go down the Nile and see the wonders of ancient Egypt to go on safari in East Africa and see the wildlife because I’m English to go on a cricket tour of the Indian subcontinent and that fabulous historic journey from East Coast to West in the United States what I’d done all the other fall but I hadn’t done it lent it the Pacific and here was an opportunity for me to do something I’d always wanted to do with you know they’re obviously rather legitimate objective of producing a decent book about it in the end and it’s not interesting to me to write a story that has the word I in it all the time you know that he was this fabulous existing story that had not been told and that was what I wanted to do to recreate their journey and because I’d found all that background material in Kansas and Michigan I was able to travel as nearly as is possible on the same route that they took in 1919 stop every place that they stopped go into the local libraries and I would really like to stress I did not meet one single unhelpful librarian in the United States of America and what a treat that was made it easy made it a lot easier did you stop for the same length of time in each of these town no it gets harder as you get further west in the East the town was there then the towns there now you get out into Wyoming you know Utah and Nevada there there are places that they stopped that just not on the map anymore and even when they were on the map there wasn’t a library there or a newspaper so out west you have to rely more on state archives but they do have all the material if you know what I look I know if you don’t know where to look the librarians are very helpful and find it for you go back to though you’re for trips that you have wonder lust that you’ve seen you know you’re at the end of your five trip did you write any books off of it any others in different ways yeah I did not she Picchu when I was 25 and that was that was a time when I was working on my first novel and I was I didn’t have a contract for it I’d sold the novel on the first draft and the publisher in London at that time had said well you can have five hundred pounds and you can have fifteen hundred pounds when you come back with the completed second draft and at that time a return ticket from London to Lima was 499 so I spent the 500 on a return ticket to labor and they got very anxious and said well you know you’re supposed to be finishing the second draft of your novel what are you doing going to pro and I said I’m taking a typewriter with me and while I’m there I’ll check out Machu Picchu and assorted other things so I did the East African experience the Nile was my honeymoon um so I didn’t write a book about that the East African experience did end up in fiction or I’ve been there a couple of times so I guess I’ve taken that one off more than once what do you get their interest in doing all of us well I’ve wanted to be a writer since I was seven my father was in the Royal Navy and as a child in the 60s we grew up with obviously bookshelves full of books of military and specifically naval history

and when I was seven I had a bad dream about the sinking of HMS hood by the Bismarck during World War Two in the North Atlantic and the next day in a maths class I wrote it down because I wasn’t very good at maths and I was bored and I was sitting in the back and I’d had this intense vivid dream and of course I was discovered and teacher took this stuff away from me and told me to concentrate and called me up at the end of the class and I was expecting to get tipped off and she did you know should be concentrating but mind you this is very good and they got published in the school magazine which was nice and you can fail that was the stuff my career I I just always knew that I wanted to write how many books have you written this is number eleven that’s published but I have actually written a couple more than that um I wrote my first novel when I was 19 between the first and second years of my time at Oxford and it’s unutterably dreadful I wrote my second novel when I was 22 it’s not so bad but it’s still pretty dreadful and then I got a job writing copy an advertising agency in which I did for two and a half years and then I wrote my third novel which is the first proper one and this is the one that got published the one that got finished in Peru and the difference is night and day and the training that I had writing ads for two and a half years was just extraordinary useful it made me a much much better writer it made me much more economical and I shall always be glad of that April 7th 2001 you buy the pea green Chevrolet Caprice do you have anybody with you on this trip no and if I had have had anybody with me they would very rapidly have left because there had been very bored because I’m having a great time I’m driving down the road from one little turn to the next following the path of the 1919 convoy but every place I stopped I’m looking for material on them it would not have been fun to be in the passenger seat because what would you’ve seen you just seen the inside of a lot of libraries in the back and in the front you have the actual map actually where it’s the wrong end on this map at the moment I want to go over at the beginning this is Washington DC where it starts what is and you go right through the states of Ohio Indiana Illinois Iowa Nebraska Wyoming Utah Nevada California what what road is there now it’s bits and pieces a lot of it is us 30 there’s a very nice passage in in I think mid to western Nebraska where you can see three generations of industrial progress right alongside each other you have the railroad with those wonderful huge Central Pacific Union Pacific freight trains hundred cars long tying along beside you and you have the interstate and between them you have the original US 30 and that’s yeah it’s the kind of thing that we just take for granted you know trains railroads cars part of life but to begin with none of that was out there and and out there you can see the three things right next to each other yeah us 30 a lot of the way in west central utah there’s 180 mile stretch of the original 1913 route of the Lincoln Highway that’s still not paved today and I don’t think it’ll ever be paved and that’s a particularly interesting section of the story the controversy in Utah about whether to go across 40-plus miles of Salt Flats on the northern route to Wendover which the interstate does now do and the proponents of that route won that argument or they wanted the Lincoln Highway guys who promoted it the people in Detroit wanted to take a more southerly route that followed the Pony Express in the Overland Trail there were arguments for both routes in a way today I’d be thankful that Wendover run Wendover won because it means you can do that 180 miles of dirt trail through the desert and it is fabulously beautiful you say in there there was a day that you drove eight hours it was the most beautiful yeah in my experience the only landscape that’s of a parallel grandeur and isolation and just magnificence would be in Namibia in Southwest Africa heart-stoppingly gorgeous and and because the mounted chains run north-south what you’re doing is you’re cresting one rugged difficult pass after

another dropping down into one huge arid Valley after another and you’re on your own you know this is a drive where you take extra gas water food because if you do break down you may be there for a while but that didn’t worry me in the least because it was so wonderful to be out there it’s so beautiful but then even when you’re on the on the pavement going through central Nevada I mean that’s perspective spectacularly beautiful as well again it’s one of the great things I live on a small cramped island it’s England its Great Britain yes and to be in western Nebraska that imperceptible climb up from Omaha across 500 miles in Nebraska and to realize as you get into the high plains there that you are higher above sea level than any point in the entire British Isles and you’re just in this sagebrush and prairie plain high plain wonderful gorgeous who is this man right here Henry joy he’s one of my heroes in this story he was the son of a railroad magnate in Detroit he’s pre gasoline Society he had a pile of money he need never have lifted a finger in his life to do anything more than buy another trash of stocks and shares what’s he sitting in here that’s an 1899 original Packard model a and what joy did was well the story’s apocryphal but he was with his brother-in-law Truman handy Newberry in New York then walking down the street and there’s a guy there salesman with two of these newfangled automobiles on the street this is 1899 and the guy says you know do you want to look at the cars and they’re busy they say no fire engine shoots past in the salesman obviously a sharp witted fellow says you know jump in I’ll take you to the fire so they do and they like the vehicle so they bye-bye thumb and these were original 1899 that joy board another model when he heard the next one was coming and it was such a story at the time that if the prominent citizen because only the wealthy could afford automobiles they know they cost you know unimaginable money two and a half thousand dollars for a luxury car it was a story if a prominent citizen ordered a car so it appeared in the local newspapers you know automobile which Harry joy has ordered I think about November 2 1983 your car to actually arrive again it’s a story in the papers there enjoys new car has arrived it’s a Blue Devil I think was the headline and joy liked the car so much that he drove it back to the plant in Warren Ohio where it had been built and he bought the company and he relocated the company to Detroit and he put in I think twenty five thousand dollars of his own money at the beginning and realized that this would not be remotely enough so he went around his very gilded circle of friends at the height of Detroit Society and put five hundred thousand dollars together and put together a plant that covered a couple of acres employed 70 people and one of the interesting things about is he could not raise a cent of credit from the Detroit banks Detroit financier thought that making motor cars was a folly you say that in 1919 123,000 990 motor vehicles were on the roads which dates sorry 1919 no 1919 there were six and a half million I must have there wrong whatever it is a hundred and thirteen thousand that would have been twenty three thousand one twenty three thousand that would that would have been about 1908 to 1910 the 1900 figure you have is four 1192 yeah a couple of thousand curved old olds curved dashes the first American vehicle that was sold commercially was made in 1893 in Chicopee Falls Massachusetts by the brothers Frank and Charles de Raya and by 1900 Ford had made a car or two Ford Model motor company was incorporated in 1903 after a couple of false starts and these guys were tinkerers you know no one took them very seriously they’re made these noisy smelly things that frightened the horses didn’t go very fast weren’t too reliable nasty propensity to blow up on you and there were toys really they were eccentric rickety and it just goes woman in in a handful of years from guys making these strange machines in kind of corner shacks on back alleys to within a decade industrial palaces like no one had ever seen one of the things about them was they had acres of glass so that the workers actually had light to work in

and they had canteens and Henry Ford in 1914 announced that he was going to pay his stuff $5 a day for an eight-hour day which was twice the average wage at that time and not for the first time or the last everybody said that Henry Ford was quite mad but in fact of course he remained the leading automaker for another 13 years go back to Henry joy he did what in regard to this night well he bought the Packard company from the original man Packard in Ohio built up this huge firm the look the largest luxury car maker in the world and he test drove his vehicles himself he said you know I will not be happy selling a vehicle that I’m not happy driving and he was long accustomed to taking these vehicles out on extremely arduous test trips into the Rockies the first Packard 26 in 1915 he drove it from Detroit to San Francisco in three weeks through cloying gumbo because it was a horrendously wet spring and in 1913 a man called Carl Fisher had come to him Fisher was an Indianapolis car dealer who once flew over the city of Indianapolis suspended from a balloon as a promotional stunt and he’d come up with this idea of a road across America everybody thought he was crazy you couldn’t do it but he said a road across America let’s build it before were too old to enjoy it and he wanted to go to Detroit and round up the car makers behind this idea and he went to you Henry joy and said joy the way we are going about at the moment we will have an American highway system about the year 2000 and between them they started this thing called the Lincoln Highway Association Fisher named the road Joe was the guy who did the most work to promote it what year the location was founded in 1913 and they’d made a lot of progress in in turn them and they were fantastic boosters these guys and then made a lot of progress in implanting the idea of the Lincoln Highway intend to the minds of the American people it was it was without any doubt the most famous road in the world but they remained that problem with it that it wasn’t paved you said that Carl Fisher also started Indianapolis 500 he did he with some three colleagues he built the Indianapolis Motor Speedway and he paved it in brick which was a fairly innovative thing to do he was I mean both of these guys and a lot of the others that were involved with them were amazing men just incredibly energetic amazingly you know visionary abundant abundant you know she well Aviva in the case of Henry join us it’s a lovely story about Henry joy driving back from New York to Detroit in a early 1914 and the will hits a hole in the road which happened all the time in those days and he puts his head through the windscreen and he needs minor surgery so he has the operation and then he telegrams his wife and bald-headed hurrah do not have to work joy realistically the likelihood of Henry joy not working is about the same as the Sun not coming up in the morning but because he had so much on the go all the time that guy we used to have a congressman in this town by the name of John Seiberling we pronounce it Seiberling in the United from Ohio I suspect he is a relative somewhere along the way of this man whose name mr Birling may well be a will call okay Frank Seiberling sibling is what I’ve always called him what is he who is he he’s the president of Goodyear Tire and Rubber and another of these great guys who were behind the Lincoln Highway and who were behind the convoy in 1919 he it was a dabbler in all kinds of things he didn’t get going big time until quite late I think he was in his late 30s he’d lost a bunch of money you know stock market panic and he somehow managed to put together some little deals with some friends to buy up a bankrupt boarding company they’ve made some sort of board and he bought it in about 1898 and he was thinking he’d just go back and carry on making this this straw board stuff I guess for the construction industry and – friend said to him go into rubber Frank it is alive and rubber itself you know as a viable thing that the process of vulcanization had been discovered by Goodyear the inventor the rather calamitous disorganized inventor some years earlier but there wasn’t any money in it of course until the car came along and sure enough Frank Seiberling starts up this rubber foam and I think their first order was twenty one dollars and 70 cents for little rubber caps to go on medicinal bottles and he skated on thin ice for a little while and then he got an order to put tires on Model T’s and took off and became the largest tire maker in the United States how many of the 81 vehicles on this 1919 trip had Goodyear tires on I couldn’t tell you that

Goodyear had just started promoting the idea of pneumatic tires which none of the army trucks at that time had they had solid tires which would have been made by Goodyear by Firestone by us rubber but these solid tires must have been awful to drive on on a good road never mind a bad road I mean if you get going any faster than 10 miles an hour it would be only you could do to hang onto the wheel and not get flung from the cab because the vibration would be so awful speaking of army vehicles you say this vehicle right here played a major role on this trip yeah the millet or $40,000 of 1919 money that’s some substantial investment the US Army made there the minotaur was considered the most priceless asset it basically towed just about every other vehicle on the trip out of one ditch one bug one swamp one mile one quicksand morass after another and if they’d not have had it they’d not have got across it was a I think they called it was it was a custom-designed artillery wheeled tractor is what they called it I had a big iron Spragg on the back that they could anchor down into into the dirt and oftentimes they would be towing vehicles out of the ditch or out of the mess and the whole thing would just rear up rear up pulling these other vehicles out six of 81 vehicles didn’t make it uh-huh 61 days 1919 IAT and US 30 and all its this Lincoln Highway still in that area they still have a place you can see the signs like different states have done more or less good jobs in remembering it Pennsylvania I think the u.s. 30 corridor that if most of the u.s. 30 is pretty much marked clear across the state as a historic highway and that continues as I say more or less well in different states I remembered in although Iowa Illinois you drive along and you see us 30 whichever Road it might be that at the time corresponds still has Lincoln Highway on it there are many places where the road is still called Lincoln Highway which is nice to see and that extends even out to a little County Road in the desert in Utah that’s called the Lincoln Highway how many miles would there go each day in his convoy I think the longest trip would have been somewhere around 90 days at ninety miles in a day more often it would be 50 odd you say that Mamie Eisenhower hooked up with her husband she was in Denver yeah maybe his family had moved to Denver from Boone Iowa when her father sold up their business in Iowa and became a millionaire and she had spent a lot of time there because there were no married quarters at the different camps that Ike was out here over in the east so I don’t think he’d seen her for about eight months and mamie’s father had a map and he kept pins on it showing the comte the progress of the convoy and he’d been trying all that spring of 1919 to stir up enthusiasm in the family for a car trip because it was you know as a big adventure taking a car trip any now that the convoy and I along with it we’re approaching he succeeded and getting mainly to jump in the car with him and they drive I think it would have been about 200 miles from Denver to North Platte Nebraska took them for 13 hours rarely got above second gear and so she got all excited and that bog referred describes are wearing this new black lacy thing and she’s bobbing in and out of the hotel doorway looking down the street and Conroy’s had this terrible day and their lumbering into the town in bits and pieces and people are stuck in mud and all over and suddenly here comes this officers car and their psyche hollering like a kid there is how often on the trip did now this is a Packard I think this is from a 19-15 tree how often did it look like this in western Nebraska all too often all too often they were fortunate it could have been like that all the way across Iowa luckily in Iowa it didn’t rainbow in western Nebraska there was one stretch where it took them seven hours and 20 minutes to go 200 yards they were they were about the business of saying we need to build plate roads they did prove the need for it Colonel McClure is mentioned throughout the entire book who was he the clue was a professional army officer who his father was in the army he was from Carlinville Illinois and he signed on 1905 if I remember correctly and he’d been in the Army 14 years he had seen service in the Philippines he’d seen service in Mexico he was back from Europe literally fresh off the boat three or four days before the convoy started and the convoy was in a state of some ill discipline in Washington and the motor transport coordinate and it had been prepared by an officer named captain Bernard McMahon

from Salinas in California and the men loved him but maybe that was the problem that he wasn’t strict enough and they the amount transport Corps put in McClure over the man’s head to try and instill some discipline because otherwise they weren’t going to make they weren’t going to get there and they were reported effectively a disorganized rabble and they set off I said that a lot of the men in dealing with their vehicles exhibited language more in keeping with a team of horses than the internal combustion engine where is the biggest crowd on the trip the biggest crowd ful difficult one or a big crowd there were many big crowds Pittsburgh Salt Lake City probably San Francisco I mean probably the welcome in San Francisco and Oakland would have been the hugest that the the the welcome into Oakland was sensational there were fireworks that special fireworks made that when they went up and blow up all the flags of all the Allied nations came down fluttering out of the fireworks and that the street was lined with vehicles for miles how big a deal was this back then when you went through the do you go through the newspapers oh yeah I went I read I read the newspapers all the way across this because these guys were front-page news all the way across the country pictures oh yeah oh yeah controversies verbage yes many controversies because the towns that were on the route fought tooth and nail to stay on the route and the towns that were not on the route fought tooth and nail to get other towns kicked off and the route re-designated to them why and how important was because if you had pavement you were the future if you stayed with a mud road you were not going to get the traffic and you were gonna die a commercial death in the mud who got pavement because of this trip a town in the United States that we know today that wouldn’t have been anything if it hadn’t gone through there if you look at Cedar Rapids Iowa there’s a little town called Marion about five miles five ten miles to the northeast which was originally the county seat of I think it’s Linn County there in Iowa seen a rapid American that and the Lincoln Highway went on that a little jog through Marion and then down into Cedar Rapids because Marion was the county seat Cedar Rapids being bigger than Marion laid a fait accompli of improved Road do you so that the traffic would come due east avoiding Marion and in Cedar Rapids within a couple of years Marion was no longer the county seat Cedar Rapids was Cedar it’s had the pavement Cedar Rapids had the power cost of this to the federal taxpayer there’s just this 61 day trip that I couldn’t tell him what I can tell you is that the first exercise in federal funding for rogue building was an act that passed in 1916 and it allowed something like 15 million dollars a year and it was a poor piece of lawmaking because it had no national plan built into it there was nothing systematic about it so it was a opportunity for pork barrel boondoggle politics people are building little bits of road here and there all over the place but as a result of this trip in 1921 a Highway Act was passed that committed the federal government to spending seventy five million dollars a year and over a period of five years seventy five million dollars for each of five years and it was the first time that the government had said we need a federally recognized national highway system and this was really directly attributable to the kind of massive promotional boost that the convoy had given to it so I can’t tell you what the convoy cost you say the War Department evidently felt it was a sufficiently worthwhile exercise because they sent another one the next year and I don’t actually know what happened to that one because the War Department report for 1920 was printed about three what weeks after it had set off and rather than going on the Lincoln Highway Route is added in 1919 they tried to go on another highway that was a later invention it was called the Bankhead highway they went down through the south and the guy writing that the report said well we’ve sent them off and it’s taken them 16 days just to get to Atlanta and we figure they might get to LA in two or three months they didn’t know the rights of so bad you said it – soldiers along the way got married yeah – okay that’s a great story and he was called private fred Golic in Chicago Heights Illinois and the local papers all thought that he’d met the girl the dance honors they had a rest day on the Sunday so on a Saturday evening there was a dance and the local papers all thought that God had met this girl and the next day he Woo’s her until his past runs out with a passion goes back to camp gets up the next morning rushes off finds her she agree he’s a guy jumps on a motorbike and rushes off to find someone who’ll marry them and someone or

less you a certificate and a sharp eared reporter from one of Chicago papers didn’t believe this love at first sight story and he overheard cun on the pier saying to private garlic come isn’t that there’s a bit hasty you know you’ve only known her a matter of hours and private Golic says no I’ve known her since Tuesday we met in Bucyrus Ohio that’s okay you’ve known her for five days and he said that the ride she would follow him on the train all the way to LA where he lived and that would be the honeymoon we have some more video that was taken by the army back in 1919 on this trip well from what you saw on your own trip what kind of I mean along the way how many towns are just decrepit or how many places did you go into and they’d there are old hotels that were boarded up one of the sad things that you see now is that the hotels that used to be real institutions in in in downtown small-town America are either not there or they’re basically flat pounding and wrecks and you know everybody’s in a motel out on the edge of town and that’s a natural development of what these guys started but they didn’t know it at the time so for instance there’s a little town called Kimble out in western Nebraska where there’s this lovely lovely building called the wheat growers hotel and it’s it’s by the rail track and if it could if the money could be found to restore it it would be a beautiful building and the officers had a dinner that was laid on for them by the local people in that hotel and you can stand outside it in that white heat of the Nebraska Sun and you can imagine them all sad about having a nice dinner and speaking about how this convoy was going to change everything and how the road was going to be paved because you know at that time there was probably only a handful of motivic was in the whole county out there what was that they didn’t foresee that paving the road was gonna make towns spread out like this there was another town in Nebraska Lexington where they’d put up a three-story bank and they’d left one side of the building brick because they figured that other buildings would go up alongside it but of course as soon as pavement came the town spread out up and the new businesses with the garages and the motels fanning out alongside the highway as it went by the town you point out that this was right at the end of the World War one and Dwight Eisenhower although he didn’t go overseas fought in that war he didn’t go overseas he trained other men to do so but the second thing you point out is the flu of eighteen of 1918 yeah I actually wrote a book about that a couple of years ago but called the devil’s flu that was a truly calamitous event something like 40 million people died worldwide in the course of a year and at least half a million Americans died so there were really two catastrophic events that came hard on each other you had America joining the war which resulted in the death of some fifty thousand American soldiers and ten times as many Americans dying at the same time of this dreadful dreadful pandemic so I think one of the nice things about the convoy it just was a feel-good factor you know that people had been through a lot there was a lot of strife a lot of grieving it was it was a very difficult time I think race relations were horribly strained they were appalling race riots in Chicago in Washington even well the convoy was on the road and there any black soldiers not on the convoy any racial events along the way there there’s a lot of interesting stories about Omaha where the mayor was very nearly lynched in the process of a mob taking a black guy out of the prison the way he’d been accused of raping a white woman he was a pretty unlikely suspect because he had pretty bad arthritis they took him out and strung in that and they thought they might have a go at the mayor while they were at it that happened just after the convoy had been through and that radicalized the black community in Omaha considerably and one of the leaders of the community after that was a guy called Earl little his son changed his name to X when we see these vehicles moving down the road back in 1919 on the screen what speed are they going at five miles an hour if they’re lucky as I say a lot of the trucks have solid tires so if you go faster than ten you’re gonna be thrown out of the vehicle by the shuttering in the juddering what’s that the caddies and the tractor yeah I think that would have been the whole tractor the caterpillar tractor yep they took a caterpillar tractor with them that was the other vehicle with the Minotaur that

helped tow them all through you know the staff cars could get up to 60 miles an hour the best of them and the Indians and the Harley’s the motorbikes that the scouts used obviously they could tear off about the landscape provided that the engines didn’t clogged with dust and silt but the trucks five miles an hour if you get onto a good paved road with them ten you know they were they were champing at the bit when they got to California they viewed California as the Promised Land because they had pavement you know they’d been 2,000 miles without seeing pavement and suddenly they come out of Placerville towards Sacramento and the road is lined with fruit tree orchards you know the populace showered troops with fruit that reported lieutenant Jackson and you could just see you can see from his telegram bliss we’ve arrived on pavement after 2,000 miles of really hard work and it was the Promised Land it was the land of the future at the most advanced highway system and these guys were driving on that and the drivers were just checking because McLaren said to them you will still stick to the speed limit and they really didn’t want to California had to be California was the scene of the first arrest of the motorists by an airplane first arrests of speeding motorists by an airplane I loved that image I just yeah this guy’s going down the road at 60 miles an hour and the motorbike cop is chasing him and his motorbike starts playing up so he prices an aviation steel scoots in there gets a pilot come on let’s get him and jump in the plane guy lands on the road in front of him the speeding motorists naturally think so he must be in trouble so he gets certain he gets arrested what did you do with your chevrolet caprice 1985 model when he got to San Francisco oh I missed that car I sold it the parking valet in my hotel in San Francisco for $800 why don’t we do that yep sold it for 800 was sad to be rid of it I hope the guy that I sold it to gets as good a deal as I did along the way what are the most memorable spots for you too many to mention them all the 180 miles of west central utah desert we mentioned that was gorgeous I love that moment when you’re in central Nebraska and you cross the hundreds Meridian and you feel not just actually but mythically and psychologically you feel that the West is beginning but eastern Nebraska you have that sense of vastness that cornfields the size of Belgium and those those amazing irrigation things just spraying rainbow alter the horizon and as you go along it’s about the town of Cozad I think you could feel the landscape drying out and you can feel the air thinning and you’re slowly rising and the grain elevators start being replaced by stockyards at each little town and each little town gets further apart and the land starts to buckle and get dry and then you get up into Wyoming and it’s just majestic absolutely majestic I loved all that there were towns in Iowa that I really liked Jefferson in western Iowa as I said I followed the route as closely as a canon that meant down to county roads I mean us 30 a lot of the way you can stick to that and it’s more or less than thinking highway but there are people who know about this stuff along the route who have actually looked and said well out here it was County Road e38 or whatever it might be and just by Jefferson Iowa you can find a field and the owner of that field in late teens early 20s was a farmer member of the Lincoln Highway Association who wrote a letter to Detroit with his Jews and said proud to be a member of this you know this road is going to be one of the great achievements of our civilization here and my $5 was a soldier at mission point lost a foot lucky to be alive looking forward to seeing this thing get built and he put up two busts of Lincoln on little plinths by that corner of his field and over the years they got vandalized and people forgot why they were there but bless him there’s some good local people there who’ve got new buffs made in their back and you can drive by and see them and that’s really nice Classic Car Museum where’s that Canton Ohio yeah that’s that’s a good one that’s a good one very funny big big sign there saying um please don’t touch the cars Bob shoots every tenth touch and the ninth just left Studebaker that’s that’s another really interesting story I’ll tell you one of the most memorable things it’s a sad thing but but Studebaker was this amazing industrial story in South Bend Indiana and packard lost its way after World War two and the last Packard came off the production line in 1956 and Studebaker took them over moved production to

Indiana so if that’s 56 so that’s half a century ago you can go to Detroit today that plant is still there it’s this huge industrial ruin and you think about everything that Henry joy did in his life and everything that he built and now it’s just a million broken windows wasn’t there a car caught with Henry Johnny something like that age I don’t know that I couldn’t tell you but I just remember you talking about you know resonant moments there are a lot of happy moments a lot of amazing achievements in this book but it was sad to look at that incredible building it still got Packard 1907 written on the lintel but I’ll tell you another thing and this is a nice story this is a cheering story in the same way that the Packard plants just been left to go like that Henry joy died in 36 37 and his wife put up in the best possible place she’s putting on the Continental Divide in the middle of nowhere in Wyoming this is absolutely appropriate to this guy because he loved to get in his car and go out and camp and cook bacon on a fire in the morning and this monument went up in I think 38 39 and it was a simple black obelisk surrounded by a little railing they had a Lincoln Highway marker post on each of the four corners and it was a great place to set it because it was very appropriate to him and what he loved to do but of course nobody knew that it was there and in I guess it would have been June you know June July towards you know two-thirds of the way through the trip I found it there there’s no guidebook that said it was there and it was very resonant again to stand in that majestic landscape by this monument to this guy who more than any other one individual person did so much for that for the getting going of the building of roadways in this country and there was nobody knew about it and again happy ending good local people in conjunction with the Department of Transportation and where I mean moved that Monument and they’ve put it at a rest stop on the interstate at the top of telephone Canyon and I think he gets his place in history back for that how often did you find pictures like this one where soldiers are wiped out they must have been so tired they must have been so tired that’s a great collection of them in Abilene and there are two other great collections in an hour yeah and there are good collections in Ann Arbor as well that is the Iowa Department of Transportation came up with that one that’s a gem of a bridge against Taylor Iowa there is another Bridget somewhat akin to that somewhere in Nevada and I’ve never been able to track it down where it is but that’s now on the National Register of Historic Places the one that says Lincoln Highway on either side here’s Colonel McClure where is this structure from Salt Lake City yes the fair maidens of Salt Lake presented him with a floral truck which he duly said that he was enormously honored and then he would take it with him to San Francisco I rather doubt he kept that promise somehow any careers made in the military after this or even in politics in the military oddly no most of them I think very tellingly seem to have quit the army immediately after the convoy had gone off to Detroit to work for the car industry McClure had been 14 years in the army went straight off to Detroit and went to work for Packard and I think that probably tells us a lot about who had the real clout behind this expedition ironically Packard stop making trucks in 1923 because didn’t chime with their image as luxury carmakers but prior to that they had been well at the end of World War one the US Army had 80,000 trucks and packard claimed that one in five of them was a packard now did you pick up any new ideas about another book about the United States while you made this trip yah-hoo several it’s such a joy to come to this country because you you feel that that’s just this inexhaustible fund of stories yeah this wonderful variety this infinitely magnificent landscape oh there we go even look like Prairie skin that’s know they even look like Prairie skin isn’t as I said early on it’s just a miracle that nobody died and you see them on those mountain trails in the West there are places though you know the precipitous drops sometimes of hundreds in in the Sierra Nevada a thousand feet and the whales are is close from the edge they didn’t lose one truck over a mountainside in Pennsylvania but I suppose the thing about it is given the trucks probably not going fast in two or three miles an hour and there is no cat lucky to get on road like this good roads movement what this whole thing was gone that was one aspect of it the good roads movement

began with people riding bicycles when Dunlop in Northern Ireland invented the pneumatic tire everybody could go out and ride a bicycle in comfort the League of American Willman they were called but a lot of wheel women as well so what’s that book gonna be that you found on this trip can I keep that to myself can you give us here there there is a bunch of stories and I haven’t decided which one yet so no so of all the things you’ve done all the places you’ve gone the other wonders of the world that you’ve seen where did would you put this on the list very high it’s in the top five why it was I it was a great piece of research to do I felt like by the time I’d gained I was getting to the end of the trail but I was actually living in my mind in 1919 because I was reading all the stories and watching them develop through through the course of the convoy one of the things about reading the papers were I didn’t just want to set I didn’t just want to tell the story of here’s a convoy they drive across America I wanted to set it in the context of the time and the issues that people were concerned about so as a piece of research that was a really joyous joyous job to do and I loved doing it I loved you know looking at the baseball scores and looking at the the stories that people were concerned about where there was a big scandal at the time really wicked Parisian fashions were creeping in and women were going about the place without stockings on and defenders of the public morals were rushing off to parks and bathing places checking up on the length of bathing costumes because of these tremendously corrupting European ideas all those little details I loved doing all that but you know as an experience I’m not sure how many Europeans are really aware of how just fabulously hospitable this country can be and if you spend a few months here which I’ve done on several occasions write in different books it just becomes it’s just become as a real pleasure to travel about small town America the cities whichever but to travel through and meet people and find out the histories of these little towns that’s justice to treat so it’s it’s it’s high on the list I’ll be back we’re out of time and here’s the cover of the book our guest has been West Yorkshire England native Pete Davies the book is American Road from the 1919 convoy across you know States thank you very much for joining us thank you pleasure