Tag Archives: transcontinental

The Lincoln Highway

Carl Fisher was a guy with big ideas. He’d already built the brick-paved Indianapolis Motor Speedway and started the Indianapolis 500. He drained a swamp in Miami and turned it into a beach resort.

In 1912 Carl Fisher had the great idea to build a transcontinental road for cars, just like the transcontinental railroad for trains. As we saw with Theodore Judah and the transcontinental railroad, the really tough part is getting financial and political backing—and holding onto it. Fisher formed an association to promote his highway; looked for backing from automobile manufacturers (Ford said no dice, for his own reasons); and tried to convince state governors to get behind his idea. It must have been frustrating and exhausting. Frank Seiberling, president of Goodyear, and Henry Joy, president of the Packard Motor Car Company*, did throw their support behind Fisher’s idea. Joy named it the Lincoln Highway. Still, by the time Lt Col Eisenhower took his military convoy across the Lincoln Highway in 1919, it was a hodge-podge of paved sections and dirt sections.

In 1921, the federal government passed the Federal Highway Act, which matched whatever money the states spent on highways. This allowed the Lincoln Highway to be finished and paved.

Of course, there were other highways being built. They all had names, like the Lincoln Highway. It was eventually decided on a federal level that highways ought to be numbered, to be less confusing. For a while there, the poor Lincoln Highway went by 5 or 6 different numbers to identify mere sections of it. Nowadays it’s Route 80 all the way from New York to San Francisco.


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*I like Packards. They used to be affordable classic cars. I once knew a priest who kept a handful of Packards in the church’s garage. He used them to teach troubled neighborhood boys auto mechanics. Father Dave—RIP.

Road trip!

Probably no one appreciated the value of a nationwide road system for quickly transporting troops and military vehicles more than Dwight D. Eisenhower. As a U.S. Army lieutenant colonel in 1919, Eisenhower headed up the Transcontinental Motor Truck Convoy of 72 vehicles and personnel. It was a cross-country trip whose purpose was to see how well heavy military vehicles traveled America’s roads. They didn’t travel very well at all. Trucks and tanks needed constantly to be pulled out of gullies or quicksand along the unpaved roads. It took them 2 months to travel from New York to San Francisco along the 3,400-mile-long Lincoln Highway.



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Where the buffalo roam

The railroads in the east connected ports on the Atlantic Ocean and went as far west as Iowa. From there to Sacramento was over 1,900 miles of American MidWest—territory inhabited by the Shoshone, Arapahoe, Cheyenne and Pawnee tribes. Their centuries-old way of life would soon be ended by the railroad. The Plains Indians depended on hunting bison, the buffalo, that flourished in herds of thousands on the prairie. Buffalo need a tremendous amount of undisturbed land to graze on.

In the end it would take three railroad companies to build the transcontinental line. The 2 big ones, who would be laying the most track, had a race (of course) to see who could first reach Promontory Point in Utah. On May 10, 1869 the two tracks were joined together. The last spike to be driven was solid gold.

After that, you could board a train in New York City and travel clear to San Francisco—all by railroad. You still can—it takes 2 and a half days. https://www.rome2rio.com/s/New-York/California


UPDATE! My pal Diana (known to you readers as Ms Physics) pointed out this article about the return of the buffalo herds. What great news! https://returntonow.net/2020/06/19/bison-return-to-lakota-reservation-in-south-dakota-for-first-time-in-150-years/?fbclid=IwAR39CIg4w2RyhmtwfSrNDvn0bIbdkLO3clVsvw3tizMmojf8UkQWXJYSQoU

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Crazy Judah

In 1857, a young railroad engineer named Theodore (nickname Crazy) Judah had a big idea: to connect the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans by a railroad that ran clear across the country. By that time there were railroads up and running in both the eastern and western parts of the country. The hard part would be running hundreds of miles of new railroad across the midwest—and finding a way through the Sierra Nevada Mountains.

Theodore first presented his ideas in Washington, DC but couldn’t get congressmen to all agree on legislation to make his railroad project a reality. He decided instead to get backing from private business people. In Sacramento he found backers and they became the Central Pacific Associates.

The next step was to go out and survey and map the route the railroad would take. Theodore was a civil engineer, so he knew how to survey land. He found a way through the Sierra Nevada range—by the horrible Donner Pass, named for the pioneers who had become disastrously stranded there one winter. When he finished it, the map was 90 feet long!


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