Sunday, January 15, 2017

(4) Why the Lincoln Highway and Yellowstone Trail?

Entrance to "The Old Lincoln Highway", Old Highway Drive, Donner lake Ca.

We did not start out this trip intending to drive east across the continent on the Lincoln Highway  returning west on the Yellowstone Trail. This trip began merely to fulfill a dream of driving across the United States. (Of course we would also need to return home after completing the trip east.) We decided fairly early on that we wanted to stick to US and State highways and avoid interstates wherever practicable. As the principal driver I did not want to drive the "mind numbing and sleep inducing Interstate Highways". ( Although I realize that a lot of two-lane roads can also prove to be mind numbing and sleep inducing.) In other words we are planning to stick to the so-called "blue highways".

About 10 years ago I began to focus my daydreams. Coincidentally also about 10 years ago I purchased a 1959 Ranchero and began a multiyear restoration. Naturally I began to toy with the idea of taking a road trip in the Ranchero. The restoration was performed with long distance travel in mind. The dream was taking root.

Linda plans most of our vacation, but this time she left it to me. In the early stages I didn't even share all of my dreams and aspirations for the trip with Linda. She always knew that I wanted us to drive across the country, perhaps even several times, but I don't think she realized how seriously I was taking it.

One of the first things to settle would be which route to take across country. I am nostalgic for US Route 40 because it travels through Donner Lake, California. However, in many areas route 40 has been buried by Interstate 80 and is badly segmented through much of the West. I then looked at US 50 which is pretty much a continuous US Highway from Maryland to California. I was determined that we would come home on US 50.

For the trip east my initial plan was to travel across the northern tier of the country. I considered US Route 2, US Route 12 US Route 20 and US Route 26. As I was planning things I discovered the Internet site: "Road Trip USA" which can be found at: As this was all happening in 2012, I noticed an article in the newspaper concerning the Centennial of the Lincoln Highway. The article changed everything. I may return to "Road Trip USA" for planning in the future, but for this trip it was now all about the Lincoln Highway.

Whitney Hotel, Advertisement
"We invite inspection"
Donner Summit
I had heard about the Lincoln Highway as a boy, but I was not aware of its significance. I don't ever recall the Lincoln Highway being mentioned when I was young without the words "The Old" preceding the words "Lincoln Highway". To me it was an old road that even as a boy was little more than a jeep trail or a hiking trail near our cabin at Donner Lake. I had no idea that it was the first transcontinental road. While I feel a little embarrassed over my ignorance, I think that I may have stumbled onto a secret on the Lincoln's enduring popularity. It is both local and transcontinental. It is grand and inspiring, yet intimate and personal. It truly was "America's Main Street."

In looking at a map of the Lincoln Highway it appeared that it hit most of the places that we  wanted to see. I soon found the Lincoln Hwy., Association's website: ( which, to my great joy, included an interactive map. The map details the Lincoln Highway and where it is no longer possible to follow the old road also includes modern detours.

As I began to research the Lincoln Highway I came across references to the Yellowstone Trail. As I began to research the Yellowstone, I found that it would cover many of the same roads that I had originally planned to travel east when I was still looking at theRoad Trip USA and using it as my planning tool. Recently the Yellowstone Trail Association ( has also upgraded its website and includes extensive maps which are easy to use for planning and navigation.
As I began to immerse myself in the history of both of these old roads I became more and more intrigued. Linda, my family and many of my friends would say I became obsessed. I don't think it was that bad, but I won't argue very hard.

The Lincoln Highway will take us east to Times Square. The plan is to then drive north to Plymouth Massachusetts where the Yellowstone Trail commences west. It will be harder to follow the Yellowstone Trail than it is to follow the Lincoln. I will not be taking the car and trailer off of the pavement for either the trip east on the Lincoln or the trip west on the Yellowstone and many parts of the Yellowstone Trail are unpaved.

Planning this trip may be an obsession, but it is turned into a delightful obsession as it has combined my love of history with my love for cars and camping and road trips. I think I've died and gone to heaven!

Bronze Boundary Marker at California-Nevada
border, Dog Valley Route.

(3) A Thumbnail History of American Highways

Carl Fisher, Founder Lincoln Highway
Chicago History Museum, Chicago Daily News
Deutches Haus (Athenaeum)
Indianapollis, Indiana
Birthplace of the Lincoln Highway
We enjoyed a delicious lunch at the Rathskeller, November 2016
 To understand the importance and significance of the Lincoln Highway and the Yellowstone Trail to America it is necessary to step back and to view the America of 1910. At that time there simply were no roads connecting the vast expanse of the United States. What roads existed, existed only in cities. When roads reached the city limits they simply disappeared or deteriorated to dust or sticky mud.

Travel between the East Coast and the West Coast was only by rail. Not only were there no roads, but there were no roadmaps or guides or directional signs that could be used by a motorist, or "autoist" as they were known then. The joke of the city slicker asking directions of a farmer on how to get to a certain town and being told: "You can't get there from here" was no joke. The grim reality was that it was a statement of fact. What roads might have existed outside the city limits went nowhere. They were simply unconnected spiderwebs radiating from towns or rail centers.

In Emily Post's 1916 book "By Motor to the Golden Gate" she recounts a story of asking the best route from New York to San Francisco. She was told the best route was "The Union Pacific". When Emily asked a woman experienced in travel across the country about driving a motorcar to the west coast, she was told that it couldn't be done. In fact while Emily successfully navigated from New York to San Francisco she spent very little time on the Lincoln Highway. Upon leaving New York City she traveled north and then west to Chicago. When she did travel on the Lincoln, she described it as being a vast sea of mud.

It's easy to get romantic about the named highways. Certainly it sounds more adventurous to talk about journeying on the Lincoln Highway or the Yellowstone Trail than it does to drive on Interstate 80 or even US 40, but the Lincoln and the Yellowstone had their shortcomings. They relied upon voluntary contributions from Association members, benefactors, corporate sponsors and cities and counties along the route in order to complete the transcontinental roads. This worked, but was not a permanent solution and even the founders of the Lincoln Highway and the Yellowstone Trail felt that
state and federal governments would have to step in.

Individuals and private organizations in fact stepped in to fill the breach before the creation of state highway departments and the federal Department of Transportation. While the Lincoln Highway Association and the Yellowstone Trail Association were alike in that they were private associations they were each unique from one another. The Lincoln Highway Association had the backing of most of America's automobile manufacturers as well as the companies which supplied the products used in the manufacture of roads and automobiles.

The Yellowstone Trail Association had little such support. It was more of a grassroots movement made up of farmers and businessmen of the towns lying along the Yellowstone Trail, more rural in approach. If the county assessed a road tax for the construction of a segment of the Yellowstone Trail, a citizen might just satisfy the obligation of that tax by contributing work on a designated workday. The problem with this was that real work was hard to come by. There are jokes about WPA workers resting on their shovels during the Great Depression 20 years later, but they had nothing on the disorganized workforces that at times turned out for a day of roadbuilding in 1913 or 1914. Oh the job got done, but after the initial enthusiasm less of the job would get done.

There is really nothing like these highway associations today. They coordinated road construction, acted as boosters for towns and tourist destinations along their route. They acted much like the AAA or oil companies which distributed maps and provided travel advice and they advocated for good roads and published best practices for road construction. The Lincoln Highway Association even funded demonstration projects, a practice followed up by the modern federal department of transportation. Unfortunately the named highways became victims of their own shortcomings as well as their own success and by the mid-1920s certain transportation corridors became confusing jumbles of competing signs and routes. This left telephone poles crowded with signs and motorist confused.

"Pole Markers" for the Transcontinental named Highways.

The creation of named highway associations and the work that they did were really the quintessential American response to getting the job done. If government was not going to step in, private citizens would step up. The named highway movement occupied only a brief time in our history. The US highways and subsequent interstate highways ultimately proved to be a much better response to America's transportation needs, but they built upon a foundation laid by the named highway associations. I can't help but get romantic when thinking about two-lane travel and the individuals behind the Lincoln Highway and the Yellowstone Trail. Great credit needs to go to the founders of these two American roads who got the ball rolling.

President Lincoln Highway Assoc.

J.W.Parmley Founder Yellowstone Trail Assoc.

1st Director Fed. Hwy Admin.
Fed. Hwy. Admin. Photo
The end of the line for named Highways

(2) What to call this ramble about a ramble...

Ready for the Road

I struggled with the title for this journal. I had quite a few ideas rolling around in my head (there's a lot of empty space up there) but I wanted to find something that would be catchy, that I didn't have to explain (too much) and that would entice the reader, arouse curiosity, and provide an idea of what this journal was all about.

One of the books I read in preparing for this trip was: "The Family Flivvers to Frisco", a 1927 account of a family's transcontinental trip on the Lincoln Highway written by Frederic van de Water. I enjoyed the humorous presentation of the book and thought about calling this journal "A Flivver Flees from Frisco", but even though the car we will be driving is an old Ford I don't think of it as a "flivver" and I was worried that if I used that title I would have to explain just what a flivver is and, perhaps worse, the rest of the title might be interpreted as making some sort of political statement about the city of my birth. My other problem with that proposal was with the word "Frisco" which was an obscenity in the house I  grew up in. Mom wouldn't allow it and would scold any of my friends who dared utter the offensive word. Catchy or not, respect for Mom and a risk of confusion wouldn't allow that title.

After considering and rejecting several possibilities, my friend, Dave Frazier suggested: "A Ford on the Lincoln" which is a catchy title, should only take a minimal amount of explanation and avoids misleading people into thinking that this is some sort of a political tract.

Although I considered the suggestion to be very good, I still was not sold. My problem with the title was and is that it shortchanges the Yellowstone Trail which is also a significant transcontinental road of the early 20th century and on which we will be spending nearly 50% of our time. This second concern explains the subtitle: "A Honeymooning couple's adventures on the Lincoln Highway and Yellowstone Trail".

Although Linda and I will celebrate our 40th wedding anniversary on this trip, I believe that we are still a honeymooning couple. I hope the honeymoon will continue even after a summer on the road together.

Linda on one of our early camping adventures

(1) Introduction

My first visit to Donner Lake
June 1956

I have always wanted to drive across country. That simple desire is the origin of this cross country trip. Perhaps part of this desire grew out of a sense of envy. I envied my brothers who went camping with my dad shortly after I was born. They had the opportunity to see and to remember seeing many sights throughout the far west. My wife, with her family, spent an entire summer "touring the states". Even our three children, Charlie, Lorelei and Will have each driven across country.

When I was young my parents purchased a cabin at Donner Lake, California. I think that my brothers envy the summers my sister and I spent at the lake. Don't get me wrong, I had a wonderful time those summers at Donner. Summers that I would not trade for anything. But when I look at photo albums and see my brothers camping with Dad, or realize that they can remember later camping trips that are merely a dim and foggy recollection to me, I'm jealous.

Looking back I can see that I've spent much of my adult life trying to make up for the travel and camping trips that I perceive I missed. It is my very good fortune to have a wife that shares my wanderlust and my love of "car camping". When Linda and I married in 1977 we purchased a 10-year-old tent trailer for the princely sum of $175.00. We used it extensively on vacations and on long weekends. We camped with it until the early 1990s when our family outgrew it. We then bought another used tent trailer. Vacations were often spent showing the kids the national parks and traveling throughout the Western United States. Over the years I think that we were able to see and to share with our children all of the National Parks west of the Dakotas and north of Texas. But I still haven't traveled across country and I intend to do it. This series of journal entries is about the trip that Linda and I will make across America in the summer of 2017.

Another thing I can see in retrospect is that we envy the experiences of others which we may have missed. I think it's healthier to look at experiences as trade-offs. If I had experienced travel and camping as a child I would've had to forgo other experiences. I have to say that I've enjoyed my life immensely. I'm not sure what I would trade for my brothers' experience. I guess it's better to simply do it now. I will now make sure that I do it right.

I realize that not everything I write down will be of interest to every reader. I've provided historical background to give context.  That may bore those not interested in transportation history, while at the same time infuriating those who find my descriptions nothing more than gross oversimplifications. Sections of this journal dealing with the preparation of the car and trailer may prove tedious to non mechanics and those not interested in automotive or camp trailer restoration, but should we make it across country the preparations are as important as the drive. If you are bored with a section, for gosh sakes skip it!

As I write this I realize that I'm making a prediction concerning the future. The future does not always go as planned. Perhaps we will not camp as much as we hope to this summer. Perhaps the road will be too much for our 59 year old car. We may spend a few nights in motels if Midwestern rains and storms make it impractical to set up camp. I guess we will take the road as we find it and trust to providence.

A Ford on the Lincoln
Summer 2009