Driving the Lincoln in 1919 ~ part 3: good roads

May 23, 2018

Beatrice wrote that they followed the Lincoln Highway to Pittsburgh — making it sound like they’d been on it since NYC —  but they didn’t pick up the LH until Chambersburg, Pa., on the way to their third overnight stop in Bedford, Pa.

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“One of the all-absorbing pleasures in contemplating a long trip is to map out your route. You hear how all your friends have gone, or their friends, then you load up with maps and folders, especially those published by all the auto firms and tire companies, you pore over the Blue Book of the current year, and generally end by going the way you want to go, through the cities where you have friends or special interests. This is exactly what we did.

“As the trip was to be taken in mid-summer, we concluded to take a northern route from Chicago, via Milwaukee, St. Paul, Fargo, Billings, Yellowstone Park, Salt Lake City, Ogden, Reno, Sacramento, to San Francisco (see map), and, strange to relate, we followed out the tour as we had planned it. With the exception of a few hot days in the larger cities and on the plains, and, of course, in the desert, we justified our decision. As I have stated, we drove 4154 miles, through sixteen states and the Yellowstone Park, in thirty-three running days, and the trip took just seven weeks to the day, including seventeen days spent in various cities, where we rested and enjoyed the sights….

“We followed the Lincoln Highway to Pittsburgh, and have only praise to offer for the condition of the road and the beauty of the small towns through which we went. Of all the states that we crossed, Pennsylvania stands out par excellence in good roads, clean, attractive towns, beautiful farming country and fruit belts, and well-built, up-to-date farm buildings. In other states we found many such farms, but in Pennsylvania it was exceptional to find a poor, tumble-down farmhouse or barn. The whole state had an air of thrift and prosperity, and every little home was surrounded by fine trees, flowers, and a well-kept vegetable garden.

“Our objective point was the charmingly quaint town of Bedford, and the Bedford Arms. This part of Pennsylvania was more beautiful than what we had been through, and every mile of the day’s run was a pleasure.”

 

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Driving the Lincoln in 1919 ~ part 2: depart NYC

May 16, 2018

LINCOLN HIGHWAY NEWS IS A BLOG BY BRIAN BUTKO

When Beatrice Massey and her husband decided to set out for the West Coast in 1919, they invited two friends to join them in their Packard.

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The 42nd Street dock in New York City where the Massey’s headed. This photo, taken five years later in 1924, shows LHA Field Secretary Gael Hoag stands with the group’s official Packard. [University of Michigan–Special Collections Library, lhc2893.]

“We picked them up at the Seymour Hotel in New York City, at three o’clock, Saturday, July 19th, and started for the Forty-Second-Street ferry in a pouring rain, as jolly and happy a quartette as the weather would permit. Our guests were a retired physician, whom we shall speak of as the Doctor, and his charming, somewhat younger wife, who, although possessing the perfectly good name of Helen, was promptly dubbed ‘Toodles’ for no reason in the world….

“It had rained steadily for three days before we started and it poured torrents for three  days after; but that was to be expected, and the New Jersey and Pennsylvania roads were none the worse, and the freedom from dust was a boon. We chose for the slogan of our trip, ‘It might have been worse.’ The Doctor had an endless fund of good stories, of two classes, ‘table and stable stories,’ and I regret to say that this apt slogan was taken from  one of his choicest stable stories, and quite unfit for publication. However, it did fit our party in its optimism and cheery atmosphere.

“With a last look at the wonderful sky-line of the city, and the hum and whirl of the great throbbing metropolis, lessening in the swirl of the Hudson River, we really were started;  with our faces turned to the setting sun, and the vast, wonderful West before us.”

* From Beatrice Massey’s book, It Might Have Been Worse: A Motor Trip from Coast to Coast, 1920.

Driving the Lincoln Highway in 1919 ~ part 1

May 8, 2018

LINCOLN HIGHWAY NEWS IS A BLOG BY BRIAN BUTKO

I love early automobile memoirs for capturing the feel of travel a century ago. It was common for wealthy Easterners in the 1910s to take their new play-toys across the country, then detail the experience in print (and just as often returning the car and themselves back east by rail). Of course, these travelers often packed up their elite mindsets (along with silver tea sets) but after a few days on the road, they found it would not be all smooth highways and fancy hotels, and instead were forced to fix flats and camp by the side of the road.

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In 1916, Emily Post (not yet known as an expert on etiquette) wrote a book about her travels, By Motor to the Golden Gate. This inspired Beatrice Larned Massey to follow in her tire tracks, so to speak.

“I was fired by a desire to make a similar tour,” she wrote, but World War I delayed her for three years. “Then the ‘motor fever’ came on again…. After talking and planning for three years, we actually decided to go in ten minutes — and in ten days we were off.”

She captured her adventures from New York to San Francisco in her own book, It Might Have Been Worse: A Motor Trip from Coast to Coast, published in 1920. Most of her trip was not along the Lincoln Highway, though she followed much of the route through Pennsylvania, plus all of the trip gives wonderful insight into early auto travel.

Let’s get her started:

“All the necessary arrangements were quickly made; leasing our home, storing our household goods, closing up business matters, getting our equipment and having the car thoroughly looked over, and all the pleasant but unnecessary duties occupied the last few days. Why will people write so many letters and say so many good-bys, when a more or less efficient mail and telegraph service circles our continent? But it is the custom, and all your friends expect it — like sending Easter and Christmas cards by the hundreds. We are victims of a well-prescribed custom.

“It is always of interest to me to know the make of car that a friend (or stranger) is driving; so let me say, without any desire to advertise the Packard, that we had a new twin-six touring car, of which I shall speak later on. I believe in giving just tribute to any car that will come out whole and in excellent condition, without any engine troubles or having to be repaired, after a trip of 4154 miles over plains and mountains, through ditches, ruts, sand, and mud, fording streams and two days of desert-going. And let me add that my husband and I drove every mile of the way. It is needless to say that the car was not overstrained or abused, and was given every care on the trip. In each large city the Packard service station greased and oiled the car, turned down the grease-cups, examined the brakes and steering-gear, and started us off in ‘apple-pie’ order, with a feeling on our parts of security and satisfaction.

“The subject of car equipment, tires, clothes, and luggage will take a chapter by itself. But let me say that we profited in all these regards by the experience and valuable suggestions of Mrs. Post in her book.

“When we first spoke to our friends of making this trip, it created as little surprise or comment as if we had said, ‘We are going to tour the Berkshires.’ The motor mind has so grown and changed in a few years. Nearly everyone had some valuable suggestion to make, but one only which we accepted and profited by. Every last friend and relative that we had offered to go in some capacity — private secretaries, chauffeurs, valets, maids, and traveling companions. But our conscience smote us when we looked at that tonneau, the size of a small boat, empty, save for our luggage, which, let me add with infinite pride and satisfaction, was not on the running-boards, nor strapped to the back. From the exterior appearance of the car we might have been shopping on Fifth Avenue.”

* to be continued….

 

Iowa Gumbo Snared Lincoln Highway Travelers

January 16, 2018

LINCOLN HIGHWAY NEWS IS A BLOG BY BRIAN BUTKO

Early motorists writing of cross-country journeys had little to say east of the Mississippi; once on Iowa’s dirt roads, they couldn’t stop. Iowa was notorious for “gumbo” mud, a result of the land between the Mississippi and Missouri Rivers once having been submerged. Superb for crops, that same rich soil stymied cars when wet.

Making matters worse, Iowa’s roads were improved at the county level, where voters preferred minor overall improvements over diverting more funds to the Lincoln Highway. LHA president Henry Joy took the state legislature to task in a scathing article for Collier’s in 1916: “Not a wheel turns outside the paved streets of her cities during or for sometime after the frequent heavy rains…. Millions of dollars worth of wheeled vehicles become, for the time being, worthless.”

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Henry Joy in gumbo near La Mouille, Iowa, June 1915. [UM 1964]

That article followed a 1915 trip that Joy made with LHA secretary Austin Bement and Packard mechanic Ernie Eisenhut in a new Packard 1-35 Twin Six, the first 12-cylinder production car. His photo album, with hundreds of snapshots from the muddy 2,885-mile journey, can be found at the University of Michigan’s Bentley Library. The captions themselves are often entertaining:

“Nearing Tama, Iowa, our rear wheels threw gumbo higher than the telephone poles.”

“The natives took reserved seats to watch us work their roads.”

“Three hours were spent in this mud hole near Tama.”

“Four hours were needed to dislodge us from the Lincoln Highway east of Marshaltown.”

“He pulled us out for $3.00 and a drink of whiskey.”

In By Motor to the Golden Gate (1916), future etiquette writer Emily Post wrote, “Illinois mud is slippery and slyly eager to push unstable tourists into the ditch, but in Iowa it lurks in unfathomable treachery, loath to let anything ever get out again that once ventures into it. Our progress through it became hideously like that of a fly crawling through yellow flypaper…. Our wheels, even with chains on, had no more hold than revolving cakes of soap might have on slanting wet marble.”

By 1920, with more than 430,000 registered vehicles, Iowa still had only 25 miles of paved roads outside of cities. The 1924 LHA guide warned, “It is folly to try to drive on Iowa dirt roads, during or immediately after a heavy rain.”

Dry spells brought horrible clouds of dust but it was the gumbo that was forever remembered. George Schuster said it best in his recollection of Ogden, Iowa, during the 1908 New York–to–Paris race: “It rained all day, the mud is nearly hub deep. We slid from one side of the road to the other. We covered more miles sidewise than ahead.”

Utah’s Carl Fisher Monument

January 9, 2018

LINCOLN HIGHWAY NEWS IS A BLOG BY BRIAN BUTKO

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The Carl Fisher Monument, dedicated in 2009, was spearheaded for 10 years by Rollin Southwell. It is on SR 199, mp 12, along Fisher Pass, which was part of a plan by the LHA to shorten its route across the Great Salt Lake Desert. Rollin passed away in 2013 but had sent me notes about the project:

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“Carl Fisher’s donation to the State of Utah was the first of a series from automobile manufacturers to improve the roads in Utah and Nevada. Tooele County has more miles of the Lincoln Highway than any other county along the route. It will now be home to the only monument to Fisher, creator of the Lincoln Highway. There are four major parts to the monument:
* The rock was one of the rocks moved in the Devil’s Gate Narrows to make the pass suitable for autos in the construction phase of the Fisher Pass.
* The monument itself tells the story of Carl Fisher’s money, the Lincoln Highway Association, and the State of Utah.
* The beacon represents the Lighthouse that was to be built on the north side of Granite Peak as a guide for tourists across the Great Salt Desert, and was to have used gas from Prest-O-Lite, a company once owned by Fisher.
* The concrete marker recalls the building of the final section, the end of the Goodyear cutoff, and Fisher Pass as part of the Lincoln Highway.”

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Lincoln Highway ~ A Re-Introduction

January 7, 2018

LINCOLN HIGHWAY NEWS IS A BLOG BY BRIAN BUTKO

In the years since my LH books were published, interest in the famous cross-county road has blossomed thanks to the Internet, especially Facebook. But it seems that history of the road, so talked about a decade ago, has once again faded. Heck, the early years of the new Lincoln Highway Association, now itself a quarter-century old, is being forgotten too

Facebook became a better, faster way to share LH info and images, but maybe it’s time to return with some stories that need a bit more explaining. For example, one favorite abandoned stretch of LH hidden in the woods of central PA deserves more than just a photo and caption. This blog is the perfect place for sharing that story.

For now, let’s start with some basic LH history. Here’s the first page of Introduction to my book, Greetings from the Lincoln Highway. It’s gone out of print so hard copies can be hard to find, but we can share it here ~ enjoy.

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Nebraska’s 1733 Ranch in 1915

November 1, 2016

A century ago, Lincoln Highway tourists crossing Nebraska often stopped five miles west of Kearney for a photo at the 1733 Ranch. Its sign “1733 miles to Frisco, 1733 miles to Boston” was iconic … except that both mileages were wrong and the Lincoln Highway never went to Boston.

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The 1915 LHA guidebook lists Kearney as 1752 miles from San Francisco and 1632 miles from New York City. So why 1733, and how did Kearney come to promote itself as the “Midway City”?

History professor John T. Bauer wrote in the Summer 2015 issue of Nebraska History that the 1733 mileage is derived from the railroad route between the two, which the city embraced as early as 1890.

When the LHA movie caravan crossed the country in 1915 to produce a promotion film, hundreds of photos were taken by Edward Holden, secretary to LHA vice president and field secretary Henry C. Ostermann. The above photo then leads to an interesting question; the  1733 Ranch name has long been said to stem from new owners in 1917, but this 1915 photo indicates otherwise.

The modern LHA now sells a CD with 300 of Holden’s photos at the Lincoln Highway Trading Post.

The ranch itself is long gone—only the 1733 Estates remind us of that long-ago era.

Solitude on the Lincoln Highway in Nebraska

August 12, 2016

LINCOLN HIGHWAY NEWS IS A BLOG BY BRIAN BUTKO

I don’t post here much any more, finding far more people are in my Facebook LH group. But I’ve always loved this quote from Bellamy Partridge about the solitude in western Nebraska, on a little stretch of Lincoln Highway just off US 30, so I wanted to share it here too….

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A.L. Westgard visits Frenchman’s Station

March 12, 2015
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Looking west at Frenchman’s Station, aka Bermond’s Ranch, Nevada, 1922. University of Michigan Special Collections Library, lhc0819.

LINCOLN HIGHWAY NEWS IS A BLOG BY BRIAN BUTKO

Here’s a fun and fascinating story by Anton L. Westgard from his 1920 book “Tales of a Pathfinder” about Frenchman’s Station, a tiny outpost on the Lincoln Highway east of Fallon, Nevada. It was named for its French proprietor, Aime Bermond, who opened the stage station in 1904. The USPS named the site Bermond, with the Frenchman himself as postmaster. The business survived into the 1980s, when the building was sold to the Navy — the area is used for air warfare training by the Fallon Naval Air Base. It was demolished in 1987; only a few scattered remnants mark the site, which you can see at https://goo.gl/maps/yX50c.

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“FRENCHMAN’S STATION”

One moonbright midsummer’s evening our party arrived at Frenchman’s Station, located in the most arid part of Central Nevada near the trail that in former days was the Pony Express route and two generations later became the Lincoln Highway. The station was kept by a Frenchman who made a living by hauling water from a spring, twelve miles distant, and selling it to freighters hauling ore and supplies between mining camps to the South and the railroad at Eureka. He also had sleeping accommodations in one of the two rooms in his cabin and furnished meals to travelers.

As the hour was late and my wife somewhat tired, we thought, that rather than take the time to pitch the tent and prepare camp, we would look over the accommodations of the station. I was deputized to examine these and report. I found that the double iron bedstead in the “guest room” occupied every inch of space necessitating undressing in the other room or perform the feat in the bed somewhat in the manner necessary in a Pullman berth. The facts were promptly reported back to the car.

Friend wife thought she had better have an individual peep and after looking the situation over thought it would do if the host would furnish clean linen. After having this cryptic word explained to him as meaning clean sheets and pillow cases he rolled his eyes and sputtered a flow of protestations assuring us that we need have no worry about the linen as the people who slept in that bed last were perfectly clean people, in fact as he put it: “as clean as Bill Taft.” Mr. Taft at that time was our President.

Eventually we succeeded in inducing the production of satisfactory bedding and proceeded out into the lean-to shed of a kitchen in anticipation of something to eat. Here my wife discovered a luscious-looking watermelon partly covered by a wet cloth to keep it cool and at once made a requisition on a generous slice. Our host, however, held up his hands in protest and with many apologies maintained that to grant this request would be out of the question and entirely impossible as he had had it brought all the way from Reno in anticipation of the visit of the “great pathfinder” who was expected over the route on an inspection trip as stated in the Reno papers and this was intended as a pleasing surprise to the great man. To encounter a luscious watermelon in the most arid part of Nevada, a hundred miles from a railroad, would be sure to convince him that after all this route had its advantages and should be advocated as a National touring boulevard and thus bring lucrative business to the station.

When my wife asked who this great man was he produced a copy of a Reno newspaper a few days old which contained an account of the expected visit of her husband. The half-tone photograph accompanying the article was taken when I wore city clothes and thus he had not recognized me. We chose not to enlighten him and enjoyed a fair meal sans watermelon. Our host in the meantime volubly set forth his bright prospects of future profits from travel over the expected boulevard. He was so earnest and enthusiastic that we did not have the heart to discourage him.

Now on the door of my car was a small brass plate on which was engraved my name and official position. Next morning when I went out to the car to see if everything was all right, I found the watermelon on the tonneau floor covered by the wet cloth but our host was nowhere in sight. In fact we prepared our own breakfast and only when we were ready to depart did he come from behind a nearby small hill and with tears in his eyes uttered his profound mortification over the fact that he had not recognized me, and his hopes that I would not let “this unfortunate demonstration of his absurd stupidity” influence me against “locating the boulevard” past his station.

While the boulevard is still only on the maps this route has attracted such a share of the transcontinental motor traffic that it is safe to assume that our host is reconciled for the lack of the boulevard by the increased flow of revenue from the tourist traffic. At least I hope he is as he was a cheerful, good old soul, residing alone out there in the barren and burning desert.

End of an Era: Our friend Bernie Queneau

December 8, 2014

LINCOLN HIGHWAY NEWS IS A BLOG BY BRIAN BUTKO

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The Boy Scout Safety Tour visited the Linn County Courthouse, Cedar Rapids, Iowa, on July 19, 1928. From left, Carl Zapffe, Edward Pratt, Mark Hughes, driver Reese Davis, Bernard Queneau, BSA Tour Manager Charles Mills, BSA Director of Demonstrations Reno Lombardi, and their Reo Speed Wagon.

 

If you attended a Lincoln Highway event in the past decade, you know there was only one celebrity who fans waited to see: Bernie Queneau, with his deep voice and big smile. Of course, his world was much larger than the Lincoln Highway. When I last spoke with him, an interview actually, he asked if we could talk about something else. “There was more to my life than that trip” he said, not grouchy but proudly.

Still, to Lincoln Highway fans he will always be the Scout on the 1928 coast-to-coast Safety Tour, the last connection to a long-gone era when Model T’s dominated the dusty/muddy, roads.

Bernie was born in Liege, Belgium, on July 14, 1912—Bastille Day he liked to point out—two months before Carl Fisher gathered auto industry friends to propose his crazy cross-country highway idea. Bernie had vague memories of WWI, and then at 13, his family moved to Minneapolis. Thanks to his advanced education, they made him a high school sophomore. His family moved again to New Rochelle, New Jersey, where he graduated in 1928 at age 15.

He entered a contest for Eagle Scouts to go to Africa and was one of seven finalists. After three were chosen, Bernie and the remaining three were offered a tour along the Lincoln Highway that would promote both Scouting and the road itself, which was being superseded (as were all named trails) by the Federal highway numbering system. Much of the Lincoln Highway from Pennsylvania to Wyoming was marked as U.S. 30, but they were different paths, and many bypassed parts of the Lincoln never did receive a number. Those are the parts the Scouts would have traveled.

I first met Bernie when LHA President Esther Oyster tracked him down in 1997. I was a founding director of the LHA and had published my first book about the road the year before. Esther was looking for a special speaker at the upcoming LHA conference in Ohio and was surprised to find one of the Scouts still living. Bernie was 84 and here in my hometown of Pittsburgh. She arranged for us to interview him on March 20 at my workplace, the Senator John Heinz History Center, where I still work. Bernie was amazed that anyone had heard of his road trip seven decades earlier, let alone might be interested in it.

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Esther and Bernie at the fun, informal premier of Rick Sebak’s PBS program about the Lincoln Highway. Sebak’s impromptu showing of clips on the wall pleased fans crowded into the Road Toad near Ligonier, Pa., September 20, 2008.

Esther and Bernie met again at the 2002 LHA conference in San Francisco, where he dedicated a replacement marker at the Western Terminus, and a few months later they invited me to lunch. Plans were made for the William Penn Hotel, a prestigious venue in downtown Pittsburgh, opened 1916. We three reunited at the History Center, and as we walked outside I asked Bernie where he was parked. “We’ll walk” he said and for the next seven blocks it was hard to keep up with this sprightly 90-year-old! Their treat that day was to tell me they’d gotten engaged!

Bernie liked to joke about meeting Esther’s family, that they teased him whether he had any piercings or if he worried about being 12 years older. He joked back that he thought Esther would be sufficiently mature. They were married and in Summer 2003 they re-drove his trip across the country with an LHA tour group that celebrated the 90th anniversary of the Lincoln Highway, the 75th anniversary of the Scout trip, and their marriage.

Every few years our paths would cross, usually at a Lincoln Highway event. Last year, after a historical society evening banquet, the older audience was ready to go home, but Bernie ordered another bottle of wine. After lunch just a few months ago, he jumped behind the wheel of his new car and drove Esther home on the Penn-Lincoln Parkway, Pittsburgh’s frantic 4-lane successor to the old Lincoln Highway through town.

The History Center will open a WWII exhibit next Spring, hence my invitation to Bernie for another oral history. The three of us met up here once again, and for a couple hours he held us spellbound with first-hand recollections of being in the Navy 1939-1946. He used his Ph.D. in Metallurgy to investigate many important applications, from oxygen tanks to aircraft armor to improved ballistics. After the war, he joined U. S. Steel, rising in 1970 to General Manager Quality Assurance for the entire company, which was producing 25 million tons of steel a year. He retired in 1977 only to become a Consulting Engineer, not really retiring for another decade.

Of course, even real retirement for Bernie was busier than a workday for the rest of us. He volunteered for Meals on Wheels, as a hospital escort, and more recently at the used book store at his nearby Mt. Lebanon Library. He and Esther saw a great deal of the world together. He was even a bit late to his own big 100th birthday party, having toured the city all day.

On Saturday, December 6, 2014, he was bestowed the rare Distinguished Eagle Scout Award for outstanding career achievement, on Esther’s 90th birthday. He passed away hours later, on Sunday, Pearl Harbor Day.

There is so much more to his life but it’s the Scout trip that always fascinated Lincoln Highway fans. His 1928 diary holds the precious insights of a teenager on an arduous and monotonous trip.

In New Jersey: “We saw the mayor and veteran of Civil War…. we did over 60 on the crowded highway.”

“Ohio is full of pigs, cattle, bad roads, and rain.”

And Utah: “On and on and on over the worst U.S. route I ever hope to see.”

We’ll miss his honesty, his thoughtful observations, his sense of humor, his love of history and good food. Most of all, I will miss his steady demeanor behind all those other things. As Esther likes to say, he was an old-school gentleman. When in his company, you felt you should do better too, be a better person … and be at least half as active. We’ll miss Bernie but he surely has 102 years of friends waiting for him….

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Tired Scouts in a Hudson convertible on the long trip home. Bernie is at right.