Archive for January, 2018

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.”

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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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