Posts Tagged ‘highway history’

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.


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




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



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.


Postcard exhibit at Lincoln Highway museum

January 2, 2014

The Lincoln Highway Experience Museum east of Greensburg, Pennsylvania, has launched a new postcard exhibit. “Wish You Were Here” features six greatly-enlarged postcards showing iconic locations along the Lincoln Highway in central and western Pennsylvania.

Trib LH Experience

A screen shot from the Trib Live news story about the postcard exhibit.

The postcard backs are also reproduced, including the personal handwritten messages. All paid visitors to the museum will also receive a free new postcard (and stamp) to write out and address while at the museum.

The museum has an archive with more than 3,000 Lincoln Highway postcards. It is located just west of the Kingston Bridge on US 30 eastbound. The exhibit is located in a room of the historic 1815 Johnston House, one of the oldest structures along the Lincoln Highway.


Saxon road trip christens Lincoln Highway in 1914

December 24, 2013

I’ve been looking through back issues of Horseless Age — there is something interesting on nearly every page. This clipping (p 892) from the June 10, 1914 issue features a story about a Saxon automobile that had left New York City on “a transcontinental trip that marks the official christening of the Lincoln Highway.”


Just as interesting are two brief stories (you can see one about Pittsburgh) noting that Public Safety directors had barred headlights on the grounds that their glare was “blinding and causes confusion among pedestrians and even to other drivers.”

Drive-In Gas Station’s 100th on Lincoln Highway

December 2, 2013

On December 1, 1913, the Lincoln Highway had only celebrated its dedication a month earlier when the world’s first architect-designed drive-in gas station opened along the new coast-to-coast road in Pittsburgh.

Gulf’s pioneering station in Pittsburgh.

Gasoline had been sold for years at hardware stores and other businesses serving the burgeoning auto industry. There were also places selling only gasoline, even drive-in stations.

Gulf logo

But the fuel was often kept in barrels and poured from large cans. And unlike those existing buildings or informal shacks, Gulf Oil had an architect design the new building to efficiently and elegantly pump gas and provide other services. In fact, the following year, the station would start giving away the first free oil company road maps.

The station featured a canopy to shield motorists from weather, new Bowser hand-cranked pumps, large incandescent-lit signs, attendants on duty day and night, and the checking of fluids — all new to the industry.

The station was on Baum Boulevard (the Lincoln Highway) at St. Clair Street. Baum was quickly becoming Pitsburgh’s “automobile row” (common in all cities), filling with garages, tire shops, and car dealers — even the local auto club. Baum already served the carriage trade so this was a natural outgrowth. That itself made sense since Baum connected the city to the mansions being built to the east along on Penn Avenue in Point Breeze — also  the Lincoln Highway.

An informal station was already operating on the site when landowner James Mellon contracted the new station. The Mellon family was Gulf’s first and foremost investors, intertwining their Mellon Bank and Gulf Oil for decades. Gulf was an early proponent of branding gas, especially with its bright orange circle logo, as opposed to generic gas that was also often of lower quality; a branded station was a natural next step.


The station didn’t last long, perhaps as late as 1950. Since then it’s been a parking lot. In 2000, the Gulfoil Historical Society campaigned for, and helped erect, a state historical marker to the station. I visited the site today, on the station’s 100th birthday, in the Lincoln Highway’s 100th year.

New blog following Lincoln Highway westward

June 9, 2013

Michael E. Grass has started blogging his adventures at “The Lincoln Highway Guide” as he follows the Lincoln Highway westward across the U.S. Grass is a journalist, Web developer, founding co-editor of, and founding editor of The Huffington Post’s

Gas pump sculpture in Chambersburg PA, photo by Michael Grass

In his first post on June 3, Grass wrote, “Thus far, 2013 has brought me to Barbados, Hawaii, Thailand, Malaysia, Los Angeles, New York City, Philadelphia and Portland, Maine. My adventures have been fantastic and they aren’t over yet. This week, I’m setting out to drive the Lincoln Highway all the way to San Francisco.”

And why? “I’m using the Lincoln Highway as a vehicle to rev up my creative engines. The road provides a path for me to explore and create. I plan to write along the way, in real time or near real time, depending on access to wifi or the reliability of my aircard. I hope to live and breathe the open road, which is something that is quintessentially American like apple pie.”

Check it out at

Lincoln Highway Bridge Festival this weekend

May 17, 2013

The 34th annual Lincoln Highway Bridge Festival in Tama, Iowa, starts Friday and features Merriam’s Midway Shows, bands, kids activities, and the Festival Parade on Saturday morning. The celebration is named for the 1915 concrete bridge built on East 5th Street that has been preserved and is still used.

IA_Tama bridge

Read more in today’s Tama Toledo News for times and more details. (Sorry, my link posting is down):–Saturday.html

“Pedaling Lincoln Highway” show follows IL route

April 27, 2013

To mark the centennial of the Lincoln Highway, Dan Libman rode his bike along the road through Illinois and recorded his recollections for a 3-part radio series. “Pedaling Lincoln Highway” aired this week on the university’s radio station WNIJ 89.5 but you can listen too.



Libman, an avid cyclist and professor at Northern Illinois University faculty DeKalb  says traveling by bike put him at the speed of early automobiles.

Read along here (also includes an audio player): Intro, 1, 2, 3.

Or if you just want to listen: Intro, 1, 2, 3.

New Lincoln Highway Mural in Chicago Heights

April 14, 2013

The 33rd roadside mural from the llinois Lincoln Highway Coalition was installed at 137 East 14th Street, Chicago Heights, Illinois. The mural depicts a vintage photo of the McEldowney Bridge that once crossed Thorn Creek in Chicago Heights and Henry C. Ostermann, the Lincoln Highway Association Field Secretary who traveled the Lincoln Highway to inspect it. Chicago Heights is known as the “Crossroads of the Nation” where the Lincoln and Dixie Highways intersect. A special element in this mural is the “L” sign, a three-dimensional piece attached directly to the mural surface.

IL_Chicago Hts mural

Another mural was installed the same day in Crest Hill, at 1701 Larkin Avenue in the Hillcrest Shopping Center. The story was also reported at For more information or to download an Illinois Lincoln Highway Visitor Guide, visit


Lincoln Hwy’s “Man from Utah” Rollin Southwell

March 29, 2013



Long-time Lincoln Highway advocate Rollin Southwell passed away suddenly on Sunday while in Iowa. Among the many contributions of “The Man from Utah” to Lincoln Highway history, preservation, and promotion was the conception and creation of a monument to Carl Fisher in central Utah.

Rollin’s family has planned a service for Monday, April 1, 2013, 11 am at the Twenty-Seventh East Ward, 185 North P Street (corner of 4th Ave), Salt Lake City. In lieu of flowers, Marie Southwell, Elizabeth Southwell, and Robert Southwell ask that donations be directed to the Utah State Historical Society in honor of Rollin’s love for historical research, particularly the history of the Lincoln Highway.

Rollin post


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