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MVPAconvoyVintage vehicle convoy underway. (Image courtesy Military Vehicle Preservation Association.)

Pair of convoys to celebrate centennial of WWI trip that led to the Eisenhower Interstate System 

By Daniel Strohl
via the Hemmings Motor News

The first Transcontinental Army Motor Transport Expedition in the summer of 1919 did make it from Washington, D.C., to San Francisco, though it arrived several days late, abandoned nine vehicles and all but one of its kitchen trailers, destroyed 88 bridges, and had more than 200 unintentional off-road incidents, all due largely to the undeveloped (or lack of) roads along the way. Still, as a then-Lt. Col. Dwight Eisenhower wrote in his report, among the people he met while participating in the expedition, “It seemed that there was a great deal of sentiment for the improving of highways, and from the standpoint of promoting this sentiment, the trip was an undoubted success.”

Within 40 years, that sentiment became a reality with the country’s interstate highway system, ribbons of road stretching from coast to coast and border to border that have — for better or worse — transformed the country and the lives of the people who live in it. Now, a century after that 62-day cross-country slog, at least two caravans will retrace the steps of Ike and the nearly 300 other men who took part in the expedition.

As Capt. William Greany of the Army’s Motor Transport Corps wrote in his report of the expedition, the point of the trip was, essentially, to field-test a number of vehicles developed for use in World War I “and to determine by actual experience the possibility and the problems involved in moving an army across the continent.” A good mix of vehicles constituted the convoy: 34 heavy cargo trucks, four light delivery trucks, eight touring cars, a reconnaissance car, nine motorcycles with and without sidecars, a wrecker, and a handful of support trucks and trailers built by a variety of truckmakers including Mack, GMC, F.W.D., Militor, White, Packard, and Riker.

The Army decided to use the privately funded Lincoln Highway — Carl Fisher’s second grand idea after the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, officially dedicated just six years prior — for the transcontinental route, but as Greany pointed out “at the time (the highway) existed largely in the imagination and on paper.” The expedition set out in early July from Washington and relied on a network of pre-existing highways and roads that, though paved, were often too narrow for the oversized trucks. Somewhere around Illinois the pavement gave way to dirt roads. Then in Nebraska the roads gave way to sandy, muddy, rutted trails. The convoy even had to negotiate the Donner Pass before descending into California.

Read the entire article on the Hemmings Motor News web site.

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