Sunday, June 30, 2013

Following the Lincoln Highway

        It was a wonderful scavenger hunt, as I traveled back and forth across the West from my home in California to Colorado, by way of the remnants of the Historic Lincoln Highway. Off the Interstates as much as possible, I searched small towns for Lincoln Highway signs and markers and landmarks.

        The Lincoln Highway, America's Main Street Across America, is 100 years old in 2013. A century ago, the highway stretched from New York City to San Francisco. It wasn't a straight line on the map, like today's superhighways or interstates. Instead, it was a line that connected the dots that were the cities, small towns, forts, and even ranches across even the emptiest spaces in the West and Midwest.

        Towns prospered during the highway's heyday. Motels and motor courts, gas stations and repair garages popped up along the gravel, then asphalt, highway. Thousands of American families took on the challenge of the road, answered the call of the wild, and created the unique American vacation, the road-trip. Over time, the highway was straightened and straightened again, and finally replaced by the numbered interstate highway system, which left all those little towns and their gas stations and motels behind.
        Celebrating the highway's 100th birthday, the Lincoln Highway Association has organized a pair of caravans, one departing from San Francisco and the other from New York City on June 23, 2013, that will follow the course of the old highway whenever possible before meeting in the middle at Nebraska. Inspired, I am taking my own road-trip from my home in Colfax, California, to Cheyenne, Wyoming, and back. (An article appeared in the Auburn Journal describing the passing of the caravan through town.)

I left California on Sunday, June 16, and arrived in Cheyenne four days later on Wednesday the 19th. After a side trip to Longmont, Colorado, for Meghann Adams and Josh Vela's wedding (the original inspiration for planning the road trip), I made the return journey, leaving from Cheyenne on Sunday, June 23, arriving home on Thursday, June 27.

        Using a variety of sources, including the Lincoln Highway Association website, wikipedia, and James Lin's Lincoln Highway site, as well as two tourist flyers I picked up along the way in Utah and Wyoming, I chose a "blue highways" route that left Interstates 80, 50, and 93 whenever the Lincoln Highway
route was available to follow instead.

        In the olden days, the length of America's Main Street was marked in a variety of ways. The Boy Scouts placed 3000 concrete posts with the highway's red-white-and-blue logo, it's large L, directional arrows, and brass medals that sported Lincoln's profile. Towns posted signs in the same colors and a large L on fence posts and lampposts. Farmers' fence posts were painted with red-white-and-blue horizontal stripes.
Today, only a very few of these markers remain in place. Some streets in some towns still hold the name Lincoln Way. Some businesses still carry the Lincoln name, too. But in large part, it's hard to follow and requires some trial and error meandering.

        The goal of my trip was to follow the trail of the Lincoln Highway as much as possible. To that end, I found myself wandering back and forth and up and down through towns and in the shadows of the Union Pacific railroad tracks and Interstate 80. I experienced frustration when I couldn't find a marker or a landmark listed in one of my sources, and I experienced joy and jubilation when I was surprised by signs and markers where I hadn't expected them. Along the way, I took a gazillion photos of what I saw: signs and markers, gas stations and motor courts, monuments and statues, and even stretches of the road itself. A few of those photos are shared here; others can be seen at my flickr page.