Monday, July 4, 2011

The Lincoln Highway in Iowa

By Ruth A. Ringelstetter

A mere 100 years ago, the only roads that existed in the US were around cities. There were no planned routes between cities, and very few “improved” roads. A road was considered improved if it was graded and only a few in those days were gravel or brick. If you find any pictures of cars traveling on those first roads, you will often see them axle deep in mud and ruts.

In 1912, Carl Fisher had an idea for a coast to coast rock highway. He tried to get the interest of both private citizens and automobile companies. Henry Joy of the Packard Motor Company became the spokesman for the idea. He was the one who suggested the Lincoln Highway name. In 1913, the Lincoln Highway Association was created and Henry Joy was elected president. In the years following, the Lincoln Highway slowly took shape.

In March of 1925, the American Association of State Highway Officials (AASHO) began planning a federal highway system that was to consist of a series of numbered highways. All of the existing named roads, including the Lincoln Highway were ignored in their planning. The Lincoln Highway Association wanted the same highway number to be associated with the highway across the country. This was not to be in the new federal plan, so the last major activity of the association was to mark the highway with small concrete markers as a memorial to Abraham Lincoln. On September 1, 1928, thousands of Boy Scouts fanned out along the highway. At an average of about one per mile, they installed small concrete markers with a small bust of Lincoln and the inscription “This highway dedicated to Abraham Lincoln.”

Many businesses had sprung up along the Lincoln Highway especially in the towns the highway passed through. It is those businesses that Joann and I find fascinating. We have less interest in driving every mile of the original highway than in those businesses that did business along the highway, and in some cases still do.

If you read our post “When it Rains, It Pours”, you know that our first trip along the Lincoln Highway was to visit Belle Plaine, Iowa. We are fascinated by old gas stations and their signage, and you can’t find more of this history than at Preston’s Station in Belle Plaine.

Along with the station itself, sits an old Rumely Oil Pull tractor. Rumely OilPulls were a line of tractors built by the Advance-Rumely Thresher Company of LaPorte, Indiana beginning in 1910. They seem to have more in common with old steam engines than regular tractors.

Over the years, the route of the Lincoln Highway was marked in various ways. Sometimes the colors of red, white, and blue were painted on telephone poles and sometimes other methods of marking the highway were used.

During my research, I found a picture of the Youngville Station, which was located along the Lincoln Highway. Had Youngville been a town at one time? I searched everything I could find and could not come up with a location. As Joann and I headed home after one of our trips to Iowa, we were flying down a divided Highway 30 west of Cedar Rapids when we looked at each other with a “did you see that?” expression, and Joann screeched the car to a halt along the wide shoulder of the road.

We managed to turn the car around and pull into the parking area where we spent some time walking around the building and taking photos. As Joann often does, she even ran out onto the highway to get the best photo. (Her gravestone in the end will probably read something about being smucked on the highway, doing what she loved.)

So, as you travel the byways and backroads of this great country, take photos and make memories, but try to stay out of the middle of the road.

Happy Shunpiking!

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