Members of the Military Vehicle Preservation Association will drive vintage and modern trucks following the route of the old Lincoln Highway, now U.S. 30, to mark the pioneering trek's 90th anniversary.
The MVPA convoy will leave Washington, D.C., on June 13 and plans to arrive 26 days later in San Francisco, on July 8. Its first rest stop in Wooster, Ohio, on June 16, will include a military encampment and a gathering of military units and trucks, said Terry Shelswell, the event's coordinator, who will drive his 1952 Willys M-38 Jeep in the convoy. He works at Inergy Automotive, a supplier of fuel systems for autos and light trucks.
The 1919 convoy by the Army's young Motor Transport Corps took 62 days, from July 7 to September 6. It was done partly to test the mettle of trucks then available and publicize the need for good roads. The trek tested the balloon tire developed by Harvey Firestone and sought to interest young men in motor transport schooling.
Among its members was Dwight D. Eisenhower, then a young lieutenant colonel who would later become a five-star general and eventually President of the U.S. What he saw during the convoy, along with his experiences with Germany's Autobahns during World War II, influenced him to push for construction of the U.S. System of Interstate and Defense Highways, which began in 1956.
In 1919 the Lincoln Highway was the nation's first semi-official long-distance road. It had been laid out and, due to promotion and lobbying by industrialists, was mostly paved east of the Mississippi River. But over vast sections of the West it consisted only of dirt and sand trails, if that. Eighty-one vehicles, 282 soldiers and 15 Department of the Army observers embarked on the trip. They operated under simulated wartime conditions, assuming that much of the route was damaged and destroyed by fighting.
The real-life condition of the route supported the war gaming. Soldiers worked strenuously to pull trucks out of countless ditches, mud holes and deep ruts, and from creek beds after heavy vehicles plunged through about 100 weak bridges. Army engineers then rebuilt the bridges. Nine trucks broke down and 21 men were injured and had to be left behind for treatment. Yet soldiers completed the trip only four days behind schedule.
The 2009 convoy is expected to draw 150 vehicles, from modern Humvees to ponderous two- and four-wheel-drive trucks from the World War I era. One is a 1917 FWD ammunition carrier restored by Don Chew, an active member of MVPA and the American Truck Historical Society, who lives in Brighton, Colo. He plans to join the convoy in the West. Trucks similar to his FWD made the original trip.
By coincidence, Chew's friend Doreen Slater has photos of the 1919 convoy as it passed through North Platte, Neb. She found them last year among possessions passed down by her mother, Carolyn Baker Slater. The convoy photos were taken by members of the Baker family and had been stored away.
There'll probably be thousands of photos shot this summer as MVPA members drive their military trucks, cars and motorcycles varying distances by joining and leaving the convoy as it passes through 11 states. Some intend to drive the entire 3,300-mile distance. Only military vehicles in good operating condition may participate, and for insurance requirements, drivers must be MVPA members.
A story on the upcoming convoy is in the May-June issue of Wheels of Time, ATHS's magazine. Information on the convoy and its schedule are posted at the military group's website, www.mvpa.org. Contact person is Terry Shelswell, (586) 212-9523 or Terry.Shelswell@inergyautomotive.com.