Can summer really be over? It seems every year it goes faster and faster. We, here at the Byway office, seemed to have packed quite a bit into our last 3 months. Five communities celebrated 150 years this summer- Carroll, Dow City, Grand Junction, Scranton, and Westside. We entered a car into several of the parades and had Bob and Joyce Ausberger, Lincoln Highway Association members, help toss candy out to the crowd in Grand Junction. What a great way to share in the fun!
The Lincoln Highway Heritage Byway took 4 of the 11 days at the Iowa Byways booth under the grandstand at the Iowa State Fair (Aug 8-18) and talked to fair-goers about the unique Byway routes in Iowa. We shared some history in a trivia spinning-wheel game. Everyone, of course, got a prize!
This year our new featured booklet at the fair was about the original 1919 Army Convoy, the Lincoln Highway, Henry Ostermann (the idea man behind the convoy and a man we have written about before), Dwight Eisenhower (who was on the original convoy), and Dwight’s wife, Mamie, (who was born in Boone, Iowa). These booklets are available at some state Welcome Centers and select locations along the Byway route. And of course, you can always request copies from our office at firstname.lastname@example.org
On August 15th, we unveiled an interpretive panel in the City of Montour’s Maple Hill Cemetery. This panel serves as a long overdue memorial to Henry Ostermann, who served the Lincoln Highway Association as their first Field Secretary and knew the road and the route better than anyone. He had been piloting convoys up and down the east coast in 1917 and came up with the idea to test men, equipment, and roads by taking a convoy across the nation- on the Lincoln Highway. His idea was a reality in 1919. In 1920, on his 21st trip across the nation (and his honeymoon), he lost his life in an accident east of Montour, near the cemetery. In the August-September 1920 Iowa Highway Commission Service Bulletin, the IHC called for a memorial to be placed near the accident site.
In 2019, it became a reality (99 years later). About 25 people gathered to witness this installation. A small program consisted of several speakers: Reed Riskedahl (Prairie Rivers of Iowa Board); Mary Preston (Iowa Lincoln Highway Association President); Dotti Thompson (Community Foundation of Northeast Iowa/Tama County Community Foundation); Rev. John Christianson (Living Faith Methodist Church of Montour), Sue Eberhart (Montour City Council); and Jan Gammon (Lincoln Highway Heritage Byway Coordinator). Gammon also reads words from Rep. Dean Fisher of Montour. Sue Eberhart and Vicky Garske, Montour City Council members, unveiled the panel for all to see. During the program, a few sprinkles fell from the sky. In retrospect, maybe it was Mr. Ostermann verifying his overdue acknowledgement.
A few days later, we celebrated Mr. Ostermann once again as the Military Vehicle Preservation Association (MVPA) retraced the route of the original 1919 Convoy. The original convoy traveled about 6 mph and this modern day group, with vintage vehicles, averaged 35 mph. There was a link to live tracking, so a person could follow the convoy as it made its way across America. Our Byway staff caught up with the convoy in Belle Plaine, Iowa and then saw them again in Tama, Marshalltown, and Nevada. The convoy was impressed by the amount of people who came out to see them- whether on a city street or at the end of their rural lane. Byway staff had helped promote this event in Iowa- sending out press releases, sharing our booklet, and doing interviews with KROS Radio in Clinton and also with RadioIowa. We are most appreciative to the public for their response.
The Lincoln Highway Association will also bring a convoy of classic and contemporary cars, retracing the same route. They will be in Iowa September 6th and 7th, overnighting in Marshalltown and Council Bluffs. They will go a little faster!
Now with fall approaching, its time to regroup and look for funding for future projects. We have some already being planned, so stay tuned!
One hundred years ago, in what began as the idea of one man, America was shown how motor trucks could transport troops, supplies, arms, and ammunition across the nation. This was known in 1919 as the First Trans-Continental Motor Transport Convoy.
The Idea and Development
Henry Ostermann, who we talked about in a previous writing, had been piloting convoys for the Army up and down the east coast in the winter of 1917, during World War I. He was also serving as Field Secretary for the Lincoln Highway Association and merged his two occupations into one idea for the convoy.
In “A Picture of Progress on the Lincoln Way”, published by The Lincoln Highway Association (LHA) in 1920, the LHA officers and the General Staff in Washington held a conference in June 1919 to discuss convoy details. The success of the run was due to the LHA supplying accurate data to the Army as a “result of its years of study of trans-continental highway conditions, and of the co-operation given to the Motor Transport Corps, not only by the Headquarters of the Lincoln Highway Association, but by the consular representatives all along the line between the two coasts. The spirit with which the undertaking was met by the general public and the highway officials at every point along the route, was also invaluable to the project.”
The 1919 Army Convoy taking a break in Tama, Iowa. LHA Archive, Transportation History Collection, Special Collections, University of Michigan
The Route and Key Personnel
On July 7, 1919, send-off ceremonies were attended by high ranking United States officials, including Secretary of War Baker; General Marsh, Chief of Staff; and many leading U.S. Senators and Representative. At the conclusion of the celebration, the convoy left from “Zero Milestone” near the south lawn of the White House in Washington, D.C.. A marker stands there yet today to commemorate this historic adventure undertaken by the Army. The convoy left from Washington and caught the Lincoln Highway at Gettysburg, Pennsylvania. (The Lincoln Highway actually begins in Times Square in New York.)
From the LHA, “The convoy, consisting of 72 vehicles, 65 of which were motor trucks of all types used by the Government during the war, with a personnel of 260 men and 35 officers as statisticians and observers for the various branches of service, under the command of Lt. Col. Charles B. McClure and Capt. Bernard McMahan, and led by Field Secretary and Vice-President H.C. Ostermann of the LHA, in the Association’s Packard, traversed the continent, covering a distance of 3310 miles from Washington to San Francisco, in sixty-two days, arriving only four days behind the schedule laid out in Washington before the start.”
A young Lt.Col. Dwight Eisenhower was one of the men on this trip. He caught up with the convoy at the first overnight location in Frederick. Maryland. He wrote about his experience and his report is on file at his Presidential Library and Museum in Abilene, Kansas. https://www.eisenhower.archives.gov.
Washing dust from a 1919 Army Convoy vehicle in Cedar Rapids. LHA Archives, Transportation History Collection, Special Collections Library, University of Michigan
What the Convoy Taught Us
Eisenhower found most of the drivers in need of additional training and, as with the rest of the convoy leaders, felt the nation’s roads to be lacking. In the Eastern United States, they were often paved but sometimes too narrow for the large equipment. West of Chicago, roads became graveled. Iowa was lucky because it had not rained which would have turned the unpaved road to “gumbo.” The “Seedling Mile,” a one mile of paved road in Linn County near Cedar Rapids, Marion, and Mount Vernon, was completed just prior to the Convoy. The group did not write about it much. As it was, the ground in Iowa was very dry and the convoy, according to the State Center Enterprise, stretched out for as much as 10 miles. Vehicles were kicking up quite a bit of dust and hindering the men and trucks following them. Nearly one hundred bridges were broken and repaired across the nation, though we have no record of any in Iowa. (Iowa was a leader in bridge building.)
This experience showed that America needed to improve roads and the federal government needed to step in with funding instead of leaving it to the locals and counties to build their own roads. How county secondary road departments, county engineers, Federal Highway Commission, and the Department of Transportation developed is a story all its own- which we will address in a later writing.
1919 Motor Convoy crossing the Lincoln Highway Bridge in Tama, Iowa. LHA Archives, Transportation History Collection, Special Collections Library, University of Michigan
What could have happened in Iowa if it had rained! LHA Archives, Transportation History Collection, Special Collections Library, University of Michigan
Celebrating the Convoy 100 Years Later
This one idea from one man helped change the course of transportation. This year, in 2019, we will celebrate the convoy as the Military Vehicle Preservation Association (MVPA) travels the same route, from Washington, D.C. to San Francisco, and will overnight in Iowa- DeWitt (Aug 22), Marshalltown (Aug 23), and Denison (Aug 24). The MVPA call their convoy the “longest Veteran’s parade in the nation.”
The Lincoln Highway Association will also celebrate with their own D.C.-to-San Francisco convoy and overnight in Marshalltown (Sept 6) and Council Bluffs (Sept 7). Be sure to line the route and wave either flags or hands (or both) to the convoys as they come through your neck of the woods.