One of the things I like about working on this website is showing and explaining how the highway system of Pennsylvania has evolved over the years. Now I am taking the show on the road…literally.
So on March 11, I am taking this website and crunching it down to an hour-long presentation entitled Pennsylvania’s Roadways: From the Lincoln to Eisenhower. It will be Sunday, March 11 beginning at 2 PM at the Lincoln Highway Experience, the headquarters for the Lincoln Highway Heritage Corridor, at 3435 Route 30 East (a.k.a. the Lincoln Highway) in Latrobe. Refreshments will be provided.
Due to limited seating in the auditorium, advanced reservations are required which can be made through the LHHC’s website or by calling 724-879-4241. Admission is $10/person for non-LHHC members and $7/person for Friends of the Lincoln Highway.
I decided to set off on my literary journey of The Big Roads with an open mind and my Pennsylvania Turnpike bookmark. It seemed fitting considering I was reading a book about the Interstate System, and the Turnpike was one of the earliest segments of it that was completed.
When I say “an open mind” it is because I was a bit skeptical approaching reading this book. The reason being is there are many in the Pennsylvania Highways Library on the history of the Interstates. However, in the Introduction, author Earl Swift hooked me with his description of the trip across the country which he took to research The Big Roads. As part of that trip, he came through the southern portion of the Commonwealth on the historic Lincoln Highway. Earl, his daughter, and a friend of hers stayed on the Lincoln through Buckstown to Ligonier and eventually onto Pittsburgh, “…crawling from one stoplight to the next…” Unfortunately, that is a realistic description of travel down US 30 through Westmoreland and Allegheny counties!
The book takes readers on a journey, with a focus on persons who made the transition happen. Starting with Carl Fisher, a businessman in Indianapolis, who began his career selling bicycles. He then moved onto the “horseless carriage.” To demonstrate the power of the car, he built a racetrack outside Indianapolis. Once it was repaved with brick, the power of the automobile could be exhibited in the way he intended. He also got into the road-building business by backing the creation of the Lincoln Highway and its north-south counterpart, the Dixie Highway.
Along the way, author Swift introduces us to Thomas Harris MacDonald. Mr. MacDonald started his career in roads in Iowa by laying out their system. Then the Feds tapped him to do the same on a national scale. We also meet Dwight D. Eisenhower, who in 1919 as a young Army officer, got a yearning for good roads after a cross-country trip on the Lincoln Highway. Just under three decades later, he would experience superb roads — just not on this continent.
The one good road, whose idea and planning came from those Ike saw in Germany which were the forerunner of the Interstate System, was our very own Pennsylvania Turnpike. Just as safety was an impetus for the construction of the Interstates, the Turnpike was constructed to provide a safer alternative than the windy, mountainous, and narrow US 30. That was the primary route between Pittsburgh and the Mid-State area at the time.
Once Eisenhower got into the White House, he pushed for the need for high-speed, limited-access highways. He had seen the Autobahn used by his military to speed across Germany en route to Berlin. He did not need to look far for ideas. The Bureau of Public Roads had drawn up plans for such expressways; albeit tolled, while Ike was the Supreme Commander in World War II.
“The more things change, the more they stay the same” is a saying that often rings true. When talking about the debate Congress had over the Federal Aid Highway Act, it rings like Big Ben at high noon. Some legislators came out in favor of the plan. Others like Senator Albert Gore, the inventor of the Internet’s father, argued that it “…could lead the country to inflationary ruin.” Senator Harry Byrd said that “…nothing has been proposed during my twenty-two years in the United States Senate that would do more to wreck our fiscal budget system.” I’d hate to see what the “talking heads” on CNN, MSNBC, and Fox News would have said had those channels existed at the time.
The Big Roads is not just a reflection on how the highway system of the country changed, but how the country itself changed. The Interstates allowed the movement of goods and people in a short amount of time. They did so safely without the worry of cross-streets, traffic signals, stop signs, or rail crossings. These limited-access roadways all but eliminated head-on accidents in a uniform, monotonous drive devoid of local flavor. They also allowed for the growth of cities by pushing the suburbs farther out. This helped in the creation of satellite cities along beltways and bypasses. However, their paths into and through the cities would be a double-edged sword.
As I said in the beginning, I have other books on the Interstates and wondered how this book would differ. My answer would come in the final chapters of the book. The Federal Aid Highway Act of 1956 came into being just before the tumultuous 1960s. It was this period when the struggle for civil rights would reach its pinnacle. Urban Interstate routes were once seen as a way to rejuvenate the nation’s cities. At the same time, they were clearing out undesirable sections. The problem was that those undesirable sections contained people. They did not want to lose their homes just so suburbanites could get downtown quicker.
One such person was a man by the name of Joe Wiles. Mr. Wiles lived in the Rosemont section of Baltimore, which was under attack by Interstate 70. Mr. Wiles led a revolt against construction of I-70, which was both successful and unsuccessful. His revolt had been initially successful when its planned route through the City of Baltimore cancelled. However, it was also unsuccessful because discussions of the impending expressway doomed Rosemont to neglect. Ironically, it had become the type of area that would be favorable as an Interstate corridor.
Black neighborhoods seemed to be under attack across the country. From Nashville where Interstate 40 was planned to isolate about 100 blocks from the City, to here in Pennsylvania where Interstate 695 in Philadelphia, known as the Crosstown Expressway, was to sequester black neighborhoods from Center City. These seemed like classic examples of white men’s roads going through black men’s homes.
Those other books in the Library only talk about the positive aspects of the Interstates. They hardly discuss the turmoil they caused as they carved their way across the country. I admire that Mr. Swift mentioned the issues of the urban routes through Baltimore, for example. When I write about the history of a route, I, too, mention the negatives in addition to the positives. I am glad to see a publication which does the same.
In conclusion, I would recommend The Big Roads. It is a well-rounded look at how we have progressed from roads that were narrow, dirt paths to today’s wide, concrete expressways. It makes for a good read, especially stuck in traffic on one of the Interstates.
The sections I drive could be classified as horror. However, comedy is the genre of John Putch’s independent movie Route 30. The Chambersburg native filmed the movie along, what else, US 30 last October. Stars include Dana Delany of Desperate Housewives and Curtis Armstrong, best known to audiences as Herbert Viola on the 1980s TV show Moonlighting. Fellow Lincoln Highway Heritage Corridor board member Ed Gotwalt, owner of Mister Ed’s Elephant Museum, also has a part.
The movie consists of three difference stories told from three different points of view. First are the frustrations of Civil War tour guide Mandy, played by Nathalie Boltt, who obsesses over Jennie Wade. She is the only civilian killed at the Battle of Gettysburg. At the same time, her friend June, played by Christine Elise McCarthy, struggles to make extra money with an Internet porn scheme.
The second story focuses on a man, played by Kevin Rahm. He finds a Christian Scientist, played by Wil Love, to heal his back pain. He also attempts to explain the Big Foot who chased him down a mountainside.
The last story is of a writer, played by David DeLuise, who purchases a farmhouse in hopes that it will inspire him to write his novel. He ends up sidetracked by his Amish neighbor, played by Dana Delany, who smokes, drinks, swears, and watches his TV.
The premier of the movie Route 30 will be at the Majestic Theatre in Gettysburg on September 27, 2008, at 8 PM. A Q&A session with the cast and crew will follow. Tickets to the screening are $16 per person. A portion of the proceeds benefit the Lincoln Highway Heritage Corridor and Totem Pole Playhouse non-profit organizations. You can purchase tickets at the Totem Pole Playhouse, Mister Ed’s Elephant Museum, Majestic Theatre, or at the movie’s website.
Pennsylvania has been the site of many firsts, such as the first computer (Philadelphia) and first commercial radio station (Pittsburgh). It was also the site of the first road enthusiast meet (Greensburg). So what a better place to hold the first National Road Enthusiast Meet than where it all began.
The first day was a journey back in time with some aspects of the present. I and four attendees traveled the Lincoln Highway from Robinson to Somerset County. Brian Butko, author of several books on the Lincoln Highway and other road-related products, joined us for part of the trip.
We began our trip by taking PA 60 from the US 22/US 30 cloverleaf in Robinson Township into Pittsburgh, then heading south on PA 837 to the Fort Pitt Bridge. Once across the bridge, we exited at the Boulevard of the Allies and followed that back to the Parkway East. Taking the US 30 exit, we followed it to Greensburg where we then traveled on Toll Gate Road to enter the city, as those who traveled then PA 1 did many times. On the eastern side of the city, we followed old segments near Westmoreland Mall, Hyundai of Greensburg, and a long section known locally as Frye Farm Road.
South of Latrobe, we turned onto PA 981 south to access the old alignment. We spotted a rare Lincoln Highway marker located on the front lawn of a home in Youngstown. Shortly after, the caravan passed Latrobe Country Club, whose proprietor is professional golfer Arnold Palmer. Our cruise continue on the old alignment through the borough and to where it joins the current eastbound lanes.
We stopped at the Lincoln Highway Heritage Corridor office in Ligonier where a few picked up some Lincoln Highway merchandise. Continuing eastward on US 30 we stopped at the Flight 93 Memorial and the site of the Quecreek Mine Accident.
I offered to show everyone the Sipesville Fire Hall, where the families waited for word of their trapped relatives. While we were waiting, a member of the Sipesville VFD stopped and asked us if we wanted to see inside. It was quite a change from when I was an extra back in 2002 in The Pennsylvania Miners’ Story. Afterwards we were privileged to be offered a tour of the new hall which was built as a replacement. Plans were to move the original building to the Quecreek site as part of a display. However, the building can not make the journey in one piece, but rather would have to be cut into four sections. Unfortunately, the choice will probably be to demolish the structure instead.
That marked day one of the first National Road Enthusiast Meet.
I have had an interest in roads for as long as I can remember. Having grown up near US 30, and traveling it to visit family, it and the Lincoln Highway are special to me. So when the chance of joining the LHHC Board of Directors was offered, I accepted.
When the Lincoln Highway Heritage Corridor began in 1996, I was one of the first members. Originally, I was a “Friend.” Later became a “Friend for Life.” I had adopted my first a Lincoln Highway sign in 2001, and three years later became the first to have adopted one in each of the LHHC counties.
In 1998, I put together a video on the Lincoln Highway for a video production class I was taking at the time. I met the Director of the LHHC, Olga Herbert, then and have known her since.
In recent years, the LHHC has expanded into fundraising ventures such as offering ballroom dancing classes. I offered to drive my parents to one, in order to get a free meal afterwards and take pictures during. There was an LHHC representative there that I have known since I was a child. He and my father worked together years ago, and known each other since. When I came to pick up my parents, I ran into him, and we began talking. I mentioned the website and my involvement with the LHHC.
In April, he contacted me about joining the LHHC Board of Directors. I jumped at the chance and said it would be an honor. The offer officially made at a July 13 meeting with him and Olga Herbert. This evening was the first board meeting I attended, which took place in Everett. I hope that this is the start of a beautiful relationship.