Friday, January 4, 2013

Lincoln Highway 1938 - Phelan McShane

My grandfather, Phelan McShane, was a self taught electrical engineer. For a time he traveled to mine sites and oil fields that used heavy duty electrical mine and drilling machinery. During those travels in the 1930s and 1940s he took color slides of some of his work sites. The trips west must have been very adventuresome for a native of Ohio and later Pittsburgh. It was during this period that he developed an interest in geology; his old geology books were passed onto me.

Utah-Nevada State Line, 1938 (Photo-Phelan McShane).
It appears that Nevada side of the line is unpaved. 

I have been scanning some of Phelan's slides and found the above of some interest as I have been over many Utah/Nevada state line crossings. Based on other pictures in the collection of the salt flats of the Great Salt Lake as well as a Google Earth Street View of Interstate 80, I am fairly certain this crossing is near the current Interstate 80 Route. There is a bit of development at the site now with Wendover having expanded from roughly 200 people then to about 2,000 today. Legalized gambling had not yet happened and the Wendover Air Base, was of little consequence in the pre WWII era.

The road Phelan was driving was the first cross country road in the United States - the Lincoln Highway. The Lincoln Highway is 100 years old this year. The original Lincoln Highway was an assemblage of a variety of mostly county roads linked together with the goal of paving the entire highway across the county The original Lincoln Highway passed through Dugway, Utah and crossed the border south of this location. However, Utah preferred a more northerly route and received federal funding to pave their sections of the highway along what would would later become Interstate 80. Nevada preferred the more southerly route on the original Lincoln Highway and delayed paving perhaps in the hope that they could still route cars on the more southerly path. Another factor may have been that Nevada was concerned about paving costs over a much longer route from Wendover to Ely than the previous shorter path. 

The highway from Wendover, Nevada to Ely, Nevada is still called the Lincoln Highway and the name pops up elsewhere along the old Lincoln Highway route. From Ely the Lincoln Highway heads west essentially on what is now US 50 - The Loneliest Highway in America. As other highways were funded and built, the vast majority of traffic across Nevada follows a more northerly route using Interstate 80. 

My introduction to the Lincoln Highway came while working at Dugway Proving Grounds. A weather beaten sign marked the highway and I'm familiar with southern routes as I spent some time on those old roads when doing some work at Dugway Proving Grounds and vicinity. It was a fun gig as the Dugway Proving Grounds is mostly closed to the public and my assignment allowed me to wonder a fair bit except when sitting on a drill rig. Some of the other portions of the original route present some challenges that may have pushed Utah to want a more northerly route. The original route crosses alluvial fans subject to flooding and washout and takes one into some very isolated areas even by desert standards.  

The Lincoln Highway has some significance in the development of our nation. As noted above, in 1913 the "highway" was really mostly a collection of county and city roads. Most states and the federal government were not in the road building business.

As cars became more available and began to be used more widely, roads were seen as a potential economic development and "highways" such as the Lincoln Highway began to be pushed by communities in the hopes of economic development as well as access to and from the communities. It was the very early stage of shifting away from rail and ship transport.

Money for road building came slowly at first, with the Lincoln Highway being one of the leading routes for some federal funding to complete the highway. It was otherwise a long slow trip. Dwight Eisenhower made the drive across the country as a military exercise and concluded from a military perspective that improved interstate highways were a national security issue. This was further brought home so to speak by WWII and seeing the German roads. As president, Eisenhower spear headed the interstate highway system and a major alteration of our landscapes.

In Washington State the Yellowstone Trail was the equivalent cross county highway scheme. That route was generally the precursor to Interstate 90. Although local investors in Kennewick and Pasco put together funding for the first bridge across the Columbia River as part of the Yellowstone Trial effort. 

Yellowstone Trail Bridge at Kennewick-Pasco

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