LEXINGTON — The Military Vehicle Presentation Association convoy rolled into Lexington on Wednesday, Aug. 28 and stopped at the Heartland Museum of Military Vehicles. More than 50 vehicles are following the route taken by the 1919 Motor Transport Corps 100 years ago.
Like the 1919 convoy, the MVPA vehicles left Washington D.C. on July 7 and will travel across 11 states, 3,200 miles, to San Francisco, Calif., and arrive on Sept. 14, 27 days later after initially setting off.
The convoy will be following the original Lincoln Highway route as much as they can, they joined the original Lincoln Highway entrance near Gettysburg, Pa. The stopping points along the Highway are several of the ones the 1919 convoy used.
Vehicles making up the convoy are from all eras, from the First World War to presently used military vehicles, including a Harley Davidson motorcycle, staff cars, Willys jeeps, 5 ton cargo truck, etc.
The MVPA convoy entered Lexington via east 13th St. around 11 a.m. and made their way down Jackson St. to the Heartland Museum to stop for lunch, the convoy then continued down the old highway to Cozad later in the afternoon.
The convoy is due to arrive in San Francisco on Sept. 14.
In 1919 the U.S. Army’s Motor Transport Corps set out on the first transcontinental convoy, a “truck train,” in an effort to show why better roads were needed across the country. Near the turn of the century, out west, the roads were little better than they had been when there were wagon trains crossing for Oregon.
In July 1919, 81 vehicles and 300 men, mostly raw recruits set out from Washington D.C. and followed the Lincoln Highway, the earliest transcontinental highway routes across the United States, when the convoy left the nation’s capitol, the Lincoln Highway was only six years old, being dedicated in 1913.
The objectives of the convoy were:
Encourage the construction of a through-route and transcontinental highway
Procure recruits for the Motor Transport Corp
Exhibit to the public the vehicles used for military purposes
Study and observe terrain and how standard army vehicles handled it.
The new recruits would be driving across the nation in surplus vehicles from World War I, as well as a litany of support vehicles and even full rolling machine shop, blacksmith and medical clinic.
The convoy could travel up to 32 miles per hour, but were scheduled an average of 15 mph. One of the six rest days without travel included North Platte.
Delays were expected and there were 230 incidents which ranged from breakdowns and flat tires, to repairing bridges and getting vehicles unstuck from the road. Delays became more common after the convoy left the mostly paved roads between Pennsylvania and Illinois and went further west.
Practically all of the roads from Illinois to Nevada were unpaved. One of the convoy’s delays, from Aug. 2 to 3 was in Gothenburg.
The convoy was six days behind schedule when it reached San Francisco. Yet the high publicized convoy had completed one of its tasks, to dramatize the need for better roads and main highways.
The convoy’s trip had a big impact on a young lieutenant colonel that was a part of the continental trek, Dwight D. Eisenhower, later to be Supreme Allied Commander in Europe during World War II and the 34th President of the United States.
Eisenhower took his experience from the 1919 convoy and his appreciation of the German Reichsautobahn system to push for the building of the interstate Highway System. An interstate system was viewed as necessary for defense and economic purposes.
Lucius Clay, the man appointed with proposing an interstate plan said, “It was evident we needed better highways. We needed them for safety, to accommodate more automobiles. We needed them for defense purposes, if that should ever be necessary. And we needed them for the economy. Not just as a public works measure, but for future growth.”
The Federal Highway Act of 1956 authorized the construction of 41,000 miles of interstate roads to the tune of $26 billion dollars, the most expensive publics work project in world history.
So the next time you pull onto I-80 for a one day trip to Lincoln, Omaha or even Denver, remember the men of the original 1919 convoy who trekked across the country to prove why such a highway system was needed.