The Lincoln Highway

For our latest Road Trip Adventure, we drove most of the old Lincoln Highway. This should be particularly impressive given that, prior to this trip, I’d never even heard of the Lincoln Highway.

We needed to get from Southern California to Ontario, Canada (where we were traveling to visit friends). When I was in the preliminary phases of planning our route, we happened to see a segment on TV about the old Lincoln Highway, which tracked generally with the route I was considering. We ordered some guide books, and the Lincoln Highway road trip was on!

The general direction of the Lincoln Highway

The general direction of the Lincoln Highway

As we soon learned, the Lincoln Highway was one of the first U.S. transcontinental highways for automobiles, conceived in 1912 by auto executives and enthusiasts (who decided that naming it after the martyred president would increase its chances of success), dedicated in 1913, and ran coast to coast from Times Square in New York City to Lincoln Park in San Francisco. Over the years, the roads were improved and numerous realignments were made. Gradually, it was replaced by the numbered highway system, and today Interstate 80 serves as the primary highway from New York to San Francisco.

As with Route 66, it takes some detective work to identify and follow the original Lincoln Highway route. Using guidebooks, I planned the general course, with hotel and lunch stops and a few interesting attractions (like museums and parks) along the way. My husband is the chief navigator, so he usually takes my itinerary, researches the precise route and then downloads the route onto our Garmin GPS.

One of the problems with this trip is that neither one of us did as much advance work as usual. My husband bought three Lincoln Highway guidebooks, which I put aside until I had time for trip planning. I later picked up two of them (apparently misplacing and forgetting the third, which had most of the turn-by-turn directions) and knocked out the itinerary (including our return trip) in three marathon sessions. My main concern was to give my husband ample time to work on his prep work, but he ultimately opted to do the navigation on the road as we went.

We left home on a Thursday and drove two days to Ely, NV where we picked up the Lincoln Highway (we had previously driven Highway 50 west from Ely, which was essentially the Lincoln Highway route). We drove east eight days on the Lincoln Highway, to Valparaiso, Indiana, never staying more than one night at each stop, and averaging about 200-250 miles per day.   Initially, my husband navigated along the numbered highways (50, 40 and 30) that roughly correspond to the original Lincoln Highway, but he became more purist once he actually began reading the guidebooks and discovered old brick, gravel and dirt stretches off the paved highway. The more stickler he became, the longer our drives as we looped and turned on the old highway segments. Near the end of our Lincoln Highway adventure, we stopped at the National Lincoln Highway headquarters in Franklin Grove, IL. There we signed the official log, and saw the turn-by-turn book I left at home AND the interactive map on the Lincoln Highway Association website, both of which would’ve been extremely helpful had we used them.

As a result of our sub-par preparation, my poor husband was pulling 12-17 hour days, between the driving and the navigational research each night. He claimed to be enjoying himself, but the bags under his eyes grew dark and his patience grew thin. To keep himself awake driving, he listened to 60s music at 100 decibels, requiring ear plugs for me. Once, I excitedly, but unwisely, exclaimed, “This is it!” regarding a particular historic stretch of Lincoln Highway. Between the music and the Garmin and his hearing loss, my husband heard, “This isn’t it!” and missed a turn. Which was, of course, my fault.

The Lincoln Highway in Iowa is well marked with these signs

The Lincoln Highway in Iowa is well marked with these signs

In spite of it all, we amazingly enjoyed our grueling Lincoln Highway journey, although it felt more like an accomplishment than a vacation. It took us through parts of the country we otherwise might never have seen. We happened upon a wonderful restored steam train station and museum, and ate in a cellblock at a restaurant (former jail) in Ely, NV. We visited the Mormon Tabernacle and Temple Square in Salt Lake City, the Wyoming Territorial Prison in Laramie, WY, (and learned all about the real Butch Cassidy), the Archway in Kearney, NE, and the fabulous Durham Museum (former Union train station) in Omaha, NE. We detoured slightly to visit the Herbert Hoover Presidential Library in West Branch, IA (after all, when would we ever be near West Branch, IA again?). We saw miles and miles of corn and soybeans. We found stretches of original brick road from the 1920s. We drove on “seedling” miles, original mile-long stretches that the proponents of the Lincoln Highway paved to convince the public to invest funds to pave more road. We visited museums and learned more interesting U.S. westward expansion history.

At Valparaiso, IN, we diverted from Lincoln Highway and cut up through Michigan. Now that we’ve tasted the Lincoln Highway experience, and have the tools to do a better job planning (and know, among other things, to do shorter legs) we look forward to finishing the Indiana to New York segment someday and earning our Lincoln Highway certificate. Yes, you too can order and receive a certificate from the National Lincoln Highway Association if swear that you actually finished the whole thing!

3 thoughts on “The Lincoln Highway

  1. I had never heard of the Lincoln Highway until now. I must have traveled on bits of it as I’ve been to a few of the places you listed. We discovered on our long road trip last year (partially on Route 66), that we needed not only to drive shorter chunks, but to add a few days of down time now and then. I think we did a better job of this on our recent trip to the north east. I hope you get to earn your Lincoln Road certificate some day!

  2. Sounds like it was a very informative and fun road trip. Thanks for sharing!

  3. Pingback: Island Living, Canadian Style | Betsy's Beat

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