Thursday, August 26, 2010

Ike, the military truck convoy, the Lincoln Highway, and Dixon, Illinois

I posted earlier this week that Abraham Lincoln was based briefly in Dixon, Illinois while serving as a captain in the Black Hawk War. Another future president came to Dixon in 1919, young officer Dwight D. Eisenhower, who was an "observer" with the army's first transcontinental truck convoy, which consisted of 65 vehicles. Automobile enthusiasts were eager for such an endeavor, partly to draw attention to the poor condition of roads outside cities. And the military wanted to see if trucks could replace mules and horses.

Well, I guess you could call the journey a success. The Washington to San Francisco trek was completed--after 61 days. Shortly after the completion of the transcontinental railroad, the same trip could have been accomplished in less than a week.

Whenever possible, the convoy traveled on the recently declared Lincoln Highway, but some of that road was merely an idea, even in the more populated east. Truck breakdowns and flat tires added to the delay. Filling stations and mechanics were hard to find because there weren't that many of them.

Ike was a lifelong car buff and shared a love of tanks with his good friend George S. Patton. After World War II, Eisenhower realized that the German Autobahn played a large role in the early success of the Nazis in World War II. Pairing that experience with his Lincoln Highway adventure, our thirty-fourth president, who was incorrectly derided as a "do-nothing" leader, conceived the idea of the interstate highway system.

As for Reagan, he probably wasn't present when Ike came to Dixon in 1919. The Reagans were living in Tampico 30 miles away. But the arrival of the convoy was a major event in Dixon on July 22; the trucks parked in front of the Lee County Courthhouse and had lunch, which was prepared by the people of the town, on the front lawn of the courthouse.

Dixon commemorates the convoy with a mural on Lincoln Highway, a block east of Hennepin Avenue, also known as Reagan Way.

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