Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Old Postcard Wednesday--Winter on U.S. 40, California

Postmarked from Truckee, California, on February 27, 1949, my father's short note to his parents in Duluth includes: "This is the Lincoln Highway in Northern Cal. at the present time."  

Growing up in Reno, I remember Highway 40 as the route my mother drove to visit my grandmother in Alameda, California. I remember when I-80 was constructed and old Highway 40 was a thing of the past (to the horror of many Renoites, I might add). But if I ever knew about the Lincoln Highway connection I had forgotten about it. So the following information rather fascinated me as I prepared this post:
On July 1, 1913, a group of automobile enthusiasts and industry officials established the Lincoln Highway Association (LHA) "to procure the establishment of a continuous improved highway from the Atlantic to the Pacific, open to lawful traffic of all description without toll charges." In its time, the Lincoln Highway would become the Nation's premier highway, as well known as U.S. 66 was to be in its day and as well known as I-80 and I-95 are today. . .
The Lincoln Highway also played an important role in the evolution of highways leading up to the Dwight D. Eisenhower System of Interstate and Defense Highways. This role is illustrated by the LHA's twin goals. One goal was to build a "Coast-to-Coast Rock Highway" from Times Square in New York City to Lincoln Park in San Francisco. The second goal was to make the Lincoln Highway an object lesson that would, in the words of its creator, Carl G. Fisher, "stimulate as nothing else could the building of enduring highways everywhere that will not only be a credit to the American people but that will also mean much to American agriculture and American commerce."

. . . (Fisher) was an early automobile enthusiast who had been a racer, the manufacturer of Prest-O-Lite compressed carbide-gas headlights used on most early motorcars, and the builder of the Indianapolis Speedway. (In the 1920's he would be known as the promoter and builder of Miami Beach.) He believed that, "The automobile won't get anywhere until it has good roads to run on."

Some segments of the Lincoln Highway followed historic roads.
  • In the East, the Lincoln Highway incorporated a road laid out by Dutch colonists of New Jersey before 1675.
  • The route in Pennsylvania followed the 62-mile Philadelphia to Lancaster Pike, the first extensive turnpike in the United States (completed in 1796), and a British military trail built in 1758 by General John Forbes of England from Chambersburg to Pittsburgh during the French and Indian War. It was later known as the Pittsburgh Road and the Conestoga Road.
  • A section in Ohio followed an ancient Indian trail known as the Ridge Road.
  • In the West, the Lincoln Highway used sections of the Mormon Trail (the route along which Brigham Young led his Mormon followers to Utah), as well as the route of the Overland Stage Line and the Pony Express.
  • Entering California, a motorist on the Lincoln Highway crossed the Sierra Nevada through Donner Pass, named after the Donner Party, which became stranded after attempting to cross through the pass too late in the winter of 1846-1847, or could follow an alternate route that was once a pioneer stage coach route

The following is information about the "demise" of the highway:
U.S. 40 no longer exists as an official route in California, Nevada, and western Utah. In California, U.S. 40 was mostly replaced by Interstate 80 between downtown San Francisco and the state line near Verdi, Nevada. Some old alignments of historic U.S. 40 remain in the state highway system (such as California 123 and Business Loop I-80 in Sacramento). Many sections of the original route (and later realignments) remain intact and in some cases carry Historic U.S. 40 signs. The federal highway was truncated from San Francisco to the California-Nevada State Line in 1964 (signs were removed starting in 1966). In 1975, the rest of U.S. 40 that overlapped Interstate 80 between Reno and Park City, Utah, was decommissioned. . .

U.S. 40 used to have a long alternate route in Northern California that extended into Reno, Nevada. In 1964, Alternate U.S. 40 between Sacramento and Reno via current California 99 (former U.S. 99E) and California 70 (former California 24) was also eliminated. Alternate U.S. 40 used to pass through Yuba City, Oroville, Quincy, and Portola (via the Feather River Canyon) en route to Hallelujah Junction. The alternate route provided a lower elevation path through the Sierra Nevada instead of the higher route via the narrow and steep Donner Pass summit, but Alternate U.S. 40 was longer than the main routing of U.S. 40.

The road is so beloved that there is an actual website devoted to it. Created by a Highway-40-enthusiast, the website is obviously a labor of love. He calls his "the best source of historic and contemporary information for America's finest transcontinental highway."

I never heard of this song, Highway 40 Blues, before hunting around for information for this old postcard. Here's Ricky Skaggs (with the Boston Pops Orchestra) to sing us to the end of the post:

Lyrics | Ricky Skaggs lyrics - Highway 40 Blues lyrics



Anonymous said...

I am intrigued by your Highways - over here we have Motorways. Down here in the South they always sem to heavily congested and i hate travelling on them.

mythopolis said...

Interesting card...and history. When I was a kid, my dad was such a wanderer. So, I have lots of fuzzy memories of the old roads before the interstate system developed. As with Route 66, the interstates by-passed many towns and many became forgotten ghost towns.

Don't Feed The Pixies said...

the first thing that struck me about the postcard was how deep the snow is on either side - a couple of inches here and everything stops - yet they ploughed through.

We don't have anything like that here, though some of the roads through Scotland and Sheffield offer stunning views.

Reminds me oddly of a joke in Neil Gaiman/Terry Pratchett's book "Good Omens" (effectively a pastiche of The Omen) - where a casual joke is that the route of the M25 (the ring road around London) was deliberately altered by a demon to resemble an evil talisman - thus damning the souls of all who ever travelled on it. Anyone who's ever been on the M25 in rush hour would know what they mean :)

kathew said...

oh my gosh- I remember driving with my family in the old Ford Station wagon as a child going up 40? 50? 80? from the Bay Area to Lake Tahoe in the winter and we'd be silent as my father would negotiate Donner Pass...thanks for jogging my memory bank!!

kathew said...

and oh lordy thanks for the great Ricky Skaggs music break....makes my rainy day perfecto!

Fireblossom said...

That's a whole freakin lot of snow! GThere is just something romantic about disappeared roads and places, isn't there?

susan said...

The problem with the super highways is that there's little to see but the road and what you pass at 80mph. It's always a bit saddening to pass what you know must once have been the main roads through areas and see businesses shuttered and gone.

Looking to the Stars said...

Wow, loved the card and the background :)

Lydia said...

madamebutterfly~ The road that has always seemed scary to me is the Autobahn (never been on it). Motorways is a rather enchanting word. I have no idea where the word Highway came from and should check that out. :)

mythopolis~ Interesting memories there! My father was a wanderer too, but wandered right out of my life when I was three weeks old.

Pixies~ That M25 at rush hour sounds like what I've heard about the Autobahn.
The depth of the snow on the side of the highway amazed me too, and I am impressed with the machines and men who worked those winter roads in the past (and now, too).

kathew~ I jogged your memory bank and then you jogged mine! Last night I was thinking about the drive over Donner Pass, but you reminded me of how we were ordered by my mother to sit back and be still while my stepfather white-knuckled that part of the road.
Ricky Skaggs sure seemed pleased to be playing with the Boston Pops.

Fireblossom~ I agree there is something romantic and even sad about the old roads.
It would be interesting to get ahold of some stats on snow depths at Truckee California through the decades.

susan~ Agree, and it makes me wonder what we take for granted these days that will radically change in the years to come. There's little preparation possible for that kind of surprise.

Looking to the Stars~ Glad you did, you Rocky Mountain Woman you!

Nancy said...

I remember this highway very well. My father driving it in blinding snow from Reno to Sacramento and back - and there was no such thing as four-wheel-drive! We always stopped in Baxter for coffee and hot chocolate.

Hattie said...

We went to Reno once on that road when I was a kid. We were such tyros, being SF Bay Area people, that we didn't realize you had to put antifreeze in the car when it got below freezing, and we almost got a cracked engine block.
But it was high adventure, and my sister became so enamored of that part of the world that she lived in Reno for a while and now has a little place in Tahoe.

Lydia said...

Nancy~ Good point about there being no four-wheel drive. People had to be either greater risk-takers or better drivers than they are today. :)

Hattie~ That is almost funny about you not having antifreeze, except it could have been a disaster.
I recall you saying that your sister has a place in Tahoe. It's fascinating to know the roots of her love for the area are from that trip on that road!



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