A fascinating account of the greatest road trip in American history.
On July 7, 1919, an extraordinary cavalcade of sixty-nine military motor vehicles set off from the White House on an epic journey. Their goal was California, and ahead of them lay 3,250 miles of dirt, mud, rock, and sand. Sixty-two days later they arrived in San Francisco, having averaged just five miles an hour. Known as the First Transcontinental Motor Train, this trip was an adventure, a circus, a public relations coup, and a war game all rolled into one. As road conditions worsened, it also became a daily battle of sweat and labor, of guts and determination.
American Road is the story of this incredible journey. Pete Davies takes us from east to west, bringing to life the men on the trip, their trials with uncooperative equipment and weather, and the punishing landscape they encountered. Ironically one of the participants was a young soldier named Dwight Eisenhower, who, four decades later, as President, launched the building of the interstate highway system. Davies also provides a colorful history of transcontinental car travel in this country, including the first cross-country trips and the building of the Lincoln Highway. This richly detailed book offers a slice of Americana, a piece of history unknown to many, and a celebration of our love affair with the road.
In his newest book, Davies (Inside the Hurricane; The Devil's Flu) offers a play-by-play account of the 1919 cross-country military caravan that doubled as a campaign for the Lincoln Highway (so named for the one Republican the corporate leaders of the day figured most Americans would embrace). The potential here is extraordinary. Using the progress of the caravan and the metaphor of paving toward the future versus stagnating in the mud, Davies touches on the industrial and social factors that developed the small and mid-sized towns that line the highways and byways of the nation. But instead of allowing the story of the caravan to anchor a series of more engaging essays on the people, politics and development of the lands it connects, the author insists on a day-to-day narrative of breakdowns, muddy roads and ice cream socials (the convoy left just days after Prohibition became law). Officers attend fancy dinners, enlisted men "dance with local girls," and the arrival of two miles' worth of dusty and cantankerous machinery is the greatest moment in every life in every town. Eisenhower, a future military legend and U.S. president, makes an early cameo as a young, frustrated officer who takes part in the convoy in the hopes of reinvigorating a stalled army career. Even this little twist fails to engage the reader, as Ike becomes yet another faceless character in a tale paced not unlike the caravan it chronicles slow.