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A Maximum of Good Results: Martin Dodge and the Good Roads Trains

Congressional Revenge on Martin Dodge

Although Congress did not approve the Latimer-Brownlow Bill, key Members of Congress were aware of the OPRI's role in advocating passage. As Seely pointed out, Congress "resented the intrusion of this executive office." [Ph.d., p. 47]

In the drive for national aid, Eldridge committed what Seely called "the worst indiscretion." At the request of A. R. Shattuck, who headed the Automobile Club of America, Eldridge agreed to work, outside his official duties, on a $10,000 campaign to promote the Brownlow Bill. His campaign, directed from a New York City office with the help of a publicity agent, included having copies of Brownlow's January 1903 speech on the bill printed at government expense and mailed by friendly congressmen in franked envelopes to 1 million people.

On December 1, 1904, as Members assembled for the third session of the 58th Congress, Dodge wrote to Shattuck:

[Many] members of Congress thought last winter that we went a step too far in the circulation of literature. The skyrocket which you fired made a greater commotion in the halls of Congress than, perhaps, you are aware of yourself. The effect of this reached the secretary in many ways and I am sorry to say annoyed him greatly. As a consequence of this, he thinks it best to be extremely conservative. [Seely, book, p. 20]

Quoting this letter, Seely described Secretary Wilson's reaction differently: "The secretary of agriculture exploded at Dodge's disregard of directives to limit ties to the NGRA because it advocated a particular legislative proposal." [Seely, book, p. 19] Secretary Wilson instructed Dodge to limit OPRI assistance to conventions and good roads trains sponsored by the NGRA to avoid linking Federal employees to resolutions endorsing the Brownlow Bill or other similar measures.

When Eldridge's role in the campaign was discovered, he was fired. He was soon reinstated, thanks to the intervention of friends in Congress such as Brownlow, but at a reduced salary and with loss of his rank as Assistant Director of the OPRI. He also lost his chance to succeed Dodge as Director. As noted in America's Highways 1776-1976, Eldridge ". . . had pushed a right idea before its time." [p. 216]

The Secretary's reprimand reflected a broader problem with the relationship between Dodge and Moore. Given the limited appropriations for the OPRI, Dodge had adopted the same approach as General Stone in reaching out to the private sector to supplement the work with funds and donations. However, Dodge, perhaps reflecting his background as a politician, had extended his work into legislative affairs without support from his Administration. Further, he had linked himself to a man, Colonel Moore, whose ethics were questionable.

Seely described some of the problems with Colonel Moore:

Dodge, and to a greater extent Moore, seemed to see the movement as an opportunity for personal gain. Moore attempted to collect organization dues and speakers' fees from each town in which a Good Roads Train stopped, a move forbidden by the Agriculture Department. This led the secretary of agriculture to halt OPRI involvement in the trains after 1902, yet Dodge worked around this. Incredibly, in 1905 the OPRI chief aided Moore in a fraudulent scheme to collect fees for future object-lesson roads that both men knew would not be built. [Seely, book, p. 18]

Although the OPRI no longer sponsored good roads trains, Moore continued to mount them with OPRI participation. For example, when the Frisco Good Roads Special began its 3-month run through the Southwest at St. Louis on September 20, 1904, Good Roads Magazine reported that in addition to NGRA officials, the train included OPRI officials who worked on the object-lesson roads built on the trip and gave speeches at the conventions held along the way. The magazine published a photograph of the train at Rolla, Missouri, and two photos of the object-lesson road built at DeKalb, Illinois, all provided by Eldridge. [November 1904, p. 531-532]

Dodge maintained close ties with Moore's group, apart from the Good Roads Trains:

Dodge earlier had served as an advisory director of the NGRA, and he and other OPRI engineers aided its meetings by delivering talks. Dodge's name appeared prominently on the association's letterhead and surely conveyed an appearance of official sanction and approval. Finally, Moore had earned Dodge's gratitude by unstinting support for the director's plans to raise the OPRI budget. [Ph.D., p. 45]

Seely explained:

Moore's efforts to help Dodge secure money began in 1900 and probably laid the groundwork for all future cooperation. His National Good Roads Association held a National Good Roads Convention in 1900, with OPRI help. That meeting endorsed the plan to raise the Road Inquiry's budget to $150,000. Moore followed this by leading a delegation to President McKinley and the Secretary of Agriculture, testified on the bill's behalf before Congress, and canvassed railroad presidents and commercial clubs for support. Their success was limited, but the link between Moore and Dodge was lasting, for when the 1904 appropriation increase was threatened by the chairman [Proctor] of the Senate Agriculture Committee, Dodge's assistant [Eldridge] wrote to Moore's secretary [Richardson], "Could you not at once write to 'Dave' Mercer and get him to use his influence with Mr. Wadsworth and the conferees?" [Ph.D., FN 54, p. 96-97]

( Wadsworth, as noted earlier, was Chairman of the House Committee on Agriculture. Eldridge's letter was dated February 3, 1903, while the Agriculture Department's appropriations act for FY 1904 was under consideration.)

Aside from his ties to Moore, Dodge "did not seem to appreciate the need to avoid endorsing private groups, products, or materials," Seely observed:

In at least three instances, Dodge became involved in schemes to recommend patented methods of road construction, a clear violation of department rules.

The difficulties presented by Dodge's close involvement with individual manufacturers became apparent when one remembers that the Office of Public Road Inquiry [sic] received so many inquiries on various methods of construction because people assumed the OPRI was neutral. A United States Army engineer considering use of a steel track roadway for a Potomac River bridge wrote that his superior "attaches considerably more importance to your unbiased opinion on the subject than to the naturally somewhat prejudiced views of the manufacturers." Yet the manufacturers who Dodge helped were very pleased with the OPRI's director, since "the public recognizes you as an advocate of a Steel Track System." Certainly a fundamental conflict existed in the differing public views of Dodge's position on this particular matter. Dodge did not aid the situation by his failure to avoid conflicts of interest. [Ph.D., p. 49-50]

Seely offered several other examples:

Dodge attempted to secure permission to publish a circular on a brick-track pavement that was patented by the author. Even when the Department of Agriculture refused, the inventor placed articles in newspapers misquoting Dodge, but conveying the endorsement of the director of the OPRI. Dodge had also approached the bounds of propriety in his eagerness to assist the Steel Highway Track Company secure publicity and trials with state highway departments. He even entertained overtures from another businessman who desired to start a company producing another steel track patent. [Ph.D., FN 63, p. 98]

Still, the Good Roads Trains proved to be Dodge's undoing. "The final straw," Seely wrote, "may been a Good Roads Train run entirely by the National Good Roads Association during the early part of 1905." The NGRA ran the Good Roads Train on the line of the Missouri, Kansas, and Texas Railroad System beginning on January 9, 1905. Seely continued:

Dodge accompanied the train, improperly lending it an official air. Moreover, the director of the OPRI apparently aided W. H. Moore collect fees for the NGRA at each stop. The money was supposed to guarantee later construction of object-lesson roads that the NGRA never intended to build; instead, Moore pocketed the collections.

Seely quoted from a letter dated November 11, 1905, that former special agent Abbott wrote to Dodge's successor, Logan Page, describing the Moore-Dodge combination at work on that train:

Moore . . . always conveyed the impression that this was a government commission, at large in the land to redeem the people from Bondage to the mud. As the countenance of Dodge always beamed 'Amen' to the most grotesque promises, pretenses, and phillipics of these confidence artists the communities were prone to accept them at face value . . . . Only the mighty Dodge, representing the majesty of this supreme government and its beneficent Dep't of Agriculture, enabled this crafty gent to work his schemes upon honest people and avoid the jail. [Seely, book, p. 18]

Seely added that, "The Secretary of Agriculture repeatedly tried to limit the ties between Dodge and W. H. Moore's National Good Roads Association, without success." [Ph.D., p. 93, FN 38]

Congress would soon exact its revenge on Dodge, in bittersweet fashion, for his improper advocacy of the unsuccessful Federal-aid bill and his close ties to the NGRA. The 1906 Agriculture Appropriation Act approved by President Roosevelt on March 3, 1905, fulfilled his hope by combining the OPRI and the Division of Tests of the Bureau of Chemistry under the name Office of Public Roads (OPR), giving the new agency the permanent status Dodge had sought by providing for a statutory roll, and increasing its annual budget to $50,000. It would now include a Chief of Records, an Instrument Maker, and six clerks.

However, the legislation specified that the new OPR was to be headed by a Director "who shall be a scientist and have charge of all scientific and technical work." Congress had aimed this language at Dodge, who was a lawyer and, therefore, excluded from serving as Director of the new Agency he had fought to create.

On March 21, 1905, Dodge was in Elmira, New York, for the second annual meeting of the New York and Chicago Road Association. By this time, Dodge knew that his days as Director soon would be coming to an end under the new appropriations act. As a result, his afternoon address to the association took on the feel of a summing up. He began:

It has been my duty for the past six years to represent the United States Government in the public office having charge and jurisdiction of the inquiry authorized by Congress in reference to whatever may be thought best and proper for the government of the United States to do. In connection with the improvement of the public roads, we have no settled policy in that respect, but we are trying to ascertain if we can [do] what the people want.

After discussing the possibility of a transcontinental road, and the role of the New York and Chicago Road Association, he said:

The bills passed by Congress from time to time have never established a Department of Highways; but, from year to year, they have carried small appropriations of money authorizing the Secretary of Agriculture to make investigations, and he has turned the matter over to me, but without definite instructions, and, as I say, the nature of the bill was so indefinite that we have never known just exactly what we were authorized to do or what we were expected to do. I have always felt like encouraging all associations and all road officers to go forward and do the best they could. I have been authorized to give some little help, which I have done in the way of building object lesson roads. We have adopted a policy that "God helps them who helps themselves." And the government will only help them who help themselves. Therefore, we have only gone where the citizens in the place were sufficiently advanced in their ideas to go ahead and so something.

Speaking of the 83 object-lesson roads built in 30 States, he said:

I have found that the people have joined heartily in this operation. I have found that the roads were instructive, encouraging the people in making extensions of these roads; and that it has done great good and has especially stimulated a very earnest feeling among the citizens to have more of it done.

As for national aid, he said:

If the state can do all the work alone, all right. As to what share the United States should bear, I am not particular what the proportion should be, except to say it should not be less than one-fourth. Bills have been introduced, but these mostly provide for the payment of one-half by the United States. I want to say in this connection as giving us encouragement and support is the thought that the good example set by the State Aid in the East has been followed until seventeen of the states of the Union have taken steps in imitation of these pioneer State Aid states.

He point out that, "More than half of our people are concentrated in cities and villages, more than seven-eighths of the wealth is concentrated or controlled in these cities." As a result, "all of that population, being more than half, escapes from any share in bearing the burden or expense of this necessary improvement." And yet, improving country roads benefited not only the farmer, but "gives a great gain to the people living in the cities." He concluded:

Let all unite, and on the principle that many hands make light work, we shall accomplish what otherwise could not be accomplished and what never was accomplished in any civilized country of the world without the aid of the general government of that country. [Good Roads Magazine, April 1905, p. 211-212]

On June 21, Director Dodge was at Festival Hall in Portland, Oregon, for the NGRA's annual convention, which was held just a few days before he would leave office at the end of the month. He spoke the following day on "What the Government is doing for Good Roads." He said, in part:

[We] find that the people generally, throughout the entire country, are taking an unusual interest in this subject and they are assembling in great numbers and in many places to listen to their educators and statesmen in regard to this great question, and the time is soon coming when the people's representatives in the legislatures of the various states and in congress will be instructed to give friendly aid in the solution of the question. Many methods have been tried, but none have fully succeeded . . . . We have all imitated the prisoner in the story of the "Forty Thieves," who said, "open wheat, open barley" to the door that obeyed no sound but "open sesame." The real open sesame to the good roads problem is co-operation. Instead of appealing to the petty officers, the county officers, the state officers or the general government of the United States singly to do this great work, we should appeal to them all at once, asking the property-owners to pay a portion of the cost, the county a portion of the cost, the state a portion of the cost, and the United States government a portion of the cost. Co-operation in this great work is the proper thing because [it is] the necessary thing which corresponds to the composite nature of our government. Co-operation is the sign by which we shall conquer.

On the final day of the convention, delegates adopted resolutions in support of county, State, and national aid; favoring convict labor, and praising Martin Dodge. ["The National Good Roads Convention," Good RoadsMagazine, July 1905, p. 447-452]

Seely discussed Dodge's legacy. "Dodge's carelessness, naivete, or connivance clearly created the difficulties, for many men would have limited their relations with the NGRA after its self-serving nature became evident in 1902." [Ph.D., p. 49] At the same time, Seely takes a broader view:

Despite this series of near-scandals, Martin Dodge did very little to harm the Roads Office. No serious public outcry followed the last Good Roads Train [in 1905] or the federal-aid legislation episode. In fact, he left the Office stronger than before, with a larger budget, a more diverse set of activities, an enhanced reputation as a source of technical information, and an enlarged public visibility. Martin Dodge's tenure at the Office of Public Roads [Inquiries] must be considered successful in the long run. [Ph.D., p. 52-53]

Logan Page Takes Charge

Unlike Martin Dodge-the lawyer, developer, and politician-Logan Page considered himself a scientist. In this respect, he was the embodiment of the Progressive Era.

Dating to the 1890's, the Progressive movement was a response to disparities of wealth, transformation to an urban, industrial society, and a time when, as historian H. W. Brands put it, the "United States produced more than its normal quota of demagogues and dedicated reformers, scoundrels and paragons of goodwill." Brands explained that:

The Progressives had a wide and varied agenda, including political reforms such as the initiative and referendum, social reforms such as child labor laws and prohibition, economic reforms such as utility regulation and trust busting, and consumer protection reforms such as pure food and drug laws. But what most of the items on the Progressive agenda embodied in common was a desire to remedy the ills consequent to the industrialization and urbanization that transformed American life during the last half of the nineteenth century. [Brands, H. W., The Reckless Decade: America in the 1890's, St. Martin's Press, 1995, p. 98, "normal quota," p. 5.]

To achieve these goals, the Progressives placed their faith in scientific experts such as Page to solve society's problems. The experts, the Progressives believed, could apply judgment based on facts and data, free of political taint and corrupt influence.

As Director of the renamed OPR, Page quickly reorganized the agency to carry out the provisions of its new charter. He divided the OPR's work into four classifications: construction, tests, information, and instruction. In June 1905, Page appointed Eldridge to be Chief of Records on the statutory roll established by Congress. In addition, as explained in the FY 1905 annual report, the "former system of carrying on office work and administrative details was found to be inadequate to meet the broadened scope of the work involved in the plan of reorganization." He selected J. E. Pennybacker, Jr., to be Chief Clerk to supervise the office force. Page explained:

The Office force was accordingly reorganized . . . and such disposition was made of the force as to provide a larger number of stenographers and to specialize the duties of the various clerks in order that responsibility for work to be done might be fixed and greater efficiency secured. At the same time care was taken that no stenographer or clerk should be assigned exclusively to one official, but by having the entire clerical force of the Office a unit under the direction of the chief clerk the time of each clerk might be utilized to the fullest extent. [Annual report, FY 1905, p. 430-431]

In FY 1906, Page reported that this new arrangement had secured "a uniform distribution of the work, increases the efficiency of each individual stenographer, and makes it possible to dispose of a much greater amount of work than would otherwise result." He also reported that replacing the old system of alphabetical filing with "modern vertical subject files" had brought filing to "a high state of efficiency." The OPRI's mailing list of 10,000 names had been pruned to about one-third that number, with the names arranged by subject "thereby avoiding the promiscuous distribution of all classes of publications."

Further, Page had moved the OPR into a new headquarters, constructed in accordance with OPR plans, on February 1, 1906. The OPRI/OPR main offices had been on the fourth floor of the Department's main building, while the laboratory work was conducted in the basement of the Bureau of Chemistry building-an "absolutely inadequate" arrangement that "seriously embarrassed the work." The new four-story building, leased at $2,000 a year, contained "a testing laboratory and machine shop on the ground floor, executive and clerical offices on the second floor, library, property room, chemical and petrographical laboratories on the third floor, and drafting room and assistant engineers' office on the fourth floor. The library was a Page addition, with a wide range of material, including journals in English, French, and German, for reference. (When the Department of Transportation (DOT) went into operation on April 1, 1967, the collection Page had begun became one of the largest core components of the DOT Library.) [Annual Report, FY 1906, p. 19-20]

Page continued some of the promotional activities initiated by his predecessors, General Stone and Martin Dodge. Page worked with the States, as Stone and Dodge had, to develop model State-aid legislation and to encourage its adoption by the State legislatures. Page, even more than his predecessors, launched the OPR on a scientific evaluation of road building and gathering the technical data-the lifeblood of the Progressives-on which sound conclusions could be drawn. The collection of data on national road conditions, taxation, sources of revenue, road laws, and total expenditures was part of the effort.

The object-lesson road program was expanded, as was the experimental road program General Stone had initiated. However, Page put the process on a more formal basis that would exclude NGRA conventions from featuring object-lesson roads. He issued a circular letter containing instructions on securing advice from the OPR. It said, in part:

In order to obtain the assistance of this office in supervising and demonstrating methods of construction it is necessary for the properly constituted local authorities who have legal control of the roads in their community to make application in the manner herein provided . . . . The regular form on which all applications for the detail of road engineers and experts are to be made gives the exact conditions that must be complied with on the part of the local authorities before this office can co-operate with them to the extent of taking charge of actual construction or making arrangements for supplying machinery.

Before detailed estimates of the cost of any proposed improvement can be made it is desirable that plans, profiles, and cross sections of the road should be prepared in accordance with the regulations of this office. The cost of making the necessary surveys for these plans will in general have to be borne by the local communities, but all estimates of cost and specifications will be made by this office. [Quoted in "Expert Advice in Road Building," Good Roads Magazine, November 1905, p. 766-767]

As with other transformations as the agency shifted from the OPRI to the OPR, Page's circular letter put the process of securing object-lesson road projects on a rational, efficient scientific basis.

Page was a foe of all methods of road building and maintenance that could not be supported by scientific research. For example, to examine why macadam pavements deteriorated under automobile use, Page conducted scientific analyses that included filming automobile speed runs on macadam roads to document and analyze the impact of the tires on the surface. These tests spelled the end for macadam pavements by demonstrating that they could not survive under auto tires.

Given his scientific frame of reference, Page was impatient with the county and township officials who had dominated road building for decades and who had wasted millions of dollars on old-fashioned, time-worn building techniques that did not work. In 1912, for example, when Governor Walter R. Stubbs of Kansas suggested to Page that a county surveyor could supervise road construction as well as a highway engineer, Page replied, "It would be just as sensible to appoint an astrologer to build the good roads."

He also objected to the "nonscientists" in the road community who advocated patented products and techniques that he considered worthless. In the OPR's annual report for 1910, Page's impatience was clear. After several pages describing his scientific testing and application of the results, he observed that:

Many worthless road preparations have been and are at present being manufactured and sold to the public through ignorance on the part of both producer and consumer . . . . These materials are sold under trade names, and as a rule carry no valid guarantee of quality. Specifications for such materials are therefore needed for the protection of the public. [p. 785-786]

Page worked with the scientific community to develop specifications that would spell out how best to build roads. While building the OPR into the national leader in the science of road building, he had no patience with those who failed to live up to his standards.

Soon after taking office, Page began to separate the new OPR from Dodge's questionable practices, particularly the link with Colonel Moore and the NGRA. He noted some of the changes in the annual report he prepared in September 1905, covering FY 1905, which ended on June 30, 1905, while Dodge was still in office. Assistance to road organizations "by encouraging road conventions and taking part in such meetings" was curtailed somewhat during Dodge's last year "in order that the services of the experts and special agents might be utilized to a greater extent in supervising road-construction work." Page did not mention Secretary Wilson's admonitions to Dodge on this point, but added:

The propriety and value of Government participation on a large scale in road-convention proceedings has often been questioned. During my connection with the Office my observation and experience have led me to believe that such participation may be questioned when the main object of the convention or meeting is agitation for the purpose of influencing legislation. Moreover, the results achieved through speeches by Government employees at popular gatherings of this nature can scarcely be considered as having any marked influence upon the progress of road improvement in the United States.

He acknowledged "a field of real usefulness" that OPR speakers and lecturers could provide, as well as the "useful purpose" that road organizations served. He added:

The problems that are most serious to rural communities, and those which it should be the province of specially equipped employees to explain at meetings of local officers and taxpayers, are what they need, how to go about getting it, and what their roads will cost. These speakers should be so well equipped that they could give definite and concise information on which the local communities might act with safety. [Italics in original.]

Page continued that, "Much of the work embraced in the scope of the Office is of a scientific and technical nature and involves original thought and investigation." He expected "properly qualified members of the Office" to keep in touch with organizations "having under consideration matters bearing in any way upon the purposes for which the Office was established."

These veiled criticisms were directed at Dodge. Although Dodge had difficulty complying with Secretary Wilson's restrictions, Page would have no such problems.

OPRI Bulletin No. 26, covering the National Good Roads Convention sponsored by the NGRA in St. Louis, would be the last bulletin to publish convention proceedings. Future OPR bulletins under Page would be scientific, data-based, and directly related to "the purposes for which the Office was established." [P. 429-430]

Seely summarized:

Reacting to Dodge's loose ethical standards, blatant political lobbying, and lack of professionalism, Page placed limits on convention appearances by OPR representatives and frostily denied any interest in legislative promotion. He also severed all ties to the NGRA, the good roads group with which Dodge had worked closely, and even started a mail fraud case against its head, W. H. Moore, that reflected the moral outrage of a typical Progressive. Page later boasted, "I fought Colonel Moore in the public press and he finally dropped his road work . . . . As you well know, there are a lot of human vultures feasting on the road movement. [Seely, book, p. 26]

As Page put it in November 1911:

The entire movement for better roads should be so systematized and everywhere placed on so high a plane of honest and earnest effort that the cheap charlatanism of the professional promoter and the bungling efforts of the well-meaning but uninformed citizen should be no longer permitted.

Logan Page and the Road Improvement Trains

From June 1, 1909 to October 16, 1909, the OPR displayed an exhibit at the Alaska-Yukon Pacific Exposition. The exposition, classified as a World's Fair, was held in Seattle on the future grounds of the University of Washington to celebrate the Pacific Northwest. Congress authorized a government exhibit at the exposition and specifically provided for OPR representation, according to America's Highways 1776-1976:

For its part of the exhibit, the OPR prepared a series of scale models, complete with miniature machinery, showing every aspect of roadbuilding. They were supplemented with a handbook, a series of moving pictures and stereopticon slides and a lecture on roads. [p. 76]

Page's annual report for FY 1909 modestly stated that, "The exhibit attracted general attention and undoubtedly did much to stimulate interest in the subject of road building." [p. 6] The exhibit proved so popular that OPR began shipping it to other expositions and fairs, as summarized in the annual report for FY 1910:

An elaborate and thoroughly successful exhibit was installed at the Alaska-Yukon-Pacific Exposition at Seattle, and the same exhibit was afterwards taken to Omaha, Nebr., to the Corn Show and the Omaha Exposition. From that point it was shipped to Washington, D.C., where the models were on exhibition at the Builders' Exchange Exhibit Company; later, the exhibit was installed at the Appalachian Exposition, Knoxville, Tenn.

By March 1913, when OPR published its Descriptive Catalogue of the Road Models of the Office of Public Roads (OPR Bulletin No. 47), the exhibit, augmented with new models, had been displayed at:

  • Chicago: National Land and Irrigation Exposition
  • New York City: Travel and Vacation Exposition
  • New York City: Domestic Science Exposition
  • Atlantic City, New Jersey: American Road Congress
  • Lethbridge, Alberta, Canada: International Dry-Land Congress
  • Buenes Aires, Argentina: International Agricultural Exposition
  • Turin, Italy: International Exposition
  • "and at various other expositions and fairs."[p. 7]

An OPR road expert accompanied the exhibit to show the slides and present lectures.

The exhibit proved so popular, according to America 's Highways 1776-1976, that OPR "arranged to transfer a professional model maker from the Smithsonian Institution to augment the OPR's effort." [p. 76] OPR Bulletin No. 47 described the models used in the exhibits:

The models illustrate standard types of road construction and represent the modern ideas of highway engineers. All of them are built on the scale of 1 inch to the foot, or one-twelfth of the full size. With the exception of the brick model, they represent roads with a hardened surface 16 feet wide and with earth shoulders on each side about 6 feet wide . . . . Among the [types of modern construction] are models showing brick, concrete, asphalt block, macadam, sand-clay, gravel, and earth roads. There are other models showing the process of maintenance, resurfacing, and bituminous macadam construction by the mixing, penetration, and prepared-filler methods. One model shows the various methods of draining and strengthening unsuitable bases for road foundations, while another shows a typical method of treating gravel or macadam roads to make them dustless and to prevent their disintegration under automobile traffic.

In addition, the exhibition included a historical displays illustrating Roman roads, French roads, and the road theories of Pierre-Marie-Jèrôme Trèsaguet, Thomas Telford, and John Loudon MacAdam.

The success of the exhibits prompted the Pennsylvania Railroad Company to propose a Road Improvement Train in 1911. According to a contemporary article by Dean John Price Jackson of the College of Engineering at Pennsylvania State College, the purpose was two-fold:

First to urge the progressive citizens of the Commonwealth to aid in promoting the adoption of more efficient methods of expending the local township road taxes; and, second, to gain support for more efficient and business like road legislation such as that contained in the admirable proposals of [State] Senator Sproul and his associates. ["The Good Roads Train," Journal of the Engineers' Society of Pennsylvania, March 1911, p. 107]

(The Sproul Act, introduced by State Senator William C. Sproul, established 296 routes between county seats as the State Highway System. Under the law, which was enacted on May 11, 1911, the State Highway Department was responsible for maintaining and improving Legislative Routes, as they were called, totaling 8,835 miles. The act also bolstered the State Highway Department's engineering force. Although amended many times, in part to increase the number of Legislative Routes, the Sproul Act would be the basic highway law in Pennsylvania for decades. Sproul, who would serve as Governor from January 21, 1919, to January 16, 1923, was known as "Father of Good Roads" in the State.)

These were the types of goals Page endorsed-efficient construction techniques and focused State highway legislation. Despite his objections to the Good Roads Trains of the Dodge era, he agreed to cosponsor the Pennsylvania Road Improvement Train. The Engineering School of the Pennsylvania State College organized the educational work of the train.

Page, in his annual report for FY 1911, described the train:

The train consisted of an exhibit car, which contained not only the models . . . but also a large number of enlarged photographs, illustrating various features of the road subject, and a set of pictures furnished by the Pennsylvania highway department.

A lecture car was provided in which stereopticon lectures were given during the day and evening at each stopping place by representatives of this office, of the State highway department, and of the State college. Two other cars were provided with exhibits consisting of full-size road-building machinery, including crushers, elevators and bins, and a number of homemade devices, such as split-log drags and concrete rollers. [p. 42]

Page designated Donald H. Winslow, OPR's Superintendent of Road Construction, as OPR's representative to the train, which began in Harrisburg on January 25, 1911, and completed its run on March 28 at State College. Page boasted of the train's success:

During that time, it stopped at 165 places, where the exhibits were displayed and 174 lectures were delivered. The success of this project is shown by the fact that approximately 53,000 people attended the lectures and examined the exhibits. In many places, the crowds were so large that the lectures were repeated. At other places, where the car would not accommodate the audiences, the meetings were held in courthouses, opera houses, etc. [p. 42]

The success of the Pennsylvania Road Improvement Train prompted the OPR to cooperate with the Southern Railway on a similar venture, which ran from May 1, 1911 in Mobile, Alabama, to October 28, 1911, in Richmond, Virginia. W. W. Finley, president of the Southern Railway, described the purpose of the train in a letter to Good Roads (formerly Good Roads Magazine):

The purpose of the operation of this train is to arouse increased interest in the subject of improved roads in the territory traversed by the lines of the company; to teach farmers and road officials the fundamental principles of road building and maintenance, and to encourage the organization of local good road associations. ["A Good Roads Train in the South," Good Roads, May 1911, p. 196]

The railway company sponsored the train in cooperation with the OPR and the American Association for Highway Improvement. Page had formed the association in November 1910 when he invited approximately 30 State and interstate organizations (highway agencies, railroads, and good roads associations encompassing all aspects of the Good Roads Movement) to meet in Washington. Page, who was elected president, intended the association to be an umbrella organization "to harmonize and correlate all efforts for the improvement of the public roads." The final stop of the Southern Railway Road Improvement Train was the association's first annual American Road Congress in Richmond.

(In 1912, the association shortened its name to the American Highway Association. Given the strength of groups such as the American Automobile Association, the American Association of State Highway Officials, and the American Road Builders Association after creation of the Federal-aid highway program in 1916, the Board of Directors of the American Highway Association voted to dissolve the group on October 30, 1917.)

Southern Good Roads magazine contrasted the road improvement train with previous trains, run since the original Southern Railway Good Roads Train, noting that considering the sponsors, "the tour will be no cheap advertising scheme, promoted and designed for the purpose of boosting the Southern." The Southern Railway would, of course, receive valuable publicity, but in the magazine's view:

The Southern has come to the realization of the vast economic importance of the good roads movement and is ready and willing to spend many thousands of dollars to further it.

The magazine also quoted the Atlanta Journal's description of the contents of the train:

In the coach provided with stereopticon equipment, will be views showing all the advantages of good roads and disadvantages of bad ones. There will be shown, for instance, the manner in which doctors are caught in the ruts of bad roads while on their way to patients; undertakers' wagons delayed on the way to the cemeteries; automobilists thrown on the road by a boulder in a bad road; and two loads of cotton, one from a bad road territory, and the other from a good road territory, the difference in weight showing the profits and losses that come from good and bad roads.

In the second car, there will be large photographs showing some of the finest roads in the world, including the well-nigh perfect roads of France. These photographs will illustrate nearly every phase of the good roads movement. For the farmers and experts, there will be working models in this car, showing materials that make the best roads; the way a soggy clay road can be improved by the mixing of sand; the way macadam and other hard roads are built; and practical suggestions which will be of benefit in the case of each individual. If the farmer has been at a loss how to improve his road, he can find out all about it by attending the train exhibit. Arrangements may even be made so that the persons in each town along the route to be traversed may send in specific questions before the train arrives, they being answered in the lectures that will be given. The aim of the Southern Railway company and the government is to aid each individual case as much as to stimulate general interest in the good roads movement. ["Good Roads Train for the South," Southern Good Roads, May 1911, p. 15]

According to Page's annual report for FY 1912, the train "visited 210 counties, and stopped at 251 towns, where 288 lectures were delivered to 46,733 persons. [p. 38]

In FY's 1912 and 1913, the OPR participated in several road improvement trains covering all parts of the country. The final road improvement train identified in the OPR's annual reports was operated by the St. Louis and San Francisco Railway from March 25, 1912, at Brownsville, Texas, through August 31, 1912, at Morocco, Indiana, although the reports continued to mention the travels of the OPR exhibits by other means.

Good Roads trains were operating as late as 1916. On January 2, 1916, The New York Times reported that, "A number of the States are planning to send out good roads trains this Winter, to reach the farmer at a time when he is not busy with his crops." The automobile was the "great missionary" for good roads, as evidenced by the fact that "50 per cent of the machines disposed of last year were bought by farmers." The article added:

It is odd but true that the farmer when seated in his new automobile sees the need of better roads much more readily than when on the front seat of a four-horse wagon hauling a load to town.

The Times continued:

Railroads are co-operating with the State Highway Departments in sending out good road trains. One of the States that will operate a train of this kind is Tennessee. It will make the trip in January. Representatives of the Federal as well as the State Department will be on board. Miniature models of various kinds of roads will be exhibited. At all points of community importance along the route lectures, illustrated by moving pictures and lantern slides, will be given. ["'Good Roads' By Train Loads," The New York Times, January 2, 1916]

The decline of the Good Roads Trains/Road Improvement Trains occurred while the Good Roads Movement was succeeding in convincing the Federal Government to increase its role. The Post Office appropriations act of August 24, 1912, provided $500,000 for an experimental post-road construction program. The idea was for the United States Post Office and Department of Agriculture to experiment with the idea of Federal-aid for roads on which rural delivery was or might be established. The Federal share was one-third of the total cost, with State or county governments providing the balance. America's Highways 1776-1976 pointed out:

This was a very large assignment for both Departments and one that was to test their negotiating skills to the utmost. Unfortunately, Congress failed to provide either agency with administrative funds to carry out the Act, so they had to secure the necessary engineers and postal inspectors by cutting down on other activities. [p. 81]

The experimental program was beset by difficulties, including lack of interest on the part of some States. America's Highways 1776-1976 summarized the results:

The first post road to be completed was opened to traffic in 1914. It was a direct road, extending 14½ miles west from Florence, Alabama, to Waterloo. This program, with congressional extensions, dragged on for four more years, until the last post road, in Dubuque County, Iowa, was opened in 1918. From the start, this program was a very considerable burden on the Office of Public Roads, yet in carrying it out, the OPR learned valuable lessons which Director Page was able to pass on a few years later to the framers of the Federal Aid Road Act of 1916. The most important of these recommendations was that Federal aid should be dispensed only through the 48 States, avoiding the complexities of dealing with the Nation's more than 3,000 counties. [p. 83]

When President Woodrow Wilson approved the Federal Aid Road Act of 1916, he launched the Federal-aid highway program on a framework that, years earlier, Martin Dodge and M. O. Eldridge had imparted to Congressman Brownlow in his ill-fated bill.

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Updated: 10/16/2013
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