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The National Old Trails Road
Part 1: The Quest for a National Road
Section 6 of 7
Before The Good Roads Committee
In January 1914, Judge Lowe testified before the House Committee on Roads. Following his testimony, he submitted a formal statement summarizing his views. He began:
He commented on the fear among Federal-aid advocates that automobile "joy riders" would use "Cross Country Roads, "Tourists' roads," and "Ocean to Ocean Highways."
The roads most in favor by these critics are "the rural roads," the roads in the back districts, in remote sections, where there are no products to market and no people to use them, either for "joy" or necessity-roads that "begin nowhere and end nowhere"-roads of little local value, and no general value, these are the roads to which it is proposed by some that the general revenue be applied.
He summarized the legislative history of the Cumberland Road to demonstrate that previous great leaders "stood for a System of National Highways." He believed that joint authority over a National Highway, or any highway, was "illogical and impracticable." Either the State or the General Government, he said, must be supreme. "If each is supreme over its own system, and only over its own system, there will be no friction, no departure from the uniform practice of the Government, no questions of State right, nor of Paternal nor concentrated Federal Power, no conflict of authority, no dodging of responsibility."
Judge Lowe and his associates were making similar arguments around the country as Congress considered the role of the Federal Government in road building. For example, he had written an open letter to Governor Elliott W. Major of Missouri in December 1913. If $50 million were appropriated annually and distributed equally among the States, and if Missouri distributed its share equally to every county, "she could build about four-fifths of a mile of hard surfaced road in each county." Judge Lowe then explained what would happen if Congress appropriated $50 million a year for 6 years for a System of National Highways. It would, he said, build 30,000 miles at an average cost of $10,000 per mile. "This system could be made to furnish an average of two trunk lines across each state and across the continent, and all connected with the national capital."
On February 20, 1914, The Needles Eye reported on a visit to Barstow by J. H. Miner of Kansas City, Missouri, on behalf of the National Old Trails Road Association and the National Highways Association. Miner explained the two associations' opposition to the Shackleford bill to distribute $25 million to the States. "Under this plan," the article explained, "the wealthier and most populous states would receive the most of this fund, on account of their being able to appropriate state funds for roads, as the bill requires." The article also reported Miner's comments about road issues of local interest:
He stated the Grand Canyon-Needles-National Highway is now a good road, and that he and Supervisor Butler came from Needles to Barstow in 9 hours-170 miles-including stopping for supplies, lunch, etc. This could not be done if the road was not first-class. The Borderland route could not, he said, compare with our road. The Lincoln Highway Association, he claimed, is a $10,000,000 corporation of Detroit, and is not a national highway.
Miner's business concluded with his explanation that for Judge Lowe and others to continue to promote the area's road interests before Congress, financial assistance was needed immediately. "For this purpose contributions of $2.50 were given by each of 14 citizens of Barstow."
N.O.T. & The PPOO
On March 18, 1914, a new transcontinental highway association was organized during a meeting in St. Joseph, Missouri. The Pikes Peak Ocean to Ocean Highway (PPOO) Association was dedicated to promoting improvement and use of a road from New York City to San Francisco, the same termini as the Lincoln Highway. An account in the May 1914 issue of Better Roads and Streets (as the magazine was now called) explained the new highway:
To create the route west of Illinois, the national association affiliated with State trail associations, including the Lincoln Highway Association of Colorado, a State association that predated the Lincoln Highway Association. Pending a location tour, the association announced it would follow the Lincoln Highway west of Salt Lake City. East of Illinois, the association had worked out a cooperative arrangement with the National Old Trails Road Association to share its route to Washington and New York.
The PPOO association claimed that its route was "the central and most direct across the country." However, the leaders were concerned about sharing the eastern portion of their route with the National Old Trails Road. The process of ending the linkage began during the association's annual meeting in St. Joseph on February 2, 1916. A committee was named to represent the association in negotiations with possible State partners east of Illinois. On February 15, a conference was held in Indianapolis to pursue the goal. The March 1916 issue of The Road-Maker described the results:
Through adoption of an independent alignment from Indianapolis east to the Atlantic Ocean, the Pike's Peak Ocean to Ocean Highway Association has forged another link in its great transcontinental highway. At a conference of its committee on eastern extension, held at Indianapolis on February 15th, decision was reached in favor of a route extending from Indianapolis through Richmond, Indiana; Eaton, Dayton, Springfield and Columbus, Ohio; Pittsburgh, Blairsville, Johnstown, Altoona, Huntington, Harrisburg, Lebanon, Reading, Pottstown to Philadelphia; with a connecting branch from Harrisburg to Washington, D.C., and another from Reading, Pa., to New York City. The selection of this route is subject to early organization and affiliation of state divisions in Ohio and Pennsylvania, and active steps have already been taken looking to meetings for this purpose during the month of March . . . .
The routing change was confirmed during a meeting on March 10, 1916, ending the relationship with the National Old Trails Road. For more information on the Pikes Peak Ocean-to-Ocean Highway, see www.fhwa.dot.gov/infrastructure/pikes.cfm
Judge Lowe Called A Polecat
As reflected by Representative Shackleford's comments during the American Road Congress in Detroit, he was frustrated by the opposition by good roads interests to his proposal. In February 1914, his frustration boiled over on the floor of the House of Representatives.
His modified ABC Rental bill had passed the House by a vote of 284 to 12 on February 10, 1914; now it would go to the Senate, which had rejected his bill in 1912. Almost immediately after the 1914 vote in the House, he saw a flood of editorials against the bill in newspapers around the country. On February 24, 1914, shortly after the House began business at noon, Shackleford rose to "a question of personal privilege affecting my rights, reputation, and conduct as a Member individually." He was upset by an editorial in the February 10 issue of the Philadelphia Public Ledger titled "Let Public Opinion Smash Pork-Barrel Politics." The phrase he particularly objected to was: "The danger is imminent. Once this graft has started it can not be stopped."
He countered that not one single Member of Congress supported the bill "through any motive of graft."
Mr. Speaker, there are two things without which civilization, even in its crudest form, could not exist. They are the public roads and the public press. Both of these are all the better if they are kept free from mud. Dirt roads should be kept compacted and firm by the frequent use of the split-log drag. Newspaper editorials should be kept free from slime by the constant use of the fair play drag.
He knew that "this endless chain of malevolent editorials" did not occur by accident. They "all came from the same editorial canning factory." He explained:
Shackleford was referring to a "polecat," a term he used during his speech but excised when given the opportunity to edit his remarks for the Congressional Record. A "polecat" is defined as "any of various North American skunks."
He wanted his colleagues to understand which "canning factories" had come up with the word "pork-barrel," slipped their label on it, and shipped it off to the newspapers:
There are in this country a number of road associations made up of men of great wealth who have special interests that they want to promote, and they have undertaken to shape all road legislation that is adopted here or in the States. I shall not undertake to enumerate all of these road associations. I can now recall the National Highways Association, the National Road Builders' Association, and a number of others of that character.
They were, he said, made up of individuals and companies that would benefit from big road construction projects. But he particularly wanted to denounce AAA because its "ramifications extend into every nook and corner of the great Republic." AAA was opposed "to expending any money on roads within a State, because if the money is frittered away on these community roads-these farm roads-there will not be funds enough left with which to build the peacock lanes upon which they have their hearts set."
Shackleford cited resolutions adopted by AAA during its national assembly in Chicago the previous December. He quoted George Diehl saying "the association is on record as being opposed to any Federal aid for 'pork barrel' propositions." Shackleford asked:
Mr. Philadelphia Ledger, where did you get your term "pork barrel"? Was it not from the editorial canning factory of the American Automobile Association? [Applause]
To illustrate the insolence of the AAA, he entered a letter into the record. He explained that the Automobile Club of St. Louis had endorsed his previous bill. After he reintroduced it in modified form, H. D. Train, vice president of AAA, wrote to the St. Louis chapter on September 3, 1913:
Shackleford did not know how AAA would go about trying to prevent his reelection, but he considered it an outrage that the organization can put "their hands down into their treasury and fill the papers of my district and my State with canned editorials against me." He did not think he would be defeated, but he wanted to call attention to "the nefarious methods that are being resorted to in order to defeat legislation in which all of the people are interested." Again, the Congressional Record inserted: "[Applause.]" He warned his colleagues that each of them, the "knights of the dirt roads," could be subjected to the same treatment.
Next he turned to the National Highways Association, another of the road associations whose members "want to try out the automobiles from New York to San Francisco in order to see which one can win the race. They want a road that is adapted to their purposes, and they want the farmer down on the muddy roads in my district and yours to pay the expenses of this peacock lane over which these peacocks shall strut in luxurious automobiles. [Applause.]"
He made fun of the association by explaining its membership policy. At the top, he said, are the founding members who contribute $25,000. The association also has national members ($10,000), collective members ($2,500), life members ($1,000), and the sustaining member:
We are getting down now, Mr. Speaker, into the pond where the suckers swim. [Laughter.] A sustaining member pays $100 . . . . Then, coming on down to smaller suckers, they have contributing members, who pay $10 each, and then they have assisting members, who pay $5 apiece. Lastly, in order that no man, however humble, shall be permitted to escape this dragnet for funds relied upon to prosecute this propaganda for the rich and special interests, they have a subscribing membership for a dollar apiece. And then, in order to get the other fellow who has a little vanity in him, they have what they call an "associate membership," who gets down to 50 cents apiece. [Laughter.] They have spread this net out all over this country, taking in every man, from the fellow willing to pay $25,000 for a founder's membership down to the man who pays 50 cents in order that he may wear upon the lapel of his coat the badge of an apostleship in the peacock-lane propaganda. [Laughter.]
That brought him to his own State.
As he moved toward the end of his speech, Shackleford wondered why his bill was called a "pork-barrel bill" when it was intended for the entire country:
Why? Because everybody had a piece of pork in the barrel, I suppose. It is subject to that criticism. There is not a man, woman, or child in the United States who would not be benefited by the enactment of that law.
Civilization, he said, depended on roads. "Civilization should exist along every roadway and every lane in this country, and not be confined to the few chains of peacock lanes that these people have in mind." He estimated that creating these peacock lanes would cost $45 billion.
He wanted to help the farmer because "nine-tenths of all the commerce of this country is hauled to market over dirt roads." The big cities that are complaining about his "pork-barrel bill" didn't complain about the "pork barrel" when "we dropped $14,000,000 into the harbors of the State of New York in one year, paid in part by the farmers of my district." They also helped pay for harbor improvements on the coast so other countries could ship farm products to the United States in competition with American farmers. Now, the advocates of peacock lanes are saying to the farmers, "the Federal Government is going to leave you alone in peace, in the mud where you now are, to stay in the mud or dig out for yourselves, as may seem best to you."
Shackleford indicated that those opposed to the bill were trying to bluff the Senate into thinking that President Woodrow Wilson would veto the bill. If, Shackleford said, the President intended to do so, he would have informed the Congress before he told "the proprietors of the editorial canning factory." He pointed out that the 1912 National Democratic Platform, adopted in Baltimore as the party nominated Woodrow Wilson for the Presidency, stated: "We favor National Aid to State and local authorities in the construction and maintenance of Post Roads." Representative Shackleford assured his colleagues that, "as a great leader, one of the greatest this country has ever seen, we may confidently rely upon [President Wilson] to lead on to victory in behalf of the people for whom I am now speaking. [Applause.]"
He then referred to one of the Nation's pressing social issues, namely how to keep "the boys and girls from leaving the farm." Conferences of bankers and professors were being held on the issue, but Shackleford said it could be done by making "farm life tolerable; treat the farmer as though he was an American citizen. [Applause.]"
Perhaps, he speculated, he was wrong. Perhaps the farmers should be taxed to build these peacock lanes. If so, "then put it through on its merits; let these big road associations get out of the field; let Congress legislate with freedom; let Judge Lowe stop his canning factory of sinister editorials; let the representatives of the American people legislate upon the merits of the proposition."
On March 3, 1914, Representative Borland rose on the floor of the House to respond to Representative Shackleford's personal privilege speech. Borland said that after hearing the speech, he had prepared a resolution calling for a special committee of Congress to investigate the charges he had heard of organizations using influence, by intimidation or otherwise, on the roads bill. But then he saw the Congressional Record version of the speech:
I find that some of the positive statements have been omitted. I can not find the word "lobby" anywhere in the printed speech, and there are a great many other portions of the speech as made on the floor of the House which I do not find in the Record. Some of the most offensive matter has been omitted. Doubtless this is to my colleague's credit, and I sincerely trust that both his natural life and his political life will be long enough for him to regret sincerely his entire speech.
The Shackleford bill, Borland said, had been a great disappointment to thousands of friends of good roads. Although Shackleford had no doubt been "stung by the criticism he has received," Borland doubted the wisdom of "an attack on the character of private citizens." After quoting some of "the most offensive portions of the speech still remaining in the printed version," he clarified the term "pork barrel," by saying:
The evil of a pork barrel is that it is cleverly designed to aid in the reelection of the sitting Member by the expenditure of public money. The money is distributed in such a way as to produce the largest political effect.
The press, he said, has a high duty "to turn the light of pitiless publicity upon the expenditures of public money." Even the "humblest citizen" can criticize public men and measures. But if a corrupt lobby exists, "both this House and the courts are clothed with ample power to punish it."
Borland then turned to the term "peacock boulevards" that had caused his colleague to take "great offense." He said:
If we disregard the epithet and get down to what he really means, the logic of his position is that he is assailing any form of improved highways which lead from city to city or town to town, or which cross an entire State or run into two or more States. It so happens that the present strength and success of the good roads movement is very largely due to business men all over the country who are advocating just exactly this type of road.
The men, he said, were expending considerable time and effort, but very few of them "have anything to gain personally in the matter." As an example, he cited the National Old Trails Road Association, which his colleague "denounces and which he compares to the odoriferous quadruped," and the Missouri Old Trails Road Association, still headed by Walter Williams. He listed several other Missouri-based associations, but noted that every State has a dozen or more such groups:
Most of the members of these associations are business men of the highest type and the most unselfish patriotism. It may be possible that they are mistaken in their views, but it is not possible that they belong to the tribe of quadrupeds indicated by my colleague, or that they are engaged in any corrupt attempts to influence the press or Congress.
Representative Wilson of Florida asked Borland if the criticism had been directed at the associations or their methods of propaganda. Borland replied that the criticism was directed at "the character of the roads and the methods of the associations." He referred to the term "peacock lanes" as the "particular hit of the speech." In fact, said Borland, in view of the "hostility" displayed by Representative Shackleford to this type of road, he had made it "impractical in this bill for the Government to aid in their construction." Borland believed that the Federal and State governments should help with all classes of road, but he did not want to repeat arguments he had made in previous debates:
But I am opposed to wasting road money on politics, and I am opposed to making campaign matter by denouncing men who are working for any class of good roads . . . . [However,] it seems to me unexplainable that the only Member of Congress, so far as I know, who belongs to any of these "peacock boulevard" associations is my colleague [Shackleford], the chairman of the Roads Committee. He is a member of the only highway association from ocean to ocean supported by automobile manufacturers, the one which runs through Chicago, Omaha and Denver.
Although the Lincoln Highway did not go through Denver (except via a branch road), Borland was referring to the Lincoln Highway Association, which was backed by Carl Fisher and his automotive industry associates:
I know of no distinction between this association to which my colleague belongs and the National Old Trails Road Association, except that the old trails route is through Missouri, while the other route is through other States, and the National Old Trails Road Association has not the official backing of the automobile manufacturers, while the association to which my colleague belongs has. If my colleague really believes that these people belong to the class of quadrupeds to which he has referred, I am surprised to find him in their company, unless he is there purely as a naturalist.
Large numbers of people, some of whom have a "selfish and business interest," had generated interest in good roads:
When a movement approaches success it is hardly possible to prevent ambitious politicians from jumping astride of it and riding it to victory or death, as the case may be; but why the people who furnish the steed must also be kicked in the face is more than I can understand.
If Shackleford believed that "a dangerous and corrupt lobby was at work," he could have called for an investigation, but he did not do so. Borland doubted the propriety of assailing the motives of private citizens who are unable to defend themselves on the floor of the House. He would speak for them, beginning with Judge Lowe:
In addition, Borland ridiculed Shackleford for having the public printer make 36,000 copies of the "polecat" speech for distribution under his free mailing frank:
Of course, the circulation of these 36,000 copies will prove conclusively that the Shackleford bill is a good bill and in the interest of the farmers; that the opponents to it are divided into zoological groups of polecats, peacocks, and suckers; that the peacocks are not only found associating with such strange friends but have taught the polecat and suckers to "strut" like themselves; that the press of Missouri is poor and has nothing to sell but its space, and that good-roads associations should be put out of business. Well, after all, the 36,000 copies tell the tale without any words of mine. [Applause.]
When Borland concluded, Shackleford requested time to respond to his colleague's "somewhat caustic arraignment." He acknowledged and repeated his claim that "some of the big road associations and special interests" have been lobbying in support of "ocean-to-ocean highways." He said he had not used the word "corrupt," as Borland had suggested, but believed that a powerful lobby was being maintained in opposition to the Shackleford Bill.
He responded to Borland's defense of "my alleged attack" on Judge Lowe:
Shackleford concluded by saying that "no lobby in recent years has spent more money in trying to move Congress and the country into the support of a measure than has been put into the fight for peacock lanes and against roads connecting the farms with the towns and railway stations." At every road convention, he said, the lobby is there to promote their resolutions. If a State legislature is in session, the lobby is there. If a road magazine is published, the lobby is on hand "to get behind it and subsidize it."
And when the road question gets to Washington this lobby is here, with its headquarters open under the management of talented men to keep in close touch with Congress to wield its influence. Mr. Chairman, they want ocean-to-ocean highways for automobile tourists at public expense and they are not willing that a dollar shall be spent upon any system of roads leading from the farms to the markets. The tourist has his lobby here. Who is here to lobby for the farmer and the consumer of farm products? Nobody. They elected us to guard their interest, and we will be unfaithful to our trust if we fail to do it.
He observed that despite differences on the road bill, he and Representative Borland were close friends. In fact, they had talked earlier that day:
I gathered from my conversation with him that he, too, is in favor of a system of community roads connecting the farms with the towns and market places; that his opposition to my bill is more upon administrative features than upon the real principle involved in it. I have no doubt that ultimately he and I will be found supporting the same measure.
With that, the House went on to other issues related to the U.S. Department of Agriculture's annual appropriations act.