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The National Old Trails Road
Part 1: The Quest for a National Road
Section 7 of 7
Judge Lowe Responds to the Peacock Lane and Polecat Speech
The April 1914 issue of Better Roads and Streets contained Judge Lowe's response to the "peacock lane and pole cat speech." He was not backing down. He explained that:
The great advocate of a national chain of rock or macadam highways from the very beginning of the present movement has been the farmer; the natural enemy, the politician, who is striving to make road appropriations a 'pork barrel' to increase his prestige among his constituency.
After quoting the polecat portion of Shackleford's speech, Judge Lowe said:
In Judge Lowe's opinion, the present Shackleford bill was even worse than the previous bill. It is "cunningly revised" to appeal to farmers, and especially those who do not live near cross-State or principal market roads:
Judge Lowe concluded by referring to a man in Mississippi who liked to be called "Old Reliable," even though he was "utterly unreliable." Similarly, the Congressman called himself "Old Shack," and "seems to leave the impression that others call him that seriously." Judge Lowe explained:
This is in keeping with his criticism of "Peacock Boulevards, built for joy-riding automobilists," while the fact is, he is a member of the only organization having for its purpose the building of just such a "Peacock Boulevard," as he describes, but which he carefully and significantly refrained from mentioning in his pole-cat speech, to-wit, the so-called Lincoln Highway. "Friend of the Farmer?" "Old Shack-Old Reliable?"
At the end of Judge Lowe's defense, Better Roads and Streets published one of his editorials under the title "Looks Like Quick Money! Is It?" If, he said, the Shackleford Road Bill is "a serious and honest attempt to do the best thing," and if the States could accept the money (22 had constitutional limitations on doing so, he said), and it was fair and just to tax the people of cities even though none of the funds would be spent in cities, the funds would be spent on less than one half of the public roads. He explained the consequences as he understood them:
One hundred and twenty dollars per mile goes to the repair of macadam roads; sixty dollars per mile goes to the repair of gravel roads; and thirty dollars per mile goes to the repair of mud roads, the average being fifty dollars per mile, and it is safe to assume that the road overseers will maintain this average expenditure. As the benefits apply to the 1,042,477 miles of post rural free delivery roads, the annual repair account will be, if the average is maintained, $52,123,850, or $2,123.850 deficit.
If this allotment were eliminated in the Senate, and the full appropriation applied to making permanent, hard-surfaced post roads at an average cost of $10,000 per mile, "it will take 208 years to construct them, saying nothing about maintenance, and the [sic] cost ten and one-half billion dollars ($10,424,770,000):
It is evident, therefore, that both of these plans for "national aid" are absurd, and will hinder rather than help road construction.
He advocated building one or two roads at a time "and keeping it up" (quoting Senator John Sharpe Williams of Mississippi). A single transcontinental road could be built for $25 million a year. The States and counties can then focus on the other 98 percent of roads.
The idea that the National Highway would be an "automobile road" is, Judge Lowe said, "too ridiculous to demand a serious reply." Tourists would enjoy such roads, "but the farmer would be the chief beneficiary." He concluded:
Judge Lowe also commented on the "peacock lane and pole cat speech" during his address to the third annual convention of the National Old Trails Road Association. It was held on May 7 and 8, 1914, in Indianapolis. Judge Lowe explained the constitutional basis for Federal road appropriations. He also discussed the importance of interstate roads. Then he commented:
We are free from any entangling alliance with any special interest of any character whatsoever. No manufacturer of road vehicles, road machinery or road material has contributed one dollar to our support. The delegates to this convention are here at their own expense. The membership extending across the continent are a patriotic, public-spirited body of men and women seeking by donating their time and money to their cause, to do what they can to further the cause of the material, social and spiritual welfare of all the people. For this patriotic and unselfish work, their principal reward thus far has been to be lampooned and maligned upon the floor of the National House of Representatives. But this neither weakens our cause nor discourages our efforts. No great cause was ever won in a day, nor without great sacrifice. Undismayed and unharmed by the opposition of those who have not the capacity to comprehend our purpose, nor the honesty to treat fairly even if they had, we shall neither abandon the field, nor march under the white flag of a dishonorable surrender . . . . During the great Civil War, a soldier in the Southern army to which I belonged, was observed hastening to the rear, when the commanding officer ordered him to "fall in line." He replied, that there was no good place to "fall in." Again came the order, sharp and decisive, "fall in anywhere, there is good fighting all along the line." So it is today. "There is good fighting all along the line."
The following month, Better Roads and Streets carried an article by Frank A. Davis, the association's secretary. He explained a bill Judge Lowe had submitted to the Senate subcommittee on roads that would require the government to finally honor its commitment to build a national road across Missouri. The Shackleford bill, Davis said, "not only is odious to all public-spirited citizens and friends of fair play in this State, but fails utterly to be in keeping with the spirit of the promises made by the government when Missouri came into the Union." Davis then turned to the recent attack:
Judge Lowe printed his speech and Representative Borland's in promotional literature for the National Old Trails Road. In later versions, Judge Lowe added the following note at the end of Representative Borland's speech:
Shackleford was retired to private life at the ensuing election which he graces so well; but why adopt now his defeated methods?
Representative Shackleford was defeated for reelection in November 1918. (Representative Borland served in the House until his death on February 20, 1919.)
After the House passed Shackleford's ABC Rental Plan, it went to the Senate, where Senator Bourne substituted his plan to apportion $1 billion among the States based on the issuance of long-term bonds. Senator John H. Bankhead of Alabama introduced a bill to establish a National Bureau of Highways in Washington to spend $25 million a year on a national highway system. However, the Senate adjourned in 1914 without approving any of the bills introduced that year.
What is a Post Road?
By this point, the constitutional issue that some had used to argue against Federal involvement in road building had been set to rest.
On March 27, 1893, the Supreme Court had ruled in Monongahela Navigation Company v. United States, that, "the power of Congress to regulate commerce carries with it power over all the means and instrumentalities by which commerce is carried on . . . . We are so much accustomed to see artificial highways, such as common roads, turnpike roads and railroads, constructed under the authority of the States, and the improvement of natural highways [waterways] carried on by the general government, that at the first it might seem that there was some inherent difference in the power of the national government over them. But the grant of power is the same."
The Supreme Court reaffirmed this ruling in a decision on January 7, 1907. In Wilson v. Shaw, a case involving Federal authority to construct the Panama Canal, the decision cited Supreme Court precedents and concluded, "These authorities recognize the power of Congress to construct interstate highways" under the constitutional right to regulate interstate commerce.
The 1907 decision effectively ended the debate over whether the Federal Government could fund road projects. As a result, when Senator Bourne's Joint Committee on Federal Aid in the Construction of Post Road issued its report in January 1915, it dismissed the issue in three brief paragraphs. In sum:
The constitutionality of the appropriations was supported chiefly upon some one or all of the following express Federal powers: To establish post roads, to regulate commerce, to declare war, to provide for the common defense, to promote the general welfare.
A discussion of constitutionality "would no doubt be interesting" to those of legal training, "but we believe the time has long since passed when controversy over this issue could be deemed appropriate." Federal aid road improvement could "accomplish several of the objects indicated by the framers of the Constitution," the report said but, "Above all, it will promote the general welfare."
Nevertheless, the link to "post roads," was strong. The term was used in Article 1, Section 7 of the Constitution ("To establish Post Offices and post Roads"). The institution of rural free delivery of mail, beginning in West Virginia in October 1896, had been one of the most effective means of persuading farmers of the need for good roads. Representative Shackleford's ABC rental bill was based on post roads. Further, the $500,000 experimental Federal-aid road program under the Post Office Appropriations Act for 1913 had been restricted to roads that are or may be designated for rural free delivery of mail.
The idea of aid to post roads, with its explicit constitutionality, was strong. Given this emphasis on post roads, Judge Lowe decided that clarification of the term was necessary. After quoting the 1912 National Democratic Platform plank on good roads, he asked, "What was a Post Road at that time, which Congress was authorized to establish?" He dismissed the idea that the phrase meant rural free delivery, which involved carrying the mail from the post office to farms, as some had suggested:
Congress has express authority, under this provision to "establish Post Roads," that is, roads leading to the Post Offices, where everybody went to get the mail, and no other.
For support, he noted that Justice Cooly included railroads and steamboats in his definition of "post roads," because, "although not in existence when the Constitution was adopted they now fill the purpose [the Founders] had in view, as roads upon which the mails were carried from Post Office to Post Office." Judge Lowe stressed that rural free delivery "could not have been contemplated by the Constitution, as they nowhere existed at the time of its adoption, and their purpose is exactly opposite to all human experience or intellectual contemplation up to that time, and hence do not come within the ambiguous meaning and purpose of that instrument."
If, therefore, Federal funds were restricted to rural free delivery routes, the roads actually contemplated by the Constitution would be excluded. "Congress must look for authority to other Constitutional provisions than the clause empowering it to establish Post Offices and Post Roads." He cited the commerce clause of the Constitution as justifying construction of roads that are "interstate, or national in character."
"This is no longer an open question," Judge Lowe said, ended by quoting the Supreme Court's 1893 decision: "But the grant of power is the same."
Although the Supreme Court's rulings and the Bourne Committee's findings were not based on the "post roads" provision of the Constitution, the link would remain on the minds of legislators for many years. In April 1928, Thomas H. MacDonald, Chief of the Bureau of Public Roads, and his assistant, Herbert S. Fairbank, prepared a 56-page paper on "Federal Aid as a Road Building Policy." From a historic perspective, the paper noted that the modern understanding of "post roads" was "one of those curious inversions of the meaning of words" that occurs over time because of changing habits and customs:
The original "post roads" were the highways over which journeys were made of such length as to necessitate accommodations for the changing of horses and the over-night lodging of travelers. To provide those accommodations post houses or inns were established at convenient intervals and the roads took their name from these posts . . . . By reason of the fact that the carriage of parcels and packets necessarily took place over the post roads, the public agency which performed that service became the postal service, and the stations already established for other purposes naturally became the post offices.
This was, the paper asserts, the understanding of the term "in the minds of the framers of the Constitution."
Signposting the National Old Trails Road
The Automobile Club of Southern California had long included signposting among its important activities. Many of O. K. Parker's surveys of southern California roads were combined with signing activities. By May 1914, the association's magazine, Touring Topics, was reporting that most of the National Old Trails Road in California had been signed. The signs, which included a reference to the Automobile Club of Southern California, were generating many inquiries about touring conditions. Plans were underway to extend the signing to the Grand Canyon:
With a highway of this character as a lure to the automobilist of the East who contemplates journeying to the Pacific Coast, the Automobile Club has foreseen an opportunity to lend its services toward popularizing the National Old Trails route throughout the nation and to cooperate with the men and the communities that are so successfully endeavoring to put it in good condition for motor travel.
Exploration had taken place as far east as Albuquerque to arrange for signing, but the Automobile Club was considering a more ambitious program of signposting. It would continue the signing east to Chicago and New York and along the lateral highways to connect principal touring centers along the National Old Trails Road with the Lincoln Highway.
The Automobile Club estimated that because of the signing, several thousand automobile parties would journey directly to Los Angeles along the Old Trails route instead of "the more widely advertised Lincoln Highway." The article pointed out that, "Even a few thousand automobiles, with their occupants spending money along the way, means scores of thousands of dollars exchanged for supplies and for service in a territory that is directly tributary to Southern California."
Much preliminary work would be needed before the Club could signpost the Old Trails route and its feeder roads from points along the Lincoln Highway, a total length exceeding 4,000 miles. How much the signs would mean "is problematical." But it was safe to say that "a very considerable portion of the $40,000,000 estimated expenditure of the motorists who will visit the Coast in 1915 will be made along the National Old Trails route, and a very large part of it will find its way to Southern California."
Secretary Standish L. Mitchell of the Automobile Club stated in April 1914 that the signs, one every mile or two, would be completed in time for 1915 automobile travel bound for the expositions in San Francisco and San Diego. On April 5, 1914, the Needles Eye quoted him as saying, "More than $4,000 has been pledged from Los Angeles to Winslow and indications are that the proposition has swept all territory east . . . . The Automobile Club is desirous of completing this work before the thousands of motorists start for California next year, and from all indications, it will be done."
Parker was touring the National Old Trails Road to seek support for the project. Having lined up support in the Southwest, he had moved into Colorado, which was considered the critical State. An article in the June 1914 issue of Touring Topics indicated that "it was feared that a lack of knowledge of the work accomplished by the Automobile Club of Southern California and its importance in highway work might result in refusal to cooperate in the Club's sign posting undertaking." Colorado also was important because several east-west routes ended in the State:
If the motor clubs and highway organizations of Colorado cooperate whole-heartedly in the Club's campaign it will make of that state a gigantic relay station through which the eastern tourists will be deflected to the National Old Trails route. It will mean that many hundreds of machines that have been kept in Colorado during the summer season will take the southern route and journey to California in the Fall for winter touring on the Pacific Coast.
Parker found that Colorado enthusiasts already intended to post signs on the route from Trinidad to Denver to intersect one branch of the Lincoln Highway:
The signing of these lateral routes, or feeders, that will serve to divert a large amount of motor traffic from the northern route down through Nebraska and Colorado to the main route of the National Old Trails roadway has been a part of the general project that was earnestly desired but concerning the successful accomplishment of which there was grave doubt.
The success in Colorado left "little doubt" that signs would stretch from the Mississippi River to southern California and "will eventually be placed along the highway through the East and on into New York City." When that happened, "every owner of a motor car in the country will know that there is a transcontinental highway, completely signed and improved for safe and comfortable automobile travel that leads through the most picturesque and scenic portions of America and terminates in the greatest motoring region in the United States."
On July 10, the Eye reported that:
More than thirty-seven tons of signs and posts, 3000 signs and 1200 posts and four months of hard labor by an expert crew from the Automobile Club of Southern California will be used in sign-posting a transcontinental highway from Kansas City to Southern California, preparations for which started yesterday.
The July 1914 issue of Touring Topics described the project and how it had grown beyond the original idea of signing only the Southwestern portion:
No motoring organization in the world has ever attempted to extend its sign system even a thousand miles beyond the limits of its territory. But the Automobile Club of Southern California has achieved a record for doing things and . . . has little doubt that it will be successful in placing its signs along a continuous automobile thoroughfare that will link the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans.
The article stated that the National Old Trails Road intersects "everyone of the important western automobile roads with the single exception of the All Southern Route by way of Fort Worth and Galveston."
The Ocean-to-Ocean Highway, the Borderland Route, the Corn-belt route, the Lincoln Memorial Highway [the Colorado predecessor of the transcontinental Lincoln Highway], the Pike's Peak route, the White Pole route, the Midland route and the Trail to Sunset all converge upon the main route of the National Old Trails road, or connect with its northern feeder through Colorado. Thus, really, it becomes the spout of a giant funnel through which will pour the automobile traffic of the entire Middle West and of the western bound automobilists of the East.
The Automobile Club had chosen to sign the National Old Trails Road for four reasons "aside from the fact that it drains so extensive an automobile territory." First, "the road conditions over this route are better by far than are those of any other western highway of like distance." From Kansas City to the Pacific, the route included less than 200 miles of poor road.
Second, climatic conditions made the route "to all practical purposes a year-round road." It was impassable only for "a few days at a stretch" as a result of snows in Colorado and Kansas.
Third, the club cited the many places of scenic and historic interest along the route:
The beauties of the Rocky Mountain country, the historic associations of the Old Santa Fe Trail, the Indian villages, the cliff dwellers' ruins, the Painted Desert, the petrified forest, the Grand Canyon, these are some of the unique and picturesque attractions that are on the route of the Old Trails road.
The fourth "and one of the very most important" reasons was the fact that hotels and garage accommodations existed along the entire distance:
In this connection it should be said that the Harvey system of hotels extends along the National Old Trails Route from Kansas City westward to Los Angeles and that an itinerary can be arranged that will make one of these excellent hostelries the destination of each day's run.
The first signpost was placed in Los Angeles in front of the Automobile Club's property on Southern Figueroa Street. The event was accompanied by a celebration "befitting the magnitude of the undertaking." According to an article in the September 1914 Touring Topics, the ceremony included city officials, the Chamber of Commerce, and officers and members of the Automobile Club:
The first sign of the thousands that will be erected was placed in front of the new building that is being constructed. President Baker and Vice President Miller of the Automobile Club with Miss Trixie Friganza, the famous comedienne, assisted in erecting this first one of the direction signs. The truck was then christened with appropriate ceremony, and, the truck leading, a long procession of motor cars drove to the city hall where acting Mayor Whiffen presented the truck crew with letters addressed to the majors of Denver and Kansas City and the big Moreland rolled out of Los Angeles and took the boulevard for San Bernardino and the actual beginning of a great sign posting project was underway.
The article described the truck as "undoubtedly the best equipped and most complete vehicle for sign posting work that has ever taken the road." The 3-ton chassis had been fitted with a special body that was "subdivided into numerous compartments, each enclosed so that none of the tools or the signs or posts or any part of the equipment of the crew is exposed." Each sign had been numbered and placed in numerical order to save time.
The expedition was expected to last 4 or 5 months, but could be extended if plans to post signs to New York were approved. Still, just signposting to Kansas City would provide Southern California "a trade stimulus of incalculable benefit," according to the August 1914 issue of Touring Topics. Signing in California had been completed when the September 1914 issue was published, and through Arizona by the October issue. The club had already received "scores of letters" from motorists stating that the signing thus far was so complete that they had not "found it necessary to refer to their maps at a single point between Los Angeles and the eastern Arizona state line." The current estimate was that the program could be completed in December.
Judge Lowe considered this project a "tremendous work." He explained that the sign posts were guaranteed not to exceed $6 each and were "to be erected at actual cost." The National Old Trails Road Association was treasurer of the funds, "and therefore actively interested in seeing that the contracts are properly let and executed." It was worth the expense:
This is by far the greatest work of the kind that has ever been undertaken, and means more to the Old Trails Road and to the communities through which it runs than anything which has ever been undertaken, next of course to permanently building the road.
He boasted that "no other transcontinental road in America has made such progress toward permanency as The Old Trails Road." As the Automobile Club had noted, only about 200 miles of the route were in rough or poor condition, but work was "in progress" to improve these bad stretches. He added that, "Many will no doubt be surprised that these bad stretches are principally on the eastern division of the road." He summarized road conditions and plans for improvement:
We are assured that the entire road through the State of Maryland is under contract for first class macadam. The same is true in Pennsylvania; West Virginia has her link of the road under a contract for vitrified brick on a concrete foundation. Much of the road through Ohio is under contract to be built out of the same material, and one continuous twenty-four mile stretch of concrete, and we are assured that the entire road across this State will be under contract and in process of construction during the year. In Indiana, the road is in fairly good shape as far west as Indianapolis, and from Indianapolis to Terre Haute the people are moving to put that end of it in good serviceable shape. Two-thirds of the road across Illinois is under contract for macadam, and active work is progressing. Two-thirds of the road across Missouri is either built or under contract. From Kansas City to Los Angeles, while the road is principally a dirt road, yet it is in first class condition.
Judge Lowe pointed out that neither the Old Trails Association nor the Automobile Club would place signs on any segment that is not "put in good travelable condition." He added;
Therefore, it becomes the paramount duty of those residing upon these stretches of road which are not in first class shape, to get busy at once or they will not be sign posted as a part of the Old Trails Road, and travel will therefore be diverted and go around such stretches.
He concluded his exhortation by declaring:
"See America First," and see it over The Old Trails Road, and learn how much its grandeur and interest surpasses anything in foreign countries.
The Automobile Club found additional benefits from the early stages of the signposting expedition, as reported in the November 1914 issue of Touring Topics:
Each county and community through which the route passes is working with unprecedented energy and enthusiasm for the improvement of the highway. Already these counties are noting the growth in motor traffic that has resulted from the publicity that has been given to the route as a result of the Club's signposting work and realizing the further increase in automobile travel that will follow when the entire roadway is marked they recognize the necessity of placing the road in the best possible condition so that each tourist who traverses it will advertise it to his friends as more than fulfilling the requirements for comfortable automobile travel and accommodations.
Improvements were not confined to the National Old Trails Roads. "Scores of tributary routes are being improved and highways are being made practicable for motor travel that have heretofore been maintained only for wagon traffic." Further, the Automobile Club and the Old Trails Association were receiving letters "daily" seeking their cooperation in other signposting projects:
No other single enterprise has so successfully unified good roads sentiment in the West as has the signing of the National Old Trails Road and the leaven of highway improvement that has been introduced by this important undertaking may very well produce so great a sentiment for Federal roads as to prove a determining influence when the subject receives the attention of the next Congress.
Touring Topics also reported progress on the crossing of the Colorado River between Arizona and California. At present, the only crossing was the Santa Fe Railroad bridge:
An appropriation of $75,000 for a vehicle bridge over the Colorado at this point has been made jointly by the states of California and Arizona and the federal government. The construction of this bridge will probably take two years and in the meantime vehicle traffic has crossed the Colorado by means of a ferry, an expensive method both as to time and to cost and one attendant with considerable danger. In order to expedite vehicle traffic and to render the National Old Trails Highway of greater aid to transcontinental motor travel, the Santa Fe Railroad has planked the space between its rails over the bridge and has constructed on the outer side of each rail a gravel and oiled pathway that permits cars to cross the bridge as safely and with as much comfort as any vehicle bridge allows. A charge of three dollars and fifty cents for each car is made, which is less than the former ferry toll, with its great danger and loss of time.
In January 1915, Touring Topics reported that the signing crew had reached Pueblo, Colorado, but that the work was "not proving a pleasurable occupation for the Automobile Club's construction crew." The crew had encountered "zero weather but in spite of the severe cold is pushing ahead with the work and abating none of its energy toward completing the big project by early spring."
Work was slowed by the necessity of guarding against a frozen carburetor, radiator, and motor:
Each night all water is drawn from the radiator and the hose line between the radiator and the pump is disconnected and drained. The pump is then drained also and the motor run dry for a minute or two. In the morning it is necessary to pour hot water over the pump to free the shaft enough to crank the motor, then each cylinder is primed and, after replacing the hose connection on the radiator, the carburetor is flooded and the motor is started without water in the radiator. The next step is to pour warm water into the radiator, followed by hot water until it is filled.
The crew also had to contend with "weak bridges that are not of sufficient strength to bear the heavy weight of a loaded truck." To get around weak bridges, the crew had to construct a temporary road or ford to cross the arroyo or stream.
Fortunately, although some "unavoidable accidents" had occurred, the crew had not had to abandon work because of weather "and this fact is eloquent endorsement of this route as a year-round motor highway." The Moreland truck had passed the "hardest portion of the trip," except for the lateral connection to the Lincoln Highway, and "there remains little mountainous country to be covered."
The men are prepared to carry the work through without unnecessary delay and although the truck has encountered several snow storms these have not been of sufficient severity to prevent continuous signposting.
Despite the crew's determination, the signposting took longer than expected. The July 1915 issue of Touring Topics reported that, "Only a few hundred miles remain to be posted" on the way to Kansas City. The Automobile Club had recalled the Moreland truck to help resume the club's signposting in southern California.
The final eastern portion of the transcontinental road will be signed with the aid of the Club's special charting car which has been stored in Kansas City during the past several months and with which the remaining work can be satisfactorily completed.
Few members, the article explained, had an "adequate conception of the difficulties of signposting a transcontinental route for approximately half its length between the Atlantic and Pacific oceans." The article summarized the difficulties:
Snow and rain that hindered progress; culverts too weak for the heavy construction truck and which gave way under its weight; special equipment that was delayed; consignments of posts and markers that failed to arrive at the distributing points at the required time.
Although these and other difficulties had delayed completion of the work, it had "conferred a distinct and definite benefit upon the motorists of the United States." Aside from the many expressions of appreciation from "Easterners" for the work, traffic was increasing along the route. For example, during all of 1914, officials of Holbrook, Arizona, counted 194 transcontinental automobilists passing through the city. During May 1915, officials had counted 216 cars, 85 percent of which were westbound on the National Old Trails Road.
The results shown thus far on "the greatest single undertaking in which the Automobile Club of Southern California has interested itself" had already compensated the organization for its labors.
American Road Congress
The 4th Annual Meeting of the American Road Congress was held at the Auditorium-Armory in Atlanta, Georgia, on November 9-14, 1914. Several hundred delegates arrived on the evening of November 8 on special trains from New York, Philadelphia, Washington, Chicago, Cincinnati, and other points. In all, about 3,300 delegates attended, exceeding the number of delegates to the 1913 American Road Congress in Detroit. An account in the December 1914 issue of Better Roads and Streets called it "not only one of the largest, but also one of the most successful road congresses that has ever been held in this country."
Many speakers addressed the need for a national road construction program by the Federal Government. Robert P. Hooper, the former president of AAA, asked that every influence possible be exerted toward construction of a proposed great national highway system across the continent. George Diehl, chairing a session on behalf of AAA, informed delegates that his organization had established an office in Washington to procure legislation for Federal construction of a compact and efficient system of public highways that would be the backbone of transportation facilities in the United States. AAA did not favor the expenditure of millions of dollars over a large area, but rather construction of roads where they can and will do the most good.
Representative Borland also addressed the AAA session. "I believe in a national law for good roads," he said. "The investment of Federal funds in such a cause is the best economy." He added, "I will not vote for a bill which spreads money over a large territory. I want the money centered on some special mileage where it can do real good, whether a cent of it is spent in my county or not." To open up the country, "we will have to follow a system." First would come the "great trunk roads, then the provincial, or county roads, and after they are built, then will come the little by-roads."
Dr. Joseph Hyde Pratt, North Carolina's State Geologist, emphasized that the Federal Government should build the main roads, with the roads leading to them built by the States. The Federal tax dollars should not be divided so that each Congressman would get a small slice for his district. A competent commission should be established to decide where the money would be spent.
C. A. Kenyon, president of the Indiana Good Roads Association, agreed:
If you believe in Federal Aid for roads, get after your Washington representatives. Shake your fist under the nose of your congressman and tell him if he is not in favor of Federal Aid, you are not in favor of him. You will find his ear to the ground. See to it also that such a bill is not a "pork-barrel" and do not let your congressman stand for a bill that will spread such a fund over every congressional district in the country. The right way, and the practical way, I think is to put the sum appropriated in the hands of a thoroughly competent commission.
During a session the following day, a letter from President Wilson was read to the delegates, stating in part:
I scarcely need emphasize the social and economic importance of good roads. They are the prerequisite to the betterment of rural life in a number of directions. Improved roads, especially improved community roads from the farm to the nearest railway station, are an urgent necessity. They are essential for the economical marketing of farm products, and for the development of the educational and social institutions of the country.
The President stressed the importance of sound administration of road funds. "When the people are fully convinced that they will receive full value for every dollar expended on roads, they will be brought more easily to the appreciation of the need for further expenditure and will make the requisite provision."
One of the important activities scheduled for the American Road Congress in 1914 was organization of a Women's Auxiliary. Logan Page explained that Mrs. Robert Baker of Washington was Chairman of the women's department of the American Highway Association. The goal was to secure the united efforts of women in every county and in every community to support good roads. "I hope and believe that the women will accomplish marvelous results in bringing about through moral suasion an improvement of road conditions in rural communities, and in so doing help the cause of better schools, better churches, and better homes." He added that their work was "designed to introduce particularly better road management and better maintenance of our public roads."
One of the first speakers during the Women's Conference was Miss Frances Pearl Mitchell, president of Women Farmers' Club in Rocheport, Missouri. She summarized the good roads work of women in Missouri:
As far back as 1909 the D.A.R.'s began working for the selection of historic roads as State and national highways. The result was . . . the organization of a "National Old Trails Road Association" to which were eligible any one interested in historic roads.
After summarizing other activities in Missouri, Miss Mitchell concluded:
Women can do much by their enthusiasm toward getting the right kind of road legislation and by their demand for the wise and honest expenditure of road funds in their respective States and counties. Good roads means the uniting of North and South, the East and West into combined effort toward progress and advancement of the Nation!
Mrs. Shephard Foster, representing Miss Gentry of the National Old Trails Road Committee of the D.A.R., also addressed the Women's Conference. She began by seeking support for the American Revolution Old Trails Act, H.R. 2864, introduced by Representative Borland. It provided for construction of the National Old Trails Road proposed as a national memorial road by the D.A.R. Mrs. Foster summarized the history of the road:
Mrs. Foster explained that, "Our plan has a social and political as well as an economic value, for our road is made up of several old trails that speak one by one of the advance of opportunity, civilization, religion and romance, across our continent." It would promote the concept of "See America First," diverting some of the estimated $250-300 million that Americans spend in Europe every year.
She summarized the historic origins of the trail, referring to the original concept of a National Old Trails Road that included a branch along the Oregon Trail. But Representative Shackleford's complaint was also on her mind:
This road has been called "Peacock Boulevard," but along this boulevard you may not only see (may I say) beautiful "peacocks," but you can delight in the canvas back ducks and oysters of Maryland, the beaten biscuits and fried chicken of Virginia, the Missouri apple, the Kansas corn and the venison steak of the Northwest as well.
Then she called on the Women's Conference for support:
Mrs. Baker, the Conference Chairman, responded that "it is rather difficult to explain the attitude of this new woman's department to these specific highways. Especially after the delicious menu offered by the National Old Trails Roads!" She added:
This department, of course, is heartily in sympathy with good roads everywhere that they serve the demands of present day traffic and is deeply sensible of the charm of sentiment and association which clings about the old trails. These transcontinental highways and all others ought however to be built by skillful men, under efficient and economical management, and all the various sections of these costly roads should be permanently maintained after they are built.
She noted that between 20 and 40 percent of road funds are wasted under the present system of State road management. "How much better to stop this enormous leak before pouring out further great streams of money for the roads." When road management is as efficient as the management of any other big modern business, "Then there will be money enough in State treasuries to build the different sections of these splendid roads at the smallest cost and with the least expenditure of time and effort."
Delegates to the American Road Congress in Atlanta adopted several resolutions. On the subject of Federal road legislation, the delegates agreed on the following:
That the American Road Congress emphatically endorse the principle of federal cooperation toward the construction of main highways and thus assist the several States to build the main market roads in the one-half of the country which is devoted to agriculture-and to build through main roads in the one-half of the country which is not predominantly agricultural, but whose prosperity depends upon mining, the raising of live stock, and the presence of the health seeker and tourist.
Another resolution deplored highway accidents and called on authorities throughout the nation to enact "the necessary rules and regulations to insure the public safety." The delegates also called on the Federal Government to build highways across all Indian and forest reservations and all other federalized areas to provide connecting links in established routes of travel.
The delegates also adopted a resolution in support of the Lincoln Highway:
That the Lincoln Highway Association be commended for its successful voluntary effort in arranging with counties, cities and townships for a connected series of roads across the United States, thus providing a definite and continuous route to be used wholly or in part by those who wish to become acquainted with the agricultural, mining and scenic advantages of their own land.
A New Highway Organization
While at the convention, State highway officials met to consider forming an organization that would represent their interests. They believed that the American Highway Association, formed by Page as an umbrella organization of many interests, was not the best representative of the States. One State highway official, George Coleman of Virginia, complained that the American Highway Association displayed a "strong and persistent jealousy" of the American Road Builders Association, which covered some of the same ground.
State highway officials had discussed the idea throughout the year. In March, Page had written to Coleman in agreement about the importance of establishing an organization that would allow the U.S. Office of Public Roads to stay in closer touch with the State highway officials. These early discussions resulted in a dinner at the Georgian Terrace Hotel under the auspices of Mr. A. C. Batchelder, Executive Secretary of AAA, and Mr. Diehl. The State officials issued a call to all State highway commissions and departments to meet in Washington at the Raleigh Hotel on December 12, 1914, "to assist in drafting a bill to be presented to Congress, which will embody a plan of Federal cooperation in road construction."
During the December 12 meeting, the State highway officials established the American Association of State Highway Officials, which would play a major role in creation of the Federal Aid Road Act of 1916.
END PART 1
Special thanks to Rick Roam for providing copies of Touring Topics and The Needles Eye articles used in this report.