Tuesday, October 28, 2014

The Rise of the Divided Highway in America, 1920s the WWII.

There is a 13-mile stretch of the Turnpike, with three tunnels and a travel plaza, east of the Breezewood area, that was bypassed in 1968 and dubbed "The Abandoned Pennsylvania Turnpike." 

PA Turnpike: the Highway of Tunnels

Divided Highways, Parkways, and Expressways
            One such innovator was Englishman Hilare Belloc, who in 1924 wrote a book entitled The Road. Belloc proposed great arterial roads joining main population centers that were to be wide, as straight as possible, with no intersections at grade, and finally having limited access. In a chapter entitled “The Future” Belloc stated that
A very few great arterial roads joining the main centers of population would have far more effect upon our present difficulties than their mere mileage would seem to warrant. There could be no question of stopping the new form of traffic upon ordinary roads remaining, which might be twenty or fifty times those of the new roads. But it would be of such advantage for long-distance travel to use the great arteries that at the expenditure of greater mileage you would find the new traffic seeking them at the nearest point upon one side and clinging to them for as long as possible.35
            Essentially, Belloc was envisioning the modern expressway, as were a few of his contemporaries such as Arthur Hale, who patented the cloverleaf in 1916.
            These kind of roads were built in Mussolini’s Italy during the 1920s (the autostrade) and in Hitler’s Germany of the 1930s (the autobahnen).36 Adolf Hitler’s highways were dramatically innovative roads that were perhaps the most publicized and visible products of the new regime. They have also proved to be the most enduring of the Third Reich’s material legacies, still carrying traffic, and thus promising to fulfill Hitler’s boast that “the construction of these roads will give the German people traffic routes for the most distant future.” The autobahnen were critical to Hitler’s plan for the mass motorization of Germany, first announced at the Berlin auto show of 1933. Between 1933 and 1936 auto production increased five times. These roads were also important aspects of Hitler’s plan eliminate unemployment; by 1936 some 130,000 men were employed directly and 270,000 indirectly in industries like cement mixing and stone masonry. Construction workers, living under a military-like regimen, were housed in isolated camps near the work sites.
            The autobahns of the 1930s amounted to beautiful works of civil engineering. They blended organically into the landscape; it was said that those who constructed them had a real concern for the environment. Autobahns were built not to disturb scenery and landscape unnecessarily, and they were designed to contribute to the driver’s appreciation of the natural surroundings.
            Even though most work went into conventional road building during the Depression years, the seed of the expressway system was sown at that time. Although federal funds went into 2-lane projects, ironically perhaps, local funds were for the most part used to design high-speed motor traffic highways. This was especially true in Connecticut, with the opening of the Merritt and Wilbur Cross Parkways. In Pennsylvania, where in 1937 a Turnpike Commission was created to build a toll road using an old railroad right of way, a mix of federal and state funds were allocated.
            Some federal funds came from the Public Works Administration (PWA), and surveys had actually begun in 1936. Features of the new road included four 12-foot wide lanes, a 10-foot wide median strip and 10‑foot side berms, and a limited access with 1,200 foot entrance and exit lanes. On October 13, 1940, 160 miles of turnpike between Carlisle (West of Harrisburg) and Irwin (east of Pittsburgh) was opened. It soon became the preferred way of truck traffic, since 7 tunnels were used, the grade on the Pennsylvania turnpike had been restricted to 3 percent and thus fuel consumption was decreased considerably. Finally, the driving time between Harrisburg and Pittsburgh was cut from five and one-half hours to two and one-half. Initially, the Pennsylvania turnpike had no speed limits, but in April 1941 a 70 mph limit was set, although in tunnels one had to maintain a speed of 35 mph.
            As successful as the Pennsylvania Turnpike became, across the country in Los Angeles similar developments were taking place that proved to be equally as successful. Lloyd Aldrich, who became Los Angeles city engineer in 1933, became a principal champion of the freeway, and he was one of the first to perceive an essential element for a modern metropolis; namely, that the time required to complete the journey was far more important than the distance covered. In 1940 under Aldrich’s direction the Pasadena freeway was completed, the first link in a proposed 300 mile web of urban freeway.
            The first of the LA freeways was named the Arroyo Seco Parkway. This road had no number designation, and originally the speed limit was 45 miles per hour. With two lanes of traffic in each direction and a broad shoulder for emergencies, the route ran from downtown Los Angeles to Pasadena. At the time, it was considered an engineering marvel, although it is obsolete by today’s standards. Indeed, most current-day drivers would consider the road dangerous; merging is almost immediate and right shoulders are narrow. Despite the fact that one must often stop before gaining access, it is a heavily-used thoroughfare, with 3 three lanes in each direction.

            Thus, on the eve of World War II, America had taken critical steps in highway construction that would be instrumental to the explosion of interstate highways beginning in the 1950s. Regions were now linked together, tourism was now a part of middle-class life, and trucks were moving an increasing percentage of manufactured goods and agricultural produce.

Saturday, October 25, 2014

Auto Camping, Gas stations, and Road Food during the 1920s and 1930s

"Hot Dog Stand, West St. and North Moore, Manhattan" Berenice Abbott (1936)

Auto Camping and “Gypsying” Across America
A word might be said here about the “gypsies” that journeyed via the automobile during the first few decades of the twentieth century.31 Beginning around 1915 or so, gypsies in their cars traveled throughout the U.S.A., setting up camp by the roadside. During summer nights, their campfires dotted main routes. They pitched tents on private property, often angering farmers who were typically far from hospitable. In an effort to maintain order and promote this inexpensive tourism, around 1920 communities through which many of these gypsies passed began setting up free camping facilities near towns. Enterprising individuals saw the commercial possibilities in all of this, and by the mid-1920s private campgrounds were established, along with the first tourist cabins.32
            The tourist cabin, the size of a small shed with perhaps a cold water basin, bed, night table and dresser, characterized the American roadside before World War II. James Agee, writing for Fortune, described these temporary domiciles as “curious little broods of frame and log and adobe shacks which dot the roadside with their Mother Goose and Chic Sale architecture, their geranium landscaping, their squeaky beds, and their community showers.”33 With a rate of perhaps $2 a night, and the fact that the owner cared little about names and who stayed in these structures, fears of the “hot pillow” trade surfaced.
            The contemporary traveler on U.S. 40 or 66 has to look hard at the roadside to find these cabins, once a place of rest for those who had made 300 miles a day and were weary, hungry, and ready to stop for the evening. Later that night male travelers would gather outside the cabins and compare notes about road conditions and weather, while the women would congregate in one of the units and chat. Only recently-married couples darken their cabins at an early evening hour.
Fill’er Up
            Of all the roadside structures erected during the golden age of two-lane highways, perhaps the most significant was the gas station. Gas stations and their architecture and design developed in a competitive market with the hopes of attracting the consumer through brand association. Indeed, the architecture of the gas station played a vital role in attracting the consumer.
            Initially, gasoline stations did not exist in the sense of featuring a curbside pump. Rather, workers filled gasoline containers and later transferred the gasoline to the automobile by hand. In 1905, a revolution took place in terms of gasoline dispensing as the Shell Oil Company opened its first true filling station in St. Louis, using a gravity-fed tank with a simple garden hose attached. In a few short years, the development of pumps made possible the first curbside stations. In their earliest years, these stations primarily existed in front of groceries, hardware stores, and other commonly-frequented businesses.
            Following the early success of the curbside pump, the gas station evolved into a dedicated structure featuring a shed-like profile. The shed housed offices and supplies, but this was anything but an aesthetically pleasing structure, and a call went out by civic-minded citizens for a more pleasing building. In response, houses developed as a compromise.
            These house-type stations, frequently prefabricated, were large enough to contain an office, storage rooms, and restrooms. They were made of brick, stucco, and galvanized steel, and thus were relatively easy to maintain. And they were very much characteristic of the new gas stations of the 1920s. For example, in 1922, more than 200 of the 1,841 Shell gas stations included common design aspects, and these 200 stations accounted for 40 percent of Shell’s business.
            During the 1920s the house and then the house with canopy style became popular. By 1925, most gasoline stations were equipped with grease pits and car washing facilities. These bays allowed the station to offer an increasing number of services, mainly minor repairs. Thus stations added to their business, and the filling station was transformed into a service station. Houses could easily be adapted to accompany one or several bays.
            The house gas station design suggested a bond with the American family, and Pure Oil Company capitalized on this notion. Pure designed a cottage-type station complete with a chimney, a gabled roof, and flower boxes on the windows.
            Perhaps the most influential gas station design appeared on the scene during the Great Depression. This design, called the oblong box, developed as companies searched for functionality in station design. This layout gave the company the ability to sell tires, batteries, and accessories, referred to as the TBA line.
            Generally, this design featured a flat roof, plate glass, and an inexpensive porcelain enamel-looking facing. The design was a loose example of the International style, inspired by Walter Gropius and his Bauhaus School in Germany after World War I. Most notably, Walter Dorning Teague, a designer hired by the Texaco Company, made the oblong box a feature found in virtually every corner of American life. The Architectural Record reported that Teague’s stations featured “certain primary functional requirements [that] were obvious, such as trademark and color standardization, efficient layout for sales and servicing, adequate office and restroom space.” In sum, the oblong box design met the physical need of adapting a structure to a variety of lots and the primary psychological needs of comfort and convenience to the customer. The house and oblong box gas stations characterized one facet in the development of roadside structures prior to World War II. Certainly the appearance of tourist cabins and then motels would reflect another view of changes in structures just beyond the highway.
Road Food
            In addition to the camps, cabins, and gas stations, restaurants were also integral to life along the road. It was in these distinctive eateries where bad, good, and indifferent “road food” was served, often with regional flavors and dishes. Many hungry travelers during the 1920s and 1930s gobbled hot dogs (frankfurters were the term preferred by hot dog king Gobel), Bar-B-Q sandwiches, Good Humor ice cream and Popsicles. If ever there was a food that typified America and its restless citizens on the go, it was the humble hot dog.34  
            And while the hot dog remains a popular meal at truck stops across America, where one can purchase jalapeno, regular, ballpark, or corn dogs, with the rise of the divided highways slowly but surely the distinctive meal was supplanted by chain restaurants and fast food. How that transition from the two- to four-lane highway happened in America is an interesting story. During the interwar years, most construction consisted of two-lane highways like Route 66, as seldom were divided highways even thought of. But between the wars, innovators began to articulate ideas concerning the advantages of divided highway designs.

Friday, October 24, 2014

The Lincoln Highway and Road Construction Before 1921

A Transcontinental Link: The Lincoln Highway
            With the increasing numbers of vehicles on the road, the level of talk concerning improved interstate roadways intensified. In 1911, Carl Graham Fischer, an Indianapolis businessman, promoter of the Indianapolis Speedway, and founder of Presto-Lite Company, first proposed building a hard-surfaced, coast-to-coast highway that he named the Lincoln Highway. The Lincoln Highway Association was organized in 1913, and its importance both in the short- and long-run was significant. Travel literature concerning the Lincoln Highway appeared long before the highway was completed and certainly became influential in terms of encouraging the general pubic to hit the road and find adventure.
            Effie Price Gladding’s Across the Continent by the Lincoln Highway certainly was an early example of this genre of writing, and provides a colorful travel account that curiously focuses on California while largely omitting much of the Midwest. For Price, the road trip had little danger and much romance. Price concluded that as a result of her trip, “We have a new conception of our great country; her vastness, her varied scenery, her prosperity, her happiness, her boundless resources, her immense possibilities, her kindness and hopefulness. We are bound to her by a thousand new ties of acquaintance, of association, and of pride.”12 And while automobile touring temporarily declined during World War I, it returned to Americans in 1919 who now had a “fever” to get back on the road. In fiction, Sinclair Lewis wrote of the adventures of Claire Boltwood in Free Air. Proper Ms. Boltwood escaped from her respectable life in Brooklyn by taking a cross-country road trip in a 70 horsepower Gomez-Dep roadster. Similar to Lewis’s fictional account, Beatrice Larner Massey penned an account of her 1919 tour with the title It Might Have Been Worse: A Motor Trip from Coast to Coast. Massey and her husband leased their home, put family business affairs in order, and left New York City in a Twin-Six Packard. A total of 4,154 miles and about $1,000 later, Mrs. Massey concluded, “This trip can be taken in perfect comfort by two people for thirteen dollars a day, including everything, which means that you are traveling as well as living. Not bad, considering the “H. C. of L. today!”13
            In a sense, the Lincoln Highway Association marked the emergence of the “road-gang,” an effective lobby group that for remainder of the twentieth century that shaped federal highway legislation through political and economic influence. In addition to Fischer, who later made a fortune in Florida real estate while promoting the Dixie Highway, other leaders with automobile industry connections included Roy D. Chapin, John N. Willys, Henry B. Joy, and Frank Sieberling. With substantial funding from General Motors, the Lincoln Highway Association was a precursor to the efforts of Alfred Sloan’s Highway Users’ Conference of the 1930s. Its relationship with the U.S. military during World War I and then with the First Transcontinental Army Convoy in 1919 ensured that its arguments for federal road funding in Western states were duly heard. Between 1913 and 1920, more than 2,000 miles of Lincoln Highway links would be built (U.S. 30 later on), but the cost and difficulties of local and state government jurisdictions led to the disbanding of the association once the landmark Federal Aid Roadway Act of 1921 was passed.14
Federal Legislation and the Gas Tax
This act had been preceded by the Good Roads Act of 1916, legislation that finally involved the federal government in road building. It remained an open question in 1916 whether efforts should be directed toward a system of arterial routes connecting major cities, or whether the farm population should be provided with better connections to surrounding communities. In the end, $75 million was appropriated for rural roads, only available if matched by the states. Since states like New York had previously raised $100 million through the sale of bonds, one can only conclude that this first piece of federal legislation was hardly adequate given the task at hand.15
            A year later the U.S. was at war, and it quickly became recognized that roads were necessary for national welfare. The rail system became gridlocked in the Northeast because of the shipping of war materials, and as a result it became increasingly clear that a coherent network of trunk highways was necessary. Truck convoys carrying war material to shipping points quickly damaged the roads that had been built, and thus new approaches were critical, not only to meet future national defense needs, but for the burgeoning number of automobiles that were increasingly on the road.

            Further measures were needed after WWI, since the 2 million vehicles of 1915 had exploded to 10 million by 1920. Federal action was forthcoming with the passage of the Federal Highway Act of 1921, which granted aid for the construction of both interstate and inter-county highways.16 Matching funds were allocated to the states according to population, area, and mileage of rural and mail routes. State highway departments became responsible for much of the maintenance of these new roads, but benefited from federal monies that supported construction at $15,000 per mile.

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

The Good Roads Movement

The Good Roads Movement
            Dirt paths, rutted country roads, rocky inclines, and railroad right of ways were challenges that faced Horatio Jackson in 1903 on his transcontinental trip and then countless others in the years that followed.6 Initially, these potential obstacles had little appeal for all but the most adventurous; if you wanted to go anywhere beyond the city limits, you faced the possibility of getting stuck in the mud, and to make things more tenuous, automobile tires were simply not very good in those early days.7 For the automobilist, puncture repair was as important a skill as shifting gears.
            The improved highway provided the common person with the unprecedented freedom to move beyond the narrow bounds of life, particularly for those living in the country. Without paved roads, the car would have had a limited impact on everyday activities, and a limited market appeal. The most discernible social impact of the automobile on American life took place along the highway, because it was there that gas stations, restaurants, auto camps, tourist cabins, and eventually motels were erected to serve ever-restless drivers and passengers.
            Complex forces that emerged toward the end of the nineteenth century ultimately forced road construction in the U.S. Key pressure groups consisted of organized bicyclists, farmers, rural postal delivery advocates, and automotive enthusiasts. As mentioned previously, the bicycle created an awareness of how flexible and convenient travel by road could be. The bicycling craze demonstrated just how bad American roads really were. Thoroughfares outside of major cities were almost always dirt paths, unmarked, and rarely maintained. As a result of these difficult conditions, bicyclists spearheaded a campaign for improved roads. Their chief lobby group was the League of American Wheelmen, formed in 1880 in Newport, Rhode Island, “to ascertain, defend, and protect the rights of wheelmen, to encourage and facilitate touring.” As part of this program, a good roads campaign was launched that in the end gained very limited success. In part, the campaign failed because the League of American Wheelmen had no national following, as a majority of its membership came from New York and Massachusetts and only 12% of its members lived in states west of New York. Also, while the bicycle was a boon to urban dwellers residing on flatlands, it had little utility for the farmer, and so initial attempts to create highway legislation were defeated.
            A second stream of activism concerning good roads surfaced by the 1890s, and that involved rural farmers. During the 1890s, there was a wave of agrarian discontent in America, in part fueled by railroad abuses that included high freight rates. Good roads meant more money for farmers transporting produce to the marketplace. Some populist leaders reasoned that perhaps highways could serve as alternatives to railroads, although at least in the south, the railroads recognized that roads fed into their transportation networks. Politicians clearly recognized their eroding population base and sought to arrest rural to urban migration. Furthermore, in southern states, patrician leaders argued that good roads could be constructed at minimal cost by employing convict labor. A booster in Virginia exclaimed that “History teaches that the best and most permanent roads constructed all over the world have been built by convict labor.”8 

As a result of this demand for more equitable transport, the National League of Good Roads was established in 1892. The group held a convention in Washington, D.C. a year later, and subsequently in 1893 the Office of Road Inquiry was established within the U.S. Department of Agriculture. This agency, with little funding to operate adequately given the task at hand, was responsible for collecting factual data on the nation’s highway system. Its 1904 road census was most revealing. The U.S. had 2,151,570 miles of highway, of which 153,662 miles, or 7 percent, could be classified as improved. Of this total, some 38,622 had a small stone surface, 108,233 had a gravel surface, and the rest was covered with sand, shell, and even some plank. Only 141 miles of roads could be considered acceptable for vehicle traffic (particularly in the light of the unreliable and frail autos of that day) – 123 miles of brick and 18 miles of asphalt.9
            Additionally, to placate farmers who felt they were cut off in terms of communications, particularly since the postal system was so well established, the first successful Rural Free Delivery system was established in and around Charleston, West Virginia. Soon many other communities followed.10 In sum, good roads were perceived by the politically astute as potentially slowing down rural to urban migration, possibly saving traditional folkways, and not incidentally, arresting the pace of shifts in voting patterns that this transition was causing.
            Of far more significance than the political pressures of bicyclists or farmers was the appearance of the automobile. The motor vehicle added to the pressure for road improvement, and indeed was an even stronger incentive than the bicycle, since it was a lot harder to extract a car stuck in the mud than a bicycle. And the fact that the automobile was an expensive item initially motivated the most wealthy and politically powerful group of Americans in having a personal interest in the Good Highway Movement.
            As automobile transportation grew rapidly in the decade after 1902, there were clear signs that farmers would embrace the automobile as much as city folk. The American Automobile Association was founded in 1902 to lobby for motorists. This group held a joint Good Roads Convention with the National Grange in 1907. It would be only a year later that the Model T appeared. Perhaps never was there a machine that did more to initiate change, both social and economic. If the automobile boom was to continue to flourish, surely good roads had to be constructed.

            One example of the nature of early roads and road maps can be gleaned by reading the Arizona Good Roads Association Illustrated Road Maps and Tour Book, published in 1913.11 The tour book was a costly and time-consuming endeavor on the part of boosters to depict the new state as a progressive place with considerable economic opportunities. Detailed maps listed mountains and hills, crooked roads, grades, water, bridges, railroad tracks, buildings, telegraph, telephone, and power lines, rivers and washes, and most importantly accurate mileage between points.