Adventures on the Old Lincoln Highway

Let's Talk Rusty Iron: The Lincoln Highway Association's official road guide offered encouragement, maps and adice for exciting cross-country drives in early days of motoring.

| March 2008

I've always been interested in the Lincoln Highway and have actually driven many sections of the old route from eastern Pennsylvania to western Nebraska. I recently bought a neat little book titled The Complete Official Road Guide of the Lincoln Highway.

Published in 1916 by the Lincoln Highway Association, the guide gives the background of the highway's establishment, describes the route and gives the prospective traveler some do's and don'ts, as well as a list of the equipment, supplies and clothing that should be taken on a cross country drive. Along with a map of the old Lincoln Highway route, the guide gives a detailed town-by-town (through much of Utah and Nevada the route is from ranch to ranch) description, starting in New York City and ending in San Francisco.

Speed limits varied, with Ohio at 20 mph and Pennsylvania at 24 mph, while New Jersey, Indiana, Illinois and Iowa all allowed 25 mph. West of Iowa, no speed limits are mentioned, although the condition of the roads probably was such that going much over 20 mph was impossible anyway.

H.C. Ostermann, field secretary of the Lincoln Highway Association, assured readers that "The entire expense of a car and four passengers from New York to San Francisco, a distance of 3,331 miles via the Lincoln Highway, should not at any time exceed $5 a day per passenger (about $104 in 2012). This sum will include everything except tire expense and unforeseen accidents. In it I have included gasoline, oil and all provisions, but have not figured the repairs to the car caused by breakage or wear."

Ostermann goes on to say "If we assume that the tourist encounters perfect weather entirely across the country, absolutely no difficulties may be considered. Practically the only difficulties at present are the result of unfavorable weather conditions. This is due to the fact that so much of the road is yet natural dirt highway, and a season of unusual rainfall inevitably makes driving difficult. The transcontinental motorist should heed the advice that when it rains in the middle west or west, the thing to do is to stop at a comfortable hotel, and not attempt to continue the journey until the rainy spell is over, and the roads have had a day or two to dry up. You will make more progress in the end, and you will be saved many disagreeable experiences. It is hard work driving across Illinois, Iowa or Nebraska during or just following heavy rains."

As for the time required to follow the whole length of the Lincoln Highway, Ostermann writes: "The usual pleasure party can make the trip in 20 to 30 days, driving approximately 10 hours per day. This estimate means that about 18 mph must be averaged during the driving time. It is possible, of course, for many long stretches to greatly exceed this speed. The wide open stretches of the west, where small traffic is encountered, enables the driver to make any speed of which the car is capable."