Lincoln Highway

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From Wyoming Tales and Trails

This page: Lincoln Highway, Telephone Canyon and Laramie, The Great Race of 1908, the Coast to Coast Race of 1909, "Somewhere West of Laramie."



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Lincon Highway through Telephone Canyon, undated, photo by Henning Svenson

Just to the west of the Summit Tavern, the motorist began the descent down into Laramie via Telephone Canyon. The canyon was named as a result of it being the route followed by the first telephone line from Cheyenne to Laramie in 1882. Initially, the Lincoln Highway ran from Cheyenne to Tie Siding. Soon, however, proposals for relocation of the highway to a route from Laramie to Cheyenne either via Happy Jack Road or via Telephone Canyon began to be considered. Telephone Canyon had the advantage of saving six miles between the two cities. The Lion's club advocated a route which they labeled the "Lions Trail." And in the debate, just as Denver attempted to divert traffic, merchants along by-passed routes were not above misleading motorists. The kLaramie Republican, July 20, 1920, reported rumors that tourists were being misdircted away from Laramie by a garage in Tie Siding:

It seems that the garage at Tie Siding has been instructing toursts to take the road through boswell's and North park, instead of the Lincoln highway, alleging that the hihway was in terrible condition nead Medicine Bow. Such rports are untrue, as the Conceil of Industry has ascertained that the Lincoln highway out of Medicine Bow has been repaired and a crew is now leveling of all rough spots.
As the travel will fron now on come through Telephone canyon, it is not considered that tourists will be further misdirected.

The disadvantage of the Telephone Canyon Route, however, was that it required the motorist to descent 1,669 feet in a distance of nine miles. In the 1920's, automobiles were primarily fitted with two-wheel, mechanical brakes. Thus, the descent was a challenge. The grade was, additionally, only 16 feet wide. It was not until about 1922 that the grade was widened to twenty-four feet. Indeed, even as late as the late 1930's motorists heading west were warned of blind curves and to keep their machines in gear.The speed limit down the canyon as late as 1938 was thirty-five mile an hour.


Lincon Highway through Telephone Canyon, undated, photo by Henning Svenson

Even today, I-80 follows this approxminate rougt with a 5% grade over a five mile distance. Thus, in winter, the route can be a wee bit hairy.


Lincon Highway through Telephone Canyon, 1929, photo by Henning Svenson

In Laramie, according to the 1916 Official Road Guide to the Lincoln Highway, one had a choice. One could continue on the Lincoln Highway west on Grand Avenue and turn north on 3rd Street, thence proceed north across the Laramie River near Bosler, 18 miles to the northwest. Alternatively, one could take an 18-mile shorter, more direct, route to Elk Mountain. The only difficulty with the more direct route was that one would have to open [and close] 32 gates along the way.

The Lincoln Highway brought increased traffic into the state and indirectly led to the bringing of the expression "Somewhere west of Laramie" into the language with Ned Jordan's Saturday Evening Post ad of June 23, 1923, below right. The ad forever changed motor car advertising although the car, itself, was less than distinctive and ceased production before the 1929 crash. The text of the ad was regarded as quite daring for the time:

Somewhere West of Laramie

Somewhere west of Laramie there's a bronco-busting, steer-roping girl who knows what I am talking about. She can tell what a sassy pony that's a cross between greased lightning and the place where it hits, can do with eleven hundred pounds of steel and action when he's going high, wide and handsome. The Truth is--the Playboy was built for her.

The ad was supposedly composed on a train crossing the Laramie Plains when a girl on a horse racing the train attracted Jordan's attention.

As illustrated by the above photos, the Lincoln Highway remained, however, for the most part dirt or gravel well into the 1920's. In the early 1920's, the 80 mile trip from Evanston to Salt Lake City still took an entire day over a washboard surface and in the winter horse-drawn sleighs were still necessary. As illustrated by the next photo, the highway was, however, a big improvement over the earlier roads.

In 1907, a Paris newspaper, Le Matin, sponsored an automobile race from Pekin to Paris. As a result of the race's success, an around the world race was sponsored the next year by the Le Matin and the New York Times. As originally envisioned, the entrants would proceed from New York to the west coast, north to Alaska, across the ice to Siberia, and onwards to Paris. Ultimately, the cars were shipped by steamer to Russia via Japan and the Alaska leg was skipped. On Lincoln's Birthday, 1908, an estimated 250,000 gathered in Times Square to see the six entrants off, each with driver and several on-board mechanics. Entering the race were a Thomas Flyer (U.S), a Zust (It.), a Protos (Ger.), a De Dion (Fr.), a Motobloc (Fr.), and a Sizaire-Naudin (Fr.). The Sizaire-Naudin broke down before reaching Albany. Near Chicago, the Thomas was bogged down in snowdrifts, some as high as 30 feet. In one instance it took ten horses to pull out the Thomas. The Motobloc broke down in Omaha and was shipped to Seattle by train but was disqualified. In Grand Island, Neb., the De Dion was delayed by two days because of a broken shaft. It made up for lost time by making the 6 miles from Gibbon to Shelton in only 9 minutes. Although in the countryside the going was slow because of the gumbo quality of the roads, in towns schools would be let out as the vehicles and their pilot cars flew by at the astounding speed of 25 mph. The first to reach Cheyenne was the Thomas.


Entrant into Great Race, west of Cheyenne, with Studebaker pilot car foreground, March 1908.

The above scene appears to be somewhere between Buford Station and Tie Siding. The road is not atypical. Montague Roberts, the Thomas driver, described some roads as being tracks of "fresh cooked molasses candy." The vehicles of the "Great Race" were not, however, the first to traverse the continent. In 1903, George Wyman drove from San Francisco to New York on a motorbike. In the very same area he got stuck in the gumbo and had to secure a team of horses to pull the 90 pound bike out of the mire. Indeed, the mire was so thick that the bike was stuck bolt upright and did not fall over. Wyman described the mud:

Down at the bottom I struck gumbo mud, and it stuck me. Gumbo is the mud they use in plastering the crevices of log louses. It has the consistency of stale mucilage and when dry is as hard as flint. It sticks better than most friends and puts mucilage to shame. When you step in it on a grassy spot and lift your foot the grass comes up by the roots. My wheel stood alone in the gumbo whenever I wanted to rest, and that was pretty often. Every time I shoved the bicycle ahead a length I had to clean the mud off the wheels before they would turn over again. I kept this up until finally I reached a place where I could not move the bicycle another foot. It sunk into the gluey muck so that I could not shove it either forward or backward.

In 1909, Alice Huyler Ramsey, the 22-year old president of the Women's Motoring Club of New York, followed the same route in a Maxwell-Briscoe. In Cheyenne she engaged the services of a pilot car to guide her to Laramie. The pilot car got stuck and had to be pulled out with the Maxwell.

Automobilists, Thornburg Ave., Laramie, 1911, looking west.

The cars in the Great Race would generally follow roads paralleling the railroad. Onward through Wyoming the cars progressed along a route that later became U.S. 30 to Salt Lake City. In Salt Lake City, the Protos broke down and was shipped by train to Seattle for the repairs. The remaining vehicles proceeded on to San Francisco and then shipped to Seattle. From Seattle the cars were shipped by Steamer to Kyoto and from there to Vladivostok, where the cars resumed their trek across Siberia following the Trans-Siberia Railroad to St. Petersburg. The first to reach Boulevard Poissoniere [Fishwife Boulevard] in Paris was the Protos on July 26, followed by the Thomas on July 30, and the Zust on Sept. 17. The Thomas was, however, declared to be the winner with the Protos being penalized by 30 days for taking the train to Seattle.

The following year, 1909, M. Robert Guggenheim, heir to the Guggenheim fortune, sponsored another race from New York to Seattle, ostensibly to assist the "good roads" movement. Entrants were two factory sponsored Fords, a factory Acme, a factory Shawmut, a Stearns owned by Oscar Stolp who drove notwithstanding the opposition of the Stearns Motor Company, and an Italia owned by Guggenheim. Guggenheim did not drive himself, but instead hired a professional crew. Guggenheim proceeded on to Seattle where, among other things, he received a speeding ticket for driving a high-powered automobile. In the east, speed limits were strictly enforced and the cars were limited to various speeds of less than 20 mph. As an example, between Syracuse and Buffalo, N.Y., the speed limit was 15 mph. West of St. Louis, however, there were no speed limits.


Thornburg Ave., Laramie, 1910

On June 1, five of the entrants were off, following a lead escort of New York policemen on bicycles, all the way to the city limits. The Stearns followed four days later, but perhaps proving the wisdom of Stearns' opposition to the race, broke down only 24 miles out of the city. The Fords weighed only one-fourth the weight of the other cars and had been stripped of all excess weight, including windshields, back seats, and tops. Indeed, they consisted of little more than a chassis and seats. While the other cars had a crew of three or four, the Fords relied on local dealers for maintenance and as guides and, thus, bore only a driver and relief driver, saving even more weight. Indeed, the Fords were so light that when they got stuck, the drivers merely picked the cars up and put boards under the wheels, while the others would require horses to pull them out of the mire. Local Ford dealers acted as guides for the Fords, while the Acme, the Shawmut, and the Italia were repeatedly delayed by getting lost on the unmarked roads. Ford apparently left nothing to chance. The drivers of the Acme and the Shawmut complained bitterly that Ford had, among other things, bribed a ferry operator to delay the Shawmut and had illegally changed an engine and made other repairs. In Wyoming and Utah, the Shawmut and the Fords ran neck and neck. On June 23, Ford No. 2 arrived in Seattle, followed 17 hours later by the Shawmut, the next day by the other Ford, and a week later by the Acme. Guggenheim's Italia dropped out in Cheyenne. Ford immediately started an a publicity campaign advertising that its winnimg vehicle was a "standard stock car and exact duplicate" of Model T's available at local dealers. Five months later, unpublicized, the Ford was disqualified because of rule violations and the Shawmut declared the winner. Years later a mechanic for Ford admitted that an overeager local Ford dealer may have changed the engine when the mechanic wasn't looking.

Next: Bosler and Rock River.