Lincoln Highway

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From Wyoming Tales and Trails

This page: Lincoln Highway, Bosler, Henry Joy, Rock River, the Rise and Fall of the First National Bank of Rock River.



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Road building equipment, Bosler, approx. 1908

Eighteen miles to the northwest of Laramie is Bosler. Road conditions to a great extent are dictated by the equipment available for road construction. The horse-drawn grader was not atypical. Indeed, the above photo was a promotional postcard by the Tallmadge-Buntin Company to indicate what strides they were making in their devlopment of the area.

By 1924, the Lincoln Highway Association described the road from Laramie to Bosler as being a "good gravel" road. Bosler, itself, with a population of 75, was described as:

"One railroad crossing at grade, not protected. One Railroad, 3 general business places, express company, telephone, one newspaper, two public schools. Good hunting and fishing. Camp site."


Church, Bosler, undated.

Ninteen miles west of Bosler the traveler came to Rock River.


Rock River, 1910

In 1917, the Ohio Oil Company which had earlier explored for oil at Grass Creek, Ten Sleep, and in the Lance Creek area turned its attention to an area about 12 1/2 miles south-west of Rock River on the British-owned Cooper Ranch. There, in conjunction with the Continental Oil Company, in May 1918 the first well came in. Suddently, prosperity came to Rock River. At the site of the well field, a new oil camp originally called "Ohio City" arose. In 1920, the oil camp was renamed McFadden after the Rocky Mountain field superintendent for the Ohio Oil Co, John "Uncle Jack" McFadyen. In Rock River, the two-story Lincoln Hotel was constructed. The hotel building is still in existence as a private residence. The Bishop Land Company laid out a plat for a commercial district. The town had three banks, the Citizens' State Bank of Rock River, the Rock River State Bank, and the First National Bank of Rock River. An insignia for the town's success was the First National constructed in 1919 and housed in a building that looked like a Greek temple with Ionic columns and Doric pilasters. The town was governed by leading businessmen. The treasurer, H. A. Thompson, was the chief shareholder in the Rock River Mercantile. He was also the chief stockholder in the First National Bank. The town's mayor, Lewis C. Bishop, was the cashier of the Rock River State Bank and later the vice-president of the First National Bank. The town floated through the mayor's bank a bond issue to acquire a water system. All looked rosy for the town's future.


First National Bank of Rock River

Prosperity for the town government was short-lived. The town, however, always seemed to be short of money. Unbeknownst to the Town Council, two of the banks, the First National Bank and the Rock River State Bank were in very bad shape. The two merged. To cover shortfalls at the bank, Mayor Bishop engaged in kiting of the town's and school board's warrants, selling them to other banks after the two governmental units had redeemed them. To cover the misappropriations of the town's warrants, he took proceeds from the water system bonds. Addtionally, Mayor Bishop was selling notes to a bank in Laramie without required guarantees. When the bank in Laramie complained, Bishop stalled. Additionally, the mercantile was financially shakey. Thompson was borrowing money from his brother in Kansas to cover complaints from dissatisfied shareholders of the mercantile. Rather than keeping the money in the bank, he allegedly kept it in a safe in his bedroom. In April, 1923, the bank failed. In the words of Judge Percy Metz, "the town woke up, 'poorer but wiser' * * * and found that a 'J. Rufus Wallingford' had been operating in their midst." J. Rufus Wallingford was the cenral character in a popular series of novels by George Rudolph Chester. Wallingford was a con artist who, among other thngs, loaned persons their own money.


Rock River, approx. 1920

A flury of lawsuits ensued. See Albany Nat. Bank of Laramie v. Dodge, 285 P. 790 (1930); Petters & Co. v. Town of Rock River, 260 P. 674 (1927); Neiderjohn v. Thompson, 264 P. 699 (1928); Petters & Co. v. School Dist. No. 5, Albany County, 260 P. 678 (1927). Although Mayor Bishop and Thompson were the precipitating cause of the town's embarrassment, Bishop and Thompson were not included in one of the lawsuits. Thompson had filed for bankruptcy. The judge noted that the mayor was not included in the suit because Bishop was "insolvent and a nonresident." Indeed, Mayor Bishop at the time was residing in the Colorado State Penitentiary after having been convicted in federal court for misappropriation of funds. Today, the former First National Bank building is owned by the town which now has a population of less than 200.

1924 Map, Laramie to Ft. Steele

In 1912, Henry Joy, one of the promotors of the Lincoln Highway Association, drove a Packard across the continent and literally had to tear down barbed wire fences outside of Omaha in order to proceed. Even then, after he reached the prairie, the "highway" consisted of nothing but ruts. Indeed, not withstanding the declaration of the Lincoln Highway in 1914, it remained a "highway" more in the imagination of its promoters, rather than an actuality. Carl Fisher, Joy's partner in the formation of the Lincoln Highway Association and a master of understatement, noted:

"The tourist must be prepared to put up with a few inconveniences. At no point is the distance between ranches or towns greater than 80 miles or so. No real hardships nor dangers which would make the trip disagreeable to women will be encountered."

The following year, however, Joy, in 1915, was able to drive from Detroit to San Francisco in only 21 days. A. L. Westgard in Motor Magazine,"Motor Routes to the California Expositions," March 1915, observed:

Owing to the recent improvement of the transcontinental routes, it is no longer necessary to load one's car down with all sorts of paraphernalia to combat the many difficulties which formerly were strewed along the path, nor is it, in this day of dependable motor cars, necessary to carry a multiplicity of parts. Still it is well to outfit with a reasonably limited equipment to provide against mud, possible breakdowns and climatic changes.

And just what was the "reasonably limited equipment" needed to traverse the improved highway?

To begin with, limit your personal outfit to a minimum, allowing only a suitcase to each person, and ship your trunk. Use khaki or old loose clothing. Some wraps and a tarpaulin to protect you against cool nights and provide cover in the case of being compelled to sleep outdoors are essential. Amber glasses, not too dark, will protect your eyes against the glare of the desert. You will, of course, want a camera, but remember that the high lights of the far west will require a smaller shutter opening and shorter exposure than the eastern atmosphere.

Carry sixty feet of 5/8-inch Manila rope, a pointed spade, small axe with the blade protected by a leather sheet, a camp lantern, a collapsible canvas bucket with spout and a duffle bag for the extra clothing and wraps. Start out with new tires all around, of the same size if possible, and two extra tires also, with four extra inner tubes. Select a tire with tough fabric; this is economical and will save annoyance. Use only the best grade of lubricating oil and carry a couple of one-gallon cans on running-board as extra supply, because you may not always be able to get the good oil you ought to use.

And, mark this well, carry two three-gallon canvas desert waterbags, then see that they are filled each morning. Give your car a careful inspection each day for loose bolts or nuts and watch grease cups and oilcups. Carry two sets of chains and two jacks, and add to your usual tool equipment a coil of soft iron wire, a spool of copper wire and some extra spark plugs.

West of the Missouri carry a small commissary of provisions, consisting of canned meat, sardines, crackers, fresh fruit or canned pineapples and some milk chocolate for lunches. The lack of humidity in the desert sections, combined with the prevalence of hard water west of the Missouri River is liable to cause the hair to become dry and to cause chaps and blisters on the face and hands as well as cause the fingernails to become brittle and easily broken. To prevent this, carry a jar of outing cream and a good hair cleanser. Use them every night.

In actuality the 1916 Complete Official Road Guide to the Lincoln Highway after promising the intrepid motorist an "easy" drive of ten hours a day, averaging 18 m.p.h., indicated a lttle extra equipment beyond that suggested by Westgard was needed. The extra equipment included 2 sets of tire chains, 6 extra cross chains, 1 set of chain tightener springs, 2 jacks, 3 extra spark plugs, 1 extra valve and spring, and 1 upper and lower radiator connections. The guide cautioned, "In sleeping on the ground, dig a trench or shallow indentation across the bed location for the hips."


Rock River, 1917.

The Official Guide described Rock River as having a population of 200 and having among others one hotel, 1 garage, 1 bank and 9 general business places. The local speed limit was 15 miles per hour, enforced. The route was marked through the town.


Rock River, 1930's

In contrast in 1939, Austin Bement, Joy's companion on the 1915 trip, was able to drive a new Hupp Skylark over the same route with a driving time of 59 hours 40 minutes, with an average speed of 46.26 mph. Bement, then an advertising executive, indicated that the 101 hp. Hupp engine, "floated us through very high speeds."


Rock River, Mac's 24-Hour Service Station, approx. 1950.

In 1919, the highway received additional support from a tour by Lt. Col. Dwight D. Eisenhower who almost 40 years later provided the impetus for the Interstate Highway System. Eisenhower's convoy took 62 days to cross the continent. He complained of the roads:

The dirt roads of Iowa are well graded and are good in dry weather; but would be impossible in wet weather. In Nebraska, the first real sand was encountered, and two days were lost in western part of this state due to bad, sandy, roads. Wyoming roads west of Cheyenne are poor dirt ones, broken through by the train. The desert roads in the southwest portion of this state are very poor.

In western Utah, on the Salt Lake Desert, the road becomes almost impassable to heavy vehicles. From Orr's Ranch, Utah, to Carson City, Nevada, the road is one succession of dust, ruts, pits, and holes. This stretch was not improved in any way, and consisted only of a track across the desert. At many points on the road, water is twenty miles distant, and parts of the road are ninety miles from the nearest railroad.

Eisenhower noted the difference in vehicles, having high praise for the Packard trucks and nothing but condemnation for the Garfords. He noted that the Mack trucks with chain drive were unsuitable for the sand, and the Cadilac touring car required a timing chain and the carburetors needed adjustment in the mountains. In contrast to the two months that Army required to cross the continent, the previous year private enterprise was able make the trip in considerably less time. In 1918, the Goodyear Tire and Rubber Company's "Wingfoot Express" using Packard Series E three-ton trucks made the crossing in 14 days. Unfortunately, some 36 out of 56 wooden bridges in Wyoming gave way under the weight of the heavy Packards. [Writer's personal note: In high school, the writer had a similar experience when a bridge gave way while the writer was crossing in a 5,000 lb. Packard.]


Rock River, 1921

To the left is Miller's Drug Store, in center is the Rock River Pool Hall also providing baths, and to right is the hotel. The Town of Rock River is on Rock Creek. The seperate town of Rock Creek was originally a terminus of the stage route to Junction City Montana. The Railroad moved the train stop to Rock River and Rock Creek faded away.

Next: Rock Creek.