American Road: The Story of an Epic Transcontinental Journey at the Dawn of the Motor Age

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"On July 7, 1919, an extraordinary cavalcade of military motor vehicles set off from the White House on an epic journey. Their goal was California, and ahead lay 3,250 miles of dirt, mud, rock, and sand. Stretching more than two miles long, the convoy included trucks, cars, motorcycles, ambulances, machine shops, and mobile kitchens. All told, there were eighty-one vehicles and nearly three hundred men. Two months later they arrived in San Francisco, having averaged just five miles an hour. Known as the First Transcontinental Motor Train, this
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American Road: The Story of an Epic Transcontinental Journey at the Dawn of the Motor Age

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Overview

"On July 7, 1919, an extraordinary cavalcade of military motor vehicles set off from the White House on an epic journey. Their goal was California, and ahead lay 3,250 miles of dirt, mud, rock, and sand. Stretching more than two miles long, the convoy included trucks, cars, motorcycles, ambulances, machine shops, and mobile kitchens. All told, there were eighty-one vehicles and nearly three hundred men. Two months later they arrived in San Francisco, having averaged just five miles an hour. Known as the First Transcontinental Motor Train, this trip was an adventure, a circus, a public-relations coup, and a war game all rolled into one. As road conditions worsened it also became a daily battle of sweat and labor, guts and determination." American Road is the story of this incredible journey. Proposed by the government to crystallize the need for good roads, the motor train had among its participants a young officer named Dwight Eisenhower. Having just missed the war in Europe, and looking for an adventure, Ike signed on at the last minute for a trip that would profoundly influence his life. Four decades later, as president, he launched the building of the interstate highway system.
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Editorial Reviews

From Barnes & Noble
Dwight Eisenhower was among the nearly 300 military men who left the White House in July 1919 and drove west in a ragtag caravan of motor vehicles. The goal of the First Transcontinental Motor Train? To prove that the nation needed better roads.
From the Publisher

“Davies recounts these treacherous travels in a brisk and readable style . . . he has put history, sociology, politics, and human nature into well-tuned balance.” —The Boston Globe

“Thoroughly absorbing and often amusing . . . American Road is a fascinating social history of a vanished age and of America’s breathtakingly swift transformation into a mobilized society.” —Bill Bryson, A Book-of-the-Month Club Judge’s Selection

“A first-rate story.” —Richmond Times Dispatch

“A crackerjack book, a dandy slice of Americana . . . Davies has researched and written well. His anecdotes do not merely amuse, but also illustrate the points being made.” —Chicago Sun-Times

Publishers Weekly
In his newest book, Davies (Inside the Hurricane; The Devil's Flu) offers a play-by-play account of the 1919 cross-country military caravan that doubled as a campaign for the Lincoln Highway (so named for the one Republican the corporate leaders of the day figured most Americans would embrace). The potential here is extraordinary. Using the progress of the caravan and the metaphor of paving toward the future versus stagnating in the mud, Davies touches on the industrial and social factors that developed the small and mid-sized towns that line the highways and byways of the nation. But instead of allowing the story of the caravan to anchor a series of more engaging essays on the people, politics and development of the lands it connects, the author insists on a day-to-day narrative of breakdowns, muddy roads and ice cream socials (the convoy left just days after Prohibition became law). Officers attend fancy dinners, enlisted men "dance with local girls," and the arrival of two miles' worth of dusty and cantankerous machinery is the greatest moment in every life in every town. Eisenhower, a future military legend and U.S. president, makes an early cameo as a young, frustrated officer who takes part in the convoy in the hopes of reinvigorating a stalled army career. Even this little twist fails to engage the reader, as Ike becomes yet another faceless character in a tale paced not unlike the caravan it chronicles slow. Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
From prolific and eclectic British author Davies (The Devil's Flu), the story of a US Army convoy's struggle in 1919 to drive from Washington, D.C., to San Francisco. Davies draws on his own experiences driving through the American Midwest (Storm Country) as he chronicles the Army's first transcontinental motor convoy. Its purpose, he asserts, was to show the practicability of moving military equipment and personnel across the continent. Watching the convoy's progress with keen interest were automobile pioneers like Henry Joy and Frank Seiberling, who hoped that the publicity surrounding the trip would generate government enthusiasm for improving the nascent Lincoln Highway, thereby sharpening the American appetite for automobiles. As the convoy wound its way across the country, it became apparent that private funding could not maintain the road. Everywhere the convoy stopped, according to the author, civic groups pandered to the officers in hopes they would recommend much-needed highway funding for their communities. The commander, Lieutenant Colonel Charles McClure, found the route so bad that the army vehicles destroyed scores of flimsy bridges and reduced Utah and Nevada's muddy roads to impassable quagmires. Davies concludes that the convoy achieved more than establishing the feasibility of military traffic crossing the country; it also prompted the state and national governments to begin funding road construction, ensured the health of the American motor industry for years to come, and contributed to the development of a national highway system. A bit too tepid for a general audience, but readers with an interest in the interwar US military or the history of the American motor industry will find it useful.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780805072976
  • Publisher: Holt, Henry & Company, Inc.
  • Publication date: 5/1/2003
  • Edition description: First Edition
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 288
  • Product dimensions: 5.52 (w) x 8.36 (h) x 0.80 (d)

Meet the Author

Pete Davies is the author of a number of critically acclaimed works of nonfiction, including Inside the Hurricane and The Devil's Flu. He lives in West Yorkshire, England.

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