SWEETWATER COUNTY — The Sweetwater County Historical Museum drew attention to the pending anniversary of the U.S. Army’s 1919 transcontinental motor convoy. While crossing the United States from Washington, D.C., to San Francisco — ultimately a source of inspiration for the Interstate Highway System — it passed through Sweetwater County.
The convoy’s mission was multifaceted, but its basic goal was to test equipment and determine the feasibility of motorized cross-country travel. Eighty-one vehicles and trailers, including heavy cargo trucks, light trucks, water tankers, mobile machine shops, an artillery wheeled tractor, cars and motorcycles, manned by 24 officers and 258 enlisted men, covered the 3,200-plus miles from coast to coast in 62 days, sometimes moving at little better than a jogging pace. Among the convoy’s officers was a future U.S. president, 29-year-old Lt. Col. Dwight D. Eisenhower.
A century ago, road conditions west of the Mississippi were primitive. What would become the Lincoln Highway, U.S. Highway 30, and Interstate 80 in the west were often little more than series of dirt roads, rutted wagon trails, and abandoned railbeds. Breakdowns were constant, and bridges — 14 in Wyoming alone — frequently had to be strengthened or repaired, according to the museum.
The convoy left Washington on July 7, 1919, and entered Wyoming a month later, on Aug. 8. In Cheyenne, the men were treated to a rodeo at Frontier Park. On Aug. 13, the convoy reached Sweetwater County.
As noted in its official log: “At Creston Station a Class B truck slipped off the road and was helped back by another Class B ... near Latham Station (about 5.5 miles west of present-day Creston Junction), Class B water tanker No. 80216 ran off road on abandoned railroad grade and rolled over 270 degrees, resting on left side. It was righted by 2 Class B’s, and proceeded under its own power in 20 min.”
At Wamsutter, the convoy made numerous repairs and, 3 miles from Tipton, a mobile blacksmith vehicle sheared through a bridge’s floor planks and “narrowly averted” dropping into 12-foot ravine. That night the party camped on Red Desert on barren, sandy plain. There were no inhabitants or buildings other than railroad personnel and property and the nearest natural water supply was 16 miles, according to records.
The next day, the convoy stopped for lunch at Point of Rocks, and proceeded from there to Rock Springs. The log noted, “The intensely dry air, absence of trees and green vegetation, and parched appearance of the landscape exerted depressing influence on personnel.”
The night of Aug. 14 was spent in Green River. At Granger, “a doubtful bridge” about 60 feet long was successfully passed by using “great care.”
The convoy’s next stop was Fort Bridger. Three weeks later, it reached Oakland and was ferried across the Golden Gate to San Francisco.
Nearly 40 years later, President Eisenhower championed the Federal Aid Highway Act of 1956, which created the Interstate Highway System. Today, it features about 50,000 miles of interstate roadways nationwide. There is little doubt that Eisenhower’s participation in the 1919 convoy was a powerful influence in shaping his views on long distance motorized travel and transport.
An article about the 1919 convoy by Lori Van Pelt can be found at www.wyohistory.org/encyclopedia/eisenhowers-1919-road-trip-and-interstate-highway-system.
In 2019, the Lincoln Highway Association is hosting a cross-country tour to commemorate the convoy’s 100th anniversary from Aug. 31 to Sept. 16. In addition, the LHA will host its annual conference in Sweetwater County on June 18-21. For more details, go to www.lincolnhighwayassoc.org.