Monday, November 03, 2008

Ike, Roads, Archives, and My Grandparents

The National Archives has an RSS feed of a daily document from their files. (Three days ago it was a photo of John and Caroline Kennedy visiting their father in the Oval Office. ) Today it is this:
Dated November 3, 1919, this is Lt. Col. Dwight D. Eisenhower’s report on the Transcontinental Motor Convoy. Setting out from Washington, DC, on July 7, 1919, the Convoy was a test by the U.S. War Department to see if the country’s roads could handle long-distance movements of mechanized army units. Eisenhower’s experience during the expedition would later play a role in his support of the National Interstate and Defense Highways Act of 1956 while President.
Ike apparently found the roads to be terrible. I was struck by this, because some letters of my grandparents to my aunt (then a missionary in China) reported on their travels from Minneapolis to upstate New York (my father's farm) and back. They drove, ministers then being somewhat higher on the socio-economic order than mainstream Protestants are today, they owned a car. And they preferred it to taking the train, so it couldn't have been too bad. Of course, in those days civilization, as represented by the cities in the American and National baseball leagues, was north of the Mason-Dixon line and east of the Mississippi. And the roads connected civilization--once Ike got into the Plains states, it was a tough slog.

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