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The National Old Trails Road Part 3

not3.pdf (1.76 MB)

Promoting the Road During a War

Richard F. Weingroff

Setting The Stage

President Woodrow Wilson was up for reelection in 1916.  While many issues would be raised during the campaign, one overall concern was whether the United States would enter the war in Europe that had begun in August 1914.  The issues that resulted in the war seemed far removed from America’s concerns, but nevertheless affected many aspects of life, including international travel.  German U-boats continued to sink ships in Atlantic waters, a threat that had been most dramatically illustrated on May 7, 1915.  On that date, a German U-boat sank the RMS Lusitania when it was only 11 miles off the coast of Ireland.  As the luxury ship sank, 1,198 people died, including 128 Americans. 

President Wilson and the Department of State worked through diplomatic channels with the German government to reduce the threat to American shipping and lives, but whether an agreement could be reached remained uncertain in 1916.  While the President would campaign in the fall on keeping America out of the war, the threat of war prompted many organizations to think about how their interest could benefit from preparations for American entry into the Great War.

The Good Roads Movement was no exception.

By 1916, the automobile was transforming the country (population:  91.6 million).  The U.S. Office of Public Roads and Rural Engineering (OPRRE) stated in 1915:

During the past 10 years the State registration of motor cars, including commercial vehicles, has increased 5,000 per cent or from 48,000 in 1906 to 2,445,664 in 1915.  The motor vehicle has not only developed at an astonishing rate as a factor in transportation, but has in an equally remarkable development served to augment very materially our revenues for road purpose.  Thus, while in 1906, less than three-tenths of 1 per cent of the total rural road and bridge expenditures in the United States was derived from the motor-vehicle revenues, nearly 7 per cent was secured from this source in 1915. [Automobile Registrations, Licenses, and Revenues in the United States, 1915, Division of Road Economics, Office of Public Roads and Rural Engineering, Office of the Secretary, U.S. Department of Agriculture, Circular No. 59, page 1]

(In a reorganization of the Department of Agriculture intended to put all engineering activities in one place, rural engineering activities, such as drainage and construction of farm buildings, were added by the Department’s appropriation act for 1916 to the Office of Public Roads (OPR) on July 1, 1915, creating OPRRE.)

In 1908, Henry Ford had introduced the Model T, which was built for the rough rural roads of its era but was sold at a low price that made it affordable for people who previously could only dream of owning a motor car.  Demand for the Model T was so great that Ford, in 1910, began transitioning to mass production techniques that would soon be adopted throughout the industry and spread to other fields.  In 1909, Ford sold 10,609 vehicles; in 1916, Ford would sell nearly 600,000 Model Ts.  Historian Douglas Brinkley explained the impact:

In large part due to the Model T’s electrifying effect on the car-buying public, in 1914 the automobile business was by far the fastest-growing industry in the country.  In 1913, it had been the 7th largest; fifteen years before that it had ranked a distant 50th.  Total production across the country had grown by 28 percent from 1912 to 1913 alone.  Even that was but a gust of wind compared with the gale blowing through Ford:  in the same year, its production increased by a full 100 percent.  [Brinkley, Douglas, Wheels for the World:  Henry Ford, His Company, and a Century of Progress, Viking, 2003, pages 185-186]

Revenue from automobile taxes had increased as well, with much of it applied to road improvement.  New York, the first State to collect vehicle taxes, took in $954 in the first year, 1901.  By 1916, the States were collecting over $18 million, with about 90 percent of this revenue applied to road improvement.  [Circular No. 59, page 1]

In 1904, when the U.S. Office of Public Road Inquiries conducted the first inventory of roads outside of cities, it reported that the country included 2,151,570 miles of rural public roads, plus 1,598 miles of stone-surfaced toll roads.  Only 153,662 miles of the other rural public roads had any kind of surface, including earth, gravel, stone, shells, and sand-clay.  Only 276,920 miles had any kind of artificial surface.  [America’s Highways 1776-1976:  A History of the Federal-Aid Program, Federal Highway Administration, 1976, page 50]

Meanwhile, from 1904 through 1915, annual expenditures on rural road had increased from about $80 million to $282 million – an increase of more than 250 percent.  The 1904 figure does not entirely reflect expenditures.  About $20 million of the $80 million was paid in labor provided by those along the roads who worked to smooth them out or remove obstacles in lieu of paying poll taxes.  An OPRRE report documented the change:

The remarkably rapid increase in our road expenditures during the past 12 years, however, is not all due to increased activity in construction.  A large portion must be charged to the demand for better and consequently more expensive types of construction, as well as greatly increased maintenance costs made necessary by the changed traffic conditions.  The effect of the motor vehicle on the cost of road construction and maintenance had not become apparent in 1904.  To-day many of our roads carry a motor traffic far in excess of the total traffic of all classes carried 12 years ago.  At the present time there are about 2,500,000 motor vehicles in use on our public roads, or about one motor vehicle for every mile of road.  This motor traffic is not uniformly distributed but largely concentrated on certain roads.  This is the underlying reason why maintenance and reconstruction costs have increased so rapidly on many of our roads and why the total road expenditures have increased so much more rapidly than the mileage of improved roads.  [State Highway Mileage and Expenditures for the Calendar year 1915, Office of Public Roads and Rural Engineering, Office of the Secretary, U.S. Department of Agriculture, Circular No. 63, page 1-2]

Interstate named trails were a relatively new development.  Automobile clubs had provided names for early interstate roads, such as the Trail to Sunset (discussed in part 1), but these were mainly lines on a map, not a movement with advocates.  The National Old Trails Road Association dated only to 1912, just as Congress began serious, if unsuccessful, consideration of legislation on national road funding.  The influential Lincoln Highway Association, formed by automobile industry officials to back a “rock” road from New York City to San Francisco, had been formed in 1913.  The Lincoln Highway Association was one of the few associations that actually built at least a small part of the trail as “object lessons” demonstrating what could be accomplished.  For the most part, the growing number of associations depended on State and county officials to fund improvement of the road.

These two and other early interstate named trail associations provided the model for hundreds of other named trails over the next decade and a half.  Each had a colorful or descriptive name and a chamber-of-commerce type organization to promote its trail.  They encouraged State and local governments to improve the road and issued maps and travel guides inviting motorists to use the road and patronize the businesses along the roadway that paid dues to the association.  By the mid-1920s, enterprising good roads backers had created approximately 250 named trails.  Many of the trails overlapped, especially where alternatives were few as in the far Southeast; routes sometimes shifted to communities more willing to pay dues or improve the road; and some associations were launched by fly-by-night operators.

System of National Highways

Aside from the contribution these groups made to the improvement of their roads, they contributed to the general interest in road improvements and growth in auto travel.  Advocates for long distance roads made their case to Congress that the country needed an interstate network of good highways.  The National Highways Association, discussed in part 1, was an example, with its proposed 50,000-mile network of interstate roads.

Judge Lowe, president of the National Old Trails Road Association and a founding member of the National Highways Association in 1912, had introduced his own map in 1913 of a System of National Highways:

Connecting State Capitols and All Cities of over 20,000 with the NATIONAL CAPITOL.  [sic]

A caution on the map stated:

This map shows TENTATIVE locations for the System of National Highways following substantially lines suggested by Hon. S. Warburton of Wash. and map compiled by National Highways Association.

The plan, as described in the April 1913 issue of The Road-Maker, explained financing:

Under this scheme the necessary money for the payment of this work will be collected by the Government within five years after the act takes effect.  The proposed plan contemplated the construction of about 18,000 miles of road.  I estimate the cost will not exceed $15,000 a mile or $17,500 at the maximum.

I propose to raise the fund by approximately restoring the internal revenue tax of 1879 on tobacco, and set aside the additional income from this source as a National Road fund.

The main difference is the tax on cigars.  The law of 1879, as all our recent laws, fixed the same tax in all grades of cigars; the tax was six dollars a thousand regardless of whether the wholesale price was $35, $75, or $150 a thousand.  I have always contended that this was a wholly unfair system of tax; that the tax ought to be graded so that the man who smokes a five-cent, the man who smokes a ten-cent, and the man who smokes a twenty-cent cigar would pay about the same per cent tax.

The additional tax so provided would amount to about sixty million dollars a year.  It would not quite double the present internal revenue tax on tobacco.  If the proposed roads should cost $15,000 a mile the roads will be paid for in about five years.

The article concluded:

The proposed scheme of roads I think is a most important one from every point of view.  It is not necessary to state the advantages of such a system of roads; they will readily appeal to every one.  If you will observe the map it will be seen that every state reaps an equal, or about an equal, advantage from the construction of such a system of roads.  Any administration that passes such a law will not experience hard times during such administration and will have the everlasting gratitude of the people of this country.

Not only so, but the immense saving in the transportation of farm products, the increased value of all land along such highways, the increased revenues derived by the Government by reason thereof, the object lesson in road building extending throughout the country, the energy and enthusiasm it would inspire in the States and Counties, the community of effort, the unity of interest, and the patriotism of the people thus enabled to meet and to know all divisions and parts of a common country makes this easily the greatest movement ever conceived by the mind of man. [“The Proposed Inter-State Highway System,” The Road-Maker, April 1913, pages 4-6]

Judge Lowe also prepared a bill that was introduced in Congress:

A Bill to Provide for the Construction, Maintenance and Improvement of a System of National Highways and to Provide Funds for Their Construction and Maintenance.

It proposed a National Highways Commission “consisting of the Director of the Bureau of the Office of Public Roads, and four other members to be appointed by the President of the United States, by and with the consent of the Senate.”  No more than three of the Commissioners “shall belong to the same political party as the President.  The OPR Director “who shall also be a member of the President’s Cabinet, was to be Chairman of the commission:

That said National Highways Commission shall have supervision of the construction, reconstruction, maintenance and repair of said roads, their bridges and their general construction; shall determine the manner thereof and material thereof, the plans and specifications necessary thereto, and the times and manner of letting contracts for the same, and the time and manner of payment therefor.

To assist in this effort, the commission “may apply to the Secretary of War for such part of the engineering force not now needed in the completion of the Panama Canal, and for such machinery or material no longer needed in such work and such as may be useful in the construction of said highways.”

The bill directed all revenue from taxes on cigars, chewing, and smoking tobacco of every description “shall be set aside by the Treasurer of the United States and placed in a separate fund, to be known as the National Highways Road Fund.”  The commission would draw on the fund for construction expenses.

Section 8 of Judge Lowe’s bill stated that the commission would “lay out and definitely locate, take over, construction and maintain the following National, Commercial and Military Highways and Post Roads.”  Road No. 1, of 18 specified in the bill, was the National Old Trails Road.  The bill included the map Judge Lowe had prepared for the National System of Highways.  [“System of National Highways,” National Old Trails Road:  The Great Historic Highway of America, National Old Trails Road Association, 1925 (Revised Edition), pages 229-238]

The bill was not adopted.

In Missouri

For Judge Lowe, who lived in Kansas City, Missouri, the progress of the road in Missouri was of particular concern.  In January 1916, Southern Good Roads magazine reported that, “The work of building a hard surfaced highway from Kansas City to St. Louis along the Old Trails Road, 303 miles in all, is practically half completed”:

Last summer at a good roads meeting held in Kansas City Judge J. M. Lowe, president of the National Old Trails Road Association, proposed that the task of linking the two great cities of Missouri be completed within the year.  His enthusiasm was so contagious that the fever of rock road building quickly spread from one road district to another, until now it is safe to predict that another summer will see all of the money needed for the cross-state highway secured.

When the fight to construct Missouri’s first great rock [road] began 119 miles of the Old Trails Road had been hard surfaced.  This mileage included the hard roads across Jackson, Boone and St. Louis counties, the rock roads through the Lexington and Fulton special road districts, in Lafayette and Callaway counties respectively, and the gravel and rock roads across St. Charles county.

Since then Wellington special road district, the first east of Kansas City, has voted bonds in the sum of $55,000 to plug its gap in the trail.  Between the Jackson county line and the Wellington district line is a 2-mile stretch not included in any road district, but money has been promised the Old Trails Road Association by Kansas City road boosters to care for that bit of the trail.

Waverly district has approved a bond issue of $49,000 to be expended in hard surfacing the 10.2 miles of the cross-state highway that cuts that district.  This means that in Lafayette county alone within the last few weeks the money has been found to rock 24.2 miles of the Kansas City to St. Louis road.

The Saline county rock roads committee is considering plans for rocking 192 miles of road in that county.  This plan includes the mileage of the Old Trails Road through Saline.  But if the voters do not approve the bonds, Sherman Houston, of Malta Bend, chairman of the county committee, is the authority for the statement that when Lafayette county brings the rock road to the Saline county line, Saline will carry it across to Howard and Cooper counties.

In St. Charles county 1.8 miles of the trail is being rocked this fall.  That means 145 imles [sic] of the trail either has been rocked or the money provided for it.  [“Old Trails Road Progress,” Southern Good Roads, January 1916, page 12]

(In the 1910s, the term “hard surfaced” did not mean a road with an asphalt or concrete pavement.  It referred to a road that would not turn to mud in a rain, as was the case with earth roads.  A common alternative term for a hard surfaced road was a 365-day highway.  For example, a hard surfaced road might include a top coat of crushed gravel or rock over graded earth.  In 1914, the country had 2,445,761 miles of rural roads.  Only a total of 257,291.54 miles, or 10.52 percent, was surfaced:

Gravel:  116,058.12 miles (45.11 percent)
Macadam:  64,898.43 miles (17.16 percent)
Sand Clay:  44,154.73 miles (17.16 percent)
Bituminous Macadam:  10,499.79 miles (4.08 percent)
Concrete:  2,348.43 miles (0.91 percent)
Brick: 1,593.88 miles (0.62 percent)
Various 17,738.16 miles (6.90 percent)

[Public Road Mileage and Revenues in the United States, 1914.  A Summary, Office of Public Roads and Rural Engineering, U.S. Department of Agriculture, Bulletin No. 390, January 12, 1917, pages 3-4])

American Motorist magazine, published by the American Automobile Association (AAA), added:

St. Louis and Kansas City are taking up definitely the project of an interurban stone-surfaced highway to connect the two cities.  The road to be constructed follows the “Old Trail” route and has a total length of 303 miles, one-third of which has already been surfaced with stone.  The road passes through St. Charles, Warrenton, Fulton, Columbia, Glasgow, Lexington, and Independence.

The Business Men’s League of St. Louis has begun the organizing of a road-building campaign in each community along the route, and the plan of campaign provides for the raising of funds in each county by means of a bond issue where current revenues are insufficient to carry out the project.  It is planned that after the people in the different counties have raised as much as is practicable, the cities of St. Louis and Kansas City will make up the remainder needed.

It is estimated that the cost will be $5,000 per mile and that 200 miles of the route will have to be constructed, making the total outlay necessary about one million dollars.  It is anticipated that the counties will provide $850,000 of this sum and that the two cities will raise the other $150,000.  The government is expected to furnish the engineers for surveys, estimates, and supervision.  [“St. Louis and Kansas City to Help Build ‘Old Trail,’” American Motorist, April 1916, page 44]

(Although the Missouri State Highway Department dates to 1913, State funds from general or special funds available for road improvement were apportioned among the counties that had the funds to pay for at least one-half the cost of any road improvement or construction project.  The role of State Highway Commissioner F. W. Buffum (1913-1917) was mainly advisory, with a primary responsibility to encourage the counties to improve their roads.  In 1917, the Hawes Law, named after State Representative Henry B. Hawes, assented to the Federal Aid Road Act, created the position of State Highway Engineer, and established a four-member bipartisan State Highway Board.  The State did not assume responsibility for the road work until 1921.  [Serving Missouri’s Transportation Needs for 75 Years, Missouri Highway and Transportation Commission, 1996, page 3])

In the Southwest

During the 1910s, construction of California’s State highway system involved three main acts.  The State Highway Act of 1909 called for designation of a system of State Highways to be constructed at a cost not to exceed $18 million.  All funds from the State sale of highway bonds would go into a State Highway Fund in the State Treasury.  The routes included in the system were “to be selected by the Department of engineering . . . as to constitute a continuous and connected State Highway system running north and south through the State, traversing the Sacramento and San Joaquin Valleys and along the Pacific Coast, by the most direct and practicable routes, connecting the county seats of the several counties through which it passes and joining the centers of population, together with such branch roads as may be necessary to connect therewith the several county seats lying east and west of such State Highway.”  The highways were to be “permanent in character,” with the exact character and type of paving left to the Department.  The 1909 Act was ratified during the general election of November 1910 and became effective on December 31, 1910. 

As of June 30, 1920, the mileage completed with the $18 million totaled 1,100 miles of paved road and 400 miles of graded highway, the latter with culverts and structures.  The mileage included a 53.5-mile road from San Fernando in the Los Angeles area to San Bernardino. 

The State Highways Act of 1915 called for an additional debt of $12 million for work on the uncompleted portions of the State system and $3 million for additional roads listed in the legislation.  The voters approved it in November 1916.  One of the routes improved was a 76.33-mile route from San Bernardino to Barstow.

The State Highways Act of 1919 involved a $40 million bond issue, and covered a 255-mile route from Needles, via Barstow, to Mohave.  [The State Highways of California – An Engineering Study, conducted jointly by the California State Automobile Association and the Automobile Club of Southern California, July 1920-January 1921, pages 11-16]

Ben Blow, manager of the Good Roads Bureau of the California State Automobile Association, wrote in 1920 that the bond funds were far below what was needed.  Of the first bond issue, he wrote that, “all was easy sailing, as easy as it could be when the fact that the Highway Commission was charged with building about $50,000,000 worth of roads for $18,000,000 is taken into consideration.”  The first work began on August 7, 1912, in San Mateo County on the road from San Francisco to the south. 

The second bond issue was easily approved, but immediately ran into problems:

The United States began to experience abnormal conditions, prices went up – of labor and all sorts of supplies.  And then the United States plunged into war and a multitude of boards and commissions and dollar-a-year men appeared like mushrooms, earnestly and sincerely, in the main, trying to help win the war but gumming things up in relation to construction work until in practically every section of the United States highway building was halted, the work done by the California Highway Commission being the only work of magnitude which was carried on.  [Blow, Ben, California Highways – A Descriptive Record of Road Development by the State and by Such Counties as Have Paved Highways, The H. S. Crocker Company, Ltd., 1920, pages 1-3]

In January 1916, the Automobile Club of Southern California’s magazine, Touring Topics, discussed the condition of the western end of the National Old Trails Road:

This highway as far east as Seligman in Arizona is reported in good shape at present but rains and stormy weather may change route conditions at any time.  From Los Angeles to San Bernardino by way of Foothill Boulevard, [is] continuous pavement with the exception of one mile of dirt road west of Upland which is excellently maintained.  From San Bernardino over Mount Vernon Avenue and through Cajon Pass to Barstow there is a first class road with the exception of the four miles in the Cajon Pass which is almost impassable on account of snow and mud.  The last ten miles into Barstow has been badly cut up by heavy freighting.

From Barstow to Ludlow the road surface has been badly rutted by heavy auto trucks.  This portion of the road is quite sandy and contains numerous chuck holes which necessitates slow driving.  From Ludlow to Cadiz, fair dirt road with the exception of the last six or seven miles into Cadiz which has numerous chuck holes and is very sandy.  Between Cadiz and Needles the road is in good condition.  From Needles it is advisable to turn to the right into Topoc, at which point the Colorado River is crossed on the Santa Fe Railroad bridge (a charge of $3.50 is made for crossing.)  From the river the route extends eastward through Yucca, Kingman, thence by Hackberry, Peach Springs to Seligman.  The road is in good shape with the exception of some rough work near Seligman.  [“Trans-Continental Highways:  National Old Trails Road,” Touring Topics, January 1916, page 23]

The magazine updated its report a month later:

This all-year route has withstood rains and travel has not been interfered with to great extent.  Cajon Pass, beyond San Bernardino is passable and in fair shape.  There is one creek to be crossed four miles above Devore but this is causing no trouble – also a creek crossing one mile beyond Victorville which required team assistance on February first but with a few days of clear weather this crossing will cause no trouble.  From Barstow to Needles roads will be found passable although numerous cross washes will be encountered.  [“Transcontinental Routes:  National Old Trails Highway,” Touring Topics, February 1916, page 22] 

San Bernardino County

Writer Nick Cataldo has examined the history of the National Old Trails Road in San Bernardino County.  As a result of a special election on October 14, 1914, the road was improved “at 16 feet wide with crushed limestone aggregate and asphaltic binding.”  The road through the San Bernardino Valley, he wrote, “meandered through the Cajon Pass before continuing into the Mojave Desert heading east.”  As motor vehicle traffic increased along the road – 419 vehicles in 1914, 1,367 in 1915, 1,774 in 1916, 2,607 in 1917, and 4,240 in 1918 – stores, gasoline stations, and tourist camps opened:

The most pressing need for climbing the Cajon grade from San Bernardino was water for overheated engines.  Automobiles in those days did not have the super cooling systems of today’s vehicles, and many were the motor cars that were obliged to pull to the side of the road with steam rising from their boiling radiators.

The driver proceeding up the National Old Trails Road from San Bernardino came first to the small railroad siding of Verdemont, eight miles from town (but now part of San Bernardino), where water for radiators was available.  Two and a half miles further was the small community of Devore, where gasoline, water and groceries could be obtained. 

Beyond Devore, Cajon Canyon narrowed considerably as mountains closed in on both sides.

Motorists continued 4 miles to Keenbrook, a railroad siding with water available.  “Just beyond, the highway and the Santa Fe tracks close on the left twisted through the narrow defile of Blue Cut to Cozy Dell, shaded by great oaks, with its grocery store and gas station.”  Fuel and supplies were available a mile and a half later at Cajon Station, with a public campground called Camp Cajon a half mile further east.  In this era before roadside “motels,” a term that was not coined until the 1920s, communities often established camping areas for motorists to keep them from camping on private property along the way.  Camp Cajon provided “50 cement tables, stoves and restrooms built by William Bristol, a wealthy citrus rancher from East Highlands.  The AAA rated Camp Cajon, dedicated on July 4, 1919, as one of the best in the west.”

Also in 1919, Marion Meeker established a café and garage called Meeker’s Store a mile and a half beyond Camp Cajon:

Two miles further on, the National Old Trails Road crossed the Santa Fe tracks and passed Alray Station, the last water stop before the final climb to the 4,200 foot Cajon Summit.  If the driver didn’t tank up before this stretch, his engine would be boiling well before he reached the top.

Finally, if the driver made it to the summit, 25 miles or so from San Bernardino a welcome “oasis” greeted him known as the original Summit Inn.  Established in the early 1920s, it was here that the weary traveler was accommodated with a café, store, gasoline station and garage.  Serving as the main stopping point on the highway before dipping down into the Mojave Desert, the Summit Inn was a popular rest stop.  Needless to say, the Summit Inn garage did one heck of a business fixing overheated engines.

Columnist L. Burr Beldon of the Inland Valley Daily Bulletin interviewed Sam McNabb, a former mayor of San Bernardino, in 1964.  Mayor McNabb recalled the early days of travel on the National Old Trail Road:

It left San Bernardino on Fourth Street and continued straight west through Rialto and on to Etiwanda.  Near Rochester, between Etiwanda and Cucamonga, there was a slight bend.  In Cucamonga proper, the road jogged north a block and headed for Cucamonga Creek which was crossed from 300 feet north of the present bridge.  Dips were frequent and often overflowing with waste irrigation water.  The San Antonio Avenue crossing west of Upland was at times so deep that cars would stall out.  A nearby resident is said to have kept a team of horses hitched just to pull out cars for which he charged $2.  [Cataldo, Nick, “Taking a trip up the National Old Trails Road,” The San Bernardino Sun, July 24, 2017; “Old Trails Road paved the way for Route 66,” The Inland Valley Daily Bulletin, April 5, 2010]

An everlasting Debt of Gratitude

As discussed in part 1, the Automobile Club of Southern California had taken on the task of signposting the National Old Trails Road to Kansas City.  The top of the sign was a diamond inside of which was a globe-like circle with the words “National Old Trails Road Association” inside a circular band surrounding latitude/longitude lines with a line depicting the road from “NY” to “LA” with the words “Ocean to Ocean” to the left, top, and right, with “Highway” on the line. 

Below the diamond was a directional road sign, topped by a band labeled National Old Trails Road.  For example, the sign might read:











The signing crew finished in early 1915, as explained in the March 1916 issue of Touring Topics:

Early in 1915 our crews completed the enormous task of erecting our signs over the National Old Trails Road between Los Angeles and Kansas City, including branch routes to the Grand Canyon and to Big Springs, Nebraska.  This is the longest continuously signposted road in the world, and this vast undertaking has stamped the Automobile Club of Southern California as the most enterprising signposting organization in existence.  There are two very significant facts in connection with this work.  First, that during the year after the signing of the road was nearing completion, transcontinental travel into Southern California over this route increased over one thousand per cent.  In 1914, 194 touring parties traveled over the National Old Trails Road into Southern California, and in 1915, over the same road, but guided by and enjoying the assurance of the Club’s road signs, there were 2,000 parties!  No other single enterprise has ever meant more to our community than this.  The second interesting fact is that the project was financially self-sustaining – the various counties through which the road runs paying for the signs and posts.  [“Roads and Signs,” Touring Topics, March 1916, page 13]

Judge Lowe was appreciative of the club’s work.  He wrote:

The Automobile Club of Southern California is one of the few Auto Clubs which has arisen to a full conception of its opportunities and an appreciation of the purpose of its organization.  Not neglecting the social and technical features pertaining thereto, it has risen to the higher and more paramount issue of road building, rightly conceiving that this should be first on its list of activities, for which this purpose is attained “All things else shall be added to it.”

And its success may be largely and chiefly accounted for because of this fact – it has stood for something.  Handicapped at first by an unreasoning opposition to the automobile in rural communities, it steadfastly pressed to the front in its advocacy of every measure for road betterment until it broke down every foolish prejudice and every form of opposition and came to be recognized everywhere as one of the great and leading factors in a National Campaign for Good Roads everywhere.

During the life of your Association, and due to its ceaseless and untiring energies, Southern California has been grid-ironed with a system of permanent roads which is the pride and wonder of a continent.

Your people have done in five years more than other communities have in a hundred.  You have again demonstrated that “When there is a will there is a way.”  The splendid achievements in Southern California are the wonder and inspiration of a continent.  You have demonstrated over and over again that the money wisely applied to promotion work is the best money which goes into good roads.

California owes you an everlasting debt of gratitude, and no matter whether it seems to be appreciated or not, the name of your Association will be everlastingly linked with the history of better roads throughout the length and breadth of the land.

Among your activities not the least was the permanent signposting of the National Old Trails Road from Kansas City to Los Angeles, since which we have carried it forward to St. Louis, and shall carry it on to Washington, Baltimore, Philadelphia and New York this year.

The liveliest imagination cannot conceive what this means to the material interests of Southern California.  We are fast hooking up with the N.O.T. every State and county system of highways through which it runs.  This means that more than one hundred thousand miles of permanent roads will pour their traffic into the lap of Los Angeles for all time, over this great single artery.  Nothing can divert it.  [Lowe, Judge J. M., “California Owes You An Everlasting Debt of Gratitude,” Touring Topics, March 1916, page 23]

The Topock Bridge

On March 25, 1916, officials dedicated the new $100,000 automobile bridge over the Colorado River at Topock, Arizona, near Needles, California.  As Touring Topics pointed out in its April 1916 issue:

It was necessary, formerly, for transcontinental motorists to enter California over the Santa Fe Railroad bridge which was planked and made available for automobiles with a small toll charge.  Prior to planking this bridge, cars were ferried across the river.

Funds for the new bridge came from San Bernardino County and the States of Arizona and California:

The bridge itself consists of a single span five hundred and sixty feet in length and two hundred feet above the river bed.  It is sufficiently wide for vehicles to pass for its entire length.  Not only the bridge itself, but the roadway of approximately fifteen miles in length between its approach and Needles is an engineering masterpiece.  The roadway was built principally through the efforts of Judge L. V. Root, president of the Chamber of Commerce of Needles and an officer of the National Old Trails Road Association.  So admirably have the road builders done their work on this stretch of highway that any speed of which a car is capable may be safely taken and the grade to the bridge has been located so scientifically that it is scarcely noticeable.

The dedication ceremony included representatives of the two States, San Bernardino County, the Automobile Club, and chambers of commerce of Los Angeles, Needles, and the county:

The dedication ceremony consisted of an address by Judge Root, a response by J. S. Mitchell, president of the Los Angeles Chamber of Commerce, and its christening by little Miss Baker, daughter of the Secretary of the Needles Chamber of Commerce.  Following this ceremony, a banquet was given to the visitors in Needles at which President Baker of the Automobile Club of Southern California assured the good roads men present that the Association could be counted upon to place direction and mileage signs on all main automobile roads as fast they were placed in condition to encourage motor traffic.

Touring Topics assured readers that the new bridge was “but one step in the record of progress that has been made along the western portion of the National Old Trails road to improve it for local and transcontinental motoring.  State and county officials had “cooperated in improving this highway and placing it in such condition that no automobilist need hesitate in undertaking the journey so far as the western part of the roadway is concerned”:

From San Bernardino over the Cajon Pass the roadway is in excellent condition with the exception of a three-mile detour at Pitman Heights, now necessary while concrete is being laid by San Bernardino County.  Beyond the Pass as far as Barstow the road is somewhat sandy, but not difficult to travel, and between Barstow and Ludlow, with the exception of a few miles of soft road, the highway has been graded, rolled and packed and readily lends itself to a speed of from twenty-five to thirty miles an hour.  Between Ludlow and Needles there are some portions of the roadway that are quite rough due to heavy truck traffic occasioned by the demand for supplies by the new mining camp at Oatman.  These poorer parts of the road will soon be a thing of the past, however, as San Bernardino County has a fund of approximately $150,000 available the improvement of this highway.  Road crews are at work along the entire two hundred and fifty miles between San Bernardino and Needles, and it is only a matter of weeks before the California section of the National Old Trails Highway can be traveled by any car almost as easily as a paved road.

To illustrate how good the road already was, the article pointed out that the Packard provided for the Los Angeles officials who attended the ceremony traveled the 316 miles between that city and Needles in 9 hours and 45 minutes – an average speed of 30 miles an hour.  To avoid any misunderstandings, the article added:

In justice to these law-abiding gentlemen, however, it should be stated that the trip over the road through the populous portion of the country was made during the night time when there were no other vehicles on the road and when there was absolutely no danger to other traffic in thus slightly exceeding the speed limit.  [“Needles $100,000 Automobile Bridge Dedicated,” Touring Topics, April 1916, pages 7-9]

Donald C.  Jackson's Great American Bridges and Dams discussed the Old Trails Bridge at Topock:

The Topock Bridge is a 592-foot-span steel through arch built to carry highway traffic across the Colorado River between Arizona and California.  Originally a component in the Old National Trail Highway, it later became part of the famed U.S. Route 66.  In the late 1940s the Santa Fe Railway replaced its nearby Red Rock Cantilever Bridge (1890) with the Topock Bridge and donated the Red Rock span (since demolished) to Arizona and California for highway use.  In 1948 the arch bridge was sold to the El Paso Natural Gas Company and the Pacific Gas and Elec­tric Company.  The firms subsequently modified it to carry a gas pipe­line over the river.  Although no longer serving its original purpose, the main structure of the Topock Bridge retains its historical integrity.  It is readily visible from the modern highway bridge that carries Interstate 40 across the Colorado River.  [Jackson, Donald C., Great American Bridges and Dams, The Preser­vation Press, National Trust for Historic Preservation, 1988, page 249]

David Plowden, in his photographic book on bridges, wrote about the Old Trails Bridge. He began by noting that the bridge was, briefly, the longest arch bridge in America.

After it was built in 1916, it exceeded by one foot only the length of the Detroit-Superior Avenue Bridge in Cleveland.  It also had the distinction of being both the lightest and longest three-hinged arch.  It weighed only 360 tons and had a single 592-foot lattice-rib half ­through arch span.

A daring method of erecting this arch was used because of the Colorado River's unpredictable nature.  The tremendous fluctuations in water level made the use of falsework extremely dangerous and expensive.  Instead, each half of the arch was assembled in a horizontal position and then raised into place by tackle from a tower located in midstream.  A unique type of ball-and-socket center hinge and the bridge's extreme lightness made this maneuver possible.  The idea was conceived by A.  M.  Meyers, the contracting engineer for the Kansas City Structural Steel Company, who were the fabricators of the steelwork and responsible for carrying out the actual work.

The Old Trails was designed by J.  A.  Sourwine of San Bernardino, California, who saw the work completed on February 20, 1916 .  .  .  .  Today this remote and tiny hamlet [of Topock] has no less than five bridges, clustered together in the middle of the empty desert.  [Plowden, David, Bridges: The Spans of North America, W.  W.  Norton and Company, 1974, page 178].

The National Park Service says of the bridge:

The steel arch of the Old Trails Bridge simply soars.  An innovative piece of engineering, one enormous span of 600 feet supports the 800-foot bridge that crosses the Colorado River in Topock, halfway between Yuma and the Utah border.  The bridge carried automobile traffic over the Colorado River from 1916 until 1948.

Calling it “a landmark of American civil engineering,” the discussion continued:

Technologically, the structure is nationally significant as an outstanding example of steel arch construction.  The engineers for the Old Trails Bridge had studied the problems builders and engineers encountered while constructing the Ocean-to-Ocean Bridge [at Yuma, Arizona, south of Topock].  They knew the engineers there had found constructing and securing a large span over the deep Colorado gorge difficult, so they tried the task a different way.

In Topock, engineers used a unique cantilever method of construction assembling bridge halves on their sides on the ground and hoisting them into place using a ball-and-socket center hinge.  This meant that the structure was not supported by traditional spans from the ground up as it was being built.  The use of the cantilever was a daring move for its time, creating the longest arched bridge in America.  At 360 tons, it was the lightest and longest bridge of its kind.  From the day it opened, this graceful arch and the deck it supported were a pivotal Colorado River crossing, first on the transcontinental National Old Trails Road and, by 1926, on Route 66.  [Old Trails Bridge, Topock, Arizona, Route 66, Discover Our Shared Heritage Travel Itinerary, National Park Service,]

On September 30, 1988, the Old Trails Bridge was listed in the National Register of Historic Places.

Following the opening of the Topock bridge in 1916, Mohave County in Arizona took over the private mining road from Kingman to Topock via Oatman.  According to Sherry and Richard Mangum’s book about the National Old Trails Road in Arizona, the county “began reducing the grade up the hill to Goldroad, which at the time was a twenty-six percent engine-buster.  On the west side of the Black Mountains, Mohave County worked to reduce other steep grades.”  [Mangum, Rickard K, and Mangum, Sherry G., The National Old Trails Road in Arizona, Hexagon Press, Inc., 2008, page 89]


On March 3, 1916, Kansas City Post:

Lack of financial support from road enthusiasts throughout the country has resulted in the resignation of Judge J. M. Lowe, president of the National Old Trails Road association.  The resignation is to take effect April 1.  On that date the headquarters of the association in the Midland building will be closed.

For many months Judge Lowe has been standing the expenses and paying the rent of the offices maintained by the association.  Appeals for aid in carrying out good road work were in vain and Judge Lowe has become discouraged.  He mailed his resignation to the directors of the association yesterday.

Judge Lowe was one of the pioneers in good roads agitation throughout the West.  He has held the position of president of the association for more than three years.  It was through his efforts that the Santa Fe trail east of Kansas City was marked and to him belongs the credit for making Kansas City the midway point in the ocean to ocean highway.

Whatever the accuracy of this article, Judge Lowe remained president and continued issuing bulletins and fighting for the National Old Trails Road.

Daughters of the American Republic, 1916

The Daughters of the American Republic (D.A.R.) met in Washington on April 17-22, 1916.  The new chairman of the National Old Trails Road Committee, Mrs. Henry McCleary, reported on the committee’s activities.  She began:

The National Old Trails Road Committee appointed for the purpose of securing National legislation creating an ocean-to-ocean highway from the old historic roads and trails of our country has been actively engaged in this work for six years.  During this period it has created a great interest not alone in the highway for which it labors, but in almost every State in our land the Daughters are searching out the pioneer trails and marking them with boulders, tablets and monuments.  While this is subsidiary to the National Old Trails Road it is of inestimable value in creating a sentiment in behalf of the National legislation we desire.  No other word of this Society has created greater interest in the early history of our whole country than the work of this committee.

Mrs. McCleary had written to every State chairman seeking their cooperation:

Their replies tell a widespread.  Many chapters have one day’s program a study of the National Old Trails Road.  The reports of the State Chairman, which time will not permit us to read, show that through the efforts of the Daughters in locating pioneer trails many interesting facts of the early history of our country are being brought to light.

The letters were appended to her address in the proceedings.

She commented on the status of the legislation D.A.R. had initiated:

House Bill 4755 introduced in the present session of Congress by Hon. [William] P. Borland [sic] of Kansas City, and known as the Old Trails Act, asks for the enactment of a law making our road a National highway.  It is not known as the D.A.R. bill, but we ask the support of each Daughter for this measure.  At the next session of Congress we hope to have this bill introduced under our own name and to enlist the support of each State organization and the National Board.

At a meeting of this Committee held during the present session of this Congress a Committee was appointed to design a permanent marker for our National highway.

Another Committee is designing a seal of the Old Trails Road which we hope will be extensively used by the D.A.R. in their correspondence, thus aiding in giving publicity to our work.

It was also decided at this meeting of our Committee to ask the State societies of the S.A.R. [sic] and State Historical Societies to co-operate with us in securing National legislation for our Old Trails Road.

This is a time of road building – a period when the cry for good roads is more and more persistent, and the demand for a National ocean-to-ocean highway grows strong each year.  Undoubtedly it will soon be granted.  Why then should not this great highway be the one mapped out by the Daughters of the American Revolution?  Every foot of it is rich in history.  Its history is the story of the development and civilization of a continent, of the growth of a great people and a world power from a few struggling colonies on the Atlantic Coast . . . .

On December 14, 1915, at the start of the first session of the 64th Congress, Representative William P. Borland had introduced several bills, including:

H.R. 4755 – To be known as the old trails act, to provide a national ocean-to-ocean highway over the pioneer trails of the Nation, thus making a continuous trunk-line macadam road from the site of Jamestown, Va., and from the city of New York, N.Y., to the city of Washington, D.C.; thence by way of St. Louis, Mo., to Gardner, Kans., and there to branch, one branch leading through Santa Fe, N. Mex. The other branch leading from Gardner, Kans., through Kearney, Nebr., to Olympia, Wash.; also to aid the States through which the highway herein described as the National Old Trails Road shall run in extending, constructing, rebuilding, and repairing same. 

The bill, which offered warrants for one-half the cost of construction to be issued to States on certification of completion of construction through each State, had been referred to the Committee on Agriculture.

After commenting on each segment of the National Old Trails Road, Mrs. McCleary continued:

Make it a great National Highway.  Over such a road rural free mail delivery will reach thousands of homes.  Farmers will market their products, their children will attend school.  Charles Sumner said:  “The two greatest forces for the advancement of civilization are good roads and the schoolmaster.”  Thousands of motorists will traverse it and will learn to know our country better.  Will be entranced by its natural beauties and amazed at the financial possibilities awaiting development.  The dreadful wars of the Old World have forcibly brought to our knowledge the fact of our utter unpreparedness to protect or defend our nation, and in preparation for defense good roads are of inestimable value and have been so proven in the foreign war . . . .  It is just as patriotic to defend your country and protect the living as to build monuments to commemorate the achievements of a past age.  Then let us as a Society use our utmost endeavor to secure the enactment of a National legislation making the Old Trails Roads an ocean-to-ocean highway.  As a means of National defense, a memorial to the worthy pioneers, a great factor in the social and commercial development of our country, a practical lesson in patriotism.  A monument that not only honors the dead but serves the living.  [Proceedings of the Twenty-fifth Continental of the Daughters of the American Revolution, April 17-22, 1916, pages 1158-1160]

The Fight for National Roads

Still, the advocates of interstate highways were regarded by many as favoring the "idle rich" or “peacocks” who had time to travel the rigorous miles across the country by auto.  An editorial in the Engineering News issue of May 6, 1912, had reflected the popular feeling:

We must say frankly that to propose such an expenditure of the public money for the benefit of a few wealthy pleasure seekers at a time when the masses of people are crying out in a protest against the increased cost of living seems like trifling with a grave situation.

Nevertheless, with the growth of automobile traffic, pressure for improved rural roads had grown.  Congress had taken up the issue for several years, but had been unable to resolve the different viewpoints, particularly between those who favored Federal construction of national roads versus those who preferred a Federal-aid program of assistance to State and local officials.  While the debates continued, a provision of the Post Office Appropriation Act of 1913, signed by President William Howard Taft on August 24, 1912, authorized a $500,000 experimental post road improvement program as a test of concepts.  State or local governments were to pay two-thirds of the cost. 

The program produced few physical results, but had the positive outcome of convincing Federal road officials that aid should be limited to the States to avoid the complexities of working with the country’s more than 3,000 counties.  [America’s Highways 1776-1976, pages 81-83]

On January 25, 1916, the House of Representatives passed a Federal-aid bill by a vote of 281 to 81.  All work would be under the supervision and control of the State highway departments or, if a State did not have one, in such manner as may be agreed to by the Governor and the Secretary of Agriculture.  Any State receiving the aid after January 1, 1920, must have a State highway agency.  Although States would select Federal-aid projects, the Secretary would examine all surveys, plans, and estimates; make progress payments as the work was underway; and make the payment of the Federal share only after an inspection of the work.  The Federal share would be not less than 30 percent nor more than 50 percent.

Backers of good roads were not uniformly pleased.  Many good roads groups were still pulling for construction of national roads, namely their named trails, and opposed the Federal-aid concept that they described as States spreading money over local roads, to no national purpose, in a “pork barrel” waste of the funds.

The possibility that the United States might enter the European war prompted the named trails associations to promote the value of improving the primitive interstate road network to support a potential wartime economy.  On April 7, 1916, for example, Judge Lowe wrote to President Wilson:

Dear Mr. President:

In any question of “Preparedness,” either for possible war or peace, it seems to me certain roads should be built and maintained by, and under the sole supervision of, the General Government.  In this connection, I call your attention to the “Cumberland,” now called the ”National Old Trails Road,” originally built and maintained by the Government for more than a quarter of a century – twice a campaign issue, in 1824 and 1848 – and victorious in each instance.  It had the support of such Statesmen as Jefferson, [Virginia Governor William B.] Giles, Gallatin, Randolph, Calhoun, Jackson, Benton and Lincoln.

He enclosed a clipping from April 7, 1916, issue of the Kansas City Times and requested “that you glance over it.”  The article, titled “To Urge Old Trails Facts,” began:

Facts showing the pre-eminence the National Old Trails Road would have as a military highway have been prepared by Judge J. M. Lowe, president of the Old Trails Association, at the request of C. J. Myers of the Co-Operative Club.  This is for use in the campaign which the Co-operative Club is making to raise $13,000 to finance the road association the ensuring year.

The facts included:

It leads from the seat of government directly through the central and most thickly settled part of the United States.
It directly connects at either end with our Coast system of highways, and with all our military supply stations, and with all our Coast fortifications.
It connects the Atlantic with the Pacific by the shortest route and easiest grades.
It is the most practicable all the year round road.
It is directly connected with the state and county systems of each state through which it runs.
It runs or is closely connected with all the largest centers of population and with the capital of each state through which it runs.

The article listed the mileage of all roads in each Old Trails State from Maryland to California, and noted that the road was directly connected to road system totaling 694,161 miles.

I have elsewhere shown that if only about 122,000 miles (one-fifth) of this system were permanently built, no farm in the states through which it passes would average a greater distance from it than about five miles.

In an emergency the concentration or mobilizing centers would undoubtedly be Boston, New York, Philadelphia, Baltimore, Washington, Richmond, Pittsburgh, Columbia, Cincinnati, Indianapolis, Louisville, St. Louis, Kansas City, Topeka, Denver, Santa Fe, Phoenix, Los Angeles and San Francisco, all directly reached over the National Old Trails Road.

It will serve directly one-third of the population of the United States.

He estimated that one-third of the population to total 32,811,745 people.

Edison says:  “I cannot overestimate the value of good military roads; the railroads have nothing like their elasticity.  With good roads a million men with artillery and supplies can be shifted two hundred miles in twenty-four hours.”

Almost one-third of this road was built and maintained by the government as a national and military highway for nearly forty years and more than one-half of it is now either built or the funds are provided without any strings tied to tentative or conditional promises.

Nearly all transcontinental roads suggested connect at some point with the National Old Trails Road.  [Found in the National Archives at College Park, Maryland]

The White House received Judge Lowe’s letter on April 10 and forwarded it to the Department of Agriculture, which received it on April 12.

The Stationary

Beginning in 1916, the National Old Trails Road Association introduced new stationary for its letters.  At the top on the left appeared the names, title, and home town of the Association’s Officers, including Judge Lowe, president.  On the right, a similar list for executive committee members.

Centered below the list appeared:



Centered between the two lists appeared the Automobile Club of Southern California’s diamond-shaped sign of the road, with the upper point of the diamond just below the “A” in “CANYON.”  Below the diamond was the directional road sign from Kansas City described earlier.

Arrows pointed the east-west directions for the cities from Kansas City.

To the left and right of the centered road sign was a list of State Vice-Presidents

The Federal Aid Road Act

While advocates for national roads, including Judge Lowe, continued to fight for their cause, the House and Senate voted in favor of the Federal-aid concept of Federal-aid to States along the lines of the draft bill developed in Oakland by a committee of the American Association of State Highways Officials (AASHO) and adopted by AASHO for submission to Congress.  Its chief advocate in the Senate was Senator John H. Bankhead of Alabama, chairman of the Committee on Post Offices and Post Roads.

Senator John D. Works of California, by contrast, was one of the outspoken opponents of the Federal-aid concept.  As the Senate debated the bill on April 21, 1916, he began:

I rise to oppose the pending bill.  I appreciate the fact that it is an unpopular thing to do, as it is avowedly legislation in the interest of the States and particularly of the farms of the several States.  But the bill is so clearly vicious as a matter of policy and to my mind it is so clearly against the spirit if not the letter of the Constitution, that I feel it is incumbent upon me to discuss the bill at some length.

He often had expressed concern, he pointed out, about “the present tendency of legislation in Congress . . . to wipe out almost completely the dividing line between the sovereignty and jurisdiction of the States and the Federal Government, and that this has been brought about largely by the desire of the States to secure appropriations of money from the National Government.”  He listed dozens of such bills in areas of public health, education, agriculture, and defense highways and public roads.

He considered the present Federal-aid bill “one of the worst of its kind.”  He went through the provisions before concluding:

I have occupied all the time I think I ought to consume in the discussion of this bill; but I have here a synopsis of the statement made by Judge J. M. Lowe, who is president of the National Old Trails Road Association of Kansas City, Mo., before the Good Roads committee of the House of Representatives, which was prepared by Judge Lowe himself, and which bears upon this question.

He had the statement, initially presented in January 1914, read into the record.  The presentation was summarized in part 1. Judge Lowe asked:

As “Federal aid” in some form is being agitated as preferable to a system of national highways, permit me to ask why make the States contribute an equal amount or any other amount as a condition precedent to any action by the General Government?

Why make the State contribute to a national enterprise at all?

If a road is not of national concern, ought the national revenues be appropriated to it?

One argument was that the State share was justified because the States would benefit from the Federal-aid roads.  “If this is to be the policy, then why not apply it to rivers and harbors,” as well as public buildings, all of which were developed entirely with Federal funds.  He explained:

But “cross-country roads,” “tourists’ roads,” “ocean-to-ocean highways” ought not to be built for fear automobile “joy riders” will use them!

The roads most in favor by these critics are “the rural roads,” the roads in the back districts, in remote sections, where there are no products to market and no people to use them, either for “joy” or necessity – roads that “begin nowhere and end nowhere” – roads of little local value and no general value; these are the roads to which it is proposed by some that the general revenue be applied.

Constitutions in half the States, he had said, prohibited cooperative participation; they would have to be amended.

After going through the long history of debates over internal improvements in the 19th century, he concluded:

But shall those live States and communities which have already awakened to the importance of good roads and have issued road bonds be permitted to participate in this “aid,” or shall it be given as a free bounty or reward only to those backward and slothful communities where there are neither products to market nor people to transport?

If the former are treated at least equally with the latter, then they have already issued $410,000,000 in road bonds and are ready to wipe up any appropriation Congress may make.

New York alone is ready to take up $100,000,000 of this “aid.”

Besides, is it not illogical and impracticable to give, or try to give, joint authority and supervision to the States over a national highway or over any highway?  The Supreme Court has repeatedly said that there is no difference between a highway on the land and on the water.  What would be the result if every State through which a navigable stream may run had jurisdiction and control over it?  There would be no uniformity in its upkeep nor in the navigation laws governing its use.

Joint control and supervision is impracticable and unworkable.  Either the State or the General Government must be supreme.  If each is supreme over its own system and only over its own system, there will be no friction, no departure from the uniform practice of the Government, no questions of State rights nor of paternal nor concentrated Federal power, no conflict of authority, no dodging of responsibility.

And, after all is said, why tax the State, or the people of the State, before permitting them to have any benefit from taxes already paid?  For, twist the whole matter as we may, it all comes back to the ultimate fact that “the people pay the freight,” whether it comes out of the National Treasury or a part of it out of the State treasury.  [ “Good Roads,” Congressional Record-Senate, April 21, 1916, pages 6533, 7225-7226]

The Senate then took up an amendment from Senator Thomas J. Walsh of Montana to appropriate $1 million a year, for 10 years, for roads and trails in national forests.  After Senator Walsh explained the basis for the amendment, Senator Works endorsed it saying, “it would bring one legitimate provision into this bill, because it does provide for work to be done that is national in its character.”  The amendment was “entirely legitimate; and it is the only provision that I have yet noticed in this bill that, in my judgment, is legitimate and proper.”

Despite the efforts of critics, Congress passed the Federal Aid Road Act, which President Wilson signed on July 11, 1916.  It established the Federal-aid highway program and the Federal-State partnership that remains in place, much altered, to this day.  For the story of the legislation, see “Creation of a Landmark:  The Federal Aid Road Act of 1916” on this Website at

The 1916 Act authorized $75 million for Federal-aid projects over a 5-year period, through June 30, 1921, plus $10 million for forest road improvements spread over 10 years.  To participate in the programs, States were required to have effective control of a large measure of road work, to avoid haphazard construction, plus strengthened State participation in maintenance.  Each year, the Secretary of Agriculture was to set aside 3 percent of the appropriation for administration of the Act, then to apportion funds among the States based on:

One-third in the ratio which the area of each State bears to the total area of all the States; one-third in the ratio which the population of each State bears to the total population of all the States, as shown by the latest available Federal census; one-third in the ratio which the mileage of rural delivery routes and star routes in each State bears to the total mileage of rural delivery routes and star routes in all the States, at the close of the next preceding fiscal year, as shown by the certificate of the Postmaster General, which he is directed to make and furnish annually to the Secretary of Agriculture.

The Federal share of costs could not exceed 50 percent, and all work required prior Federal approval. 

Projects were restricted to rural post roads, defined as “any public road over which the United States mails now are or may hereafter be transported, excluding every street and road in a place having a population, as shown by the latest available Federal census, of two thousand five hundred or more, except that portion of any such street or road along which the houses average more than two hundred feet apart.”

At the time, several States did not have a highway department (Delaware, Georgia, Indiana, Nevada, South Carolina, and Texas), while others did not meet the “effective control” test (Arkansas, Florida, Idaho, Kansas, Michigan, Missouri, Oklahoma, South Dakota, and Wyoming).  Recognizing that every State might not be able to use the funds apportioned to it, the Act provided:

That in States where the constitution prohibits the State from engaging in any work of internal improvements, then the amount of the appropriation under this act apportioned to any such State shall be turned over to the highway department of the State or to the governor of said State to be expended under the provisions of this act and under the rules and regulations of the Department of Agriculture when any number of counties in any such State shall appropriate or provide the proportion or share needed to be raised in order to entitle such State to its parts of the appropriation apportioned under this act.

The program operated on a reimbursement basis.  The State paid the full cost of work with its own funds, or funds provided by the counties, then would be reimbursed for the Federal share, up to 50 percent, if the Secretary found that the work was in compliance with plans and specifications.  The Secretary, at his discretion, could make progress payments to the State while the work was underway.  However, the Act stated that payments could not exceed “$10,000 per mile, exclusive of the cost of bridges of more than twenty feet clear span.”

The States were responsible for maintenance of the projects:

To maintain the roads constructed under the provisions of this act shall be the duty of the States, or the laws of the several States.  If at any time the Secretary of Agriculture shall find that any road in any State constructed under the provisions of this act is not being properly maintained he shall give notice of such fact to the highway department of such State; and if within four months from the receipt of said notice said road has not been put in a proper condition of maintenance, then the Secretary of Agriculture shall thereafter refuse to approve any project for road construction in said State, or the civil subdivision thereof, as the fact may be, whose duty is to maintain said road, until it has been put in a condition of proper maintenance.

The Act provided that “all roads constructed under the provisions of this act shall be free from tolls of all kinds.”

The Secretary delegated authority for most work under the 1916 Act to OPRRE.  To handle the increased work, OPRRE established ten districts with an engineer in charge to oversee projects in several States.  The agency also reorganized its headquarters officials into two branches.  “The management branch deals with all administrative fiscal, legal, statistical and economic questions, while the engineering branch has charge of all matters relating to construction and maintenance.” All projects required approvals by the district engineer and the headquarters engineering branch. [Annual Reports of the Department of Agriculture for the Year Ended June 30, 1917, pages 37-38]

OPRRE invited the States to send representatives to Washington to assist in preparing regulations for implementing the provisions of the 1916 Act.  After OPRRE incorporated their ideas into the draft regulations prepared by the Department solicitor, Secretary of Agriculture David F. Houston approved the regulation on September 1, 1916.

Judge Lowe Reacts

Judge Lowe issued an undated statement on “National State and County Highways.”  It began:

We have neither changed nor modified our often expressed opinion that the only practical solution of the “good roads” proposition is that the National Government should construct and maintain a system of national highways, embracing all roads constituting through routes and interstate in character.  This system of National Highways should be supplemented by a system of State highways to be constructed and maintained by the State and embracing the main inter-county routes, and connecting every County seat town with the State and National system.

Each County should construct a system of County roads, supplement such system of State roads and embracing the main inter-town routes, and thus binding together all parts of the Country.

This would give a system of permanently built roads, all connected in one vast scheme and embracing the entire country.

Such a system, Judge Lowe wrote, was inevitable.  In the meantime, the public had been “misled by mistaken legislation looking to the building of short stretches of local roads, beginning nowhere and ending nowhere.”  This “mistaken notion” could be traced “to political demagogues, who, actuated by the opinion that there were a greater number of dirt roads than permanent ones, and possibly believing there was a larger population living in the back ‘districts’ than on the great highways.  Their appeals have been made to a narrow prejudice which utterly misled public sentiment.”

All attempts to develop a system of roads, “by first building local roads have been miserable failures.”  As illustrated by common wagon roads and railroads, “not until trunk lines were built was there any material advance in road building.”  The trunk lines created a desire for building local roads to them.  “Otherwise, there was no desire or reason for the existence of such local feeders.”  Federal construction of national highways would free the States to build improved roads on heavy traffic lines; that would free the counties to build roads from remote districts to the State roads:

A system like this will add an impetus as yet unthought of to road building throughout the nation.  Authority and responsibility will be logically and economically divided and fixed without any possible conflict.  Uniformity and efficiency will result, and the standards of construction and maintenance will be raised, and they will be built in the shortest possible time and with the utmost efficiency.

Despite all these advantages, Congress was not ready:

It is agreed, however, that Congress will, as heretofore, be slow to take any action, at least of a practical and sensible nature, until public sentiment has become so aroused that it will be forced to take action.  In the meantime, and until Congress does take some action, we will abate no effort along this line, but will be on hand, “in season and out of season,” until the general government has arisen to a full appreciation of the situation.

At a time when military preparedness was “being agitated on every hand, we shall insist that as a vital and essential part of such preparedness, nothing is so important as a system of military roads, over which the armies, artillery and supplies, can easily be mobilized”:

The country will never be safe from attack from the east or west, north or south, until such system is constructed.  It is worth while to mention the fact this was a part of the conception in the early history of this country, for the building of the eastern section of the National Old Trails Road as a military road, and it served its purpose well, both in the early history and during the Civil War . . . .

Therefore, we are urging the people not to wait on the slow and possibly uncertain action of Congress, but to build the road and to build it now.  When Congress does take action, there is not a doubt that this Old Road will be included in any system, or in any assistance given by the general government.  No conceivable enterprize [sic] – not even an additional trans-continental railroad or trolley, will be of so much real benefit and value to the country generally and especially to the counties and states through which the road runs as will be of so much real benefit and the value to the country generally and especially to the counties and states through which the road runs as will be the permanent building of the National Old Trails Road.  It is not only a patriotic duty, but it appeals to every motive and instinct which actuate the progressive, wide-awake citizen.

He illustrated his point by discussing what Clay County in Missouri could do under existing statutes to build permanent roads, including the National Old Trails Road, that would increase the value of the land, concluding:

Can you imagine a better insurance or a better investment possible to be made?  Instead of enhancing the value of land in such County by $10,00 an acre, it will more nearly enhance it to $50,000 an acre.  These figures will seem extravagant to those who have never experienced the benefit of permanent roads.  Why wait for National and State Aid, when the opportunity lies so easily within our grasp to ensure such aid by taking immediate action to help ourselves?  [National Archives at College Park, Maryland]

The 1916 Convention

The August 1916 issue of Touring Topics reported on usage of the National Old Trail Road in California:

Travel has been extremely heavy over this transcontinental highway the past few months and there is no sign of any let up.  There is an average of between twenty and thirty cars a day arriving in and leaving Los Angeles over this highway.  Although some rather rough road is encountered between Barstow and Needles, road conditions as a whole between Los Angeles and New York City are excellent.  [“National Old Trails Route,” Touring Topics, August 1916, page 20]

On August 7, Judge Lowe attended a dedication ceremony:

On August 7, several hundred good roads enthusiasts showed their appreciation of good roads by gathering at Eagle’s Nest, located fourteen miles west of Zanesville, on the Old National Pike, to witness the dedication of a memorial to former governor of Ohio, James M. Cox.  The principle speaker was Judge J. M. Lowe, President of the National Old Trails Road Association, of Kansas City, Missouri.  [Better Roads and Streets, November 1916, page 30]

The 1916 convention of the National Old Trails Road Association was held on September 14 and 15 in Herington, Kansas.  According to a summary in the October 1916 issue of Better Roads and Streets, Judge Lowe characterized it as “the greatest convention ever held, enthusiastic but well organized, and before its conclusion the enthusiasm was directed into real road-building channels.”

The convention began with a parade of 400 automobiles, organized by delegations.  Most were from the area but some “cars were present from as far as one hundred and sixty miles.”  Over 700 cars were in town.  Bands accompanied some groups, and the “float of the Childs Furnishing Goods Company, representing the Cradle of the Old Trail, was attractive, unique, and appropriate, and easily captured the prize as best float in the parade”:

Judge Lowe presided at all sessions of the convention, and the Official Music Box, the Old Trails Quartet, enlivened all sessions with selections, the most popular of which was their rendition of the imitation of a stream calliope, which they were compelled to repeat again and again.

Judge Lowe remarked on the great number of banners in the parade advocating Rock Roads, Cement Culverts, and Permanent Roads, and was elated that dirt roads were not mentioned during the convention.

There were, in short, no dirt road men attending the convention.

Presiding at the opening of the first session, Judge Lowe reminded Kansas that they had promised the association that if the convention were held in Herington, they would ensure that the National Old Trails Road would be made a high-class thoroughfare across their State within a year.  He commented on funding available under the new Federal Aid Road Act and the State’s Hodges Act, which he believed would enable roads to be built at less cost to the farmer than was the case in his home State of Missouri.

(The Hodges Rock Road Law, approved in 1909, required county commissioners to comply with road improvement petitions costing more than $500 per mile if 60 percent of the owners of half the property along the route approved.  The law had been expected to spur development of hard surfacing in the State.  [Schirmer, Sherry Lamb, and Dr. Wilson, Theodore A., Milestones:  A History of the Kansas Highway Commission & the Department of Transportation, Kansas Department of Transportation, December 1986, page 14])

The convention included numerous addresses.  E. E. Peake of the Kansas City Auto Dealers Association, asked if anyone would put a paper roof on his house.  He “compared the present work on the dirt roads to a paper roof which would be washed away by the first rain.”  He emphasized the necessity of good roads for agricultural, commercial, and social development throughout the West in general and, in particular, the sections of Kansas tributary to Kansas City.

Kansas State Highway Engineer W. S. Gearhart discussed legislation needed in the State and “pointed out how hard it is to make the country highways of one county match up with the county highways of its adjoining counties without some centralized authority.”  He described the work of his agency and its plans for improving the State’s roads. 

Robert Bruce of Clinton, New York, special representative of the National Highways Association, discussed his drive to the convention, noting a lack of interest in the project in Illinois.  (See the next section for more on Bruce.)
Mrs. John Van Brunt of Kansas, spoke on behalf of the Good Roads Committee of the National Society of the D.A.R.  She “assured the convention of the continued interest of that society in this movement.”  The road was a “memorial to the pioneers.”

C. E. McStay, speaking on behalf of the Automobile Club of Southern California, covered highway improvement along the route in New Mexico, Arizona, and California.  He described counties in California “that had been able to build and maintain hard-surfaced roads for less money per year than the dirt roads had previously cost them.”

Several issues were discussed during the business session on the second morning:

Kansas arose to its opportunity and came before the national convention with a plan to hard-surface the five hundred miles of the road in that State at once.  The enthusiasm of the previous day’s meeting, which is believed to have reached a record in numbers and noise, was repeated when the report came in.  The plan calls for five commissioners, Kansas men, to have charge of the campaign.  They are to get the approval of the State Highway Engineer and the United States Secretary of Agriculture for the improvement of the entire Old Trails Road in Kansas, so that Federal aid will be assured, and then go to the towns and land owners along the line.  Local organizations are to be formed.  In the rural districts the Hodges Road Law will be used and in the towns, the paving laws. County commissioners will be asked to pay at least twenty-five per cent. of the cost of the road.  In this way it is believed that the cost to the adjacent land owner will be reduced to a very low figure.

The plan was to threaten “backward localities” with the motto:  “Build it or lose it.”

The problem heretofore has been to arouse public sentiment to the point where the ones who must pay for the improvements were desirous that the work proceed and the outpouring of delegates to this convention and their unmistakable enthusiasm shows that the time has arrived.

Thirty-three towns of Kansas had over five hundred delegates registered at this convention, and the attendance was probably three thousand.

(As required by the Federal Aid Road Act, the legislature created a highway commission in 1917, and it began operations on April 4, 1917.)

The convention resolved the routing problem in New Mexico and Arizona by amending the association's constitution to allow signs to be posted on both the Gallup and Springerville alternative routes.

The convention also considered the long running dispute between the Old and New Santa Fe trail routes:

After due deliberation and realizing fully our responsibility to this convention to devise a workable plan for accomplishing the permanent hard surfacing of the National Old Trails Road across Kansas, thereby perpetuating for all time to come the Old Santa Fe Trail, so rich in its historic associations and so dear to the Kansas of to-day, we do recommend that this convention adopt substantially the following provisions that we deem essential to the prompt accomplishment of this purpose.

President Lowe was to appoint a commission of five members of the association, actual residents on the road, “to take up this work systematically with the various counties and cities through which the National Highway, as now adopted and marked, exists as a temporary monument.”  The commission would confer with the State Highway Engineer on a plan for permanent surfacing, with the Federal Government to pay its 50-percent share. In addition, the commission was to assess the urban population along the road “as will be necessary to carry on the work of securing the necessary signatures of the individuals necessary under the Hodges Law and the adoption of paving in cities and villages for the cost of the other fifty per cent. of the road.”

Further, the commission was authorized, with the counsel and advice of the president and secretary of the association, “to make such deviation from the present adopted and marked road as may be absolutely necessary to secure the endorsement and building of one half its cost by the local individuals and communities benefited.” Any such deviation would be permanent only if approved by a two-thirds vote of the subsequent annual convention.

The convention passed a number of resolutions in thanks, including to the host city of Herington; the counties of McPherson, Dickinson, and Morris that had “exercised splendid judgment and economy in the construction of permanent cement crossings on the Old Trails Road”; the Automobile Club of Southern California “for being one of the few automobile clubs that has any appreciation of what such clubs should stand for”; and the Citizens Bridge Committee of Richmond, Indiana, which had “labored courageously to build a splendid memorial bridge in Richmond.”

The convention also adopted a resolution commending the National Highways Association and its founder, Charles Henry Davis, “who has given so lavishly and unselfishly of both time and money to the cause.”  No other association had “approximated its vast appropriation of money or the great educational work it has accomplished.”  Some other associations had “grown lukewarm and discouraged” as a result of the Federal-aid legislation, but the National Highways Association and its National Old Trails Road department “have remained in this great field of useful endeavor, contending all the more earnestly for the great ideals for which we mutually stand.” 

Judge Lowe was reelected unanimously as president, while Frank Davis was again elected secretary.  [“National Old Trails Fifth Annual Convention,” Better Roads and Streets, October 1916, pages 12-14]