From prolific and eclectic British author Davies (The Devil’s Flu, 2000, etc.), 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, 1993) 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.