In 1915, Effie Gladding came to Iowa to drive the Lincoln Highway, as she said, “in the spirit of the open road and the flying wheel.” Since almost the entire length of the road across the state was dirt, she needed that adventuresome spirit. Even a light rain could result in her Model T being mired in mud up to the axle.
A friend and I took set out last week on much better roads to explore the Lincoln Highway, searching for ideas that could become stories we’ll write in the coming year as the Lincoln Highway celebrates its 100th Anniversary.
Now called Highway 30, the Lincoln Highway in its old and new forms is well marked. The new version is straight and true and could get a determined driver from the Mississippi River on the eastern edge of the state to the Missouri River on the west in four or so hours. But if you drive that road, you’ll miss almost all of what the original Lincoln Highway is about.
We channeled Effie’s spirit for adventure and it took us all day to drive half the route, from Ames to Missouri Valley. The old highway was anything but straight and it sought out every little town along the route. By slowing down and taking our time, we found a wealth of interesting sights, learned a lot of history, and met gracious Iowans.
In the course of the day, we came across old gas stations with antique gas pumps; we paid our respects in Glidden at the grave of Merle Hay, one of the first three American soldiers to die in WWI; we traversed dusty gravel roads in search of examples of bridge architecture that exist nowhere else in the United states; we attracted the attention of locals in Ogden who knew exactly why we were wandering down the middle of their Main Street with our eyes glued to the ground. They stopped to make sure we found it! We learned about the people who have dedicated their time and their pocket books to preserving vestiges of this old highway. We came back with our notebooks filled with ideas for stories.
We carried Effie Gladding’s spirit for adventure with as we, like Robert Frost, took ‘the road less traveled,’ and that made all the difference.