: Cross-country travel before the interstate system?



Jesda
12-10-09, 03:10 AM
I figured this forum was the best to ask about life before The Eisenhower System. When traveling across the country, did you have to slow down frequently when passing through towns? Were mountains and deserts treacherous?

Were there fewer refueling stations, requiring careful planning for stops?

Genuinely curious.

C&C
12-10-09, 06:19 AM
Before the Interstate system, there was (and still is) the U.S. Hwy system. And you are correct that they went through a lot of towns/cities on the way to your destination (though back then there was a lot less clutter, i.e. urban sprawl that we see today). The same number type description applied; north/south were odd number, and east/west were even number (though note: the low numbers started in the east and north; opposite of the interstate system numbers, which start the lower number west and south).

Aurora5000
12-10-09, 08:05 AM
Good ole Route 66

Night Wolf
12-10-09, 09:10 AM
I have often wondered this myself, and became really interested in US highways, you can Wiki the highways and read up on them - pretty neat.

If I was ever traveling and not trying to make the best time, I thought about traveling via US hwy, example, US19 runs within 30 miles of me, which is one of the main highways thru Clearwater, same with US 441, which is what runs right past my parents place near Gainesville, FL.

Problem is, the times I have traveled on US highways, I get really impatient when going thru the small stop and go towns with 35mph limits...

EcSTSatic
12-10-09, 09:42 AM
Yeah, listen to Salley in Cars http://www.pixarcars.tv/assets/images/cars---sally-01.jpg

IH35 from Wichita to San Antonio has gotten so bad with construction, congestion and generally just poor drivers that don't understand common courtesy that we pick up US281 which runs parallel. We have to slow down occasionally but overall it is just as fast as the interstate

http://www.ushwy281.org/images/281sign.jpg

Submariner409
12-10-09, 10:09 AM
Fortunately for me, my mother and her mother absolutely loved to drive. By the time I was 6 I knew most of the roads and towns between DC and western Maryland by heart. After the end of the War people got out and explored the country again. Many small towns, very little traffic, and the kid at the gas station would, after my grandma said "Give me a dollar's worth, please" check the tires, water, and oil and "pump" the gas. Often a rural station would have a hand gas pump which moved gasoline up into a large, graduated glass tank, then flowed by gravity into the car tank. The graduated glass held 5 gallons, I believe.

We had a live-in maid/housekeeper named Bertha, a tiny little black woman from North Carolina. She used to read Greek mythology to me at bedtime - anyway, in the early summer of '51 Mom, my younger sister, Bertha and I took a road trip to Florida to visit an aunt. In a 1950 Chrysler 4-door tank. It was a 3.5 day trip down old U.S. 1 and 301, so involved 3 nights in motels. Remember, this was 1950, so Mom had to call each motel to find out if they allowed blacks to stay there ! (Especially in SC and GA). Well, it all worked out OK down and back, but it sure was a scenic trip, with the towns, slowdowns, all in all a leisurely drive. Not like today - haul ass to your destination and see/remember nothing.

Even now, when Karen and I go visit her daughter in Gainesville we detour off onto the old "highways" for a glimpse into the past. We have met some really nice people along the way..........

Stingroo
12-10-09, 10:48 AM
Well.... I travel US1 every day. I don't even consider it a highway anymore. Though some would. Speed limit posted is often 45, and between stoplights it isn't unusual to see people doing 65+ (me included :o). It was actually a really good road to learn to drive defensively on. Lots of opportunities to make maneuvers to avoid slow/stupid/overly multitasking people.

Same with 441 in South Florida. It's a pain in the ass though, because from my experience it's riddled with cops... Beyond those two roads, I've never experienced it. Always just been the interstate.

orconn
12-10-09, 04:50 PM
I think Sub caught a lot of the feel of traveling the non-super highway roads of America in the 1940's and '50's. As I grew up on both coasts I crossed the U.S. by car four times before I was five years old. Our trusty car for these transcontiental trips was a 1940 Packard 120 touring sedan (repalced in 1950 by a new Packard sedan). Of course speed of travel was much more leisurely in the days before limited access interstates and the time it took to go from L.A. to Philadelphia was over five days instead of the three to four days it takes today. I remember going through the towns and cities and the particular smell each local had and the different food that was served as you progressed across country. And the different theme motels where you stayed. The adobes of the southwest and the wigwams of the west, Victorian rooming houses, old, well, before WWII hotels. Because you were close to it all, and passing it at relatively slow speeds you were much more in touch with the sights and smells of all the different things you encountered while traveling. The thing I remember most though was playing a game with my Dad where we would compete to see who could name the make and year of oncoming cars. This game was fun and a lot easier then because of relatively thin traffic volume othe that time.

Summer vacation trips to see relatives, or visit national parks or scenic wonders were a big deal in those days and as the old saying said "half the fun" was getting there. We didn't have air conditioning (in those days people would cross the deserts at night to avoid heat. Out west many cars had canvas water bags hung by rope on the front of the car to provide emergency drinking water or to refill boiled over radiators (very prevealent in the mountains of the West).

Unlike Sub, I had no experience travelling in the segregated South or, other than the Southwest, in the southern U.S. at all. And after the Second World War northern families usually only had day cleaing help and not live in servants. I didn't encounter racial segregation until 1954 when I first ran into it with the segregated restrooms, drinking fountains, restaurants and hotels in Maryland. To be honest I was greatly taken aback by this segregation, having been raised mostly in the West where segregation formal or otherwise really was a not a part of our way of life. I never quite got used to it when I visited Washington, D.C. either.

In those days the U.S. was much more regional in nature than today so travelling through various parts of the country one saw, felt and smelled the differences much more than one does speeding on an eleveated highway or from 30,000 feet in an airplane today. Travel is so cheap and generic today that most people take it for granted as opposed to realizing that travel for pleasure is really a privilege.

Submariner409
12-10-09, 05:14 PM
Yeah........every gas station from Maryland south had bathrooms (not "restrooms") labeled "Negro" and "White". DC was an enigma - For 3 years I climbed on a half-hour streetcar trip to go work shadetree auto repair on Saturdays down in Southeast DC - in what would now be called a ghetto. I was the only white kid within miles and worked with two middle-age black mechanics from McLean Auto (MG/Jaguar/Hillman) down in Georgetown. I never had a seconds' trouble in any fashion. Made some gas bucks, too. Learned a lot about people. Made a lot of friends.

Anyone remember looking for Burma Shave sign strings ? 4 or 5 signs, a hundred yards apart on the same side of the road -

Be like a noble
Not a knave
Caesar uses
Burma Shave

and so on.

And Stuckey's road houses, pecans and all. Howard Johnson's restaurants. Frozen custard stands (like Dairy Queen and Twin Kiss). In the DC area, Little Tavern hamburgers "Buy em' by the bag !"

Packard !!! .........My Dad bought a used Packard town car during WW-II because it had good tires: you could not, for love nor money, get rubber during the War. Dad had come back from the Pacific with shrapnel in his legs and was working as Foreman on a family dairy farm (essential industry) so we had steak ( a cow would "die" every now and then) and rationed gasoline for the tractors would come home in glass Coke syrup gallon jugs. Whole different world, folks.......orconn, Probably just a bit late for you, but do you remember air raid drills ?? Blankets over the windows, no car headlights allowed.

GailyBedight
12-10-09, 07:39 PM
Remember Howard Johnson's - a real treat for the kids when traveling. I still remember my Dad's stash of FREE Esso maps.

We used to make 2 or 3 trips a year from West Virginia later New Jersey to Rhode Island to visit my Grandmother. How my parents did that with 4 kids in the car I'll never know.

c5 rv
12-10-09, 07:53 PM
We lived in Ohio and my dad's family lived in California. Every other summer, starting in the early 50s, our family would take a 3 week driving vacation to California. He worked for GM and would borrow a company car for the trip. We never knew what car it would be until dad picked it up. By the time I started going in the later 50s, there were some freeways, but many of the roads were 2-lane, especially through the mountains.

Mom and dad would plan each trip to take about a week driving out, visiting places along the way. We'd spend about 8-9 days visiting my dad's family, and drive 5 days straight home. Each trip took a different route headed west, with the tripped planned using a AAA triptik. Dad planned for no more than 500 miles per day. Texaco stations were often located with a Stuckey's restaurant which served great burgers and milkshakes. We'd start early in the morning and stop by 4:00 in the afternoon at a motel with a pool.

Stuff I remember on the road:

- Watching for Clabber Girl baking powder signs.
- Certain tourist traps (I don't remember the names anymore) that had signs that started appearing two states away. We stopped at one, once, and it was terrible. I never asked to stop at one again.
- Driving the loooong way across Texas - more than one day.
- When leaving some desert towns, there were signs that warned how many miles there were until the next gas station. Many times it was more than 100 miles.
- Mountain roads were narrow and full of switchbacks.
- We never stopped at truck stops. Mom hated them.
- One trip, we brought my mom's mom along and we had a Corvair. Driving in the southwest mountains, grandma had a death grip on the door frame between the side window and vent window. (no AC) On that trip, the route got completely changed the night before we left because dad picked up a Corvair with an air cooled engine. What better car to drive across the desert with.

By the time I was a teenager, I had been in every lower 48 state west of the Mississippi except Louisiana.

orconn
12-10-09, 11:03 PM
I am afraid I am too young to remember air raid drills and "black out curtains" but I do remember the Burma Shave signs and all the road sign advertising wondrous freaks of nature and other oddities to be seen at momandpop tourist attractions. The "Jackalope" springs back to memory. I also remember stopping by cool mountain streams to refill oour cool water supply and refill the radiator. I have vivid memories of passing hundreds of trucks pulled to the side of the road cooling their brakes which had overheated descending th "Grapevine" into the San Joaquin Valley in Central California. We always vacationed for a week in the High Sierras nad then another week at Laguna Beach. The last time I did the transcontinental drive was in 1963 .... still no airconditioning and only a partially completed interstate freeway system. It was wall to wall corn from just west of Cambridge, Ohio clear to St. Louis. Interstate 70 wasn't completed yet so most of the way was three (remember those) lane and four lane highways which zig and zagged their way through small towns and big cities alike.

I am surprised that no one has mentioned speed traps which seemed to be primary sources of revenue for small towns along Route 40 and Route 66 and many other roads. While their was much to be enjoyed taking the old roads, the limited access interstates certainly made it more efficient to transport freight ...... unfortunately to the detriment of the railroads.

77CDV
12-10-09, 11:11 PM
The old US highways are great, but you do need to have the time to enjoy them properly. It's a whole different USA you see when you get off the interstates, a more authentic version of the country rather than the homogenized urban continuum the interstate promotes. Slowing down through all the little towns is essential, both to avoid contributing to the local economy perforce and to really see and absorb the uniqueness of the place you're in. They were simpler roads for a more civilized time, before people felt the need to be completely connected to everything 24/7.

iowasevillests
12-10-09, 11:47 PM
Although I'm way to young to remember the days before the interstate system I have to say when I map out my trips on gmaps I will generally take the state roads unless there is a considerably faster route via interstate. Where I grew up it was an hour to I-70 and it was generally just quicker to take the state highways as they offered a more direct route with the tradeoff of the more frequent stops. Besides its a much more interesting trip going state vs interstate.

I will say its sad the number of people in my generation who don't realize that there are other roads besides the interstate, I met way too many people from the Kansas City metro area while at college who didn't realize there was more than 1 road in western Kansas.....they would go to Colorado to ski and just assumed the only way to get there was to get on I-70 and go west...and west....and west somemore. Granted the western half of the state can be rather boring as Jesda showed us in his most recent travel posting, but to think that it was the only road out there??? But with our on-demand society I shouldn't be too surprised

dkozloski
12-11-09, 01:07 AM
Yeah........every gas station from Maryland south had bathrooms (not "restrooms") labeled "Negro" and "White". DC was an enigma - For 3 years I climbed on a half-hour streetcar trip to go work shadetree auto repair on Saturdays down in Southeast DC - in what would now be called a ghetto. I was the only white kid within miles and worked with two middle-age black mechanics from McLean Auto (MG/Jaguar/Hillman) down in Georgetown. I never had a seconds' trouble in any fashion. Made some gas bucks, too. Learned a lot about people. Made a lot of friends.

Anyone remember looking for Burma Shave sign strings ? 4 or 5 signs, a hundred yards apart on the same side of the road -

Be like a noble
Not a knave
Caesar uses
Burma Shave

and so on.

And Stuckey's road houses, pecans and all. Howard Johnson's restaurants. Frozen custard stands (like Dairy Queen and Twin Kiss). In the DC area, Little Tavern hamburgers "Buy em' by the bag !"

Packard !!! .........My Dad bought a used Packard town car during WW-II because it had good tires: you could not, for love nor money, get rubber during the War. Dad had come back from the Pacific with shrapnel in his legs and was working as Foreman on a family dairy farm (essential industry) so we had steak ( a cow would "die" every now and then) and rationed gasoline for the tractors would come home in glass Coke syrup gallon jugs. Whole different world, folks.......orconn, Probably just a bit late for you, but do you remember air raid drills ?? Blankets over the windows, no car headlights allowed.
We had actual air raids in Alaska. I remember the day that the Japanese bombed Dutch harbor and we figured we were next because we were a major stopping and staging base for Lend-Lease to Russia. There were hundreds of Russians in Fairbanks and 90% of them were staggering drunk. We had no shortages and little rationing. Everybody killed the meat they ate and there was plenty of gasoline. We had a '37 Buick with a floor shift that had belonged to a bootlegging U.S Marshal and it had some bullet holes in it.

Submariner409
12-11-09, 09:32 AM
Heh, heh......! Driving across Texas =

"The sun is riz and the sun is set;
Here we is in Texas, yet."

dkozloski
12-11-09, 02:04 PM
Several western states like Nevada and Montana had no speed limits on rural highways. Most other states were sparsely patrolled. I drove mile after mile in my Pontiac with the pedal to the metal and the speedometer needle buried.

MacMuse
12-11-09, 03:02 PM
...
- Certain tourist traps (I don't remember the names anymore) that had signs that started appearing two states away. We stopped at one, once, and it was terrible. I never asked to stop at one again.
...

Seems a little north of your likely routes, but this South Dakota "attraction" remains in operation today with their signs across the country.

http://images.google.com/images?hl=en&q=wall+drug+signs

Jesda
12-11-09, 03:12 PM
I have several Wall Drug bumper stickers lol

EcSTSatic
12-11-09, 03:58 PM
http://www.walldrug.com/images/Product/medium/1458.jpg

thebigjimsho
12-12-09, 03:05 AM
I have several Wall Drug bumper stickers lol


http://www.walldrug.com/images/Product/medium/1458.jpg
Awww, hells yeah! I went to Wall Drug with on a cross country trip with my grandparents in their motorhome when I was 9. Flew to CA with my family and stayed there when my family flew home. Spent all summer going the long way from CA to the UP of MI and then back.

Went to Wall Drug again back in '04 on a cross country trip in the V.

Got my Bailey there...







http://pic90.picturetrail.com/VOL2241/2287429/17004805/379441071.jpg

Caddyshack100
12-12-09, 08:08 AM
For a great Video on Travelling on the Highways, watch 'The Grapes of Wrath'

thebigjimsho
12-12-09, 10:47 AM
Got my Bailey there...

Nothing like bad self-pics at 3:05AM...

I~LUV~Caddys8792
12-12-09, 11:00 AM
Being a traveling salesman, I do a LOT of driving across rural Minnesota (between 900-1200 miles a week), and while I enjoy a good scenic two lane highway from time to time, the interstates are where it's at! There's nothing worse than being two hours from home when you make your last sales call and having to drive on a slower two lane highway through all these small towns where you've gotta keep changing your speed from 55mph to 30 and back again. I love being able to get onto an interstate and setting the cruise at 75 and just getting home!

gdwriter
12-12-09, 11:42 PM
Back in the late 1950s before my parents were married, my Dad would drive from Abilene, TX (where he was stationed in the USAF) to New Hampshire (where my parents grew up and where my mother still lived). He would do it in two days straight in a 1951 Ford Crestliner, and in his words, he was "young and stupid." Very little of the Interstate system was built along his route, but once he got the Northeast, he could at least take the turnpikes that predated the Interstates.

thebigjimsho
12-14-09, 03:30 PM
Back in the late 1950s before my parents were married, my Dad would drive from Abilene, TX (where he was stationed in the USAF) to New Hampshire (where my parents grew up and where my mother still lived). He would do it in two days straight in a 1951 Ford Crestliner, and in his words, he was "young and stupid." Very little of the Interstate system was built along his route, but once he got the Northeast, he could at least take the turnpikes that predated the Interstates.
That was a chore for me doing the same thing in the '09 on the Interstate...

gdwriter
12-14-09, 04:27 PM
^^ But an '09 CTS-V is about a gazillion times better highway car than a '51 Ford Crestliner.

thebigjimsho
12-14-09, 05:15 PM
^^ But an '09 CTS-V is about a gazillion times better highway car than a '51 Ford Crestliner.
My comment inferred being impressed as to ancient equipment... :cookoo:

gdwriter
12-14-09, 05:39 PM
My comment inferred being impressed as to ancient equipment... :cookoo:Gotcha.

I've taken Betty on some 200+ mile road trips, and Interstate or not, it's an eye-opener. Contemporary reviews of the car comment on its quietness, but compared the Seville, there's so much more wind and road noise (since Betty's A/C works well, I can keep the windows up at highway speeds). You hear the engine, too, but that's partially due to the Powerglide; at 70 MPH, I'm doing over 3,000 RPM.

I need to replace Betty's carpet, and I'm going to put a couple extra layers of sound insulation underneath to see if I can quiet things down a bit.

But other than the noise (and the lousy gas mileage), Betty's a good highway car. The ride is excellent, power is readily available for passing, and unless there are strong winds, she tracks well going down the road.

dkozloski
12-14-09, 05:45 PM
When I was a kid growing up in Alaska there were no paved roads in the territory. Main highways were two-lane gravel roads. The Steese highway north out of Fairbanks to the Yukon river was one lane road and most places two cars could not pass each other if they met. There were wider places graded out every so often so one or the other would have to back up. During the lunch hour you'd stop and build a cooking fire in the middle of the road. If somebody else came along they'd stop and eat lunch with you. The road was closed in the winter time. The road south out of Fairbanks to Valdez and the Pacific ocean was mostly two-lane gravel with some one-lane. The road over Thompson Pass to Valdez averaged 40-50 feet of snowfall so it was also closed in the winter except to dog teams and horse drawn sleds. The only way in or out of Fairbanks in the winter was by railroad to Seward and it could be closed with snowfall and avalanches for days at a time. Right around WWII regular air service to the states began.

orconn
12-14-09, 06:09 PM
When I was a kid growing up in Alaska there were no paved roads in the territory. Main highways were two-lane gravel roads. The Steese highway north out of Fairbanks to the Yukon river was one lane road and most places two cars could not pass each other if they met. There were wider places graded out every so often so one or the other would have to back up. During the lunch hour you'd stop and build a cooking fire in the middle of the road. If somebody else came along they'd stop and eat lunch with you. The road was closed in the winter time. The road south out of Fairbanks to Valdez and the Pacific ocean was mostly two-lane gravel with some one-lane. The road over Thompson Pass to Valdez averaged 40-50 feet of snowfall so it was also closed in the winter except to dog teams and horse drawn sleds. The only way in or out of Fairbanks in the winter was by railroad to Seward and it could be closed with snowfall and avalanches for days at a time. Right around WWII regular air service to the states began.

Sounds like the Sargent Preston of the Yukon radio show I used to listen to after school. But now for the important thing .... did Santa amke it to Fairbanks, Alaska?

Submariner409
12-14-09, 06:20 PM
Santa spends his summers in Fairbanks. How my two sisters graduated from U of A up there is beyond me. Good science school, I guess.

dkozloski
12-15-09, 12:34 PM
Sounds like the Sargent Preston of the Yukon radio show I used to listen to after school. But now for the important thing .... did Santa amke it to Fairbanks, Alaska?
Santa lives fourteen miles away in North Pole. It's an easy day trip.
http://fairbanks-alaska.com/north-pole-alaska.htm