Energy and Transportation
On July 7, 1919, the U.S. Army began an experiment that would eventually lead to the dramatic transformation of America’s transportation system. That day, eighty-one vehicles, ranging from motorcycles to heavy trucks, left the zero milestone marker in Washington, D.C., and started on a westward journey to California. This convoy intended to test the viability of long-distance ground travel across the American continent. The experiment would establish how fast and how effectively the U.S. armed forces could send troops and heavy equipment to the West Coast if that region might ever be invaded by foreign aggressors.
America’s first transcontinental military convoy experiment included an intelligent U.S. Army lieutenant colonel who served as an official observer. The young officer noted that roads in America’s eastern states were of relatively good quality for travel. Once the convoy passed the border of Illinois and made its way through the less populated western states, however, conditions became no better than in the pioneer days of the nineteenth century. Ruts and holes damaged truck axles. Vehicles became stuck in mud from rainstorms. Old bridges that spanned rivers and creeks almost collapsed under the weight of the heavy trucks. In Utah, the entire convoy was almost lost in quicksand. After sixty-two days and behind schedule, the convoy arrived at its final destination of San Francisco. The lieutenant colonel’s official report estimated that at least 1,800 miles (2,900 kilometers) of the U.S. roads