1919 Transcontinental Convoy: Mud in Ohio Slows The Trip Down

July 15, 1919

The U.S. Army’s Cross-Country Motor Transport Train, just over a week after leaving Washington, D.C., to embark on its pioneering transcontinental journey, was traveling through Ohio and struggling with the aftereffects of heavy rain that threatened to significantly slow down the convoy. The California-bound procession of vehicles had crossed over into Ohio from Pennsylvania on July 12 and initially enjoyed clear weather while moving through the Buckeye State.

“Fair and warm,” was the shorthand weather report given by First Lieutenant Elwell R. Jackson in his daily log entry for July 13. He and the other soldiers in the convoy ended up in the Ohio village (now city) of Columbiana on that Sunday for what turned out to be one of the highlights of the entire trip: a visit to tire industrialist Harvey S. Firestone’s lavish family homestead, Harbel Manor. Firestone had made transportation history nearly two decades earlier when he founded the Firestone and Rubber Company, which became one of the first global makers of automotive tires.

Unsurprisingly, Firestone was a huge supporter of the Cross-Country Motor Transport Train and its long-distance journey. He had even been on hand for the convoy’s departure from the Zero Milestone in the nation’s capital on July 7. Now that the members of that convoy were his guests at Harbel Manor, Firestone wasted no expense to give them and the many others in attendance that day a big and memorable welcome. “Here a fine dinner was served to over 400 guests in a large assembly tent,” noted Jackson in his log. “Music was furnished by a band, several soloists and a male trio.”

Firestone took time to address those gathered for the festive occasion. That day’s edition of the Akron Evening Times reported, “Mr. Firestone emphasized the difference in roads and transportation methods from the time when his grandfather cleared the wilderness and built the family home 103 years ago and the arrival of the soldiers by motor transport over paved highway and by automobile trucks.”

Others speaking to the group that day included Lieutenant Colonel Charles W. McClure, the convoy’s commander. McClure, according to the Akron Evening Times, “said the trip was for the purpose of demonstrating what can be done in motor transportation for army purposes, for making observations as to the value of the Lincoln Highway, which is the route being followed, and to stimulate interest in the motor transport and obtain enlistments.”

By the following afternoon, the convoy arrived in the town (present-day city) of Wooster and spent the night at a campground there. It rained heavily that night, with additional showers taking place the following morning. The difficulties with which the convoy’s 65 vehicles maneuvered out of what had become a mud-covered campground at around 6:45 a.m. on July 15 would serve as a harbinger of the tough trek that lay ahead that day.

Jackson recounted, “About five miles [8.1 kilometers] west of Wooster detour was necessary [on account of] construction work on Lincoln Highway – soft dirt road was encountered, made muddy by last night’s rain.” At 11:00 that morning, as noted by Jackson, the convoy encountered a non-weather complication when the rear wheels of one of its tankers went through the floor of a wooden culvert bridge that it was crossing. The tanker was extricated and towed away, and engineers on the convoy then spent three hours repairing the bridge so that all of the other vehicles could travel over it.

The Cross-Country Motor Transport Train continued to lumber along steadily but slowly on the muddied roads of north-central Ohio. The vehicles finally started making their way through Mansfield at 4:00 that afternoon, and many of the city’s residents – despite also having to deal with the soggy aftermath of the previous night’s downpour – lined up along the road to give the soldiers an enthusiastic welcome. That day’s edition of the Mansfield-based News-Journal proclaimed, “Greatest Motor Tour Ever Attempted Show Attainments of United States Government; Mansfielders Greet Leaders of Train.”

The slow-paced passing of the convoy through Mansfield underscored the adverse impact of the rainy weather and other on-the-road complications that day; the last of the vehicles did not make their way into the city until 10:00 that night. The convoy finished the day in the town (now city) of Bucyrus and camped there for the night.

For more information on the visit of the U.S. Army’s transcontinental motor convoy to the home of Harvey S. Firestone, please check out https://www.fhwa.dot.gov/infrastructure/back0806.cfm.

Highway maps for Ohio between 1912 and 2003 are available at http://www.dot.state.oh.us/Divisions/Planning/TechServ/TIM/Pages/OfficialTransportationMaps.aspx.

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