1919 Transcontinental Convoy: Illinois Proves Friendly, But Dusty

July 22, 1919

With more than two-thirds of its transcontinental journey remaining, the U.S. Army’s Cross-Country Motor Transport Train completed the Illinois portion of the trip. The convoy had arrived in DeKalb the previous afternoon, camping for the night at Annie’s Woods public park and receiving an enthusiastic welcome from the city’s residents.

Approximately 3,000 people made their way to Annie’s Woods to meet the soldiers of the convoy, and many of those people remained at the makeshift camp until at least 11:00 p.m. In reporting on the festivities, the DeKalb-based Daily Chronicle placed a spotlight on convoy commander Lieutenant Colonel Charles W. McClure. “The colonel is one of those big fellows and in the opinion of many who met him is a prince of a fellow,” stated the newspaper. “He stopped and chatted with people at the grounds, and when the Red Cross folks announced that lemonade was ready he was the first one to get to the stand to a cool refreshing drink.”

The Cross-Country Motor Transport Train departed Annie’s Woods at 6:16 a.m. on July 22. During its final day in Illinois, the convoy traveled through Rochelle, Franklin Grove, Dixon, and Sterling. One of the high points of that Tuesday’s trek was when the convoy’s officers were treated to a luncheon at the Elks Club in Sterling; this event was hosted by William Ernst of the graphite products manufacturer Joseph Dixon Crucible Company.

Overall, however, the convoy experienced more frustrations than fun in the final stretch of 90 miles (144.8 kilometers) in Illinois. A major problem involved the dusty roads, which McClure bluntly characterized as “deplorable.” The thick and blinding clouds of dust kicked up by convoy vehicles posed potential dangers to everyone in the group. Consequently, the vehicles were spaced further apart from each other on the road to avoid collisions with each other. While this action likely prevented a large number of accidents, it also resulted in the pace and momentum of the convoy being diluted as several vehicles lagged significantly behind during processions through communities en route.

In any case, the convoy still encountered more than its fair share of motorized troubles. After two plank bridges each collapsed beneath the weight of army trucks, engineers on the convoy had to toil under the hot summer sun to repair them. When one of the soldiers riding a motorcycle swerved to avoid a civilian automobile, he slammed into a hitching post and was thrown into the air. In addition, several trucks in the convoy broke down during the course of the day and had to be towed elsewhere for repairs. “The most tedious day of the expedition,” was the glum appraisal offered by McClure in his daily message to Washington, D.C., about the convoy’s progress.

Notwithstanding the very dusty roads and other forms of bad luck, the day did contain one major geographical milestone for the Cross-Country Motor Transport Train. At 4:10 p.m., the convoy crossed the Mississippi River. The structure used for this crossing was the High Bridge between Clinton, Iowa (in the part of the city that had once been the town of Lyons) and Fulton, Illinois. This rickety bridge, which had been built to carry wagons, was opened in 1891. Hundreds of people stood near both ends of the bridge on July 22 to watch as the convoy’s vehicles (no more than three or four at a time) traveled across it at a snail’s pace. (The High Bridge, incidentally, remained in service until being replaced by the present-day Norbert F. Beckey Bridge in the 1970s.)

Now that the convoy was in Iowa, it camped at River Front Park in Clinton for the night. The Indianapolis Star reported, “The Victory truck train of the United States Army is parked on the west bank of the Mississippi tonight, 1,000 miles [1,609.3 kilometers] out of Washington and a third of the way to its goal, San Francisco.”

For more information on the one-time High Bridge and its use by the U.S. Army’s transcontinental motor convoy, please check out https://www.clintonherald.com/news/local_news/remembering-the-lyons-fulton-high-bridge/article_e1d9298b-aac2-58a7-8cef-3c76b8844be0.html.

Additional information on the history of transportation in the vicinity of Clinton, Iowa, is available at http://www.iowalincolnhighway.org/counties/clinton-2/.

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