1919 Transcontinental Convoy: Utah Provides a Warm Welcome, and a Glimpse of Some Tough Motoring Ahead

August 19, 1919

Just a couple of days after crossing from Wyoming to Utah, the U.S. Army’s Cross-Country Motor Transport Train took eight-and-a-half hours to travel 73 miles (117.5 kilometers) from its overnight stay at Glenwood Park in Ogden to Salt Lake City. The imminent stopover of the convoy in Utah’s state capital was awaited with great eagerness by city residents. The Salt Lake Herald-Republican gave voice to this widespread anticipation by asserting in its August 10 edition, “The arrival of the United States army transport caravan in Salt Lake . . . will illustrate the tremendous possibilities of highway transportation and will demonstrate the urgent necessity of linking up national roads.”

The convoy finally reached Salt Lake City at 2:45 p.m. on August 19, and to say that it was given the red-carpet treatment would be an understatement. First Lieutenant Elwell R. Jackson noted in his daily log, “Convoy escorted into Salt Lake City by Reception Committee and followed by parade of several hundred commercial trucks, with two bands and blowing whistles.” Utah Governor Simon Bamberger, along with more than a dozen of his fellow governors who were in Salt Lake City at the time to attend a convention of state executives, joined thousands of other people in watching the parade as it proceeded through the city’s streets.

At the conclusion of what the Salt Lake Tribune called “the imposing parade,” a group of women presented convoy commander Lieutenant Colonel Charles W. McClure with a purple-and-white floral arrangement resembling a motor truck. It was soon thereafter that McClure was given what he might have regarded as an even more welcome and heartwarming gift: a telegram from the U.S. War Department in Washington, DC., confirming that – after covering 2,499 miles (4,021.8 kilometers) since the expedition began in the nation’s capital on July 7 – the convoy had set a new long-distance travel record for motorized U.S. Army caravans.

The hospitality provided to the convoy’s participants in Salt Lake City extended well into the evening, and it included a dinner and dance at the Hotel Utah Roof Garden at the intersection of South Temple and Main Streets. “Salt Lakers spared no pains in making the stay of the convoy one of enjoyment,” proclaimed the Salt Lake Tribune.

The convoy left Salt Lake City at 6:30 the following morning, but not before McClure took time on behalf of everyone under his command to say thanks for the hospitality of their hosts. “You may tell the good people of Salt Lake that the officers and men found a welcome in your city not exceeded at any place since we left Washington,” said McClure. “We have been royally entertained and I can only say that we regret exceedingly that our schedule compels us to hurry on.” The Cross-Country Motor Transport Train was soon back on the road again for the remainder of its journey through Utah, and this stretch would prove to be one of the toughest of the entire trip.

Additional information on the U.S. Army’s transcontinental motor convoy, including its travels through Utah, is available at https://slate.com/human-interest/2015/08/in-1919-eisenhower-took-a-disastrous-road-trip-that-led-to-his-support-of-the-modern-paved-highway.html.

For more information on the history of Utah’s transportation network, please check out https://www.uen.org/utah_history_encyclopedia/t/TRANSPORTATION.shtml.

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