December 28, 1917
An experimental U.S. Army convoy of three-ton (2.7-metric ton) Packard motor trucks completed its long-distance trip between the Midwest and the Atlantic coast, arriving in downtown Baltimore two weeks after departing from Detroit. All but one of the 30 trucks that had left Detroit on December 14 completed this challenging journey. Other vehicles in the convoy were delivery, ambulance, and oil tank trucks as well as two Dodge automobiles.
The convoy’s commander was U.S. Army Captain Bennett Bronson. A total of 80 enlisted soldiers and three officers took part in the trip. Others traveling with the convoy included Henry C. Osterman, a strong highways advocate who was serving at the time on the Transport Committee of the Council for National Defense.
The New York-based Sun newspaper reported, “The purpose of the trip was to prove the practicability of such method of moving the [trucks] over long distances, to relieve the railroads of the burden of carrying them, and to test the carrying qualities of the trucks themselves.”
Trucks at that time customarily were not driven over long distances but rather transported via railroads. The ongoing U.S. involvement in World War I and the consequent need for multiple trucks at and near the battlefront in Europe, however, increasingly placed an unprecedented burden on the nation’s logistical network. The railroads — already heavily saddled with the transport of freight and troops for the war effort – were stretched beyond capacity, so it was decided to instead organize an overland test-run of trucks to ships docked in Baltimore that could then bring the vehicles to France for use by the American Expeditionary Force.
Much of the trip of nearly 600 miles (965.6 kilometers) between Detroit and Baltimore took place on the Lincoln Highway. Those participating in the convoy found themselves dealing with such wintry hardships as subzero temperatures and steep snowdrifts. The overall success of the convoy in surmounting those obstacles and reaching its destination led to thousands of more trucks traveling via highways to the Atlantic coast throughout the remainder of the war. The convoy also reinforced the ever-growing importance of improved roads nationwide.