What would it be like to travel the length of the Lincoln Highway, then return home on much of Route 66, in a classic car?
Denny Gibson, a longtime aficionado of historic roads and an occasional commenter on this website, provides the answer in a new book, “By Mopar to the Golden Gate” (140 pages, soft cover, photos, Trip Mouse Publishing).
Subtitled “A 50 Year Old Car on a 100 Year Old Road,” it’s as good of a description as any for the book. The main title derives from Emily Post’s 1916 book “By Motor to the Golden Gate,” who traveled the Lincoln Highway when its path was “vague in spots,” Gibson says.
Gibson said he planned his big road trip shortly after the 90th anniversary of the Lincoln Highway. He read about the hoopla about a caravan that traveled the highway’s 3,400 miles from New York City to San Francisco and was determined not to miss it during its centennial in 2013. And his interest in historic roads — including the Dixie Highway, National Road and Route 66 — already was in bloom.
Gibson briefly considered driving an equally old car on the Lincoln Highway, but quickly dismissed the idea. “Procuring a 1913 model something would be challenging but not quite impossible; maintaining it on a cross-country drive just might be.”
Instead, Gibson decided to look for a car from 1963 — the year he first earned his driver’s license. He wanted a car with parts easily found, something that wasn’t too nice, but something that wasn’t such a “project” it would take all his spare time making it driveable.
He found a red 1963 Plymouth Valiant convertible less than 200 miles from his Ohio home. It didn’t have a top, and its front sagged a bit. After several trips to repair shops recommended by “a friend of a friend,” Gibson was ready to roll, starting from the Lincoln Highway’s terminus in New York City’s Times Square and heading east to the centennial celebration at the halfway point of Kearney, Neb.
Much like many other Lincoln Highway books, Gibson’s intimates that the old road doesn’t seem to show its full charm until one exits the major Eastern cities and reaches the rural Pennsylvania countryside. Gibson’s writings about the Lincoln Highway’s legion of landmarks remain brief because he’s on a fairly tight schedule with the centennial caravan.
Although “By Mopar to the Golden Gate” serves as a travelogue, it adds another element — whether the car will make it to San Francisco. Despite repairs on the car before the trip began, Gibson still will encounter moments of near-breakdowns with a fuel pump and worries about balky tail lights, wayward wheel covers, a hot radiator during mountain climbs, and an archaic brake system.
Gibson’s descriptions of the parade, conferences and other goings-on at Kearney essentially serve as an account of a historic event, which it pretty much was. Kearney saw up to 500 classic cars on its streets and an estimated 12,500 people watching the parade. That’s not bad for a town with a population of about 30,000.
After the Kearney festivities, Gibson continues westward in his Valiant in his quest for the highway’s terminus in Golden Gate Park in San Francisco. As one who has traveled about one-third of the Lincoln Highway myself, I relished revisiting many of the Lincoln Highway’s landmarks in Gibson’s pages.
One thing I didn’t expect was how much I enjoyed Gibson’s writing. A retired software engineer by trade, one wouldn’t think his background would produce prose with so much grace and gentle humor. Here’s an excerpt:
I don’t know where the American West begins, although some people seem to have it nailed down pretty good. Fort Worth, Texas, calls itself the city “Where the West Begins,” the 100th Meridian, which passes through the town of Cozad and more or less defines the east edge of the Texas panhandle, is popular, and racer/writer Denise McCluggage once tied it to a specific bush near Santa Fe, New Mexico, though her claim was pretty light hearted. To writer Drake Hokanson it must be Salt Lake City, since Chicago and Salt Lake City are named as the separators when he describes the Lincoln Highway as a “three act play.” The city where I live, Cincinnati, Ohio, was once called the “Queen City of the West,” although I don’t know of anyone actively promoting that today.
I’m not even sure what defines the American West, but I sense that involves hats, boots, and horses. If, as some say, the change started back in Cozad, it was quite subtle. By Cheyenne, it is subtle no more. So I’m going to pick the Nebraska-Wyoming state line as the beginning of the American West on the Lincoln Highway. Your opinion might be different and, at some future date, so might mine.
It sounds like Gibson nailed the beginning of the West pretty good. And I sure hope “By Mopar to the Golden Gate” isn’t his last book.
UPDATE: I made a few fixes of errors in my transcript of the excerpt.