Cowboy Jam Session by Jeri Dobrowski: On the highway that’s the best | TSLN.com

Cowboy Jam Session by Jeri Dobrowski: On the highway that’s the best

Lemmon, South Dakota, is home to the world's largest petrified wood park. Conceived by amateur geologist Ole S. Quammen and built as a tourist attraction in the early 1930s, it provided employment during the Great Depression. Encompassing an entire block, it was constructed of superabundant petrified wood, fossils and stone gathered from the surrounding area. Building and promoting a "world's largest" attraction was an oft-used ploy exercised by townsfolk to entice travelers to stop and spend some time – and money – in their community.

The park stands today, five blocks north of U.S. 12, a testament to those who sought to capitalize on the Yellowstone Trail. (Take a one minute tour of the park at https://vimeo.com/117624738.) Established in May 1912, the brainchild of J. W. Parmley of Ipswich, South Dakota, the Yellowstone Trail was the first transcontinental automobile highway through the northern United States. Calling for "A Good Road from Plymouth Rock to Puget Sound," supporters lobbied for road improvements from Plymouth, Mass., to Seattle, Wash., via Yellowstone National Park.

Before the interstate highway system, before state highways connected far-flung towns and villages, before county roads connected farms with the county seat, pioneering motorists faced a myriad of obstacles. They jounced along crude trails fraught with muddy quagmires when it rained and bone-jarring ruts when it dried, unbridged streams and rivers, fallen timber, quicksand and formidable mountain ranges.

In his introduction to an essay by Charles B. Shanks from a 1901 issue of Scientific American Supplement, Peter J. Blodgett describes the conditions faced by pioneering motorists as "almost unimaginable to the modern reader." Blodgett researched scores of magazine articles, company brochures, books and pamphlets in his effort to chronicle American automotive tourism in the first half of the twentieth century. The resulting collection is entitled Motoring West: Volume 1: Automobile Pioneers, 1900–1909 (2015, The Arthur H. Clark Company, 360 pages, b/w illustrations, hardcover ISBN-13: 978-0870623837).

The first of a planned multivolume series, Motoring West uncovers facets in the development of automotive travel that are largely unknown to contemporary readers or drivers. Far from wondering what fast food franchise might be located near an off-ramp, the earliest automobile owners had to wade through a dizzying discussion of which fuel source was the most reliable, accessible and safest (steam, electric or gas) and how to provision yourself with supplies and repairs.

Car makers put their models to the test in cross-country adventuress decades before tourist courts and campgrounds were commonplace. Blodgett selected several accounts detailing the challenges faced by barnstorming teams bent on proving the superiority and flexibility of their vehicles. Fascinating and informative, Motoring West may lessen your frustration at having to slow down or stop next time you're in a road construction zone.

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What J. W. Parmley did for travel between Plymouth and Seattle, Cy Avery did for motorists traversing the country between Chicago and Los Angeles. Avery's commitment to the Good Roads movement and his dogged promotional efforts turned U.S. 66 through Oklahoma into the storied Route 66. Former newspaper reporter and publisher Susan Croce Kelly brings us his biography in Father of Route 66: The Story of Cy Avery (2015, University of Oklahoma Press, 288 pages, b/w illustrations, hardcover ISBN-13: 978-0806144993).

While Avery is best known for his dedication to ending chronically muddy highways and streets and building public access bridges, Avery's proudest accomplishment was the 50-mile pipeline that brought good drinking water from Spavinaw Creek to Tulsa. Avery donated portions of his farm for the 2,800-acre Mohawk Park and the Tulsa Municipal Airport.

Through a comfortable narrative, Croce Kelly takes readers back to Avery's roots in Colonial America, setting the stage for his family's western migration. Weaving an engaging account of historical events and politics, she describes Avery's role in designing the national highway system.

Also of interest by Susan Croce Kelly is Route 66: The Highway and Its People (1990, University of Oklahoma Press, photographs, 224 pages, ISBN-13: 978-0806122915).

Look for all of these books from online booksellers and in bookstores.