The Lincoln Highway: Main Street Across America

Text and photographs by Drake Hokanson

The Book

Ten years after its original publication, Drake Hokanson’s best-selling book continues to inspire readers to leave the interstate for a road less traveled, but one that still fuels the American preoccupation with the open road.

In his new introduction to this tenth anniversary edition, Hokanson revisits the Lincoln Highway and finds it changed—much for the better—since the original publication of this book. Most notably, he calls attention to the reinvigorated Lincoln Highway Association and its efforts to preserve what is left of the old road. Hokanson finds more and more tourists traveling the road—not only Americans but foreigners as well—by car, bus, and motorcycle on journeys not to any particular destination, but simply to see America.

The Author

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Drake Anthony Hokanson is a photographer, writer and editor. He is mostly known for his black and white photographs in which he shows highways, small towns, landscapes, grain elevators, the Mississippi River, and the people who call American places home.

My Thoughts

In revisiting my own library for background reading for writing about Leora Goff Wilson’s stories before WWII, I came across The Lincoln Highway, written by the instructor of two summer workshops I took at the U. of Iowa when I was learning to write. He’d even autographed it, but I’d never read the entire thing.

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The book is an exciting history of one of the first main roads to cross the entire continent, capturing the dream as well as the drudgery. Heated arguments about which route each individual section would take took place in nearly every state crossed, especially since each had groups if influence with their own agendas.

In 1915, Henry B. Joy, president of Packard and who’d made yearly trips to the west, drove from New York City to the Panama Pacific Exposition in time for his automobile to be on “muddy display” in the Palace of Transportation. By then, the route finally chosen was marked as the Lincoln Highway, even though parts were mudholes.

I was shocked at Iowa’s infamous reputation as having some of the muddiest and worst roads of the entire route. Most of the Lincoln Highway in Iowa is now part of Highway 30 which goes right through Glidden where my husband grew up.

Compelling black and white photos accompany the very thorough history of this iconic American highway, named for President Abraham Lincoln.

It even includes a quote by Mr. Toad from The Wind and the Willows when he first encounters an automobile.

I especially enjoyed Drake Hokanson’s description of the Model T: “The Model T was an plain as a workboot, as spendthrift as a farm wife with her egg money, as hardworking as a threshing crew, and occasionally, when the weather was damp and affected the ignition timer, as unpredictable as any Missouri mule. It was cheap to buy and cheaper still to operate.

“When first introduced in 1908 the open touring model sold for $850, a fine bargain, but by 1926 the price had plummeted to $290–electric starter and demountable rims extra, of course. . . . this car would go farther on a nickel’s worth of gas and a dime’s worth of parts than anything else on the road. . . . Parts were available at thousands of Ford dealers; it was the only car Ford made, and all Model Ts shared the same basic chassis, engine, and drive train.”

 

6 comments

  1. We often take the roads less traveled. You get to see thing up close and personal. It’s the good, the bad, and the ugly. A few years ago we drove all the way to Cody Wyoming on US 20 from Waterloo. We still have very fond memories.

    • We drove US 20 across Nebraska after seeing where Grandma Leora lived at Bloomfield in the late 1800s (and remembered Indians coming to their place to trade dress goods for chickens; her father “went bust” there), on our way to Mount Rushmore. Fascinating to listen to the radio stations from the South Dakota reservations. And one of our favorites was after visiting Omaha, coming back to the Des Moines area via Iowa 44. I’d never seen the Loess Hills before (my husband went back later with a motorcycle buddy), but really enjoyed coming into Guthrie Center from the west, and seeing Jim Boll’s forest of windmills between Dallas Center and Grimes. Don’t see those from the interstate!

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