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The Birth of the Interstate

Richard D. L. Fulton

Military convoys carrying troops and war supplies were not a rare sight in Frederick County and elsewhere during World War I but were certainly nothing like the vision that local residents would be witnessing in July of 1919.

The Catoctin Clarion announced on June 19, 1919, that the largest military convoy that had ever been assembled in the United States was about to be launched on a great experiment to determine how easily such a convoy could potentially travel from the East Coast to the West Coast, utilizing whatever route would be deemed the most expeditious.

“Plans were completed today (June 14) by the (Army) Motor Transport Corps for the first transcontinental trip of an army motor-truck train (convoy),” the newspaper reported, further noting “It will start from Washington (D.C.) July 7, and end at San Francisco from 47 to 60 days later.”

The Clarion reported that the convoy would consist of 35 assorted military trucks, two ambulances, six motorcycles, two tank-trucks, two kitchen trailers, two water-tank trucks, one engineer-shop truck, one office-work truck, one search-light truck, and five passenger cars. The Harrisburg Telegraph reported on July 2 that 209 officers and men would be aboard the convoy. The Philadelphia Inquirer reported on July 9 that the number of men in the convoy was more than 250.

One of the main challenges of the trip, the newspaper noted, was to “preserve intact, the entire convoy train throughout the movement from start-to-finish,” and would not be allowed to depend on any “outside assistance” for any help, other than for supplying fuel, oil, and water. The convoy would follow the Lincoln Highway as much as possible, except only for detours.

On the first leg of its journey to the Pacific, the convoy would depart from Washington, D.C., strike across Maryland to Frederick County, then north to Gettysburg, and from there, proceed westward. 

The convoy left Washington, D.C. on July 7, having made good time reaching Frederick where the troops encamped on the first night, and then swung north on July 8 towards Emmitsburg.

The first major problematic issue occurred when the convoy reached the covered bridge that carried South Seton Avenue over Toms Creek in Emmitsburg on the morning of July 8, an event that proved so challenging that the encounter literally, ultimately, inspired the creation of the Interstate Highway System.

It was quickly discovered that only a few of the military vehicles could even cross the bridge due to the vehicles’ heights or weights. To complicate matters further, only a few vehicles were found to be capable of fording the creek, and the majority scattered in all directions to try and find an alternate route to bypass the old South Seton bridge.

Finally reuniting north of Gettysburg, the convoy immediately encountered another covered bridge over Middle Creek, which presented the same issues regarding the ability of the convoy to cross it.  However, in this instance, the vehicles were able to ford the creek at this location.

The two bridge delays resulted in the convoy—that had reached the Emmitsburg bridge around 7:00 a.m.—not reaching Gettysburg until 1:00 p.m.

The Gettysburg Times reported in their July 9 issue, that a Lieutenant Shockey (identified only as being one of the officers within the convoy) stated, “These old wooden bridges are a thing of the past and it wouldn’t be a bad idea to run over them and break them down to show how poorly they are constructed.”

Among the officers present—who were not the least bit humored by these two experiences—was Lieutenant Colonel Dwight D. Eisenhower, who remembered the misadventure, credited his experience at the South Seton bridge as having ultimately inspired his effort to create an interstate highway system.

On June 29, 1956, President Dwight D. Eisenhower signed the Federal Aid Highway Act into law, thereby effectively creating the Interstate Highway System (also known as the National Highway System).

As to the fate of the old 1919 convoy… the convoy arrived in San Francisco at the end of their 62-day trek. Along the way, 21 members of the convoy lost their lives. Only eight vehicles were lost.

On June 28, 2006, the Maryland State High Administration unveiled a historic placard at the site of the infamous 1919 crossing at Toms Creek, in conjunction with the 50th Anniversary of the founding of the National/Interstate Highway System.

Preparations made by State Highway Administration for the 2006 50th Anniversary Commemoration of the Interstate Highway System. The event included a reconstruction of a covered bridge over Toms Creek.

Historic Marker located at the site of the former South Seton Covered Bridge.

by Jim Houck, Jr.

Kenneth L. Jones

Private U.S. Army

AMVET-RIDERSKenny was born in Washington, D.C. on December 11, 1962, to James and Phyllis Jones. Right after he was born, his family moved to Bowie, Maryland, and then to Laurel, Maryland, where Kenny lived until he was twenty-one years old. Kenny has one brother (James Jones, Jr.) who lives in Florida.

As a kid, Kenny was taught to respect the military; growing up, he could see what was happening with our military as they were fighting in the Vietnam War. He knew it wasn’t right how our soldiers were being treated at home, and he was disgusted and wished he was old enough to join in the fight. Kenny said that all soldiers who have taken the oath to lay down their life for our country were heroes in his book.

Kenny finally got his chance to join and was so proud when he took the oath, but that happiness was short-lived; he had a hearing problem that cost him a medical discharge.

His father was in World War II and had a gun blow up in his arms; a piece of metal was lodged in his elbow that they couldn’t remove, so he was medically discharged. Now history was repeating itself, because Kenny was completely deaf in his left ear, causing his medical discharge.

Kenny’s grandfather was in World War I and was a victim of mustard gas. Kenny’s best friend found out that he was joining the army, and he asked Kenny if he was an idiot. Kenny asked him what he meant, and his friend asked him if he was willing to lay his life down for this country; Kenny answered, “If I’m not, who is?” He stated that this is our country, and he will fight for it; unfortunately, a Lieutenant Colonel decided Kenny’s fate for him and sent him home.

Kenny said his wife brought him to AMVETS Post 7 for dinner. After meeting some of the members and seeing how friendly they were toward him and how well the Post family worked together, he said he could feel his passion growing; he decided then that he wanted to become a part of this wonderful organization. Shortly after the dinner date with his wife, Candace, Kenny filled out the membership application and was voted in as a member, making him very happy; he immediately got the feeling that he was now serving out the rest of his enlistment. No one could send him home and end his enlistment. Kenny really has a genuine love for AMVETS Post 7 and its family. He said, “It is just a great Post with great people, and it is great to be a part of it.”

Kenny, at that time, had no idea that the AMVETS had Rider chapters, and Kenny had a passion for riding motorcycles. He was out riding with Jim Burns one day; when they got off their bikes, Kenny made the remark that there were enough riders that they could start some kind of club. Jim said he thought that was a great idea and told Kenny about the AMVET Riders. Jim told Kenny if he would like to start one at Post 7, he would help in any way he could. Kenny sat on the idea and didn’t do anything about it. One day, he and Jim were sitting at the bar watching television, and Jim tapped him on the leg and asked him, “Hey, how’s that Riders chapter coming?” Kenny told him he didn’t think he could do it, but he mentioned it to the Commander—at that time—Tom Joy; Tom was very supportive. Kenny mentioned it to two other AMVET members: Pete Twentey and Bob O’Neal, who he knew personally. Pete had started the American Legion Riders at a Frederick Post, and they thought it was a great idea; Pete and Bob offered their support but did not want to be officers, because they had already been in the official positions.

Mike Mahoney heard about it and pushed Kenny; Ed and Donny McKinnon supported the move, also. With all the support, Kenny thought they could actually start the club. He went online and started researching. Kenny asked his wife, already knowing Candi would support anything he would like to try. He put out a sign-up sheet and announced what his plans were; the next thing he knew, there were twenty-some names on the sheet.

Next, Kenny scheduled a night to meet for all of those who were interested. At the meeting, they took a vote for Charter and all the officers were voted in; they received their Charter in December of 2014. They celebrated their first-year anniversary this past December 2015. Kenny said he wasn’t sure he had a real goal in mind when he first started; he just knew he wanted to start something involving motorcycles. The biggest thing for Kenny was that he could take the mission outside of Post 7; they have their own vests they wear and their own patches.

Kenny said he remembers telling his wife the first time she mentioned going to the AMVETS for dinner, that you, “don’t go to the AMVETS for dinner, you go there for clothing.” He had only heard of the AMVETS Thrift Store, not the AMVETS Veterans Organization.

The newly formed AMVETS Riders Post 7 branch met a few times and fumbled their way through the meetings. Kenny said the Veteran Members, The Sons of AMVETS, and the Ladies Auxiliary were very supportive. He expressed that he just can’t get over how our Post 7 family made them feel so welcomed, and it amazes him at what a great Post it is. It never dawned on Kenny that they needed money to operate the Riders club; all three family members chipped in to donate some money for operating expenses for the new family branch. The AMVET Riders held some fundraisers that turned out well, and they were on their way to helping support Veterans and the community. Kenny truly believes that we are our brothers’ keepers, and our community is only as strong as we make it; all funds taken in at functions will be used for these ends.

Kenny expressed that they are very fortunate to have twenty quality members now that are as dedicated as he is in doing what is good for Post 7 and its family. “It is not the number of people we have, but the quality of the people, and I have the privilege of being a part of it.” Kenny sees the passion flowing at every meeting held and the belief in what they are doing, and he thinks it is awesome. They have grown in the past year, and he knows their spirit will continue to grow stronger because of our great family at AMVETS Post 7. Since AMVET Riders have been chartered, they have been able to contribute donations to Hero Dogs three times (they specialize in training dogs to aid vets) and to North Pointe Veterans Home numerous times. They rode up to enjoy time with the Veterans being rehabilitated at North Pointe and to have dinner with them. They made a large donation to disabled Veterans and a large donation to Vietnam Veterans Memorial. Over the Christmas holiday, they found two local families that had a member of their family deployed (one in Germany and one in Japan), so 2nd Vice Sandi Reed Burns put together two care packages—$100 each—and sent them to the deployed members to make them feel somewhat at home. Kenny said they have also donated to Post 7, because without their support, the Riders wouldn’t exist.

In a little over a year, the Riders have donated over $2,000 to various causes. That is certainly an accomplishment, and one that makes them very proud. Kenny stated that they are setting a goal of over $3,000 in donations for 2016, and I am sure they will do it with all the determination and drive they have. They are also planning a poker run in the near future. Kenny and the Riders were in the Emmitsburg Heritage Day Parade last year, and have received an invitation again for this year’s parade. Kenny is so proud of the fact that he is a part of such a wonderful group of people as the AMVETS Post 7 family. He said that he would love to see the chapter have forty or fifty members, but members who would be dedicated and proud to ride with them and join in and help with functions, not just to show up at the bar for the cheap drinks.

Pride and dedication are the main factors required at all family branches of AMVETS Post 7, including the Riders. Paying dues and never participating in meetings and functions is not what pride and dedication is all about. Our families at Post 7 are givers, and we are also receivers, in that we receive so much satisfaction and pride by giving to the veterans and to our community.

Kenny is full of pride from all the good that is done at Post 7 by the Veteran members, Sons, Ladies, and Riders, and he is very proud to be the president of this AMVETS Rider Chapter. He is also excited about The American Legion, VFW, and AMVETS working together to pay tribute to a True Marine Hero from Camp David who stopped to help change a flat tire and was killed by a hit-and-run driver (who has not been found yet), by having a sign put on the Catoctin Furnace Historic Trail bridge that crosses U.S. Rt. 15, just a short distance from where CPL William Kyle Ferrell was killed. The sign will read: Bridge Dedicated to CPL WILLIAM KYLE FERRELL United States Marine Corps. As soon as all the dates and details are available, you will be able to read about it in The Catoctin Banner. Kenny is very passionate about letting people know what kind of hero this young marine was.

Kenny invites all American Veterans, Sons of American Veterans, Daughters of American Veterans, and Wives of American Veterans, who are not members, to come in as guests and talk to our families or attend an event and watch how everyone works together. See if you can get as excited as most of us are about an organization that actually cares about our Veterans and our community.

AMVET Riders Chapter 7 Officers are as follows: Kenny Jones—President; Wendy Clevenger—1st Vice President; Sandi Reed Burns—2nd Vice President; Doris Twentey—Treasurer; Candace Jones—Secretary; Jay Shown—Sergeant-at-Arms; Pete Forrest—Judge Advocate; Nick Alexandra—Chaplain.

Kenny is the “real deal” when it comes to pride in being the president of the Riders and when it comes to his beliefs in AMVETS Post 7. So if you meet him on the street or at Post 7, stop and say “Hi” to him and mention bikes, Veterans, or our community, then hang on, because he will show you what pride is all about—you will see what a great soldier he would have been and how he is carrying it out now in his own way.

God Bless the United States of America, God Bless the American Veterans, and God Bless You.