Soon after WWI, the US Army started its most aspiring expeditions to date; traversing from one end of America to the other using nothing but trucks. The army was quite eager to prove the role that trucks and roads could serve in a future war. As a result, they sent about a hundred vehicles on a trip from Washington DC to San Francisco. The trip was super-difficult when compared with today’s standards. The vehicles of the convoy would often break down and burst into flames, soldiers would fall ill, and bridges and other road works were damaged.
WW1 was the very first conflict during which motor vehicles made a difference. The car was invented in the 1900s and quickly transitioned into the truck and bus. The trucks and buses were then used for moving supplies and men over long distances to the front line. The expedition was a distance of 2,432 miles as the crow flies.
During the next 61 days, the convoy drove across America’s road network that was uneven and even non-existent at places. The convoy was comprised of as put by Washington Post, ‘heavy troop carriers, light trucks, sidecar motorcycles, reconnaissance cars, field kitchens, blacksmith shops and one Renault light tank.’ It was manned by 24 expeditionary offices, 258 enlisted men, and 15 observation officers. The convoy relied on the Lincoln Highway now known as Highway 30 for making its way through 350 towns that were on its way.
One staff officer who was also the future President of the United States Dwight David Eisenhower said that the road conditions varied from ‘average to non-existent.’ The convoy had a total of 230 accidents and ended up damaging a total of 88 bridges. Twenty-one personnel were injured and were not able to complete the trip. The convoy moved at a speed of six miles an hour – that is twice the fastest pace at which a person can walk. The video featured in this post comes by the National Archives and highlights the trip from its departure from Washington to arrival at the Golden Gate.
The National Archives says, ‘although the convoy was intended to be self-sustaining to simulate wartime conditions, this goal was undermined by the barbecues, melon fests, and other offerings of the hospitable Americans who welcomed the convoy to their towns.’ The trip paid off during WWII when American forces were fully motorized and were able to move quickly enough.