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New Heritage Center exhibit to feature "Good Roads," Transcontinental Highway
by Nancy Grindle Correspondent · August 10th, 2017

A new exhibit will open soon at the Marion Heritage Center, and it promises to be an interesting one. It's called "Good Roads: Bicycles, Motorcycles and Automobiles on the Transcontinental Highway."

According to Lynette Brenzel, Executive Director of the Heritage Center, long before Marion became part of the famous Lincoln Highway, the loop through downtown Marion hosted many auto races and more. She noted, "By foot, bicycle, motorcycle, automobile and truck, Marion witnessed and helped put our nation's first transcontinental road on the map."

Brenzel looked through many resources to find information and will have some wonderful speakers and stories of people who may have literally "hit the road," or in some other way had an adventure trying to get from New York City to San Franscisco (or vice versa) via the straightest possible route.

Rather than building a new highway from coast to coast, the creation of the Lincoln Highway was a matter of completing roads between towns and cities. While many towns had brick streets - like Marion - or even wooden planks to make streets smoother, roads between towns were unpaved and ungraveled, basically just dirt roads.

Kay Shelton, president of the Lincoln Highway Association, said "It wasn't about building a brand-new highway, ... rather a route-making process" between cities and towns. The road was the brainchild of Carl Fisher, founder of the Indianapolis Speedway. Frank Seiberling of the Goodyear Tire Company and Henry Joy, president of Packard Motor Car Company helped him bring the idea to life. The three of them wanted to interest people in driving. [http://www.npr.prg/2013/10/31/24219231/Americas-first-transcontinental-highway-turns-100]

Here is one of the local area stories Brenzel found from August 7, 1903.

August 7, 1903, is the day Tom Fetch, a test driver for Packard Motor Company, and Marius Krarup, a reporter for Automobile magazine came through Marion. They were in a race to become the first automobile to cross the continent coast-to-coast. They drove a new $2,300 Packard 12-horsepower touring model which was specially modified for the trip.

They and others from Packard had been planning the details for months. The Packard company had even pre-positioned gasoline and spare parts (because there were no service stations at the time). A mechanic was assigned to shadow the car and service it as needed.

They had not intended to start quite yet, but one day in May, they opened a newspaper and found out that Dr. Horatio Nelson Jackson had set out across the continent and was ahead of them!

They quickly finished their preparations and left San Francisco on June 20, thinking they could catch up with Jackson and beat him to New York, even though they trailed him by about three weeks.

They made it to Omaha and Krarup reported things were pretty uneventful after leaving there on their way across Iowa. However, one "minor incident" occurred near Marion. Newspapers reported that they hit someone.

Krarup explained, in a magazine story published later, that their car had spooked a horse, resulting in damage to the buggy it was pulling. The angry owner demanded restitution on the spot, and Krarup had to pull a gun to calm him down.

The victim retreated, but he phoned ahead to Mechanicsville and had them arrested. However, a sympathetic judge let them off with a $10 fine and a warning.

They arrived in New York City three weeks later than Jackson. But they made the trip after just 62 days - one and a half days faster than Jackson, winning the transcontinental speed contest.

The accompanying photo was taken near Grinnell and it was explained that Iowa had seen a lot of rain, and many bridges had been washed out.
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