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Lincoln Highway: Wyoming (Part 1) March 1, 2012

Posted by Jenny in history, travel.
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Scene at Parco Hotel (Parco is now known as Sinclair)

In this series of posts, we journey on the Lincoln Highway from New York City to San Francisco, taking it state by state. Go here for an introduction.

I lived in Casper, Wyoming, for most of the school year when I was 16 years old, and I have a peculiar fondness for the state even though many of my memories concern howling winds, blowing tumbleweeds, and vast empty spaces. I’ll always remember venturing out onto the lonely highway with my high school driving instructor, who said, “Go as close to the speed limit as you feel comfortable.” The speed limit was 85.

The Lincoln Highway took a more southerly route, through Cheyenne and Laramie. Most of its path through the state is now occupied by I-80, although the route arcs northwest from Laramie where US 30 departs from I-80, rejoining it past Medicine Bow. US 30 is the route of the Highway from Philadelphia all the way into West Wendover, Nevada, although there are many small deviations, and interstates replace the US highway for some of the mileage.

My cousin Corinne Lively, who grew up in Casper, called my attention to an excellent description of driving in Wyoming in the early days. At times motorists were obliged to drive across railroad bridges, and navigation was difficult. An early motorist, Alice Ramsey, recalled, Across Wyoming the roads threaded through privately owned cattle ranches. My companions were obliged to take turns opening and closing the gates of the fences which surrounded them as we drove through. If we got lost we’d take to the high ground and search the horizon for the nearest telephone poles with the most wires. It was a sure way of locating the transcontinental railroad which we knew would lead us back to civilization.

1. Wyoming cattle 2. Marshall Hotel, Lyman, WY 3. Before shearing, Medicine Bow 4. After shearing

The composite image above comes from Effie Gladding’s Across the Continent by the Lincoln Highway (1914). Her book is frustrating, in a way, because she starts at San Francisco and heads east but spends half the book talking about California, running out of steam further along. And in the East, she deviates from the highway, making long detours into Virginia and other non-Lincoln destinations. However, her account of  Wyoming is excellent. Here is a sample:

At the little town of Granger on the railroad line we met two young pedestrians who were walking on a wager from Kearney, Nebraska, to Seattle. They were to have $500 apiece if they reached Seattle by the first of August. Their yellow outing shirts bore the inscription, “Walking from Kearney, Nebraska, to Seattle.” They told us they were able to make forty miles a day. When they reached Salt Lake City they were to have substantial new walking boots from the merchants at Kearney, the bargain being that at that point they were to return their worn boots to be exhibited in the shop windows of Kearney.

And:

The road from Point of Rocks to Wamsutter is very rough and we were tormented by the plague of these roads of the plains; namely, gutters made across the roadway by running water in times of freshets. One has to be continually on guard for these runnels….  They give the machine a frightful jar and if one comes upon them suddenly they are likely to break an axle…. As we drive along, we constantly see the remains of former camps by the roadside. Old tin teakettles, pieces of worn-out campstools, piles of tin cans…. We pass the dried-up carcasses of sheep and the bones of cattle and of horses as they lie upon the desert near the road.

1. Prairie schooners 2. Lincoln Highway sign 3. Sheep in the Wyoming desert