So many of us take modern roads for granted that we forget about what driving was like on the unimproved roads back in the period. We have not, as The Old Motor has been situated on a scenic dirt road, much like the one above, for over twenty-five years in Vermont. Our Mud Season this spring has turned into a bit of a sport this year to even get up or down our steep hill. As this is being written, the road crew is pulling a stuck truck filled with fresh gravel out of the mud for the second day in a row.
In building a good road the topsoil first needs to be removed, and a base of fill material that can include gravel or small rocks for good drainage is laid down; without this preparation, a road is likely to turn into a sea of mud in the spring after thawing out, or after a period of heavy rain. This was the case with many of the roads across the nation at the time when the Lincoln Highway, the first improved coast-to-coast thoroughfare was promoted and built.
Charles H. Davis and the National Highways Association were also instrumental in working toward road improvements, but the Federal Highway Act of 1921 was one of the first on a national level to start the building of a good network of roads throughout the county. Secondary roads were the responsibility of towns and municipalities and were slowly brought up reasonable standards over a much longer period.
The enlargements above of the feature photo taken in 1920 show a Model “T” Ford Center-Door Sedan and an unidentified touring car on the road to Bothell, Washington, which is located Northeast of Seattle. We will leave it up to our readers to date the Ford, identify the touring car and tell us more about the Washington State license plates with a large white tag on the left hand side. The photo is courtesy of the Washington State Archives.
While looking for images of road building and equipment, a fascinating pair of photos were found that show three different internal-combustion engine-powered tractors being used for either road building or a railway bed in Washburn, North Dakota. Both images are large, detailed, and appear to be prints from glass-plate negatives so two enlargements of each one can be found below.
The photos were taken in the mid-teens by William H. De Graff and the image above shows an unidentified brand of tractor that was likely kerosene-powered. It is pulling a Universal Road Finisher made by the Peoria Metal Culvert Co. that was operated by two men. This tractor and road grader appear to be finishing the center of the road and it is following the first two machines seen below, by using the three together each grading operation was completed in one pass.
The first tractor seen in the image above and possibly the second machine were Big Four Tractors made by the Emerson-Brantingham Co. that was located in Minneapolis, Minnesota. It was a huge 30-60 hp. four-cylinder unit featuring rear wheels that were eight feet in diameter. You can view a Big Four Tractor in action here. Photos of the two road building scenes are courtesy of BlackenedRoots.com.