EXTRACTS: The Don Lawrence Westerns © 2011 The Book Palace (208 PAGES in Full edition)

1 I: The Transcontinental Convoy The Interstate Highway System criss-crosses America with almost 50,000 miles of roads. In 1995 it became part of the National Highway System, the network of 160,000 miles of road which encompasses most major connecting and access routes. In 2006, Richard F. Weingroff of the Federal Highways Administration wrote, “One mark of the overwhelming success of the Eisenhower Interstate System is that the American people take it for granted, as if it has always been there, like the Mississippi River or the Rocky Mountains. The interstates are so much a part of the daily life of Americans that most people do not realize that the system they use to get to work, to school, to the mall, and to their vacation destination could be considered one of the ‘wonders of the world’.” This was written to mark the 50th anniversary of Dwight D. Eisenhower’s signing of the Federal-Aid Highway Act of 1956 which changed the national transportation system in America forever. In it, he pledged $25 billion to the construction of the Interstate Highways System over the coming 20 years. The seeds of the Interstate System (or Eisenhower Interstate System, as it is sometimes known) were sown in 1944: the Federal-Aid Highway Act of that year authorized the design of such a system as being in “the national interest”, work on which was carried out between 1947 and 1955. But until Eisenhower made it a national programme, and backed his vision with a Federal commitment to build the roadways, almost nothing was accomplished. The “national interest” was because America was at war, requiring the large scale movements of troops and equipment – the road system that grew out of those seeds was called the National System of Interstate and Defense Highways – and Eisenhower’s determination to create a National Interstate was formed shortly after the previous Great War. In 1919, the U.S. Army had undertaken two trials, travelling across America to test the infrastructure of the American highway system to cope with large transcontinental convoys of military vehicles should America be invaded. The first of these convoys set out fromWashington, D.C., on 7 July 1919 and arrived in San Francisco on 6 September, averaging a poor 58 miles a day (6 miles per hour) and losing nine of the 81 vehicles that had set out. Part of the journey was made on the incomplete Lincoln Highway in Illinois, but over half the trip, almost 1,800 miles, was made on dirt roads, where trucks were prone to get stuck in mud or quicksand. Even where there were roads and bridges, they were often damaged by the weight of modern military vehicles. A second convoy fromWashington to San Diego in 1920 ran into similar problems and proved even slower, averaging only 30 miles a day. Although the Army chiefs were convinced that a national programme of roadworks was required, and the Federal Aid Highway Act was passed in 1921, the impetus to create a national highway system was still thirty-five years distant. Eisenhower had been one of the Army’s observers on the first convoy and it was his experiences on the Lincoln Highway and observation of German autobahns that convinced him that a national highway system was necessary. America is a vast continent – the United States, excluding Alaska, covers over 3 million square miles and a recent (2004) attempt to drive from New York to San Francisco in as almost a straight line as possible was a journey of 3,304 miles. The Lincoln Highway was the first road to cross America coast to coast, passing through 13 states. Construction began in 1913 and was still underway in 1938 – rerouting and improvements having reduced its originally conceived length of 3,389 miles to 3,142 miles. When Carl G. Fisher, whose promotion of an ocean-to-ocean road in 1912 had been the inspiration for the Lincoln Highway, there was only 2.2 million miles of rural roads, of which less than nine percent had “improved” surfaces (anything from gravel to oiled earth). It was sixty years before America could boast of its Interstate Highway System, the biggest highway system in the world. But what if we were to roll the clocks back another sixty years, to around 1850? In January 1848, James Marshall, a partner with John Sutter in a sawmill venture on the bank of the American River near Coloma, California, discovered gold flakes on the river bed. As he had some knowledge of minerals, he was able to confirm that it was gold. Attempts to keep the discovery quiet failed: a local store owner, church representative and newspaper publisher named Samuel Brannan, noticed that Sutter’s employees had begun paying for goods with gold and bought up every shovel in San Francisco. His paper, the California Star , promoted the Gold Rush and his stores benefitted to the tune of $150,000 a month from the arrival of 300,000 prospectors over the next seven years. By 1850, most of the easy-to-find gold had been snatched up by the first wave of prospectors, 90,000 of them, known as the “forty-niners”, two-thirds of their number attracted from the east coast, where the New York Herald first reported on the gold rush in August 1848. In all, 150,000 travelled by sea to ports on the West Coast, arriving by clipper and sailing boat from as far away as Europe, Australia and Asia; at the port of San Francisco, crews deserted the ships and headed for the gold fields. A voyage around South America to San Francisco could take anywhere between five to eight months at that time and many chose other routes in an effort to get to the gold fields before they were exhausted. Thus, another 150,000 prospective prospectors arrived in California in covered wagons, on horseback and on foot, many along the rugged California Trail, which crossed the arid Great Basin in Nevada and the Sierra Nevada mountain range, and the Siskiyou Trail from Oregon, which meant traversing the Siskiyou Mountains. Boomtowns sprang up around areas wherever there were rumours of rich gold deposits. These were lawless times on the frontiers of the Wild West: California had, in 1848, only just become part of the United States at the end of the Mexican- American War. It became the 31st state of the United States in 1850. “By God and by Wells Fargo!” How Wells Fargo and the Pony Express linked East and West America