66 heavy Army trucks tested out the new, nationwide Lincoln Highway in 1919

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By Fern Eddy Schultz, La Porte County Historian

In August 2019, a convoy of antique and modern military vehicles visited La Porte. Members of The Military Vehicle Preservation Association were making their “transcontinental trek” from Washington, D.C., to San Francisco. They stopped briefly at the fairgrounds in La Porte. The convoy consisted of a variety of vehicles from small, vintage Jeeps to large military trucks.

La Porte County Historian Fern Eddy Schultz

On July 19, 1919, the first transcontinental convoy of the United States Army Motor Transport Corps passed through La Porte “in the premier military test of the Lincoln Highway.” Sixty-six heavy Liberty trucks, several touring cars and roadsters, serving in scout capacity, and a number of motorcycles with side cars left Washington, D.C., on July 7 and were expected to complete the long cross-country journey at San Francisco on Sept. 1. It was reportedly difficult to state the purpose of this trip, but one of them was to obtain recruits for the motor transport corps.

The unit’s personnel included 300 men and 20 officers. While running, the trucks formed a line from one to five miles in length. The convoy was preceded by two advance pilot cars and two motorcycle pilots who distributed advance publicity and marked the route. Both of the cars were “Lincoln Highway associate machines.” One was a red, white and blue Packard and the other a Willys-Knight. The driver of the latter was a representative of the Willys-Overland Company of Toledo who was enroute west to inspect the five sections of concrete road being constructed in Utah and Nevada by the Toledo corporation.

A car called a Willys-Knight, perhaps something like this one here, joined the trucks on the trip. (oldcars.com)

Accompanying the army trucks were two large trucks owned and operated by the Firestone Tire and Rubber Co. of Akron. One was carrying a shipment of tires for delivery in Chicago and the other carrying spare tires for the army train going through to the coast. The Firestone Tire Co. maintained a mobile tire shop for the convoy. It offered spare casings and inner tubes of all sizes and all accessories found in a tire dealer’s shop. The majority of the personnel had been serving overseas, driving trucks or on special “wagons” in the military or were engineers. There were detachments from all arms of the service.

The convoy was entirely self-sustainable with the exception of gasoline and re-supplies of food. Two big repair trucks, machine shops on wheels, were equipped with lathes, drills and other equipment that could practically make a new engine if required.

The recruiter was a “veritable statistical bureau and storehouse of information on all branches of the army.” He was an enthusiast of the motor transport corps. He noted that “perhaps no branch of the military service offers as great as inducement for dare-devils as the motor transport and task corps.” Recruits were being accepted for the motor transport corps schools in September, enrolling men for technical training in the operation of any engines and all wheeled motor equipment.

It was reported that practically every design and make of truck that pulled into La Porte in 1919 was of the type used in combat or behind the lines overseas, “which made the showing here of exceptional educational value” to the public in general as well as to motor enthusiasts.

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