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'Eisenhower convoy' reenactment set for
 June 28

Richard D. L. Fulton
Emmitsburg Dispatch

(5/18) The Maryland State Highway Administration has scheduled June 28 as the date the 1919 "Eisenhower convoy" will stop at the South Seton Rd. bridge over Toms Creek for a commemoration ceremony and the unveiling of a historic marker.

The event is being planned to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the creation of the national highway system, for which President Dwight D. Eisenhower was the leading proponent. Eisenhower's inspiration to establish a national highway network began in 1919 when he joined a military experiment to see how fast the army could get from coast to coast.

Jennifer Gavin, American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials deputy Director of Communications, said the experiment, "was a really bad experience. The roads were awful." The convoy found the roads across the country in such bad shape it took them more than a month to get to the West Coast.

State announces convoy reenactment details

Valerie Edgar, SHA spokesperson, said the convoy will include President Eisenhower's great-grandson, Merrill Eisenhower Atwater, a full-scale section of a covered bridge will be erected at the South Seton bridge for the ceremony, and a historic marker will be unveiled.

The convoy will include 20 vehicles, half of which will be passenger cars, including some antiques, along with "eight or nine 18-wheelers, two buses, and one or two recreational vehicles," Edgar said. The convoy may be joined by a "rolling display vehicle" explaining the national highway system.

The reenactment will take place in reverse, beginning in San Francisco, basically following Interstate 80, then turning south in Gettysburg to use Route 15, and ultimately taking Route 270 from Frederick into Washington, D.C.

The trip is a collaborative effort involving essentially all of the departments of transportation in the states through which the convoy will travel. The event will conclude with a celebration in Washington, D.C. on June 29, the anniversary date of the 1956 act creating the highway system.

More information about the historic event is summed up in the "Daily log of the first transcontinental motor convoy" for July 8, 1919:

"Departed Frederick, 7 am…Unsafe covered wooden bridge, one mile south of Emmitsburg (South Seton bridge) reached at 9 a.m. Two hours delay due to unsafe and covered bridges too low for shop trucks, necessitating detours and fording … pulled Class B Machine Shop (10 tons) out of mud on bad detour near Emmitsburg after two Macks in tandem had failed."

The convoy traveled the 62-mile journey from Frederick to Chambersburg, Pa, in ten and a half hours. Not just a fun army outing, considering this excerpt from a brief prepared by Captain William C. Greany, United States Army Motor Transport Corps, after the trip ended:

"The personnel (in the convoy) consisted of 24 expeditionary officers, 15 war department, staff observation officers, and 258 enlisted men. Twenty-one men were lost through various casualties en route … nine vehicles were destroyed or so damaged as to require retirement while en route."

Few photographs apparently exist of the South Seton covered bridge. In 1923, it was replaced with the current concrete bridge presently undergoing renovation.

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