1964 Ford Big Red Tractor-Trailer Concept
Gas turbine: longer hauls, fewer stops and odor free!
In 1961, when we undertook the technological challenge of walking on the moon, our Interstate Highway System did not yet exist. Nor was it built when Neil Armstrong took the giant leap for mankind, eight years later. In fact, it was not until late 1974 that the first of the states completed its original mainline connections and 1992 that the planned Interstate was officially declared complete.
Regardless, by the mid 1960s it was clear that America’s methods of travel were on the verge of change and, among other effects, the business of ground transport would be redefined. This resulted in opportunities and challenges.
With Big Red, Ford tried to seek out new technologies and conveniences to assist both truck and driver of the future.
I’d always viewed the Interstate as older than bedrock. so, I was surprised to find so much of it is younger than me. I found this such a fascinating topic, there’s more preface here than usual. Pages two and three are more on topic.
Interstate Highway System: not as old as you may think
The oldest recorded roads found within the United States date back over 400 years. Though, better than blazing a new trail, they were rough.
By the beginning of last century, the benefits of paving seemed realized but also less than urgent. Indeed, what little concrete was being applied to roads was often for sidewalks. Other materials existed for improving road surfaces, including brick, stone and gravel, and even shells and oiled dirt; however, such surfaces were typically limited to areas where people had means for and sufficient interest in a personal contribution to the cause.
As a result, of the roughly 2.2 million miles of roads the country had accumulated by the early 1910s, over 90 percent were unimproved (meaning, plain earth surface). Moreover, since they were still in use by horse and carriage and the automobile was in its infancy (its potential not even conceived), roads were overwhelmingly built for local convenience with a limited vision towards macro-scale interconnectivity. However, the entrepreneurial vision of a businessman, who happened to love to drive, was set in motion in 1912.
Thanks to Carl G. Fisher (right) and sponsors, by October 31, 1913, our first transcontinental highway had been completed and was named the Lincoln Highway (in honor of our 16th president). It was developed using private funds, privately owned, and supported through various tolls. Although, less than half of its original 3,389 mile reach was improved-surface roadway.
As an interesting side note, of all the relevant figureheads one might most have expected to support the effort (if not financially, then by celebrity endorsement), Henry Ford declined to contribute. He reportedly had strong convictions that the building of roads was the exclusive purview of government.
Despite being a “highway,” the driving experience bore little in common with today’s examples. Literature published in 1916, by the official Lincoln Highway Association, estimated the duration of the New York to San Francisco crossing at 20 to 30 days. (The latter if minimally averaging 18 mph, 6 hours per day, in daylight conditions.)
For roughly half a century, as the automobile matured and our dependency upon it increased, several attempts were made at organizing national highways but few new options were made available for crossing the country by road.
What changed matters, interestingly, had as much to do with the military as it did civilian commuters.
The “Federal-Aid Highway Act of 1956” was signed into law June 29th of that year and became less formally but more accurately referred to as the “National Interstate and Defense Highways Act.” It garnered the latter name for coupling civilian mobility along with the easing of troop movements (specifically, in the event of a mainland invasion). Initially, the Act allocated about $25 billion, through 1969, towards the construction of 41,000 miles of interconnected, multi-lane highways. The tab was split between states and the federal government, with states covering ten percent of their costs.
By the mid 1960s, roughly half of the interstate had been built. Anticipating an increased demand for big-payload trucks, outfitted for coast-to-coast hauling, Big Red’s press material declared, “A new era of trucking is almost here” and that it “anticipates the national highway network of the 1970’s.”
Continue this story on page 2, below.