Navigating Iowa’s sticky gumbo mud, 1928

LINCOLN HIGHWAY NEWS IS A BLOG BY BRIAN BUTKO

After staying overnight in Belle Plaine at the Herring Hotel, Dallas and Daphne Sharp headed westward on the Lincoln Highway. In his 1928 travelogue, The Better Country, he said the day was going so well, and they were making such extraordinary speed, that they took little notice of the changing weather. “We knew that we were on the wet side of a sagging western sky, but there was nothing in our previous experience … to lead us into speculation.”

Then out of a dark cloud, a lone, wet snowflake wafted down. “Then everything began to spit. And simultaneously everything began to slide…. Here was something new—a new form of motion.”

There was nothing for the car to get hold of, “nothing even gritty geological, the very order of the universe without firmness or fiber! The car seemed about to dissolve, its reins no longer a frame of fabricated steel, but spilled and quaking jelly. And when it stopped going round, it lay sprawling in the elemental ooze of that Iowa road.”

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Ditches ran along each side of the road: “We saw seven cars in the course of that afternoon, standing on their radiators or sitting on their tail-lights, or stretched this length within the ditches, and wholly unguarded, as if their occupants had been swallowed by the mud.”

Dallas was lucky that his car came to rest across the crown of the road and not off it like the others, but neither could they stay there: Listen Daphne. The only gears in this car that I know about go forward or reverse. In either of those directions lies a ditch.” Still, they needed to move, so by a combination of chains, spread-out newspapers, flying mud and snow, and a grinding, bucking car, they managed to turn westward and continue their search for a better country….

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