The Pennsylvania Turnpike: America’s First Superhighway

I could hear David Byrne’s remake of the Gene Autry classic Don’t Fence Me In as I turned onto the Pennsylvania Turnpike , heading west to Grove City, Ohio (home of the  World’s Largest High School Alumni Softball Tournament) to celebrate my mom’s 82nd birthday- a 490 mile one-way trip, which included 225 miles on the Pennsylvania Turnpike.

Some of my earliest  travel memories include the turnpike’s multiple tunnels and Howard Johnson  restaurants, with their memorable kitsch and distinctive orange roofs . Ho- Jos predominated from the 1940s to the 70s, feeding generations of hungry travelers.

The Turnpike’s opening in 1940 was a sea-change for car travel, with it’s engineering marvels that enabled long distance travel without stoplights, cross traffic, or grades steeper than 3%, advances that were incoporated into the future interstate highway system , whose early champion was President Eisenhower.

No doubt, Eisenhower’s enthusiasm for good roads was influenced by his participation in the Army’s 1919 Transcontinental Motor Convoy , a bone-jarring 62 day trip from Washington, DC to San Fransciso.  When I make my first cross crounty trip in 1972,  we traveled thousands of miles in just 4 driving days, with time for tours of state capital buildings along the way.

The road Eisenhower followed on his 1919 trip was the Lincoln Highway ,another historic road that has a special place in my memory.  My grandparents lived along this route, across the street from the famous Lincoln Highway Garage in York, PA.  My grandmother hated the noise and the dirt, but I remember falling asleep to the sounds of adventure, as cars rumbled west late into the night.

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