I'm slowly learning about the Lincoln Highway's route through California, and I read a little on the road through Reno...History is awesome when you can walk around on it, or even better drive around on it! Today I read several newspaper stories about the road near Dixon, Fairfield, and Vacaville. Every time I motor from the DaveCave to the Ancestral Digs, I drive through these towns.
I was a good student all through school, but history just put me in a mood for a nap. History studies back in the day were just a bunch of dates and dead, dried up old men...until the first time I actually walked on history.
In the seventh grade I had a really good history teacher. Somehow he made those dates and dead guys interesting...but the ah-ha moment came on a field trip. We took a school bus from downtown Salt Lake City all the way out to Promontory Summit (I know, all the history books say Promontory Point, but the actual site was the Summit above the Point).
Promontory Summit is where the two railroads building the Transcontinental Railroad met, and after a day or two furiously laying track on parallel roadbeds, a labor dispute, (and getting paid by the mile- thanks US Congress) were joined with the Golden Spike. That field trip was in 1964...five years before the centennial of the May 10, 1869 ceremony.
Walking around the site back in 1964 was amazing! 95 years since that day, there were artifacts laying everywhere you looked...shovel heads, pick-axes, crow bars, hundreds of railroad spikes, old squished lanterns...in a word? Museumfulls.
Sixteen years later I found myself hiking along the Lincoln Highway, and walking around on history again. A bunch of us hiked over Donner Summit from Donner Lake to Donner Ski Ranch via Track #1. Still live, we took extra care when hiking through the numerous snow sheds and tunnels, making sure to listen extra carefully for the deep rumble of several huge diesel locomotives pulling a heavy freight train up the Summit grade. We enjoyed a grand old all-day hike, and avoided any locomotive drama. It was a weekend, during a recession, and we never heard or saw a train all day. Five years after that hike, I lived right on the Lincoln Highway...about 150 yards from Track #1, and it was a rare day when a train didn't go by every 2-3 hours!
By the mid-90's, Track #1, the original Transcontinental Railroad roadbed over Donner Summit was retired, and rail traffic was routed through the 1925 built, wider, taller, faster 10,322ft long Tunnel 41.
All that history under foot sparked an interest in history that I never imagined I'd have back in seventh grade history class struggling with those stories about those dry dead dudes. The first book I read after I moved to the Sierra Crest was Irving Stone's "Men To Match My Mountains", Stone's fictionalized account of the Western Migration and the Taming of the West.
Now, thirty-one years after the Track #1 hike, I'm on the trail of another Transcontinental Road, and I've already found some places I can walk around on the now-abandoned original concrete lanes. I've been walking around on vestiges of the Lincoln Highway most of my life...it's another circle to close, and another chapter to learn. I'm guessing there's no boring old dudes in the rest of this story...