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National Parks Highway - Red Trail - A Little History.


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#1 Keep the Show on the Road!

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Posted 19 June 2010 - 06:59 PM

The National Parks Highway, in its initial iteration, ran from Chicago to the Puget Sound. Later it was extended into Oregon, as far as Crater Lake. The earliest newspaper references I have so far found to it have it following much of what was, or became, the Yellowstone Trail.

An early map of the route that appeared in multiple newspapers in the spring of 1915 takes it along the Yellowstone Trail alignment in South Dakota,. But at the very same time boosters in North Dakota were describing it as running across their state via Fargo, Bismarck and into Montana at Glendive. (The routeof the Red Trail)

Posted Image



The newspaper map above shows the spring 1915 route of the National Parks Highway (going through South Dakota) and the color map below shows the 1917 route of both roads. The 1915 map had to be prepared by a common source, and my vote is for the National Parks Highway boosters in Spokane. There is some conjecture here, but the 1915 map was certainly not prepared by folks in North Dakota, as the route shown didn't go there! The color maps shows the National Parks Highway as it actuall was in 1917, and as it appeared in Association publications.


Posted Image
RED = National Parks Highway, Yellow = Yellowstone Trail, Orange = Where both overlap.


At least one other auto trail played an important part in the National Parks Highway story. The Red Trail was the creation of a group based in Dickinson. It was a North Dakota route, not the transcontinental highway that the PBS Old Red Trail TV program suggests. I have read several stories in the Bismarck newspapers that confirm my view, and any of several atlases of transcontinental routes from the period are equally clear. But at least in North Dakota the Red Trail and the National Parks Highway were often used interchangeable to describe a common route in that state.

The National Parks Highway was the brain child of Spokane boosters, but it seems to me that the North Dakota people had more at stake in its success. Spokane was going to benefit from almost any route from the east via Yellowstone to the west coast. I don't see why Spokane folks would want to sour relationships with the Yellowstone Trail leadership, and it doesn't really seem necessary to create a competing route. Virtually all the traffic went through Spokane and it shouldn't matter to Spokane boosters if tourists went through North Dakota or South Dakota! But the folks in North Dakota should care, and they did. They saw the Yellowstone Trail as their big competitor.

Eventually the headquarters of the National Parks Highway moved to Bismarck, but this was apparently late in its history. And the people in North Dakota took a greater interest in the routes in Minnesota, for the very obvious reason that the decision to follow the Yellowstone Trail or the National Parks Highway / Red Trail was made in Minnesota.

In 1924 the National Parks Highway created a "temporary" headquarters in Bismarck, with the intension to strengthen ties and attention to the route coming from the east. When you read the article in the Bismarck newspaper it seems that they slip from temporary to permanent easily. My guess is that Spokane folks were losing interest, perhaps for the reasons I have cited, and Bismarck folks got more active, so the organization naturally shifted to Bismarck.. Why they moved is conjecture.

My real purpose isn't to dwell on the politics and history of the highway, but to set tire on road. Thus I am in the midst of copying my 1917 - 21 strip maps of the route (I try not to use originals on a trip because they inevitably get damaged.). At the moment I have copied only North Dakota and Minnesota, but the work goes on.

#2 Alex Burr - hester_nec

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Posted 20 June 2010 - 07:21 AM

This site is amazing. Back in 2001 I drove thru Aberdeen, Mobridge and west on into Miles City on my way to a Hudson club national meet in Seattle - and I thought I was just driving on old U S 12!!!! Didn't realize the history of the road back then.

I suspect it was about as well populated back in the teens, 20's etc as it was in 2001.

Hudsonly,
Alex Burr
Memphis, TN

#3 Keep the Show on the Road!

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Posted 20 June 2010 - 12:21 PM

This site is amazing. Back in 2001 I drove thru Aberdeen, Mobridge and west on into Miles City on my way to a Hudson club national meet in Seattle - and I thought I was just driving on old U S 12!!!! Didn't realize the history of the road back then.

I suspect it was about as well populated back in the teens, 20's etc as it was in 2001.

Hudsonly,
Alex Burr
Memphis, TN


Alex,

Right! You drove the Yellowstone Trail along a section I have not traveled....yet. And you are right, in many places the population is actually less today.

Sheila and I were having our regular morning coffee and discussion session, and one topic was how a focus on the road, not just the destination, changes your perspective. Your comment is right on target!

Right now I am mapping the route through Minnesota. I am paying attention to the 1917-1921 road. Today much of the old road takes you through small towns and past family farms that were bypassed not just by the interstates but by the two lane roads that were the next step beyond the original route. I am forced to look, not just ahead but all around me, even in Google Earth!

I have been reading newspaper articles about the National Parks Highway from the period. My library subscribes to a archival newspaper service which I have free access to on the internet with just my library card number. My search on the National Parks Highway has turned up pieces from papers all across the country, but most interestingly, from local papers in Montana, North Dakota, and Wisconsin. They tell the real story ( well, let's call it "newspaper real") of the hopes, disappointments, competition, opposition, and achievements of the road blazing era. And in the process you can't help but get a big dose of human nature and human affairs.


I think each of us should adopt an old auto trail.
There are enough to go around, at least for the number of active posters. Like Jim's, Michigan Road (which actually predates the auto trail era), or "my" National Parks Highway, it should be one that hasn't been fully documented.

Then map and describe your auto trail. With the tools we have (e.g. Google Earth and Google Maps, Delorme, etc) , you can do it from your easy chair or on the road, or both. In fact, I have a problem launching the driving part of my effort because I realize there is so much more I need to research before I leave, so that I won't miss stuff when I'm driving!

Part of what I'm trying to say is that any one of us can discover interesting and amazing things when we focus on the road, and it can be rewarding even if you do it from your living room. Almost anyone can become an "authority" on an auto trail, and if you choose wisely, you may be the only authority! With any luck at all, you can increase interest three or four fold!! I can say that there has been a 400% increase in the interest in the National Parks Highway in just the past year......let's see there's' you, Denny, Jim, and ........, yep 400%! ;)

Well, I have to get back to mapping the National Parks Highway. :rolleyes:

Dave

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#4 yttrailman

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Posted 21 June 2010 - 10:30 AM

As we research the Yellowstone Trail we rather naturally find information about the NPH. I was surprised to learn from Dave that the NPH ever considered the YT route through South Dakota as part of the NPH. That motivated me to pull out our NPH file folder and review it. Some miscellaneous findings:

Early in 1915 (January) J. E. Prindle of Ismay, Montana, (an officer in the YTA) utterly rejected the proposal by the NPH people that the two organizations be amalgamated under the name NPH. The meeting of 1914 in Spokane resulted in the name NPH and the decision to generally follow the Northwest Trail as followed by Westgard. Supposedly the YT representative at the meeting agreed to joining together so, on that basis, the NPH chose the YT South Dakota route, which didn't come to pass because the officers of the YTA vetoed joining together.

In 1915, the NPH officers were still unsure of the name they would be using, one candidate being Northwest Trail. The Northwest Trail was the route "discovered" by A. L. Westgard as he acted as Pathfinder for the AAA. That pathfinding occurred before any of the "sponsored" named highways, like the YT and Lincoln. But it never attracted the attention of the local folk to make it a national success -- until the NPH used the route.

The AAA (actually the Inland Automobile Assoc, a AAA affiliate)suggests that Frank Guilbert, the father of the NPH, brought Westgard to Spokane for that early 1912 pathfinding venture. (Intermountain Motorist, Jan 1937 ) However, I personally rather suspect that Guilbert was not the major reason for the pathfinding trip.

In 1915, the NPH Assoc., working with the National Highways Assoc. prepared a map of the NP Transcontinental Highway (the Northwest Trail and the Red Trail) showing the NPH from Tacoma through Albany where it splits in two, one branch going to Boston, and the other New York City. Westgard was "in charge" of the map as a leader of the Nat. Highways Association.

The Summer, 1916, NPH tour of the leaders of the organization, followed the North Dakota route of the Northwest Trail, not the YT.

The many articles about the YT and NPH found in newspapers suggests a great lesson that should be applied to our modern news reading: In areas traversed by both the YT and NPH, the responsibility for the great improvements to local roadways are claimed by both organizations. Reading from only one source gives an entirely wrong understanding. Especially, when neither organization was spending the money to improve the road; the locals were.

YT Trailman

PS Is there any chance you might share your strip maps with us on the Forum?

#5 Keep the Show on the Road!

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Posted 22 June 2010 - 02:02 PM

John,


Thanks for your always cogent comments and insights. I am always in awe of your knowledge! Mystery solved!

Of course I'll be happy to post the strip maps....but give me a couple of days. I am right in the middle of scanning and starting to decipher Wisconsin. I have almost completed far eastern Montana, North Dakota, and Minnesota. I am skipping Montana as that is covered in Yellowstone Trail mapping (other than the two NPH northern loops), and places nearer my home can be dealt with as time permits.

The mapping is almost maddening. I keep wanting to follow the modern two lane, which I would have done if I had not used the strip maps. The strip maps show the tortuous route those poor folks had to follow, left and right until it must have seemed like a rat's maze. Here in the west the old road often followed the lay of the land, along river and stream, and took the only route through canyon and over mountain. But in the flat and farmed midwest they turned at every fence line. I may never find my way back! How did they ever connect the dots in the first place?

Dave

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#6 yttrailman

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Posted 22 June 2010 - 09:02 PM

I doubt that this is a "cogent comment or insight" but I do have another frustration to share!

In several, if not many, places, maps, notably the strip maps, show those straight section line roads with right turns when in actuality the road wandered all over the place. Take the area just east of Mobridge, out about three miles, where the "straight" road actually ran along the land contours off as much as at least a 1000 feet to the north. And the YT Association boys have a neat map of the Trail northwest of Mobridge with straight one mile sections that add up to one too few miles to fit the real world. That throws the route in that whole area into doubt.

While I'm griping, or at least observing the presence of bad data, I am reminded of the many places, today, where one can see a straight road laid out for miles ahead -- and note that every once and a while the survey crew put in an accidental small bend. THAT puts our entire western survey in question.

Back to constructive work,

YT Trailman

#7 Alex Burr - hester_nec

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Posted 23 June 2010 - 07:11 AM

Regarding the methods used in making maps. Strip maps, especially those produced to be published in books - such at the AAA tour books, Automobile Blue Books, etc - were aimed at getting the traveler from A to B. Most strip maps are really to small to show every deviation in the road bed. For that you need larger scale maps such as produced by topographical maps.

That said, some of todays map programs, such as Delorme in their state by state books and Streets and Trips, do a pretty fair job of telling it like it was. Of course the problem with trying to decipher an 80 year old map today is the fact that over the years the old highways have been straightened, moved and widened in the interests of safety.

A good example of this is U S 51 here in the Memphis area. I have traced out much of the 1926 era R-O-W - and, baby, going north it ain't even close to where it is today - both in reality and on the strip map from a 1926 Automobile Blue Book. In those area's where yesterday and today do overlap there are things to look for that will tell you what you are looking at. One of the ways, if they haven't replaced the bridge railings, is to look for an old style bridge railing. There are a couple of these between Memphis and Millington, 20 miles to the north. Today's alignment is 4-lane divided - there are a couple places were one side features the old 1930's style bridge railings; the other lanes going in the other direction don't. Another indicator is, and this has been mentioned before, is a lonely, mostly overgrown, alignment that veers off from the current roadway complete with telephone poles and wires. That's a pretty good indicator of where the old road went before.

Hope this clears some of the fog away.

Alex Burr
Memphis, TN
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Edited by Alex Burr - hester_nec, 23 June 2010 - 07:14 AM.





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