A convoy of 20 vehicles has entered Iowa today (Thursday) to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the Interstate Highway System. Chuck Zimmerman, one of the drivers in the convoy, says a U.S. military general who became president in the 1950s had seen Germany’s Autobahn (AH-toh-bahn) during World War I.

When then-Lieutenant Colonel Dwight Eisenhower returned to the U.S. Eisenhower took a cross-country trek in 1919 — and today’s convoy is retracing those steps. Eisenhower took a military convoy from Washington, D.C. to San Francisco to assess the conditions and the ability to deploy troops.

Zimmerman says Eisenhower then became a huge proponent of a limited-access Interstate highway system as part of a defense structure in the U.S. “So that you could easily roll a convoy, like what we’re doing, if the need ever arose,” Zimmerman says. “Essentially we are following fairly close to the track that (Eisenhower) took only we’re doing it in reverse direction — we’re going from San Francisco to Washington, D.C. We’re following Interstate-80, which does go coast-to-coast.”

The trip along I-80 is taking Zimmerman and the rest of the convoy drivers much less time — because of the Interstate — to drive the route Eisenhower took in 1919. “Eisenhower and the military convoy did what we today call a blog. They wrote a daily journal of their trip,” Zimmerman says.”They were averaging many days no more than six miles an hour or about 45 miles in a day because there…certainly weren’t paved roads like we have today.”

Zimmerman and crew will make the cross-country trip in 13 days with a series of scheduled news events and overnight stops. It took the military several months to make the same journey nearly a century ago. Eisenhower became the leading general in World War II and was elected president in 1952.

On June 29, 1956, Eisenhower signed the bill authorizing the Interstate Highway system. Convoy driver Zimmerman is a spokesman for the Ethanol Promotion and Information Council which is fueling the cross-country event. Zimmerman says they haven’t been able to find E-85 or an ethanol-blended fuel at every stop, however.

“We want to draw attention to the fact that this is a renewable fuel,” Zimmerman says. “Because we want more of it to be put in our cars in America to reduce our dependence on foreign oil, we thought that this convoy and this commemorate trip would be a great way to draw attention because we’re traveling across the Interstate highways where probably most of our vehicles wind up at least at some point in time.”

Last night (Wednesday), the group stayed in Omaha and this (Thursday) morning at 10:30 they held a news conference at the Werner Trucking Company Truck Museum in Omaha before striking out east into Iowa, bound for D.C. The group plans to hold a news conference at Living History Farms on Friday. Here’s nat sound of the song “Convoy.”

Related web sites:
Chuck Zimmerman’s Convoy blog