Thank you, President Eisenhower

A cross-country trip by a U.S Army convoy in 1918 that made its way through Tama (and possibly Marshalltown) would later pave the way for the national interstate system.

One of the officers included would go on to lead allied forces to victory in World War II, and serve two terms as president.

He was the late Dwight D. Eisenhower, and one of his chief accomplishments during his presidency was creation of the interstate network.

Consequently, that is why drivers see the white on blue signs on I-80 and other intestates that read: “The Dwight D. Eisenhower National System of Interstate and Defense Highways.”

Evidently, the experience of traveling over our nation’s gravel or dirt roads had an impact. And as a career military man, Eisenhower understood the importance of an effective transportation system to move troops and supplies in peacetime and in war.

And it was a war — the Cold War — which hastened its construction from the 1950s into the 1970s.

It was believed intestates would be needed to help evacuate citizens in the event of a nuclear attack.

I don’t know if the thousands of truckers and other drivers that use I-80 on a regular basis know the defense considerations, but I do know interstates made possible for me several memorable vacations and two unforgettable photos.

The first trip was in August of 1968, and my late father and I were preparing to drive from my hometown of Clinton to Wilmington, Del., to visit family. I had recently earned my driver’s license, and was looking forward to help dad drive approximately half-way across the United States.

I was more than eager to help.

At that time dad drove a Mercury with a huge V-8 motor and enough room to seat six comfortably.

At some point on I-80 East he let me drive. I can still remember accelerating up to the posted speed limit and well beyond, as the powerful Mercury passed some vehicles as if they were standing still. After a number of miles in the big car, and safely moving in and out of lanes, I felt like a seasoned road warrior.

Making that trip especially memorable was visiting Washington, D.C. for the first time. My late Uncle Harold, bless his soul, drove us. The Poor People’s March on Washington had taken place earlier in the year, and its thousands of attendees had recently departed. The march was led by the late Rev. Ralph Abernathy, who had taken the leadership role in the Civil Rights campaign after the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. in April. The purpose of the march was to make the country aware of severe poverty in many parts of the United States. Many of the marchers had camped in tents for months on the National Mall, near the Washington monument. The ground was still chewed up from the huge tent stakes, coupled with several weeks of foot and vehicle traffic.

Ten years later brought about another trip to Washington, this time I was a married man.

It was late September of 1978. My better half and I joined another couple, friends from Illinois, to drive to the nation’s capital to see a mutual college friend. Again, the excitement of driving faster than usual — especially late at night on the intestates added to the fun. The four of us enjoyed each other’s company and we were able to see many of the historic sights, including the National Zoo, which had a pair of entertaining pandas, courtesy of the People’s Republic of China.

Three years later, Karen and I and I took another trip, this time, west. It was a two-week vacation plus, and it allowed us plenty of time to camp in our small, but functional tent and see the Badlands National Monument, Mount Rushmore, the Continental Divide, Yellowstone National Park, Mount St. Helen’s – not long after its major eruption – Oregon beaches, redwood trees, San Francisco and many friends and family all with the help our car, a modest, efficient, and comfortable 1976 Ford Granada.

The pictures? There is one of Karen standing by an I-94 sign somewhere in South Dakota with the sun setting and another of her standing in a huge California redwood tree hollowed out at the bottom to allow vehicles to pass through.

So, here is a belated thank you to President Eisenhower, the federal elected officials who voted to fund the interstate system and engineers, contractors and laborers who made it all possible.


Contact Mike Donahey at 641-753-6611 or