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mobilene

Building The Illinois National Road

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Do you all remember a few years ago when I explored the abandoned brick and concrete National Road across a large portion of Illinois? Some of it is in good shape:

 

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Some of it isn't:

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Well, I just won on eBay a set of seven little photographs showing this brick road being built. I am guessing this happened in the late 1910s or early 1920s. Here they all are, in an order that tells the story of the construction.

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Look at the tar they're spreading onto the concrete pad on which the bricks sit. Everywhere I explored the road where the bricks are coming up, there is no evidence of this tar. Makes you think the tar was part of what held the bricks in, and when it eroded away, the bricks became loose.

 

In the photo below, the sign hiding partially behind the Caterpillar mentions that Brazil, IN, is 32 miles away. That places this construction at about Marshall, IL.

 

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Here's the crew coating the laid bricks with something.

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Jim,

 

Terrific!! What a great sequence! And the fact that you can almost locate the exact spot where they were taken, adds to the interest. I bet a little digging in the State archives would turn up the contract and the details.

 

Now lets find out what the "tar" was and why it didn't show up in your samples. How close can you date the shots with confidence? We could take a look for standard brick laying procedures in that period.

 

Are you close enough to the site to take a spin out there?

 

Dave

 

Keep the Show on the Road!

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Dave,

 

In 2007 while exploring this road I met a woman who lived on it. She remembered a neighbor who had passed a few years before who was on the crew that built this road. Wonder if he's in these photos? Anyway, I'm 90% sure she said 1923, though 10% of me says she said 1917. At any rate, memories are faulty and this is third hand info.

 

My 1916 ABB says the road is dirt but for occasional concrete stretches. My 1924 ABB says "pavement practically all the way." My Mohawk-Hobbs guides are all from 1924 or after and are no additional help. I wish I had a 1918 and a 1920-21 ABB.

 

This site is about 2 hours away, so something I'd have to plan.

 

-Jim

 

ps. On second look at the photo of the road with my buddy in it, look at the dark debris around the bricks. Tar remnants?

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Jim,

 

The 1920 ABB says that the greater part of this route will be under construction in the "coming season." The road in the 1920 ABB is described as it was described in the 1917 ABB, so I would surmise that between 1917 and 1920 the road was gravel, and dirt, with short stretches of concrete (as described in 1917 ABB). Then it was significantly upgraded in the summer and fall of 1920.

 

Dave

 

Keep the Show on the Road!

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The Terre Haute to St. Louis route that follows the National Road. Or any route that passes through Marshall, IL, on the National Road, really. Just trying to look for whatever clues they might give about when the road was bricked/concreted. It's brick from the state line through Marshall to about Martinsville, where it becomes concrete to Effingham. What do your guides say about the roads through there?

 

-Jim

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Awesome! Thanks Dave! It's great to know when this was done. Illinois hard-surfaced its NR before Indiana, then. Indiana didn't start hard surfacing its NR until no earlier than 1922, according to past research I've done with the road guides.

 

Look at all the manual labor to just lay the road surface down, let alone any leveling and grading necessary to prepare the ground.

 

The 1920 ABB says that the greater part of this route will be under construction in the "coming season." The road in the 1920 ABB is described as it was described in the 1917 ABB, so I would surmise that between 1917 and 1920 the road was gravel, and dirt, with short stretches of concrete (as described in 1917 ABB). Then it was significantly upgraded in the summer and fall of 1920

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It's probably safe to guess that it was the brick/concrete. Seems unlikely there'd be a graveling or something only to turn around and do brick/concrete a few years later.

 

There was no mention in the 1920 ABB's what material was to be used in the construction in the "coming season."

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Nice to see the brick road is still there. Nice pictures

 

Curt

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Jim,

 

This is not solid, but I think you can point to post WW1 for that road construction. During 1917-1919 it was tough to get road building materials and equipment because they were going to the war effort. I think the same applies to road workers. The 1920 season was the first after the war to be a big construction season.

 

The Caterpillar tractor is pretty big, and appears gas powered, pointing to WW1 or after. The Caterpillar name was initiated by the Holt Manufacturing Company and there is a 1920 Holt manual with the Caterpillar logo on Google Books. Unfortunately it does not include a photo of the 120hp machine itself, but Holt had plants in Stockton, California and Peoria, Illinois.

 

The one thing that is a bit of a fly in the ointment is that we don't know what paving material Illinois was favoring in 1920, but we know from publications of the time that 1920 Illinois state road construction bids included brick and concrete, so brick was a definite possibility, even if concrete may have been favored.

 

I have more than exhausted my knowledge, and I am left admiring your find. Thanks for sharing!!

 

Dave

 

Keep the Show on the Road

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Dave,

 

The Caterpillar is a Caterpillar Sixty. Here's a photo of one. http://www.flickr.com/photos/thumpr455/5599054373/ You can juuuuuuuust make out the SIXTY on the side of the Cat's big radiator in my old photo.

 

Apparently the Caterpillar company was not formed until 1925, when a merger between Holt and the C.L. Best Gas Tractor Co. So this photo has to be from 1925 or later, because otherwise this tractor would say Best on it, not Caterpillar. The Sixty was a Best design. The Sixty was made until 1931, per Wikipedia.

 

So I'm surprised. There must have been an interim surface for the National Road laid down in 1920. I'd bet on gravel. And then in or after 1925, the brick was laid.

 

The eBay auction is here: http://www.ebay.com/itm/151077519888?ssPageName=STRK:MEWNX:IT&_trksid=p3984.m1439.l2649 (while it lasts). In it the seller says these are from the 1930s. I'm not so sure. My gut tells me late 1920s now.

 

The anecdotes I've heard suggest that Illinois launched a comprehensive state-road-building program in the 1920s and it put what Indiana was doing to shame. The Terre Haute to St. Louis path of the National Road (though 1800s construction stopped in Vandalia, it had been surveyed to STL, and I'm under the impression that local communities may have built the rest of it or at least blazed the trails) was important and would likely have been among the first built under whatever IDOT was called back then.

 

The National Road was State Route 11 before it became US 40.

 

And holy frijoles, as I was looking stuff up just now I found a cache of historic IL state road maps! http://www.idaillinois.org/cdm/search/collection/isl9

 

The 1921 map shows the NR as being mostly dirt with some "hard" sections. The 1922 map removes surface descriptions, daggone it. There's no 1923. The 1924 says the road is hard surfaced.

 

Soooooooooooooo this makes it all as clear as mud. The Caterpillar tractor can be no older than 1925, but the 1924 map claims a hard surface. I'm going to call these photos "ca. 1925" and move on. Close enough for me for now!!

 

Thank you so much for your help with this Dave. You are a treasure!

 

-Jim

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Jim

 

No, No, NO!! :) Not necessarily 1925 or after! It is logical to assume that the Caterpillar name / logo came into existence in 1925, but that is not the case.

 

The Caterpillar trade mark was used by Holt in the teens, and I have seen the exact wavey CATERPILLAR trade mark in the photo on a 1921 model.in a photo on the web. And Holt had a plant in Illinois. And their 1920 manual uses the exact logo on its cover.

 

The photos might be after 1925, but they just as well could be 1920 (or 1921, based on your map). Unless the cars and truck are post 1920, I would suggest ca. 1920 and assert it was part of the major 1920 (or perhaps 1921) season upgrade.

 

Dave

 

Keep the Show on the Road!

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Jim,

 

Another reason occurs to me to support a date earlier than 1925. I read the Illinois planned road bids for the 1920 season and they didn't yet know what materials would be used because bids for both concrete and brick were coming in. So they might well have used brick in 1920. But the clear move was to concrete, and Illinois was already testing center joints, etc. in concrete. It would take a little more effort, but I bet I would find that contracts let after 1920, or perhaps 1921 were concrete, not brick. It would be fairly easy to confirm my hunch as the reports are on the web.

 

Of course this is all conjecture on my part, so take it with a grain of salt.

 

Dave

 

Keep the Show on the Road

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Dave, I defer to your superior knowledge of Caterpillars! Clearly my 15 minutes sleuthing the Internet led me to some false conclusions. I didn't know that Caterpillar was a brand name before the company came into existence. Ok, I back this right on up to ca 1920 then. The cars in that one shot are hard to distinguish but all of them have styling consistent with 1920. -Jim

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A wrinkle:

 

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Caterpillar_Sixty

 

This says that the Caterpillar Sixty was actually designed and built by C.L. Best, the company Holt merged with to form Caterpillar, starting in 1919. If Caterpillar was a Holt brand, would there be Sixtys with the Caterpillar name on them before the merger in 1925?

 

-Jim

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Jim,

 

Holt was manufacturing Caterpillar tractors in 1920 and before. Do this search and look at the manuals and trademarks. I also found a 1921 Holt Caterpillar picture in my first search, but haven't tried again, since the manuals seem to suffice.

 

https://www.google.com/search?tbo=p&tbm=bks&q=inauthor:%22Holt+Manufacturing+Company%22

 

I see your point on Best, so maybe I am mistaken. You are saying that it is a Caterpillar 60, but is a design by Best, which didn't use the Caterpillar trademark, so it must have been a model 60 built after the merger. Let me do some more research!!

 

BTW, a glance at that truck in the background looks WW1ish. Lots of surplus WW1 trucks just after the war....not conclusive.

 

Dave

 

keep the Show on the Road

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Jim,

 

I agree, you are right, I am mis....mis...mista.......wrong!. The photo you found of the Caterpillar 60 matches the old B&W well enough to convince me, as it did you, that the tractor is a 60. And before the merger in 1925, the 60 would have been marked a Best. So the old B&W photo was after 1925.

 

Shucks!!

 

Dave

 

Keep the Show on the Road

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Dave,

 

This sleuthing is fun...right up until it's not. 1925 and later sure is late to be laying brick roads! Indiana was busy concreting its section of the National Road by this time. At any rate, this 1925 (or later) date doesn't jibe with the Illinois road maps I found, which show the road as hard surfaced in 1924.

 

At some point it's time to shrug the shoulders. I'm saying ca 1925 for these photos now and will remain open to more evidence that gives me a more precise date. This in no way diminishes the joy of this find, though!!

 

As for the tractor being a Sixty, if you blow the photo up to full size (click it; it will take you to Flickr where you can do that), you can see part of the SIXTY logo down the side of the radiator.

 

-Jim

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Sorry to show up so late but you guys are so much better at the sleuthing stuff than I am that it's probably just as well. The pictures are really cool regardless of when they were taken.

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Dave, you are a master of Google. I bebopped through the street view of Brazil but did not find these buildings. Not terribly surprising; Brazil is full of holes where buildings used to be. -Jim

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I posted about this on my blog today: http://blog.jimgrey.net/2013/07/26/building-the-illinois-national-road

 

A fellow who grew up in Casey, IL, near the road and is now of retirement age commented on this today. He reminded me of an alignment of the NR near Martinsville that was abandoned and is now on private property, after the road was rerouted to cross some railroad tracks at a square angle. He said that the road in there is 9-foot-wide concrete. He further said that west from there strips of the 9-foot concrete are visible, with narrower strips of concrete on either side of it to widen the road to 16 feet. I have a photo of that from 2007:

 

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Abandoned National Road by mobilene, on Flickr
The camera was zoomed out to wide angle (33mm) so it distorts the view a little bit -- it's hard to tell for sure how wide the strips of concrete are here. Now I really want to go out and see it again, measuring tape in hand. I am taking Monday off after a tough project wrapped up at work this week and maybe, just maybe, a trip to Illinois is in order to see this old pavement again. (Though a drive through some of the twisty roads in southern Indiana in my new car feels like a lot more fun.)
Here is his comment:

 

One other clue to dating of this section. George Stewart says he travelled this section of the National Road in 1919 after WW1 and while Indiana’s road was paved the bottom just totally dropped out at the Illinois line. Also since the old road has continued in use from the west side of Casey( where I grew up) to a couple of miles east of Martinsville the original bridges were still in use when I started driving. The date plates had them built in 1920. It was interesting on the old 16 foot wide pavement to meet the daily Greyhound bus on that road. Just east of Martinsville old 40 makes a swing to the north and goes under the PA RR. East of this you can see where the original National road went straight west towards Martinsville and had a 9 foot wide concrete slab. East of where old 40 rejoins “new”40 you can see that they added concrete strips on either side of the 9 foot strip for several miles to widen it to probably 16 foot wide.

 

Notice that he says that the bridges had 1920 date plates on them, back when. Those bridges are long gone for the most part now.
But follow me here: If the 1920 ABB says the road would be under construction, perhaps it was to build these bridges and the 9-foot-wide concrete section. And maaaaaaybe that construction's eastern end was just east of Martinsville, where the concrete ends and the bricks begin. And maaaaaybe everything east of that spot remained dirt or gravel until about 1925 when the bricks were built.
Does this sound plausible?
-Jim

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Jim,

 

Sure, maybe. And you are having fun, so who cares!

 

Some loose thoughts:

 

1. Does Indiana or Illinois have annual or bi-annual state road reports that might detail the work? I know Washington does. And Google often includes them in Books.

 

2. A major road project might appear in the local newspapers

 

3.Magazines devoted to contractors and road builders in the 1920's and before often listed jobs up for bid

 

4. I'll look in the next ABB, TIB, and maybe Mixers after 1920 that I have for Indiana or Illinois. Any suggestions on what I should be looking for especially?

 

Dave

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