Page One

Lincoln Highway fire truck journey rolls through town

By David Scharfenberg Daily Planet staff
Tuesday July 02, 2002

Craig Harmon’s journey across the nation will end in San Francisco on July 4. But on Monday, the history buff made one last stop in Berkeley to pay tribute to a local writer who helped inspire his trip. 

Harmon, founder of the Lincoln Highway National Museum and Archives in Galion, Ohio, has been traveling the nation in an old fire truck since July 2000, drawing attention to the historic thoroughfare that stars in his museum back home. 

The Lincoln Highway dates back to 1913, when a group of motor enthusiasts and governors created the first transcontinental highway. They named the patchwork of connected roads from New York City to San Francisco after Civil War-era president Abraham Lincoln. 

The highway route originally included Foothill Boulevard in Oakland, but in 1928 shifted to San Pablo Avenue and University Avenue in Berkeley. It made its way to the Berkeley Pier where cross-country travelers could take a boat to their final destination of San Francisco. 

Harmon, who credits the Lincoln Highway founders with spurring the modern-day system of interstate highways, told the West Berkeley Lions Club Monday that a Depression-era Berkeley resident, David R. Lane, helped inspire his trip. 

Lane, once an Associated Press reporter, wrote a 1935 history of the thoroughfare titled “The Lincoln Highway: The Story of a Crusade That Made Transportation History.” 

In a 1998 trip to the Bay Area, while researching the highway, Harmon stumbled across an old copy of the book and found an engraving from Lane. 

Until then, the authorship of the book was in dispute. But Harmon tracked down Lane’s daughters, Phyllis Lane of Alameda and Edith Lane Turner of Berkeley, and found further evidence that the former AP reporter had penned the history. 

Inspired by the trip, he returned to Ohio, started the museum, and began to plan his cross-country journey. 

“If it wasn’t for Edith and Phyllis,” he said, “I wouldn’t be standing here today.” 

Turner is pleased with Harmon’s work. 

“I had all my father’s papers in the attic and I was beginning to wonder what I would do with them,” she said. 

Harmon is hoping to organize several celebrations in the coming years as the 2009 bicentennial of Lincoln’s birth approaches. Included is a re-enactment of the 1913 “sacred fire of liberty” ceremony, in which 300 communities along the highway lit bonfires to commemorate Lincoln. 

But Lincoln is not the only focus of Harmon’s trip. The curator, traveling in a 1964 Maxim fire truck, has spent much of his time the last two years in firehouses. After the Sept. 11 attacks, which claimed so many firefighters’ lives, Harmon took on another cause. 

“You couldn’t pretend it didn’t happen,” he said.  

Harmon began collecting helmets signed by firefighters across the country, and plans to present them to the New York Fire Department on the one-year anniversary of the attacks. 

But first, on Thursday, Harmon will celebrate the conclusion of his two-year journey with an event at the Palace of the Legion of Honor in San Francisco – the official ending point of an old highway reaching for a place in history.