Monday, May 25, 2009

Traveling Across America

The roads across the US are modern interstates , speeds of 60 or 70 miles an hour, taking the travelers in RVs and cars to their destinations in record time. We sail over borders and state lines without batting an eye. We have hotels to rest in, restaurants for warm meals, and services stations to fill the gas tanks. Conveniences of the modern world.

But back in 1849, travelers weren't so lucky. Their RVs were wooden boxes ten feet by four feet. The engines had to be feed more than gas and the spoked wheels were held together with metal rims. The bench seats didn't have any springs or nice padded seats. How did these travelers get from point A to point B? They walked.

The rocking wagon with a flapping canvas top was usually more than a body cared to endure, so walking was a pleasure. Twenty miles a day was perfect, but during inclement weather, five or ten miles were the norm. Clothes worn out as did shoe leather. Many family's journey took five months to reach their destination, depending on where they were headed. Some returned back to their original homes, discouraged and frustrated. Travel back then was for the hearty, stout pioneer who persevered.

The roads from Virginia to St. Charles, Missouri were macadamized, a method developed by John McAdam from England back around 1816. The first Macadamized road in the US was the National Road about 1830. The method was simple. A ditch was dug along the side of the road and the extra dirt helped to slightly convex the road for drainage. Then three thin layers of different sized, crushed rock were spread separately and packed tightly by a horse-drawn iron roller, with the last layer being pea gravel. The finished roads varied from seven to eighteen inches in thickness depending on the amount of travel. These roads were dusty and eventually eroded by heavy traffic. Around 1834, a "pitch Macadam" was developed by Henry Cassell, involving spreading tar on the subgrade, then adding another layer before tarring and sanding the top. This method is similar to how our roads are made today.

The trip from Virginia to Independence, Westport, Kansas City, or St. Joseph, Missouri was normally an easy trip. What faced the pioneer beyond the jumping-off place, challenged them. Open hostile territories. The Oregon Trail.

Come read Journey to Tracer's Point and see what the trip was like for the pioneers. What challenged them. What disasters waited for them. Could you have made this trip?

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