Vintage Photos: Life On The Road – On US Hwy 30 In 1948

US Route 30 - Life Magazine - 1948

If we chose to drive across the country nowadays instead of flying, it’s in serene air-conditioned comfort. It was quite a different experience in 1948, when Life Magazine photographer Allan Grant spent some time photographing long-distance travelers on US Route 30, which was once one one of the main transcontinental highways, running from Atlantic City to Astoria, Oregon.

I love this shot, as it so perfectly captures the boredom of travel for a teenager, in the pre-electronics era. At least she’s got a mattress to stretch out on in the back of an old pickup, with a crude shelter from the sun. Beats walking alongside a covered wagon on the Oregon Trail one hundred years earlier, which Route 30 roughly paralleled in parts.

US Route 30 - Life Magazine - 1948

Here’s the same vehicle shot from the side. Looks like Ma is taking a turn at the wheel. I wanted to say it’s a Ford, but a closer look says otherwise.

US Route 30 - Life Magazine - 1948

This family, with a baby on board, probably wished it had a car or pickup. Looks like the driver is getting ready to kick start the big V twin, undoubtedly a Harley or Indian.

US Route 30 - Life Magazine - 1948

Not everyone is in an old car. This family is sporting a Frazer, America’s first new post-war car. Gotta’ stop at the tourist traps…

US Route 30 - Life Magazine - 1948

But the newest car of them all is this 1948 Olds ‘Futuramic’ 98. The 98 shared the brand new ’48 GM C Body with Cadillac, while Buick continued to use the old pre-war body one more year. But as ‘Futuramic’ as the new 98 looked, it was powered by the quite elderly flathead straight eight, as Olds’ new V8 wouldn’t arrive until 1949. This one is sporting North carolina plates, as well as an evaporative cooler and big roof carrier, so presumably these folks are on a serious cross-country trip.

US Route 30 - Life Magazine - 1948

Here’s another one of these pre-airconditioning coolers. They were still fairly common when we used to make our annual treks from Iowa City to the Rockies every summer in the 60s. I did a post on them here.

US Route 30 - Life Magazine - 1948

In the first couple of years after arriving in 1960, we had to drive two-lane highways the whole way, and my father alternated between Route 6 and Route 30, which parallel each other from Chicago to the west end of Nebraska, where they diverge, as 30 heads northwest, and 6 originally ended in the Los Angeles area.

Route 30 US_30_map

Although Route 30 (red) does run concurrently with interstates along part of its route, it still has its own alignment along much of the way, unlike the more famous Route 66. Route 30 has its origins in the Lincoln Highway, America’s first transcontinental route, and one funded largely by private donations! Carl Fisher, a very successful Indiana entrepreneur and promoter/developer, spearheaded the Lincoln Highway in 1912. Its success, especially in large troop and supply movements during WW1, directly led to the government’s increased funding for highways, and the eventual interstates.

US Route 30 - Life Magazine - 1948

This looks like it could well be in Iowa, given the gently rolling hills. Parts of Route 30 were widened to four lanes between certain larger cities; I remember it being four lanes like this east of Cedar Rapids; maybe west of it too.

US Route 30 - Life Magazine - 1948

The inner two lanes here are paved with bricks; this was likely part of the Lincoln Highway. And there’s a curb on the outside edges, something that was presumably done to keep folks from driving off the pavement, like the rumble strips now. But the curbs turned out to be dangerous, as they tended to upset a car’s directional stability at speed. I remember some still around in the 70s in Iowa.

US Route 30 - Life Magazine - 1948

Further out west, Route 30 looked like a country road.

US Route 30 - Life Magazine - 1948

Needless to say, breakdowns were a much more common sight in the past. And in the immediate postwar era, the average age of cars was exceptionally old, due to the interruption of new car production during WW2. This flathead Ford is slaking its thirst.

US Route 30 - Life Magazine - 1948

This poor old Ford has a heavy load to pull, so no wonder it’s thirsty. And it’s getting fed from Mom’s tea kettle. Is the hood gone to help keep it cool?

US Route 30 - Life Magazine - 1948

This one has a thirst for beer.

US Route 30 - Life Magazine - 1948

These ‘desert’ water bags were a common sight still in the 60s, although usually carried on the front of the car, not on the back like on this Chrysler.

US Route 30 - Life Magazine - 1948

Flats were a common affliction.

US Route 30 - Life Magazine - 1948

Something’s not right with this handsome Zephyr. I had a major passion for these as a kid after I saw one.

US Route 30 - Life Magazine - 1948

This cop is pushing an old broken-down car off the pavement. Check out its paint job.

US Route 30 - Life Magazine - 1948

These folks are well prepared.

US Route 30 - Life Magazine - 1948

This trunk makes for a shaded place to eat lunch.

US Route 30 - Life Magazine - 1948

Are these kids riding in the trunk? It rather looks like it, since this is a coupe with only one seat.

US Route 30 - Life Magazine - 1948

They aren’t the only ones.

US Route 30 - Life Magazine - 1948

You kids in the back of the Jeep don’t know how lucky you have it! Dad most likely got it for peanuts as an Army surplus vehicle.

US Route 30 - Life Magazine - 1948

This was the place to spend the night if you could afford it.

US Route 30 - Life Magazine - 1948

And for those that couldn’t, the found whatever shelter they could.

US Route 30 - Life Magazine - 1948

Billboards make a good windbreak, as well as keeping one a bit out of sight, but back then pulling off the road into the open country to camp wasn’t such a big deal.

US Route 30 - Life Magazine - 1948

There were rest areas too.

US Route 30 - Life Magazine - 1948

Trailers  were not uncommon. Americans too to living on the road early on.

US Route 30 - Life Magazine - 1948

Makes living on the road a lot more pleasant.

US Route 30 - Life Magazine - 1948

An Olds with trailer and boat.

US Route 30 - Life Magazine - 1948

Bet these guys wish they had one.

US Route 30 - Life Magazine - 1948

So where’s the bathroom?

US Route 30 - Life Magazine - 1948

The shadows are getting long.

US Route 30 - Life Magazine - 1948

A classic teardrop trailer.

US Route 30 - Life Magazine - 1948

And a swivel-wheel trailer. These were also quite common, back when trunks were small. And one didn’t have to worry about backing up skills with these.

US Route 30 - Life Magazine - 1948

A Greyhound ‘Silversides’ bus passing a Jeep. Check out all of the license plates on it; back then trucks and buses had to have plates for all the states they regularly did business in.

US Route 30 - Life Magazine - 1948

A little self-promotion.

US Route 30 - Life Magazine - 1948

A lot of towns along the way did good business from the highway, and some resisted the interstates when they came, because of the loss of business to the their core. I remember Cheyenne, Wyoming managed to stall a section of I-80 bypassing it for ages, forcing all the traffic to go right through downtown. It’s the opposite of what one expect, wanting a bypass to reduce traffic.

US Route 30 - Life Magazine - 1948

I’ll end this with one of my other favorite shots, of a man bicycling.  Somewhat surprisingly, his bike has a rear derailleur, which was not common in the US then. In fact, the bike looks rather European, with its delicate touring frame and thin tires. despite the lack of much gear.

Route 30 biker

Update: This is Charles Corwin White, bicycling from Los Angeles to New York and speaking along the way on “Americanism” and the citizenry’s participation in a democracy. Here he’s photographed west of Rawlins, Wyo.

 

Here’s more of these shots, along with some further commentary