The Cars of US 40 on a Bicycle Ride Across Indiana

From September 1 through 4 this year, I rode my bicycle across Indiana from east to west on US 40. It was a longtime dream realized — I’d wanted to do it for years and years. I’m not athletic in the slightest; I just love to ride my bicycle. And I love historic roads like US 40. Its history stretches back to the 1830s, when the first federally funded interstate highwy, the National Road, reached Indiana. It connected Ohio to Illinois via Richmond, Indianapolis, and Terre Haute.

When the US highway system was founded in 1927, US 40 was routed over the National Road almost wholesale from its beginning in Cumberland, Maryland to its end in Vandalia, Illinois. In the 1930s and 1940s, US 40 was improved all the way across Indiana to be a four-lane highway. Sometimes the lanes are separated by a grassy median; sometimes they’re not. At all times, US 40 is lightly traveled because almost all traffic uses nearby I-70.

What’s very cool is that a few sections of the old two-lane US 40 remain. This one in Putnam County features an open-spandrel concrete arch bridge built in 1923. In those days, the state controlled the National Road and called it State Road 3. They built this bridge when a previous truss bridge proved inadequate for increasing auto traffic. The bridge in the first photo was also built in about 1923, and was simply abandoned when the new four-lane US 40 was built. You’ll find it just west of Plainfield, in Hendricks County.

As I rode, I found several old cars parked. Or trailered, as is the case with this stretched International Travelall ambulance.

I found this in Richmond the evening before I started to ride. It’s easily my favorite find of the trip.

It looks fantastic from a distance, but up close you can see that it’s got some signs of use. I can’t figure out whether this was a gently used ambulance in original condition, or a long-ago restoration that needs some touch up.

Either way, it’s well tricked out with air conditioning and an automatic transmission.

Somewhere in Henry County, I think, I came upon this Flair Bird parked by a barn. It was a good distance off the road; this was as close as my point-and-shoot camera’s zoom lens would bring me.

In Knightstown I found a small building with large plate windows filled with Pontiacs and Chevys from 1957. This Star Chief convertible was the only one I could get a decent photograph of.

57 Ford, E of Stilesville on US 40

In Hendricks County, I came upon this ’57 Ford Fairlane 500 hardtop. A shirtless fellow sitting in a lawn chair in his garage saw me photographing his car, and gave me a long, slow wave.

In the lot of what looked like a repair shop in Putnamville, I found three oldsters starting with this ’59 Ford. Ye gods, but are ’59 Fords ugly.

This 1953 Dodge was stripped of nearly all of its brightwork.

Behind it lurked this ’61 Rambler American, my favorite of the trio. I’m sure these were dull to drive but I’m just old enough to remember when these crawled the Earth and I sometimes miss those days.

Finally, near Cloverland in Clay County I spied this ’72-ish Ford truck moldering in someone’s yard.

My goal was to ride to the Illinois line, but it rained on me after lunch on the last day, making my brakes useless. I cut the trip 9 miles short and rode directly to the home of an old friend who lives in Terre Haute.

It was a challenging trip, as I am a middle-aged man in middling shape. Some days the riding was a pleasure, and others not so much. But I made it! I rode 35-45 miles a day, and stopped at a hotel or an Airbnb every night. I packed enough food to get by during the day, but took meals at restaurants in the morning and evening. I feel like I really accomplished something. But now I’m satisfied, and will probably never do anything like this again.

And yes, that’s an old 3 speed — a 1986 Schwinn Collegiate, to be precise. It’s the bike I have, I really like riding it, and I thought I’d give ‘er a go. Turns out a much lighter bicycle would have been a blessing on this trip. Also, a granny gear would really have helped on the hills. But this bike’s springy, padded seat and upright riding position were just right for me.