Some of my Wilding family stories take place in the 1950’s, a time of incredible change and advancement—and the threat of danger from a foreign power.
After World War II ended, a new threat to Americans surfaced—the threat of Russia and communism. Those of us who can remember this time period in history, may recall the sense of unease about an attack from Russia. In school we practiced how to respond to attack if we were in class. We also practiced how to board school buses in an orderly, but quick fashion to be taken to predetermined destinations considered safe.
Meanwhile, Russia was making scientific advancements in space. Tension really ramped up when they successfully launched Sputnik. It was enough to not only scare the begeeses out of us, but challenged Americans to compete. We had to get with the program or we would be speaking Russian in our near future.
While the scientists worked on space missiles and satellites, President Eisenhower wanted some practical means of evacuation routes available to Americans to escape from cities to safer locations as well as a way to quickly mobilize defenses and supplies. During WWII while he commanded in Europe, he saw first-hand how the Germans had constructed major highways they used for transporting supplies and for rapid mobilization of military vehicles and soldiers. Eisenhower wanted to undertake the huge project of connecting all of the United States in the same way. We have a big diverse country both culturally and geographically, but Eisenhower was determined. And so, On June 29, 1956, President Dwight Eisenhower signed the Federal-Aid Highway Act of 1956 and the building of a massive interstate highway system began.
The law authorized the construction of a 41,000-mile network of interstate highways that would span the nation. It also allocated $26 billion to pay for them. Under the terms of the law, the federal government would pay 90 percent of the cost of expressway construction. The money came from an increased gasoline tax–to 3 cents a gallon from 2–that went into a non-divertible Highway Trust Fund. I have a difficult time trying to wrap my mind around just a 3 cent tax on gasoline to pay for this tremendous project and still, gas was less than 50 cents a gallon. We can’t seem to even get the money together these days to pay for repairs on the interstate. Just sayin’…
As we all know, nothing happens in the United States without some objection—it’s just the way Americans operate. As soon as the unpleasant ramifications of all that road building began and neighborhoods and urban areas began to experience unpleasant consequences people began to protest. The construction displaced people from their homes, sliced communities in half and led to abandonment and decay in city after city.
People began to fight back. The first victory for the anti-road forces took place in San Francisco, where in 1959 the Board of Supervisors stopped the construction of the double-decker Embarcadero Freeway along the waterfront. During the 1960s, activists in New York City, Baltimore, Washington, D.C., New Orleans and other cities managed to prevent road builders from plowing through their neighborhoods. (As a result, numerous urban interstates end abruptly; activists called these the “roads to nowhere.”) “Slum” areas were intentionally routed out. I would think this would be a plus, but where do desperately poor people go? Progress, so it seems, requires sacrifice and sometimes negative consequences. Still, as my hero, Spock, would say, “The sacrifice of a few for the many…” or something like that. Anyway, despite all the protest and hoopla, the project continued over the next several years to its completion.
The 41,012 miles of interstates have a national design standard which includes the following:
• a minimum of two lanes in each direction
• lanes that were 12 feet in width
• a 10-foot right paved shoulder
• design speeds of 50–70 mph
Further legislation over the years continued to expand the total length of the system, which now stretches for more than 46,380 mi. In 1990, in recognition of President Eisenhower's pivotal role in building the national system of interstate highways, President George Bush signed legislation officially renaming it the Dwight D. Eisenhower System of Interstate and Defense Highways.
It’s difficult to imagine our country without these super highways now. If someone wants to get somewhere in a hurry, super highways are the best bet—at least most of the time. I’m more of a back road kind of driver. I like to avoid the monotony and road rage out there on the major thoroughfares, but for transportation, evacuation and speed, interstate highways are a blessing.
Here are 10 interesting factoids regarding the National Interstate:
1. IT TOOK 17 YEARS TO CREATE AND FUND THE IDEA OF THE INTERSTATE.
Two members of the U.S. Bureau of Public Roads presented a report to Congress in 1939 that detailed the need for a non-tolled road system in the U.S. The Federal Highway Act of 1944 allowed for development of a 40,000 mile National System of Interstate Highways, but it didn’t provide any method of funding, so it went nowhere. It wasn’t until the act of 1956 that funding was finally allocated to its construction.
2. PEOPLE FIRST LOVED, THEN HATED IT.
When the Interstate Highway Act was passed, most Americans thought it was a good idea. But when construction started and people, especially in urban areas, were displaced and communities cut in half, some started to revolt. In the 1960s, activists stopped construction on highways in New York, Baltimore, Washington, D.C., and New Orleans, which resulted in several urban interstates becoming roads to nowhere.
3. EVERY STATE OWNS ITS PORTION (INCLUDING THE POTHOLES) …
This means the state is responsible for enforcing traffic laws and maintaining the section of highway in its borders. Currently, the “largest pothole in the country” award has been claimed by this section of I-75 outside Detroit.
4. … EXCEPT FOR ONE (FORMER) BRIDGE.
The Woodrow Wilson Memorial Bridge (I-95/495) that crossed the Potomac River into Washington, D.C. used to be the only part of the interstate system owned by the Federal Highway Administration. But issues over it being too small led to the creation of a new, bigger, taller bridge. As for the old one? It was destroyed, in part by people who won a contest for having “the toughest daily drive.”
5. THE STATES SET THE SPEED LIMITS.
However, in the early 1970s, all 50 states set their speed limits to 55 mph. A clause in the Emergency Highway Energy Conservation Act signed into law by Richard Nixon dictated that if a state did not set its highway speed limit to 55 mph, that state would lose its federal highway funding.
6. THE SIGNS ARE TRADEMARKED.
The red, white, and blue shields used to designate interstate numbers are trademarked by the American Association of State Highway Officials. The original design for the shield was drawn by senior traffic engineer Richard Oliver of Texas and selected out of 100 entries in a national design competition in 1957.
7. INTERSTATES AND HIGHWAYS WITH THE SAME NUMBER CANNOT RUN THROUGH THE SAME STATE.
The numbering system used for interstates is intended to be the mirror opposite of the U.S. highway system, so drivers won't be confused about whether to take Highway 70 or Interstate 70. For example, I-10 runs through southern states east-west (as all major even-numbered interstates do; odd-numbered interstates run north-south), while Highway 10 runs through northern states. Because I-50 would run through the same states as Route 50, the number will never be used.
8. I-99 DOESN'T FOLLOW THIS SYSTEM, BUT THAT'S NOT THE FEDERAL HIGHWAY ADMINISTRATION'S FAULT.
According to the Federal Highway Administration's numbering system, Pennsylvania's former US 220 should have been named something like I-876 or I-280. But Representative Bob Shuster wanted a catchier moniker for it. According to The New York Times, as a child he was fond of the No. 99 streetcar, which he used as his inspiration for the road's tag.
9. THE INTERSTATE IS PART OF THE U.S.' ATOMIC ATTACK PLAN.
A major concern during Eisenhower’s presidency was what the country would do in the event of a nuclear attack. One of the justifications for the building of the interstate system was itsability to evacuate citizens of major cities if necessary.
10. THERE ARE NO DESIGN RULES DICTATING THE SHAPE OF ROADS.
A major myth of the interstate system is that one out of every five miles is straight so an airplane can land. While this has happened, there are no rules or regulations that require such a design. Also, there are no requirements for curves to be designed into a highway to keep drivers awake. However, the Federal Highway Administration does admit that this is a perk of winding roads.
None of my Wildings have driven on or mentioned an interstate highway so far. Maybe, while I’m writing in the 1950’s time period I should at least mention it. My recent release of HOME FOR THE HEART takes place in the mid-1950's. Banjo Wilding’s last two sons are twins (Hank and Kit) and they’re all grown up now. Hank has shown up in a previous story just as an introduction and so did the straight-laced Lucy Thoroughgood in “Unexpected Blessings” in the anthology titled LASSOING A BRIDE. In my new release, Lucy and Hank discover a mutual attraction for one another, but a Lakota prophesy could end in destruction of any happiness they may have found.
HOME FOR THE HEART
Love doesn’t come easy…for some, it may never come at all.
Lucy Thoroughgood has gone and done it now—fallen in love with Hank Wilding, a man she’s known all her life. He’s content with friendship, but Lucy’s heart has flown the coop and she knows she’s in love with the determined bachelor. When she visits him with a proposition—to let the orphans she cares for learn to ride his horses during the summer—he surprises her with one of his own. She must accompany him to the dancing lessons he’s signed up for.
Secretly pleased, she hopes that perhaps this arrangement might lead to more than friendship. But Hank’s loved hard and lost, with his engagement to one of the popular town girls going south two years earlier. He’s sworn to never lose his heart to another—including Miss Lucy Thoroughgood.
A teenage orphan, Chayton, could be the key to thawing Hank’s heart—but danger follows the embittered boy. Will Hank be able to give Chayton the home he yearns for—or will the boy’s past bring only bring sorrow to those he cares for? When a Lakota premonition becomes reality, Lucy’s life hangs in the balance. Will Hank have the chance to let Lucy know how wrong he was?
Excerpt: (the bargain)
In the quiet of the barn filled with the smell of fresh hay, horse manure, and leather tack, Hank sensed rather than heard someone enter the building. Ah, the smell of sunshine and roses. Must be Lucille Thoroughgood. Without turning to look at her, he set the pitchfork against the wall of Lonesome’s stall. “What do you want, Lucy?” he grumbled as a greeting.
“Mr. Wilding, I have something I’d like to propose to you.” Her voice sounded tense. When he turned to face her, he saw those blue eyes dart away from his to peer at the straw on the floor. She promptly straightened her spine and must have forced herself to look him straight in the eye. Her starched manner made him want to mess with her.
“A proposal?” He moved closer to her…maybe too close. He felt something shift in his chest like a warning bell. “Well now, I haven’t ever had a lady propose to me before.” He joked, badly, just to get her goat. Generally, women were not to be trusted. He’d learned that lesson the hard way. But Lucy was his old friend since grade school. Even though she must have been born straight-laced and proper, she spoke her truth, plain and simple. Beneath that barbed wire exterior beat a heart of gold.
Lucy propped her fists on her hips and he thought she looked like a charming sugar bowl all ruffed up in her pink flowered dress and her sweet, straw hat that sat askew on her gleaming brown hair. She knitted those brows together and narrowed her eyes at him. “I’m not proposing marriage to you, Mr. Wilding. I’m proposing a business deal…sort of.”
Excerpt: (the Lakota Prophesy)
Kyle brought the truck to a stop as close to the front door as the driveway allowed, but before Lucy could open the door, Kyle clasped her arm. She turned to face him and noticed a faraway look in his dark eyes. “What is it, Kyle? Is something wrong?”
His face took on a grim expression when he spoke. “All I know is something dark is coming. Be careful, Lucy.”
Something in her chest clutched. Kyle had a special gift and his words were not to be ignored. “Is something bad going to happen?”
“I’m afraid so. I wish I knew what it was, but I don’t. I only know it’s evil.”
“You’re scaring me, Kyle.”
“I don’t mean to. Hank and I will keep an eye out. Tell your dad what I said.”
Excerpt: (the prophecy comes to pass)
Love Me Tender played on the radio and reminded Hank of Lucy dancing with him to the song. The light, fragrance of roses filled his senses. Lucy’s perfume.
Reality settled back into Hank’s consciousness as they entered the emergency room.
Sarah J. McNeal is a multi-published author of several genres including time travel, paranormal, western and historical fiction. She is a retired ER and Critical Care nurse who lives in North Carolina with her four-legged children, Lily, the Golden Retriever and Liberty, the cat. Besides her devotion to writing, she also has a great love of music and plays several instruments including violin, bagpipes, guitar and harmonica. Her books and short stories may be found at Prairie Rose Publications and its imprints. Some of her fantasy and paranormal books may also be found at Publishing by Rebecca Vickery and Victory Tales Press. She welcomes you to her website and social media: