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Wednesday, August 3, 2016

The Cold War and Interstate Highways by Sarah J. McNeal

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:

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.
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.
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.
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.”
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.


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.

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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:


  1. Ah yes, the Interstate system. Did you know a section of Illinois wanted to cecede and create their own state/coutry because no major roads were brought through the area?
    I do remember a lot from that time, but you added so much more. Loved it, and of course love the Wildings. Doris

    1. Why thank you, Doris, for those nice compliments. People get some crazy ideas, don't they? Can you imagine the cost to the taxpayers to put an interstate highway through every town? Sheesh! I say let those people in Somewhere Town, Illinois go ahead and secede and pay for their own road.
      Look at some states like Wyoming that barely have any Interstate roads at all. North Carolina is crowded with Interstate highways. I'm not certain it's such a good thing because of the multitude of accidents on those highways, but I also understand the need since evacuation routes are necessary to allow people to quickly get off the coast when a hurricane hits--and many times North Carolina gets hit with hurricanes.
      Sometimes I really get into thinking about those things from my childhood. Remember those crazy aluminum Christmas trees? Now, of course, they're back in vogue, but oh my gosh, what an unusual Christmas idea that was.
      Thank you so much for coming by and for your kind remark about my Wildings.

  2. Sarah, I remember very little of the interstate creation as I was born in 1957 when it was all just coming about. But I remember when we moved to WV in 1974 and how they were still working on it there. Much easier to put the interstates on the flat land in states out where I live than in the mountainous regions!

    One thing, though, about where I live here in Oklahoma City. We have several interstates that come together here in our metro area--I-40 (major east-west route) and I-35 (major north-south route) and I-44, and of course "back in the day" Route 66 ran through OKC. We have an unexpected problem from this easy accessibility--a TON of drug trafficking and now the human sex slave trade and gangs are becoming more and more prevalent. There's barely a day that goes by that we don't hear on the news about a big drug bust.

    As far as the evacuation process and being able to get military equipment where it needs to go in times of war, or in case of an attack, though, Eisenhower was very far-sighted in that respect. I can't even imagine being without the interstate system today--though I will confess, I HATE DRIVING ON THEM because of the crazy way people drive and the speeds we can achieve now that people just seem to take for granted. I always told my kids, "You're three feet away from death on either side." I think that was the scariest thing for me when they started driving--knowing that they would be using the interstates. LOL

    Great post! You know how much I love the Wildings. Can't wait to see what you've got coming up with them next!

    1. Crimes are committed near Interstates for a quick get-away. We have that in Charlotte, too, plus a beltway which, in some respects, is even worse because the criminal can take off from the beltway in almost any direction and vanish.
      Like you, I do not like to travel on the "big slabs" for much the same reasons--crazy people doing dangerous things.
      Well presently, I'm working on Kit Wilding's story, "It's Only Make Believe", and kinda stuck in my original plan for it. I've outlined Kyle Red Sky's story and debating about writing it before Kit's story. It's all buzzing around in my head. I'd love to do a redemption story with Sid Effird (the villain in Fly Away Heart) as a short Christmas story, but I don't even have a plot for it. Apparently you should never ask a writer what they're working on because they yammer on and on the way I'm doing right now. LOL
      Thank you for taking the time to come by and comment, Cheryl. I appreciate it.

  3. I think this is the first post I've even seen about the interstate system. In 1956, I was a Sophomore in high school, and hardly knew what I was doing, let alone what was happening in the country. Two years later I would be married--hard to believe,--and still was naïve about anything past my nose.
    But I well remember President Eisenhower,for when he was elected, the intercom came on during English class, and the principal announced he was now our President. Mmmm.
    I knew nothing about the Interstate system. Now, look at us..can't get along without them, but oh, would love to avoid them on road trips.
    You've written another wonderful story starring Hank Wilding and Lucy Thoroughgood!

    1. Leave it to you, Celia, to make me feel wonderful. Thank you for the compliment about Home For The Heart about Hank and Lucy.
      I was 9 years old in 1956 and all I cared about was riding my bicycle and playing with kittens and dolls. Later, I would be like you trying to figure out my place in the world. The first I heard about the interstate was in a magazine for kids titled "Highlight". I also remember everyone saying the slogan, "I like Ike."
      Thank you so very much for coming by and commenting. I always look forward to what you have to say, Celia.

  4. Loved the book, Sarah. And, yes, I remember those Cold War days. Although the adults around me didn't make too much of it, there were a few who were practically hysterical about the situation. The highway system as been great for my husband by providing a lot of work for him. I sure appreciate it as we travel.

    1. Robyn, my parents didn't act crazy about the Cold War either. They were pretty low key. It was at school where people seemed to be scared and worried about it.
      When it comes to long distance travel, the interstate is probably the most practical way to get there. My sister and I traveled up from NC to Nova Scotia (there was a 3 hour ride on a ferry). We took the back roads and stopped at every little roadside store and restaurant in the U.S. and Nova Scotia. Great fun and so much more to see and do than taking big highways.
      I'm glad your husband has a good job involving the interstate.
      I am so happy you read and liked Home For The Heart. Thank you for coming over and commenting, Robyn.

  5. Sarah,

    I grew up in the northeastern part of Colorado and Interstate 80/Interstate 76 (name changed for a portion of the highway) ran along the outskirts of my town. Until I was about 10 years old, this interstate was a two-lane highway. My first experience with large-scale road construction was when the highway was divided into the separate east and west bound highways that it is now.

    Here's an anecdote from my teenage years.

    My best friend's family was an old-timey cowboy family and one of their money-making activities was hiring out as cattle drovers. I rode with them many times. We'd haul our horses to wherever the herd of cattle to be moved was located, round up the cattle, and then drive them to the new location, which might be 5 miles or 100 miles (or more).

    One particular cattle-driving excursion found us herding 500 head of cattle right smack dab down the center of the medium between the Interstate highway for about 10 miles.

    We had police escort the entire way. No one asked permission before hand, and by the time we had 500 head of cattle on the move, there was nothing for the authorities to do but help us get to where we were going the best way they could.

    Needless to say, moving cattle in this manner is a big no-no now. I have no idea how much trouble (if any) the owner of the cattle or the "trail boss" ended up dealing with.

    Ahh... the good old days. *wink*

    1. Well Kaye, first of all just let me say how impressed I am that you actually ride in cattle drives. I've only ridden a horse once in my life and I can say without a doubt, I'm no good at it. The horse spent more time in the alfalfa field than on the trail.
      I loved this antidotal story of yours. I wonder if the cattle owner was fined for that drive up the interstate. Wow! I hope you wrote this story in a journal somewhere.
      Thank you so much for coming and for your wonderful sharing of a life event you had on the interstate--very unique and so you, Kaye.