Europeans Traverse U.S. On Famous Lincoln Highway
By Jenna Dooley
This year marks the centennial of America's first transcontinental road: the Lincoln Highway. You might have driven on the highway and not even known it, since it stretches from New York to California, passing through states like Iowa, Nebraska and Colorado, and carrying different state route numbers along the way.
Erik Gjermundsen of Fredrikstad Norway is checking off another item from his bucket list.
"I've been in the U.S. many times and I have always wanted to drive coast-to-coast," Gjermundsen says. "You have to do something in the summer and this was different."
The idea started with a group of friends from Norway, but grew to include drivers from several other countries including Sweden, Denmark and Germany. Erik and his wife Mary-Ann are among the more than 200 Europeans driving classic cars along Lincoln Highway.
The group started July 1, in Times Square, and will finish at the end of this month at the Golden Gate Bridge. It's no small feat. The trip costs thousands of dollars and participants shipped their cars across the Atlantic Ocean. They'll get shipped back from San Francisco when the trek is over.
The Gjermundsen's have one of the smallest cars in the bunch: a bright yellow Messerschmitt with leopard print seats. There's no trunk, and these two passengers fit snugly one in front of the other. They say it's been worth all of the effort.
"This machine is a smiling machine. You see people smiling everywhere," Gjermundsen says.
Kay Shelton, president of the Lincoln Highway Association , says that when people from Norway or Russia or Sweden travel the Lincoln Highway, they get to see a slice of a whole variety of the United States.
"It goes right through Philadelphia, the birthplace of democracy and the United States itself," Shelton says. "It goes right past Gettysburg, [and] Flight 93 on 9/11 went down right next to the Lincoln Highway near Shanksville, Pennsylvania." Many of the cars on this tour have attached cameras to their windshields to capture those historic places.
In 1913, entrepreneur Carl Fisher's vision for a quality road connecting America took shape. Private money funded the project and Fisher chose to name the highway after one of his heroes, Abraham Lincoln. That makes the Land of Lincoln a fitting place for the National Lincoln Highway Headquarters in Franklin Grove, Ill. It sits about halfway between Chicago and the Mississippi River.
Scott Spangler lives in Franklin Grove, and he joined other local car enthusiasts and volunteers from the headquarters to greet the foreign travelers.
"One thing they're going to find out, they don't realize how large the country is," Spangler says. "Most of their countries are the size of our states."
Ulf Johannessen and his wife are making the trip in his 1979 cherry red BMW. He says he's wanted to drive across America since he was a teenager.
"The time was right for fulfilling this dream," he says.
Johannessen has plenty of driving ahead of him, but says what he's seen so far is close to what he's seen from Hollywood movies. But he admits he's already tiring of at least one American tradition.
"The bad food. Too much hamburgers, pizzas and french fries," he says.
Speaking of food, many of the drivers who stopped in Franklin Grove found the town's only restaurant was closed. It will open back up in a few weeks when the owners return from their summer vacation — in Europe.