Members of the Military Vehicle Preservation Association (MVPA) are enjoying fun and camaraderie as they travel the Lincoln Highway across the United States, and along the way they are having their faith in hometown America restored by the reception they receive along the route.
At 35 miles an hour and covering distances from 30 to 168 miles a day, the MVPA reenactment of the 1919 Motor Transport Convoy rolled into Denison, anywhere from a half hour to an hour ahead of schedule, on Saturday evening.
The overnight stop in Denison marked Day 15 of a 36-day trip from York, Pennsylvania, to Lincoln Park in San Francisco. Of the 36 days, nine are rest days, and in some cases vehicle repair days.
One hundred years ago, the U.S. Army’s first motor convoy across the country traveled 3,251 miles in 62 days on the Lincoln Highway.
Of course, back then the route barely existed.
On Saturday, July 26, 1919, the convoy stayed overnight at Denison’s Washington Park. One of the convoy members was Lt. Col. Dwight D. Eisenhower.
This past Saturday the MVPA participants camped at the Crawford County Fairgrounds or stayed at motels.
Dan McCluskey, the commanding officer for the centennial reenactment, said he has felt some “ghosts” from the century-old convoy as he travels the Lincoln Highway.
“It’s been amazing, especially when we get into places and (can say) that’s the park the convoy overnighted right there in 1919,” said the Simi Valley, California, resident.
Even the historic route – the Lincoln Highway was the first transcontinental route - links today’s convoy participants to their counterparts of 100 years ago.
“Part of it is finding original Lincoln Highway pavement or gravel roads,” said Dan. “There have been quite a few alignments that we’ve taken here that are still gravel. Once we get into California there are a couple stretches on private property that I’ve gotten access to take a convoy across.”
The MVPA had reenacted the 1919 convoy 10 years ago. That was the organization’s first convoy. In 2009, the group took a rest stop at the Denison armory.
In 2015 the MVPA reenacted the Bankhead Highway convoy from Washington, D.C. to San Diego.
“After it did the Lincoln Highway in 1919, the Army realized it was not an all-weather route across the country,” said Frank Logan, the public affairs liaison on this year’s convoy. “So they went on what is called the Bankhead Highway from Washington, D.C. across the southern tier of states and on to southern deserts.”
That occurred in 1920.
The Lincoln Highway and the Bankhead Highway both start at the Zero Milestone at the Elipse in Washington, D.C.
In 2017 the MVPA did a convoy along Route 66 from Chicago to Santa Monica.
McCluskey became interested in military vehicles when he was six years old; his father bought a World War II Jeep and restored it until the day he died last year at age 90.
“I since inherited that Jeep, but that’s the Jeep I grew up with, so my first vehicle when I got my driver’s license was a 1943 Ford that I restored in 1971 and joined the MVPA,” he said.
McCluskey said he is MVPA member No. 46.
His wife, Janine, also shares the passion for old military vehicles and actually owns the truck they are driving on this convoy and an ambulance that two New Zealanders are driving. The McCluskeys hauled those vehicles from Simi Valley to York, Pennsylvania, on a 32-foot trailer.
Planning a convoy requires a substantial commitment.
“It’s a year and a half out of our lives,” McCluskey said.
In the past, the commander was in charge of all the route planning, logistics, timing, hotels, the campaign and meals, but over the years the MVPA has branched out its team. This year a core of about 12 people are in charge of different segments of the convoy, which eases a commander’s burden.
Along with making new friends and seeing old friends, McCluskey said the most fun he’s had on the convoy is going through the small towns on the route.
Among the unique experiences was arranging for the convoy to be a parade entry for Nevada’s Lincoln Highway Days on Saturday morning.
“We pulled in there about an hour and a half before the parade started, fueled up, got ourselves staged and then were entry No. 5 in the parade,” McCluskey said. “We brought close to 70 vehicles to that parade and stretched almost the full distance of Nevada.”
When the rest of the parade turned left, the convoy kept heading down the Lincoln Highway.
“The reception that we get, the patriotism that we see, is just amazing,” said McCluskey said of traveling in the convoy. “It really restores your faith in hometown America. It’s still there, no matter what the politicians say. There is so much respect for the military here in heartland America.”
On Saturday evening at the fairgrounds, Logan and his wife, Susan, were visiting with local residents at the back of the McCluskeys’ truck. Susan Logan and Janine McCluskey are cousins.
Two years ago Logan drove the McCluskeys’ vehicle on the Route 66 convoy from Chicago to Santa Monica.
“I had a couple of these assigned to me in Germany. Somehow when I was 20 years old, there was a lot more room between me and the steering wheel,” he joked.
This year the Logans are driving a Ford F250 pickup as a support vehicle. On the Bankhead Highway convoy, he drove a Dodge Ram and towed a flatbed in the recovery section.
Whether driving a restored military vehicle or following in a support vehicle, the Logans have enjoyed all the convoys they’ve participated in,
“We do it because it’s fun. It’s tiring and exhausting and expensive, but it’s fun and rewarding,” Frank said.
The Logans were interested in taking a picture next to the Logan town sign on Sunday. Logan is located on the Lincoln Highway between Woodbine and Missouri Valley.
“I’ve been through a couple Logans,” Logan said. “It wasn’t that big a Scottish clan.”
The MVPA has about 10,000 members, explained Logan. All members have a love for military vehicles from Jeeps on up to track vehicles, armored vehicles and heavy equipment movers. Some vehicles are restored for shows, some for parades and some are donated to museums after MVPA members restore them.
Restoration is done at various levels – basic, show condition and just make them run.
“Then there’s a subgroup called History in Motion where we go out and run them and use them, and put up with all their idiosyncrasies,” Logan said.
He served three years in the U.S. Army with the Corps of Engineers in Germany, during the Vietnam War era. He called himself a speed bump in the Cold War. After his three years were up, he went to college on the GI Bill.
He didn’t develop a passion for the military until later.
“Actually, it wasn’t until I got involved with this (the MVPA) that I realized how important my service was,” he explained. “I kind of did it and forgot about it and used the benefits, but then I got into the MVPA and saw how people in the small towns appreciate us and what we’ve done.”
Kevin Emdee, of Radcliff, Kentucky, had a similar reaction to the reception the convoy has received.
“People who know we’re coming treat us like liberators,” He said. “We can be 20 miles out in the country and people will be there waving at us. It’s been overwhelming – the outpouring of support.”
Emdee is a 20-year Army veteran and spent 15 years as a civil servant at Fort Knox. He retired in 2017 and began preparing for this year’s convoy.
Part of the preparation was to complete the restorations of the M-151 Ford ¼-ton utility 4x4 he is driving on the convoy. It was a four-year labor of love.
He said that four years his wife knew where he was on Saturdays and Sundays and after hours on the weekdays – in the garage working on the M-151.
Despite an accident in Ohio that damaged his vehicle and trailer and sent him to the emergency room, Emdee is determined to complete the convoy without any more trouble. (His vehicle was quickly repaired and his back is feeling better.)
Trouble comes in threes, he pointed out. The accident and the trip to the hospital were the first two. The third bit of trouble came when the cowl of his truck, slightly dislodged by the accident, began rubbing on some wires that led into the driving compartment. Those wires shorted out and caught a rubber grommet on fire. After the wiring was repaired and padding was added so that the cowl could no longer rub on the wires, Emdee was back on the road.
Brad and Nancy Nelson, of Davenport, were kept busy making dog tags for visitors from their military-style enclosed trailer Saturday evening at the Crawford County Fairgrounds.
Brad was a fighter pilot in the Air Force but always wanted a Jeep. He got one about 12 years and joined the MVPA.
“Then I got kind of carried away with bigger and bigger vehicles,” he said.
The Nelsons have owned three or four Jeeps, and gave one to both of their sons. Lance Nelson is driving and his brother, Ryan, is riding in the convoy this year. Ryan previously drove in the 90th anniversary convoy in 2009.
The Nelsons got the idea to make dog tags after Brad saw a man making them at a military show.
“We started out making dog tags as a way to pay for fuel, and it’s a fun way to get to talk to people,” he added.
They attend a couple air shows and military shows each year and sell dog tags.
He and Nancy clink out people’s names and birth dates and other information on an original dog tag machine that’s about 80 years old.
“It still cranks them out,” said Brad.
“Kids love dog tags,” he continued. “Grandparents love to get their grandkids dog tags. And I make a lot of dog tags for someone who has lot theirs or for people who want to honor an uncle, grandfather or father who was in the military.”
Brad added later, “The most fun is seeing America at 35 miles an hour on the Lincoln Highway, on the backroads. It’s a whole different feeling than driving on the interstate. The people on the way are fantastic. They’re waiting for us and waving and they come to see us in town.”
Dedicated to family members who have served
Vehicles traveling in the centennial reenactment of the U.S. Army’s 1919 Motor Transport Convoy bear plaques dedicated to participants’ relatives who served in the military.
Dan McCluskey’s father, Harry “Mac” Earl McCluskey, served in the Navy after World War II and was on a sea-going tugboat. He spent most of his tour hauling ships back from Japan were the Navy had abandoned them during the war.
Janine McCluskey’s father, Jean-Pierre Dieny, was in the Royal Air Force. Her grandparents are from France but her father was born in London.
By the time Jean-Pierre got deployed, it was the last six months of World War II and he spent most of his time learning how to fly different types of aircraft. He flew gliders but then glider landings were stopped, so he trained for air-to-air combat, but by the end of that training the Luftwaffe was gone. He ended up flying a Spitfire in Italy as support for infantry.
He enlisted in London and was sent to Toronto for basic training. He was then sent to War Eagle Field near Lancaster, California, for flight training. That’s where he met the woman that would become his wife.
After World War II, his soon-to-be father-in-law had to vouch for him so he could come to the United States as an English war groom.
Susan Logan’s father was in the Navy and Frank Logan’s mother was a captain in the Women’s Army Corps and served as an aide to General Eisenhower in Germany.