Craig Harmon is carrying a bit of President Abe Lincoln with him on a nationwide journey to bring attention to the old Lincoln Highway.
Harmon carries with him a photo and a lock of hair taken from the dead president's head, on loan from Miami University, to fulfill one of Lincoln's wishes: to travel across the country. Of course, Harmon noted, Lincoln wanted to go on the transcontinental railroad, which wasn't finished at his death, so the president is taking a ride on the first transcontinental highway, which was named in his honor.
"This is a way to give Mr. Lincoln his ride," Harmon said.
Driving a 1964 Maxim fire truck that has an open cab and gets all of four miles to the gallon, Harmon is crossing the country looking for "pieces to the puzzle." The puzzle? Helping find historical tidbits that will highlight the historic Lincoln Highway and find ways in which to make it a lasting memorial to President Lincoln during the bicentennial of his birth in 2009. He's a little early in the planning process, but Harmon said planning for events to recognize "the greatest president of the United States" are already under way. He has been "following the bread crumbs all over the country" to find ways in which communities have celebrated the Lincoln Highway in the past.
A walking history fact book, Harmon said besides the recognition of the highway in the bicentennial of Lincoln's birth, his trip serves three other goals:
1. To commemorate the 85th anniversary of a 1915 Lincoln Highway film and flag trip
2. To honor the firemen of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks
3. To celebrate the 250th birthday of Betsy Ross this year
A native of Ohio, Harmon said founding the museum and embarking on the trip "found me." He traveled across the country in a bucket truck in 1998 taking photos of the land with a unique aerial view. From there, his work found ways to throw him in the path of Lincoln Highway history, and he founded the museum and archives in Galion, Ohio, in 1999.
During his trip, he has visited fire stations in each of the 450 towns along the route, and has been collecting firefighter signatures and signed hardhats from departments. He displays an American flag, an imitation Betsy Ross 13-star flag, a Union Pacific Railroad flag and a Lincoln Highway flag in each of the towns along the 3,400-mile Lincoln Highway route. He will unfurl his flags from the top of the fire truck's 100-foot ladder at Carson City's Fire Station 2 today at 9 a.m.
The trip hasn't been without travails. Harmon was stranded in Salt Lake City from December to May and had to rebuild the fire truck's engine twice. He survives on "spontaneous ... patriotic donations along the way."
With any luck, Harmon, who has been continuously driving since September 2001, will end up in San Francisco's Lincoln Park on June 14 -- Flag Day -- to commemorate a 1917 flag planting ceremony that officially marked the end of the Lincoln Highway.
He plans to ship the fire truck, a truck from Marietta, Ohio called the "Spirit of the Lincoln Way," to New York City via an open Union Pacific rail car in time for a July 4 celebration at the at the site of former World Trade Center site.
For information, head to the web at www.lincoln-highway-museum.org