More stories than cars on Lincoln Highway
June 19, 2003
I have a friend, Tom Dotson, who is working diligently to keep Eastern Nevada’s history alive. He came to find me after we ran an Associated Press story on the Lincoln Highway.
“That guy only got part of it,” he said.
For those not familiar with this part of Nevada’s history, the Lincoln Highway was the nation’s first coast-to-coast paved highway.
The AP writer said the original Lincoln Highway entered Nevada just west of Ibapah, Utah. Today, travelers can pick up the route going west from Wendover on Interstate 80, taking Alternate U.S. Highway 93 south to Ely. From Ely, the Lincoln Highway followed Highway 50 west over mountain passes and through the historical mining towns of Eureka and Austin to Carson City. The 315-mile-or-so drive is signed as “The Loneliest Road in America.”
West of Fallon, the Lincoln Highway took two routes. The northern (Donner) route, now marked as Alternate Highway 50, rejoined what is now I-80 into Reno, leaving the state at Verdi. The southern (Pioneer) route followed Highway 50 southwest to Carson City, then to Zephyr Cove and around the south shore of Lake Tahoe.
In Carson, at least until Clear Creek Road came about, the highway traveled Kings Canyon to the lake.
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The Associated Press story talked about a national study and how folks along the way hope federal grants may one day be available to help spur economic development, tourism and historic restoration projects along the route.
None of this will capture the memories Tom has of the Lincoln Highway.
In the yard of his Deer Run Road ranch he has a scraper used to build the highway.
He has photos of places along the way, but mostly he has memories, his own and his friends’. The route is probably more filled with history than automobiles. But the history is obscure in places like Boone Springs, Lages Station, Cherry Creek, Shellbourne, Monte Neva Hot Springs, the 3-Mile Ranch and Steptoe Valley, until you talk to old-time Nevadans like Tom.
Tom has stories of tragic wrecks, extortion scams, murders, bootlegging and adultery that form a picture of the Eastern Nevada towns along the way. No amount of historic preservation, restoration or economic development will preserve these.
But Tom will. He’s been pestering me for at least a month to take all the stories, tales and photos he’s gathered the past few months and get them printed up in time for an old-timers reunion July 4.
The first of this should make it in Friday’s edition. It’s a tough job rounding up 50 years or more of history and trying to wrangle it into something printable.
His main goal is to remember four boys killed on the Lincoln Highway in a terrible auto accident between Ruth and McGill. He says it was the worst auto accident up to that time; no accident had killed as many at once.
What made it worse was that the eight youths in the accident were all on the same basketball team headed home from a game in Ruth. According to news reports in the Ely Times, the boys lost to the Ruth Independents 24 to 12. The McGill squad was “an aggregation composed of high school players not on the regular squad.”
The 1930 U.S. Census lists 3,017 residents living in McGill. On Jan. 9, 1933, McGill lost Charles Eberle, 15, Chris Collis, 14, Joe Montilione, 17, and Robert Baker, 17.
Losing four boys from the small copper-mining community would have been tragic, indeed akin to losing four students from Carson High School at once.
We can thank our stars we’ve made it through the 2003 graduation season with no such tragedies and thank people like Tom for doggedly pursuing procrastinating journalists to keep history alive.
Kelli Du Fresne is features editor for the Nevada Appeal.