Firsthand report from the field
by Jerry Gardner
On September 15, 2015, Military Vehicle Preservation Association (MVPA) members headed out on a military convoy from the Washington, D.C., area to follow the Old Bankhead Highway to San Diego, Calif. The U.S. Army developed this as a southern military convoy route across the United States after 1920 and used it through WWII.
Only vintage military vehicles were permitted to participate in this event. We had vehicles as recent as the 1990s ranging back to one WWI truck that joined us in Arizona. An M2 half-track even travelled the full distance, either driving on the road or on a trailer (he must have been on the road at least 2,000 miles with no difficulty). Also joining the convoy were two WWII WLA Harley-Davidson motorcycles. We started out with approximately 75 vehicles and ended up with about 50. Some folks could not stay with us the full 3,400+ miles and 30 days so we had some pull out and other come in at different locations.
As we traveled on the old Bankhead Highway, we tried to stay away from any Interstate roads that may have incorporated the old route—too dangerous. When we did get on Interstates when the Bankhead could not be found or it had been turned incorporated into the Interstate, we had police escort.
We traveled through “small town America” and were greeted by enthusiastic spectators everywhere. Our advance people worked for two years to make arrangements with city personnel, police, media, and veteran organizations to let them know we would be driving through their area. The organizers contacted more than 400 towns and cities. School children were released from classes to watch us pass. Most all the towns had spectators lining the streets and fire and police department with large American flags displayed. It was overwhelming the response we got from coast to coast. America has not forgotten their veterans and military heroes!
Many towns and veteran organizations also supplied lunch and suppers. A few even braved the early hours, to fix breakfast for us.
A lot of the participants camped out with their vehicles or slept in the back of them, though some used the local motels and hotels. Regardless, we were all up and going into first gear at 7 a.m. every morning.
We did have five maintenance days scheduled across the country to maintain our vehicles—many of which hadn’t seen the miles we were now putting on them. I think all the vehicles had some minor repairs to be made, but I am not aware of one that had to be pulled out completely because of breakdown.
The convoy encountered about three days of rain but mostly enjoyed good weather. In Arizona and part of California, we had over 100 degree temperatures. This tested our engines, tires, and the campers.
We were traveling on old highways that don’t get repaired anymore. In fact, some of the Bankhead Highway isn’t even paved, so we ate a lot of dust and dirt.
We had no accidents, mishaps, or medical issues of any kind during the more than 3,400 miles and 30 days. We traveled through 11 states and in sight of the Mexican/American border for many miles through Texas, New Mexico, Arizona, and California. We arrived in San Diego on October 17, right on time.
A LOOK IN THE REARVIEW MIRROR
This trip was extremely rewarding and proved to many of us how resilient our old military vehicles are. We made the whole trip at an average speed of 30 mph. Many people were amazed when they heard we were only going that speed and not traveling on Interstate highways. They just really thought we would never make it.
We stayed on schedule throughout the entire trip. This event was very well-planned and executed. I will cherish the memories forever and look forward to the next cross country convoy.
One of our major sponsors of the convoy was U-Haul. They provided us with trucks and trailers to haul our equipment to Washington, DC, and had vehicles waiting for us in San Diego. We only had to pay for the fuel. Their representatives met us at many location across America. They were outstanding in their support.