The Traveler
The Newsletter of the Lincoln Highway Association - California Chapter

Fall 2000


Highway Nostalgia

by Clyde Hammond

  • Clyde Hammond remembers the Lincoln Highway in Auburn and Bowman.

Clyde Hammond is the uncle of your editor. Except for three years during World War I, he has lived his entire life in the Auburn and Bowman area. His life work has been in the building trades as a carpenter, brickmason, and pasterer. These are Clyde's memories of the Lincoln Highway between 1915-1920.

Clyde had his 100th birthday in December 1999. For all his years, he has a superb mind and a great memory. Clyde reminds readers that in going back in time 88 years, he does not claim to have exact accuracy for some dates.

In 1912, my father Mark Hammond sold his property in Bowman to the Southern Pacific Railroad. This property was located near what is now Old Airport Road and west of I-80. The railroad was adding a second track over the Sierra. He then bought 80 acres of land just east of the junction of the present Bell Rd and 1-80. It had to be cleared of brush, trees and rocks. My brothers and I helped clear this land using a heavy chain that would be wrapped around the trees and large shrubs and connected to a team of horses. Dad then planted pear trees, and some of this orchard still remains today. The road that would eventually become the Lincoln Highway formed the boundary of our property on the southeast side.

As long as I can remember there had always been a road between Reno and Sacramento at this location. It was a dirt road, and of course in the winter months it was nothing but mud. The road was used primarily by horses pulling wagons and buggies, etc. In this 1912 period, more and more automobiles could be seen using this road. Each year there would be several cattle drives in each direction and could contain several hundred animals. There would always be at least one sheep drive also. They would graze these animals in the high Sierras in the spring and summer and then return in the fall. If you met one of these drives when traveling on the road, you just pulled over and waited until they passed.

Each year, Dad would take several of the children on a camping trip. I had five brothers and one sister, and we would take turns with these trips. Ma would stay home with the kids not on the trip. In 1913, we hitched up the team of horses to a wagon and started out for Lake Tahoe. Our route as far as Truckee would follow the road that would become the Lincoln Highway. The first day we stopped at Baxters Meat Market(1) and bought a huge round steak for 25 cents. We camped one night a Big Bend, and a stray lamb left behind by a sheep drive was slaughtered and helped a our food supply. It was at Big Bend that I saw one of the first automobiles on that section of the road. It was probably a Ford Model T, but what I remember the most was the noise. The driver never let up on the horn! I don't know what he thought he was going to meet, but he was sure giving a warning.

In 1914, Dad bought a 1913 Ford Model T and it was the first car in the Bowman area. More and more cars were using this road that would later make history. The road passed through a natural swampy area near where the present Bell Road and Musso Road meet, and even in dry weather cars would get stuck. Our ranch was the nearest to this site, and drivers would come to us for assistance. Dad would send a team of horses with either myself or one of my brothers to pull the car clear. Dad charged $4.50 for this work and it was the same fee he obtained if he was renting his team for a days work.

About 1914 attempts were being made to improve the entire road. Dad hired his team to the Placer County Road Department, and my brother and I worked the team. We would collect every rock that we could find and take it to the swampy area that I had mentioned and throw them into this mud pit. These rocks were the original base for the improvements that would follow.

About this same time, I remember a large construction camp was set up just west of the present dead end of Apple Lane. There were probably 35 to 40 horses, and they were used to pull several different types of grading equipment. They were improving the present road, and equipment was owned by a private contractor hired by the Placer County Road Department. One side effect that was not appreciated was the large amount of flies attracted to the concentration of horses. The Armbruster Grocery Store in Bowman supplied the food stock needed to feed the men at this camp, and I can remember going into the store. The screen doors would be covered solid with flies. As I remember, by about 1915 a large part of what would become the Lincoln Highway had been graveled through Bowman and Auburn. There may have been a special celebration for the completion of the Lincoln Highway, but I do not remember anything myself. I do remember seeing the original concrete highway markers that were placed along the road.

In 1915 at age 15, I went to work for the Placer Machine and Auto Company. This business was located on the Lincoln Highway in Auburn (present-day Lincoln Way near the junction of High Street and E. Placer Street). I did all types of work including sweeping, general clean-up and greased cars as needed. In those years, all points needing grease had a grease cup. This was a threaded cap that could be filled with grease. I would first tighten the cap down all the way, then screw the cap off, fill it with grease, replace the cap and screw it down just so it was just tight. Cars of this period had dozens of grease cups so I could be quite busy. Some of the car models in my memory are: Ford Model T (the most popular), Overland, Studebaker, Oldsmobile, EM&F ("Every Morning Fix 'em"), Metz and International Harvester. The "IHs" were the nearest thing to a present-day pickup truck and the Metz the most unusual in that it had a friction drive.

The garage also stored vehicles on a rental space basis. In these years, everyone that had a horse and buggy kept it at home in a small barn. As individuals began to purchase cars, they did not have a place to keep both a horse and car. Having a car did not necessarily mean giving up the horse and buggy. Because of weather and poor roads, the horse was used for short trips around town. The car would be used for longer trips when all conditions were correct. So many people in Auburn would store their car at this garage. As people wanted their car, it gave me a chance to drive many types of vehicles. This was quite interesting as no two cars had the same gear shift arrangement or location of the shift lever. Some were inside, some outside, and low gear was never in the same location.

The garage was the only place to purchase gasoline in Auburn, other than the bulk plant of the Standard Oil Company on Sacramento Street near the Southern Pacific. Gasoline was stored in a portable tank with wheels and was dispensed with a hand pump. These tanks were dangerous as a fire could start quite easily from static electricity. The garage owner had a man sleep in the building each night. If a motorist on the Lincoln Highway needed gasoline he could ring a bell that was outside the building and awake the night attendant. As more traffic began to use the highway, gasoline could be obtained at grocery stores and hardware stores, and they all used the portable tank method.

With the completion of the highway, there were no autocamps in the Auburn and Bowman area that I remember. Auto travelers that wanted to camp would just locate a good spot along the road and set up camp. The first commercial cabins that I remember being built were near Colfax. This was about 1920 and they were located near the junction of the present Roflins Lake Road and Norton Grade Road. The owner was named Ashcraft.

The first motorized bus line that I can remember was the Foresthill-Auburn Stage. It had first been a horsedrawn, stagecoach-type operation, and in the early 1920s it was motorized. It connected with the Lincoln Highway at the junction of the present Foresthill Ave and Lincoln Way. It would use about one to two miles of the original highway to reach central Auburn, which is now "Old Town."

This concludes my remembrances and I hope that you have enjoyed these. I hope that I have contributed to the preservation of some history.

(1)Editor: Baxters would eventually become Baxters Camp and later the town of Baxter with its own post office. This will be a featured article in the future.

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