A Guy, a Truck, and Good Roads
By Bill Rubin, Executive Director
There’s a story that goes back to 1935 and involves an enterprising guy named Norman. He had a truck and a vision. Norman loaded up a team of horses and hauled them from Hudson, Wisconsin to Trempealeau, near the end of the Earth, but also in Wisconsin.
As the crow flies, meaning generally in a straight line, the one-way distance to Trempealeau is around 93 miles. Roads from Point ‘A’ to Point ‘B’ rarely follow a straight line. An online trip planning service indicates the distance is 143 miles, following an interstate, U.S. highway, and state highway route. The trip advisor service further adds the travel time is two hours and twenty-one minutes, if it’s driven nonstop. That was a big “if” in 1935. Remember, Norman was hauling horses.
Norman earned $1.50 for his delivery. Gas in 1935 was an unheard of price of nineteen cents a gallon. To save on expenses, it’s a safe bet Norman had a couple sandwiches with him. And a coffee thermos. And a blanket. And maybe a tire iron under the seat as a travel companion? Norman made it back to Hudson safely and went on to many other deliveries and adventures.
A few million miles later, the old school trucking company is now a modern supply chain company with all sorts of technology. Son Jerry followed Norman, and Jerry’s son Todd now leads the organization. Brother Eric directs contract logistics. The beat goes on.
Part of this story involves the ever-changing transportation network in Wisconsin’s St. Croix Valley. Back in 1935, Interstate 94 was an engineer’s dream – a wild one. Opening the 41 mile segment of I94 from Hudson to Menomonie did not occur until late October 1959. The portion from Menomonie to Eau Claire was partially completed and opened later. As an historical footnote, the 59 mile stretch from Hudson to Eau Claire was the largest section of the interstate system to be dedicated at the time in the U.S.
How did the interstate system get built? The Federal-Aid Highway Act was signed into law by President Dwight Eisenhower in mid-1956. The legislation was also known as the National Interstate and Defense Highways Act. The military side of Eisenhower understood the relationship between a system of connected highways and a strong national defense. By 1992 and around 41,000 miles later, the U.S. interstate system was deemed complete.
Whether it’s the interstate, U.S. highways, state highways, county highways, or town roads, they take a pounding. I94 in Hudson carries 95,000 vehicles a day, maybe more. From semis to cycles, the hum is constant. Road maintenance and reconstruction are inevitable. Road foundations and surfaces withstand January’s bitter cold and August’s heat. Meanwhile, roads and highways get residents to work and are vital for business and industry. Elected officials from Hudson to Trempealeau and beyond have additional transportation funding at the top of their mythical Wish Lists.
Norman would likely be amazed at today’s highway network. Here’s to a man, his truck, and a vision. Here’s to good roads. Here’s to orange cones and zipper lanes. They’re signs that good roads will soon be improved. The beat goes on.