When I recently attended a meeting to find out more about
the Dire States road trip across America, I didn’t know that the day was going
to include a ride in a rusty 1949 Hudson. This car, now named Mrs. Martin, was
purchased on eBay by Dan McNichol and his longtime friend, Per Christiansen.
The Hudson had been parked in a barn in New York for a half
of a century. The one-owner car had only 31,856 miles on the odometer when it
was purchased to be part of this tour.
McNichol has partnered with CASE Construction Equipment to
bring attention to the nation’s crumbling infrastructure by embarking on a tour
across the U.S. He chose to drive the Hudson since it was built the same year as
many of the structurally-deficient bridges in the country.
McNichol has written four books about roads and
infrastructure, and he was a White House appointee at the U.S. Department of
Transportation from 1991 to 1993.
“When I was researching my book, The Roads That Built America, I was
struck by farmers who did our first road-building efforts,” McNichol said.
“Farmers wanted a road to connect their products to
markets,” he noted. “But well beyond just getting goods to market, farmers knew
they needed a road to get a doctor to their door, their family to church, their
kids to school and to connect with their neighbors.”
“One farmer would build a stretch of road and connect to the
next farmer’s road,” he said. “And you can’t build a road with any significance
without building a bridge.”
Today, there are 4 million miles of road in America,
“Every 6.5 miles, you come across a bridge,” he
As we rode out to the site of a bridge collapse, McNichol
said, that before the tour began, Christiansen added seat belts and turn signals
to the Hudson for their trip that will last into 2014.
The bridge that once spanned the Kishwaukee River in Afton
Township collapsed in 2009. Located on Keslinger Road, the bridge was relatively
new. It was built in 1976.
The bridge is in a key agricultural production area, and the
detour around it is 16.7 miles.
“For a farmer with 300 acres of corn and 200 acres of
soybeans, this detour costs him about 5 cents for every bushel he raises,” said
Paul Rasmussen who farms near Genoa, Ill. “The cost-benefit ratio of repairing
this bridge is $37.27 to $1. For every $1 invested, the local economy would
“When the Illinois Soybean Association learned about the
Dire States campaign, we jumped at the chance to invite him to Illinois and show
him the problems we are facing,” said Rasmussen, chairman of ISA’s
In addition to Illinois, the Dire States road trip already
has included stops in Pennsylvania, Florida, Indiana and Wisconsin. McNichol’s
next stop after Afton Township was planned for Dec. 3 in Denver. Additional
stops will include Utah, Washington, California, Arizona and other
So don’t be surprised if you see a four-door, rusty 1949
Hudson Commodore Eight cruising down the road. It might be McNichol and
Christiansen, as well as a guest or two headed toward another failure in our
nation’s infrastructure system such as the large gaping hole where a bridge once
carried vehicles over the Kishwaukee River in DeKalb County.