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, McNichol said.

“Every 6.5 miles, you come across a bridge,” he added.

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 benefit $37.27.”

“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 transportation committee.

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 states.

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.