When he was serving his country in An Khe, Vietnam in 1970, Dennis Boots drove a M151A2 Jeep through the jungles as a combat engineer.
The vehicle became such an integral part of his life that in 2005, he purchased the same model. And on Tuesday, he was sitting with his wife, Marilyn, and said he has found that driving the Jeep across America has its own set of challenges.
"I'm not being shot at, but there are different hazards, like traffic, to deal with," he said.
Boots is near the end of a 28-day journey from Washington, D.C. to San Francisco in his non-air conditioned Jeep. He has faced muddy gravel roads, stifling humidity, rainstorms - and crowds of people lining the roads to cheer as the convoy goes through towns.
In Galt, kids waved flags, cars pulled over to the side of the road and drivers honked their horns as the convoy rolled into town almost two hours later than expected at 5 p.m. Tuesday. The cars go about 35 miles per hour and moved even slower while navigating downtown Sacramento's construction zones, traffic and stop lights.
His love of old vehicles and history is the reason Vietnam veteran Guy Kannenberg waited on his friend's porch for the procession to go down Lincoln Way.
"I knew there were Vietnam vets in it, and I wanted to see them get the recognition they finally deserve," he said.
The convoy tried to stick to the remaining portions of the Lincoln National Highway to commemorate the 90th anniversary of the 1919 Transcontinental Military Convoy.
The goal of the historic trip was to thank the country for supporting World War I, test the military vehicles and encourage the country to support trucks instead of using horses, Clyde Andrews said.
While joking with another driver about the plastic bag that got caught in the grill of his 1952 Jeep, Andrews described the convoy as the most magnificent trip he has been on with his wife, who drove the couple's motor home.
The no-frills trip, which ends today in San Francisco, had members of the convoy sleeping in motor homes or even inside the military vehicles, and usually getting up at 5 a.m.
"Every night we're exhausted, but we are ready to go in the morning," Andrews said. "I'm melancholy for it to be ending. We've made such wonderful friends."
The convoy slowly pulled into the California Automobile Museum in Sacramento on Tuesday as onlookers waited for an hour to see the 35 to 40 Jeeps, trucks and a military ambulance. Another line of modern cars, driven by spouses, family members and friends, brought up the rear. Many of the cars were dusty from a rainstorm in Nevada.
"We are taking that mud with us to the Golden Gate," Andrews said, who is from Othello, Wash.
While standing next to his restored 1922 Dodge Brothers with a large gun positioned behind the driver seat, Bill Leuer, of Riverside, said he is already hoping the drive is organized again for the 100-year anniversary. He restores military vehicles because it does not cost that much, and he can show them in car, gun or military shows.
"If I had a nice, black restored Dodge, they'd say, 'That's a nice, black restored Dodge,' but this stops them and makes them slow down a bit," Leuer said. "Plus, I don't have the money for one of the fancy Jay Leno cars."
As the cars waited to leave the parking lot, Brad Nelson, of Davenport, Iowa, opened the side of his 1971 communications shelter to reveal a dog tag maker and other memorabilia. He also charges the groups' radios in the back.
By selling dog tags when they stopped, Nelson was able to pay for his trip. His favorite stop was in East Palestine, Ohio, where the town of 900 people grew to 5,000 to see the caravan.
"Each lady was asked to bring their favorite dish. It was more food than you've ever seen," he said. "We definitely wiped our eyes during the next 20 miles."
Every time the group leaves a location, it is organized chaos as drivers run back to cars, everyone looks at detailed, drawn-out maps of the route and drivers start their thunderous engines, only to stay put in a line.
While driving down the street, passersby take out their cameras, point at the cars or angrily go around the slow-moving vehicles. On the highways, semis shoot gusts of winds at the drivers as they pass.
Boots affixed a piece of paper with a drawn out map where the rear-view mirror would be and took his position at the end to reprise his role in Vietnam. He is responsible for stopping with any of the vehicles that breakdown and seeing if they can be fixed, or loading them onto a tow truck.
Previously that day, he drove on a stretch of the original concrete Lincoln Highway on private property. Boots said it was an honor that he got to drive on the same road Dwight D. Eisenhower drove on.
"It's a once-in-a-lifetime experience," he said. "It's never going to happen again."
Original 1919 convoy passed through Lodi
The nation's first transcontinental convoy of 70 U. S. Army motor transport vehicles, 287 officers and men and their pet raccoon passed through Lodi on the morning of Sept. 4, 1919, according to the Lodi Sentinel published two days later. The article, on Page 10, sandwiched between a shoe store advertisement and the "too late" classified ad column, said the convoy was "a premier military test."
"The test is a momentous trial of the motor vehicle as an agency in peace times, as well as in war. The tour marks government recognition of the importance of good highways and dependable motor vehicles," the newspaper said.
In the summer of 1919, San Joaquin County had a total of 382 miles of paved roads. Two weeks before the convoy came through Lodi there was still some uncertainty whether the state highway commission had designated Cherokee Lane or Lower Sacramento Road as the official route of the transcontinental Lincoln Highway. While there was no official announcement yet, county engineer F. E. Quayle told the Lodi Sentinel in late August that Cherokee Lane would be selected as the official route.
The newspaper article on the convoy's journey through Lodi that September never stated the exact route. The article also did not indicate whether a crowd had gathered to watch the military procession or whether the vehicles stopped in Lodi. The article, however, did point out the good performance of the Goodrich Silverton cord tires and the superior passenger cars of the Willys-Overland Co. used in the convoy.
Source: Christi Weybret