Wednesday, July 18, 2012

On the Road: Roadside Oddities (July 18, 2012)

On a short trip north from the San Francisco Bay area, I've mostly been working, stuck at coffee shops with my laptop computer, but yesterday I passed a couple of roadside oddities that caught my eye. Each turned out to be worth a small detour.

Brown signs along California's highways alerting drivers to the presence of a point of historical interest are not uncommon. I find them frustrating, though, because they are small and, at highway speeds, it's hard to read them--hard to know if they mark something worth stopping for. More often than not, I have driven past by the time I figure out what a sign is referring to, but I caught the words "Thompson's Seedless" on a marker outside of Marysville, yesterday, which I thought might be worth a look and I managed to pull over by the marker. It seems that the Thompson's Seedless grape got its commercial start near Marysville, California from, as the marker indicates, cuttings ordered in 1872 from New York by one William Thompson, an Englishman. The variety was originally known as Lady de Coverly--which makes me wonder what the grape's history was in New York before it got to California. Hmmm..... Every answer seems to pose another question.

Not far from Truckee, later in the day, I saw a marker that said something about the Lincoln Highway, America's first transcontinental highway. A turnout along what is now I-80 preserves a strip of road that was part of Highway 40 before that road was moved slightly and widened to become I-80. Highway 40 followed the path of the Lincoln Highway. A bridge somewhere along the highway nearby was decorated on a whim by a local creative mind with fancy barriers of concrete that spell out "Lincoln" on one side and "Highway"on the other. These impressed someone in authority so much that a plan was hatched to add identical barriers on every bridge along the route, from coast to coast. Apparently, it was an idea that never gained traction. According to a blurb at the site I visited, only one other bridge was ever so adorned--somewhere in Iowa. When Highway 40 became I-80, the original pair of barriers was moved for display to the roadside location I saw.

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