IN SEARCH OF US 40: ON THE ROAD WITH FRANK BRUSCA.

In 1953, George R. Stewart published his ground-breaking U. S. 40 — a book which used photography and text to interpret the transcontinental geography of the United States from U.S. 40, then the major east-west highway.

In 1983, Thomas and Geraldine published U.S. 40 Today.  The Vales traveled Stewart’s route, re-photographing most of the sites from the original book, and describing the changes in the 30 years since the original was published.

Now, leading U.S. 40 scholar Frank X. Brusca is rephotographing Stewart’s sites as they appear today.  Last week, I was honored to accompany him on part of his re-photography project.

We spent the first two days at the Bancroft Library, researching Stewart’s papers, and the first three nights with John and Angela Lucia at their historic home in Sacramento.

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The food and the accommodations were excellent,  and the conversation went on into the night.  John and Angela are also roadies, and “car guys,” so we had much to discuss – like John’s interest in U.S. 50, and the Lucias’ 1950 Ford Woodie (which is one of the best woodies in the country).

DSCN2874Then Frank and I headed east on I 80, which parallels or covers historic U.S. 40.  Our first stop, thanks to Dispatcher Maria and Sergeant Dave Brown of the California Highway Patrol, was productive.  Sgt. Brown took us to two of the sites in his patrol car, sites not safe to photograph now unless there’s CHP support, so we were glad for the  help.  Sgt. Brown’s also an amateur historian from the Dutch Flat area, where George R. Stewart had a summer cabin, so he was interested in Stewart.

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We spent the night in Truckee; then continued east to Wendover, Utah, photographing along the way.  Highlights of the photography were Donner Pass, Emigrant Gap, Wendover – and the most difficult photography of the trip – from Black Rock, near the Great Salt Lake.  The steep Rock was challenging to climb, but Frank made it to the top and took his photos of the scene.

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I stayed in Salt Lake City that night, while Frank headed east to finish his work.  My plan was to take the Amtrak train west to Sacramento after visiting family in the area.  I eventually did so – after a 2.5 day delay.  The train delay and the poor attitude of Amtrak’s customer “service” were good reminders of the enjoyable freedom of auto highways, like U.S. 40.

Frank plans to publish a new version of U.S. 40, using the photographs from this and other trips.  His version will include color images and 360 degree panoramas, which will make Frank’s publication a technological leap forward from both the original work and the Vales’ classic re-visiting.

If you want to learn more about Frank Brusca and his work on U.S. 40,  read William Least-Heat Moon’s best-selling ROADS TO QUOZ, which has four chapters about Frank, George R. Stewart, and U. S. 40.  Or visit Frank’s excellent U.S. 40/National Road website.

Was his trip a success? The photo says it all.

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5 thoughts on “IN SEARCH OF US 40: ON THE ROAD WITH FRANK BRUSCA.

  1. Frank has been a Route 40 fan since he was a young boy when our family traveled the road many times.

  2. It has been years since my last associations with U.S. 40. In 1980, we traveled the route from Atlantic City to Salina, Kansas and the next year, in 1981, we completed the journey from Salina to San Francisco. With Stewart’s book at hand, of course. My first association with “U.S. 40” was in a Freshman English Writing course. I “discovered” the book in the local College Library at Arlington State College in Arlington, Texas. A.S.C. was then a Junior College Branch of the Texas A&M System with an enrollment of around 1,500; mostly all male and mostly R.O.T.C. Cadets. It is now The University of Texas at Arlington with about 25,000 students. No longer all male, no longer R.O.T.C. required. Anyway, I quoted quite a bit from “U.S. 40” in my term theme on “Highways In The United States.” I got an “A” for the term theme and an “A” for the course, so I have sort of an attachment for the book. I am just an average amateur writer. I have had one article published in “CQ-The Amateur Radio Journal”. This was also the result of a writing course at Texas A&M. So I am not completely “the un-published author.” I got an “A” in Journalism 321 at A&M, too. LOL.
    Lately I have been matching up “google maps street views” with Stewart’s photographs. It has been very interesting .
    Best regards,
    Robert Paige
    Irving, Texas

    One of my “tall tales” is the picture at “Cambridge, Ohio” (#22, Page 122.) That’s me, sitting on the curb under “the gigantic elm” tree, glaring back at George R. Stewart while he took his picture while I was waiting for the Greyhound Bus to take me back home to Dallas. Well, not really, but it makes a good story. LOL.

  3. I don’t think the person in question on “Cambridge, Ohio” has ever been identified .
    Some years ago some persons were able to track down and contact one of the persons in the picture #45 “Shaded Street” on Page 180, through the Library at Hays, Kansas.
    Mr. Brusca may have the details. It seems Mr. Stewart didn’t identify the persons in his pictures. Picture #61 “Sheepherder” on Page 210 seems to be the only exception. Mr. Bill Mellos is mentioned .

    • Yes, that was Tom and Geraldine Vale, who followed Stewart’s route to photograph the same places 30 years later. They published the results in US 40 Today, in 1983. Brusca may in fact have identified some of those people as well.

      In a remarkable small world story – Tom Vale was a high school friend, the one who first showed me the deeper meaning of Stewart’s remarkable EARTH ABIDES. A few years later, again quite by coincidence, I met Stewart, and came to know him and his family. Eventually that led to my biography of GRS….and this communication.

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