Amazing: The Bonneville Salt Flats

One of the strongest memories from our Lincoln Highway trip in May 2014 was our visit to the Bonneville Salt Flats. This also made it one of the easiest sections to write about.

Both of Ivelis and I had agreed quite early in our planning process for this trip that we positively wanted to visit the Bonneville Salt Flats in western Utah, something that has been on our automobile racing related “bucket list” for many years. If the salt is dry enough (and it isn’t always so), the land speed record attempts happen every year in the middle of August (a streamliner with a twin-turbocharged small block Chevrolet V8 was clocked at 437 mph in 2013). The rest of the year, the salt flats are a “special recreation management area” managed by the Department of the Interior.

Once we had passed the ghost town of Arinosa, we left Interstate 80 just east of the Nevada border and drove slowly out on a several-mile-long ribbon of asphalt. The speed limits are aggressively low—as if the civil engineers involved knew that there would be speed freaks driving along this road. The pavement ends in a kind of cul-de-sac, except there are (of course) no houses. What you do (if the salt is dry enough—and we were lucky that it was when we visited) is just gently drive off the asphalt and onto the actual salt flats.

Front quarter view of Lauren on the Bonneville Salt Flats
An outtake from Lincoln Highway 101—
I ended up making a poster out of this picture.

There were six or seven other cars and trucks of various types (we spotted everything from minivans and crossovers to late-model Mustangs) on the salt flats. Everyone present tried hard to avoid getting into each other’s camera angles—I believe because all of us understood the flats’ relevance. While Ivelis waited patiently, I spent about twenty to thirty minutes cleaning up Lauren’s exterior enough to make me comfortable with taking some (perhaps way too many) pictures.

The eerie silence for the entire distance you can see and the absolute emptiness of the famous salt flats were both impressive and also striking—and not just for the beautiful pictures it produced. Finally getting a chance to visit the Bonneville Salt Flats after so many years met both of our high expectations.

Lincoln Highway 101, Second Edition

Learning New Layout Skills

Like I have with all my books, I’m laying out the Riviera Project in Adobe’s InDesign desktop publishing software. I find that in many ways InDesign behaves in ways I understand, so I’ve stayed with it over the years.

Adobe InDesign icon

Recently, I decided to make a fairly significant change to the chapters that cover the separate generations (in my opinion, there are eight, though you can make a legitimate argument for seven) of the Riviera. I had been integrating the options available into the body text, but that’s getting clunky and won’t be easy to read. So, I’ve decided to put the options lists into tables—one for each year.

I’ve learned a lot of InDesign by struggling with it. In the case of tables, I decided to commit a little time on the front end and use some training. I’m fortunate to have access to LinkedIn Learning (formally Lynda.com), so I took Diane Burns‘ excellent course. Two hours and 38 minutes later, I feel like I’ve got the basics down.

Visiting Franklin Grove

Continuing with my “exactly five years ago” series—by this point we had made it to mid-Illinois and one of our carefully planned stops.

Parked quite stylishly outside the national Lincoln Highway Association headquarters in little Franklin Grove, Illinois

In the quiet village of Franklin Grove, about five miles southwest of Ashton, we stopped for a little over an hour in the early afternoon at the national headquarters of the relatively new but very active Lincoln Highway Association. Ivelis and I walked in and quietly signed the guest book. Already inside was another couple traveling the Lincoln Highway in what they told us was a far more leisurely fashion (measured in many months versus a few weeks) than ours. They were driving in an impressively well preserved and maintained (and evidently quite functional) 1980s Volkswagen Vanagon Westfalia—I neglected to get the precise year.

An amiable woman named Lynn Asp (in general, folks were wonderfully gracious to us during this entire trip) spoke to us at length about the Association and their various upcoming events. It was only well after departing Franklin Grove that we realized that there is a picture of Lynn in one of the many Lincoln Highway-related books that we were carrying with us in Lauren’s rear compartment—we definitely should have gotten her to sign it!

Lincoln Highway 101, Second Edition

The relatively newly reconstituted Lincoln Highway Association’s online presence includes much useful information, context, and advice, but the absolute star of their site is a fantastic, stunningly detailed, and extreme accurate Google Maps overlay of all the Lincoln Highway routes.

Starting Along The Lincoln Highway

It is exactly five years ago today that we started the actual Lincoln Highway portion of the journey chronicled in Lincoln Highway 101. For some reason, it’s important to me to travel all of whatever route we are taking, so starting our trip on the Lincoln Highway had to be at Times Square.

Driving old cars in Manhattan is not for the faint-hearted, so I attempted to limit our vulnerability by leaving the hotel at 7:00 AM on a Sunday morning. We drove over to Times Square on what seemed to be fairly awful even for New York City streets. From the book:

Where it begins: early Sunday morning, Times Square, New York City

When we arrived at Times Square itself (our precise starting point was 47th and Broadway), I slammed Lauren’s long-suffering THM 700-R4 (the THM stands for Turbo Hydra-Matic—a General Motors trademark dating all the way back to 1964) automatic transmission into park. Next, I wrenched the long and substantial driver’s side door open and dashed across 47th Street to take a few of the all-important “beginning of the trip” pictures. If you look extremely carefully at the photograph, you might be able to sense Ivelis waiting just a little impatiently in the passenger’s seat as Lauren’s “Tuned Port Injection” engine rumbled as it idled—making the entire car twitch.

After leaving Times Square, it was off toward the west side of Manhattan. Early Lincoln Highway motorists took the New York Central’s steam ferry across the Hudson River from 42nd Street to Weehawken, New Jersey—the NY Waterway company runs a similar route today, but its modern boats do not carry any vehicle larger than a bicycle. Instead of traveling across the surface of the river, we took an almost empty one and a half miles in the Lincoln Tunnel about 100 feet underneath the Hudson to Union City. It seemed that our plan of leaving Manhattan quite early on a Sunday morning was working out!

Lincoln Highway 101, Second Edition

It Is Five Years Ago Today

It is five years ago today that Ivelis and I began the trip that I would end up writing about in Lincoln Highway 101. In spite of our many preparations, both of us were quite aware that there were many unknowns, including whether we would even complete the trip successfully.

This situation was something that had not been true of our two previous “Big Trips” back and forth across the United States. The possibility of a catastrophic failure of some essential component of our 1985 Corvette was part of an honest and realistic assessment of our plans. A few of our friends heightened this awareness: they were quite enthused by our trip—until they figured out that we were driving it on our own.

Despite this concern, we hit the road with optimism. I’ll let the second edition of the book take it from here:

After a final check or two, we departed from our home in Bryn Mawr, Pennsylvania. Once we had traversed a few local roads, we drove up to New York City via first the Pennsylvania Turnpike and then the New Jersey Turnpike on what turned out to be a lovely spring afternoon—definitely a good sign at the start of this long and potentially fraught trip. As I had hoped, it was generally “smooth sailing” on this particular Saturday as we drove slightly over 100 miles. Ivelis and I encountered our only significant traffic issues during the day as we traversed the many merges (including The Helix—yes, a merge with an actual name) into the Lincoln Tunnel before it deposited us right into the center of Manhattan on West 38th Street.

Corvette Sting Ray poster in Times Square
Immensely motivating banner for the then new
Corvette Stingray as we near Times Square

From there, we drove along 42nd Street through Times Square itself toward our hotel. On our way through “The Crossroads of the World,” we passed a giant billboard advertising the (at that point) almost brand new 2014 Corvette Stingray—very cool and definitely another good omen. I would eagerly search for any positive indicator I could find throughout this trip.

Lincoln Highway 101, Second Edition

Inspirations—Viewing The Buick Y-Job In Person

The Buick Y-Job is often described as one of the first—if not the first—concept cars. Designed by stylist George Snyder to show the late-1930s vision of GM design head Harley Earl, the long and low convertible had power windows, wraparound bumpers, and flush door handles. Its powered convertible top was concealed by a metal deck when retracted, and it lacked the running boards that were standard issue in 1938. Finally, the Y-Job had power-operated hidden headlamps—likely influenced by the manually-operated hidden Stinson lights in the mid-1930s Cord 810/812.

Unlike many concept cars that followed, all the features shown in the Y-Job were functional—Harley Earl drove it regularly until about 1951. This extravagance was made at least a little easier by the fact that the Y-Job used the same Dynaflash 141 bhp 5.2 liter/320 ci straight-8 as Buick’s Series 60 Century, Series 80 Roadmaster, and Series 90 Limited cars did in 1938 and was built on a stretched Century chassis.

1938 Buick Y-Job. Photo courtesy of Buick.

Over the years, I viewed many photographs of the Y-Job, but I never expected to see it in person. However, in 2011 I was able to visit the GM Heritage Center in Sterling Heights, MI. There are many amazing cars in the Heritage Center’s collection, but for me, there were two essentials—with every other one of the 150 or so vehicles on display being a bonus. Those two cars were the Y-Job and the Le Sabre.

I got so close to the Y-Job on that particular day that I could lean directly over the rather basic interior. As expected, the car is heart-stoppingly beautiful—but smaller than it looks in many photographs. At 58 inches tall, the Y-Job is also stunningly low, something George Snyder accentuated by fitting 13-inch wheels instead of the 15-inch and 16-inch wheels that were in common use in the late-1930s.

As I continue my work on the Riviera Project, one of the common threads is the highs and lows of Buick styling over the years. When Buick’s exterior design is differentiating in a positive way, I see it as a spiritual callback to the timeless beauty of the Y-Job.

A Little Further Along

I’ve made some progress on the Riviera Project recently, but I am not as far along as I had hoped to be as April turns into May. The book does continue to form, and I am getting more of a sense of what it may end up being.

Typewriter icon

About a week ago, I pushed past a 20,000 word total for the entire book. I’ve done a good bit of background research over the last few days, including some on the Riviera’s competitors such as the Ford Thunderbird and the Cadillac Eldorado. I’m also continuing to gather relevant material—adding both primary and secondary sources. Finally, I’ve been asking a lot of questions on the Antique Automobile Club of America’s forums.

So, still moving along, but the results are not very visible. Hopefully, I’ll have more to report in a few days.