October 15, 2001

Truck draws attention to the Lincoln Highway

By Tammy Real-McKeighan/Tribune Staff

Craig Harmon played the role of photographer Sunday.

Kneeling in front of his 1964 Maxim fire truck, he took snapshots of Fremont firefighters and their families.

Harmon's main mission isn't photography. Instead, he's making a cross-country trek visiting 450 fire stations along the historic Lincoln Highway, which extends from New York to San Francisco. His goal includes drawing attention to the nation's first transcontinental highway and the 90th anniversary of the highway's dedication on Oct. 31, 2003.

In 1913, more than 300 communities lighted bonfires to celebrate a highway dedicated to the nation's 16th president. Nebraska communities celebrated with 300 miles of fires from Omaha to North Platte.

Two years from now, Harmon hopes firefighters all along the Lincoln Highway will host bonfire celebrations, paving the way for the bicentennial celebration of Abraham Lincoln's birth in 2009.

Harmon, who is founder and director of Lincoln Highway National Museum & Archives in Galion, Ohio, actually began his adventure a year ago when he went from the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C., to New York, where the highway begins. He made it as far as Pittsburgh when the truck, dubbed "The Spirit of Lincoln Way" had mechanical problems.

"So, I pulled off for the season. Shortly thereafter, I was invited to be in the Inaugural parade. I did that in January, and in February presented a wreath at the Lincoln Memorial for Lincoln's birthday," he said.

He began his trek again this year on Sept. 7, starting out from Ohio.

"After Sept. 11, it's taken on additional significance," Harmon said. "I'm the only person who's carried a flag across the country and met with all the firemen."

Harmon previously had taken photographs of his fire truck in front of the World Trade Center towers, and knows some of the firefighters he met died in the terrorist attacks.

"I think I'm uniquely qualified by fate to honor the firemen in a way that really no one else is able to do," he said.

Harmon's been rewarded for his efforts. He's been invited to spend the night at many fire stations. He's also raised a 10-by-15 foot American flag to the top of the truck's 100-foot ladder at homecoming football games in Fulton, Ill., and Nevada and Carroll, Iowa.

In Fremont, Harmon got a taste of some home cooking in addition to being greeted by city and fire officials. As he drove into Fremont on Military Avenue, he found a statue of Abraham Lincoln in John C. Fremont City Park. He was photographing the monument when Fremonter Mary Reynolds and then Mayor Skip Edwards stopped by.

"I was welcomed by Mary and Skip. You couldn't have a better welcome," he said.

During his stay at Fremont's fire station, Harmon also indulged himself to three pieces of apple crisp and ice cream. Just the day before, he said, a local woman was baking an apple pie when her stove caught fire. She gave the pie to firefighters who responded to her call for help. Then on Saturday, she came to the station with a pan of apple crisp.

"I thought maybe we could set another fire so she'd bake another apple crisp," Harmon joked.

In the meantime, Harmon is continuing his unique pilgrimage, hoping to reach San Francisco next month.

He also hopes to interest firefighters in the 2003 celebration. He doesn't anticipate problems.

"There's firemen everywhere," he said. "They're leaders in the community and they're volunteers and they really represent the spirit of America. And I think they're uniquely positioned to take the ball and run with it."

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