Craig Harmon's great
American odyssey started with a 1964 open-cab fire truck, a giant
American flag and a lock of Abraham Lincoln's hair.
Harmon, 46, has spent the better part of two years traveling
through the country's heartland, sharing his unabashed love of the
United States even before the Sept. 11 attacks sparked a new wave of
Something of a modern-day Don Quixote, Harmon tells a story about
what happens when someone trusts in fate, humanity and the spirit of
And America's firefighters.
"The firemen," he said with great reverence during a recent
interview in San Francisco, "are really like modern-day guardian
angels. They just drop what they're doing and risk their lives to
help you. And they've welcomed me with open arms."
Harmon is the founder of the Lincoln Highway National Museum and
Archives in Galion, Ohio. The Lincoln Highway was the nation's first
transcontinental highway. When it was completed in 1913, it linked
New York City to San Francisco, making it possible for the first
time to drive across the country on one continuous, hard-surface
Harmon, a photojournalist who has never been a firefighter
himself, wanted to drum up support for the highway and the "greatest
president" for whom it was named. So he decided to drive the length
of the Lincoln Highway - in style.
In July 2000, he set off with $1,000 cash and the framed brown
lock of Lincoln's hair that was lent to him by Miami University in
Ohio. He was driving the classic vehicle he calls "America's Fire
truck," the eye-catcher he bought from a friend for $6,000. It gets
4 miles to the gallon.
"To carry the flag across the country that way," he said, "now
that would be compelling."
Harmon stopped in each of the 450 towns along the highway, which
winds through Philadelphia, Chicago, Omaha, Salt Lake City,
Sacramento and Oakland. After showing up unannounced at each town's
fire station, he raised the American flag on his truck's 100-foot
ladder and took a picture.
It is a splendid sight, said Doug Churchill, a 46-year-old San
Francisco resident who said he was watching the sun set over Ocean
Beach when he saw the stars and stripes fill the sky.
"That flag up against the sky is actually quite spectacular,"
Churchill said. "I ran out to hug him, I was so overwhelmed."
Firefighters and other kind strangers have fed and sheltered
Harmon along the way, including Churchill, who cooked him a dinner
of pork chops and ravioli.
Mayors and other fans have splurged and filled his gas tank.
Small-town newspapers splashed his photograph across their front
And Harmon himself has fallen in love all over again with the
route he says binds the nation together.
"The beauty of America is in its changing landscape," he said.
The bumpity-bump road, where he was confined to driving just 45 mph,
was "built for the eye," revealing an intimate look at American life
missed by modern interstate highways.
"Sometimes, I'd like to be able to do it in one continuous day.
Rolling plains to sand dunes to mountains," he said. "And when you
come out of the Sierra and into California, the land of milk and
honey . . . it's something everybody dreams they can do, to let life
take care of itself."