Return to Route 40
Return to Route 40
Return to Route 40 is a photography book using then-and-now photography to document 50 years of change along the highway U.S. Route 40.
Return to Route 40 is a photography book using then-and-now photography to document 50 years of change along the highway U.S. Route 40. Read more
About this project
My name is Frank Brusca and I have spent most of my life documenting the history and culture of the transcontinental highway U.S. Route 40 – which runs between Atlantic City and San Francisco. This goal of this project is to convert what I have recorded into a manuscript for publication.
In 1949 and 1950, George R. Stewart, an English professor at the University of California, Berkeley, crossed the country four times, taking over 1,000 medium format photographs of everyday life along the highway. The result of his work was U.S. 40: Cross-Section of the United States of America (1953: Houghton-Mifflin).
Stewart's book was a landmark for cultural geographers and those studying in the emerging field of odology (the study of roads as a form of place). The book contained 115 stunning B&W photographs that captured everyday life and scenes before the development of the Interstate Highway System. It also had the distinction of being the first non-advertising book written about an American transcontinental highway.
Stewart's U.S. 40 inspired several adaptations and follow-up works including:
- In 1957, Stewart followed U.S. 40 with N.A.1, a two-volume book that examines life along the Panamerican Highway between the Arctic Circle and Costa Rica.
- German filmmaker Hartmut Bitomsky adapted the German language edition of U.S. 40 for his 1981 3-hour documentary Reise in Amerika - Highway 40 West.
- Thomas R. Vale and Geraldine R. Vale's partial update U.S. 40 Today (University of Wisconsin Press, 1983).
- Thomas R. Vale and Geraldine R. Vale's Western Images, Western Landscapes: Travels Along U.S. 89 (University of Arizona Press, 1990).
- Amiland, a 2008 German documentary by Vojtech Pokorny and Florian Schewe that uses U.S. 40 as the framework for looking at life in the United States.
If you're a follower of roadside culture or mid-Century American life, head to the library (or search eBay) and get your hands on a copy. I think you'll agree with my assessment of the brilliance of Stewart's work.
In 1966, I stumbled on Stewart's book and it forever changed my life. Within its pages were scenes with which I was familiar having grown up in Baltimore and Denver. Having made numerous cross country family road trips, the book had added appeal. When I was old enough to travel on my own, I made countless trips across the highway making sure to stop at all of Stewart's scenes. In 2005, I began to document each of the book's scenes in a thorough and consistent manner.
Why is this Project Important?
Stewart's photographic record provides the best single source photographic record of life along a typical American highway before the Interstates. His work established a baseline for measuring change along the highway. Over the years, others have revisited many of Stewart's scenes, but to date, no one has documented all 115 scenes.
My revisiting of Stewart's scenes accomplishes many things. This project provides:
- Preservation and documentation of Stewart's work resulting in a thorough and accurate record of where Stewart stood.
- A coast-to-coast study in landscape change, measuring the effect of the Interstate Highway System and the explosive growth of automobile travel.
- An excellent opportunity for future landscape studies by future geographers and photographers.
This project is more than 80% complete. This Kickstarter funding will allow me to complete the West Coast photography (as well as a few odd scenes that require revisits) and prepare the work for submission to a publisher.
The Importance of Route 40
Before the Interstate Highway System in 1956, Route 40 was the most important of the transcontinental highways. It was centrally located and served as a critical transportation artery for moving goods and people long distances.
The highway emerged in 1926 (with most of the other U.S. Highways), but its roots run deep. Very deep. The highway follows parts of the East Coast colonial post roads, Nemacolin's Path, Braddock's Road, Zane's Trace, Boone's Lick Trail, the National Road (established in 1806 as America's first federal highway), as well as the Santa Fe, Oregon and California Trails. Across California and Nevada, the highway follows the route of the Transcontinental Railroad. In the automobile era, Route 40 was built along alignments of parts of the Lincoln Highway, National Old Trails Highway, the Victory Highway and the Harding Highway.
Today, most of Route 40 sits in the shadows of Interstate Highways (I-95 in northeastern Maryland, I-70 from Baltimore to Empire, Colorado, and I-80 from Silver Creek Junction, Utah to San Francisco). There are several sections, however, where Route 40 runs alone, without the presence of an encroaching Interstate Highway:
- Across all of New Jersey
- Keyser's Ridge, Maryland to Washington, Pennsylvania
- Central Missouri
- A 430 mile stretch from Empire, Colorado to Silver Creek Junction, Utah.
The highway is not forgotten as there are groups across the country devoted to preserving its history.
I have been to every location in Stewart's book. In the early days, locating the exact vantage point required significant research and planning. I would scan maps, write letters, and make telephone calls. For some locations, pinpointing the exact locations meant lots of legwork in the field. I would check landmarks and talk with locals who, more often than not, pointed me to the correct spots.
Photographic quality, of course, has always been key. Stewart used a Rolleiflex TLR camera to shoot medium format B&W negatives. With a goal to achieving the highest quality possible, I use a copy of Stewart's medium format TLR camera (same optics) to shoot not only B&W negatives but also chromes. (Stewart's son Jack offered me the use of his father's camera, however it was in need of significant repair.) I also shoot 35mm B&W negatives and chromes as an additional resource. To lend a modern touch to the project, I also shoot high resolution digital images.
At home, I collect the fruit of my field work and prepare it for cataloging. I scan my negatives with state-of-the-art film scanners and I also stitch my digital images together resulting in 360-degree virtual reality movies of each scene. I hope to include the VR movies (along with other digital content) as an accompanying DVD-ROM with the published book.
While I have been the core of this project and responsible for most of the results, I have had the great privilege of working with many partners, without whom this project would not be successful.
- The George R. Stewart Estate. Since 2000, the estate has provided me the needed green light that makes this project possible. Moreover, they have provided me with resources and information not found in any archive or library.
- Bancroft Library at the University of California, Berkeley. Most of Stewart's manuscripts, photos and negatives are stored here and I am in grateful for the countless hours of support the archivists have provided over the past 25 years.
- Donald Scott. Donald is a Stewart scholar and biographer. He has provided me with valuable foundation information and much needed advice and guidance.
- State and Local Historical Societies and Libraries. During the early stages of the project, these organizations have provided me with information that helps pinpoint locations as well as the identities of the people captured in Stewart's photographs.
- Property Owners. Many of the scenes were photographed on private property and all have provided me with unrestricted access to their land.
My work on documenting U.S. Route 40 has been well-covered in the national and local press.
This project received great honor when it was covered in two notable books. William Least Heat-Moon (author of Blue Highways) devoted three chapters about the project in his 2008 book Roads to Quoz (Brown and Co.). More recently, Donald Scott brought additional attention to the project in his George Stewart biography The Life and Truth of George R. Stewart: A Literary Biography of the Author of Earth Abides (McFarland, 2012).
"If Brusca’s work is not exactly time-lapse photography," Heat-Moon wrote, "then it is time-gap photography. His time machine, of course, can travel backward only to 1949 before turning around to come forward, moving across both years and space, but if you believe an image of what is to come can be discerned from what has gone before, then you can see in his work a future emerging."
Roads to Quoz: An American Mosey, by William Least Heat-Moon
"Rt. 40 Fan Driven to Update '53 Book," by Joe Blundo, Columbus Dispatch.
I am offering some great rewards to everyone who contributes to this project.
$5 or more - ACKNOWLEDGEMENT. Your name will be listed as a donor on the project web site. You will also have the satisfaction knowing that you are helping to support the documenting of one of America's great highways.
$10 or more - THANK YOU NOTE. This is a great way to support the project! You will receive a thank-you note and be listed as a donor on the project web site and the book when it is published.
$25 or more - COLOR PRINT. You will receive a custom 8" x 10" color print of a project photograph of your choice (more than 100 scenes from which to choose). You will also receive a thank you note and be listed as a donor on the web site and book.
$30 or more - DOWNLOADABLE E-BOOK - You will receive a downloadable 120-page e-book of the project photos. You will also receive a custom 8" x 10" color print of a project photograph of your choice (more than 100 scenes from which to choose), a thank you note, be listed as a donor on the web site and the book when it is published. Contributors who pledged $25 prior to 3/23 will also receive the e-book!
$50 or more - NOTE CARDS AND PRINT. You will receive a set of six color note cards as well as a custom 8" x 10" color print of a project photograph of your choice (more than 100 scenes from which to choose). You will also receive a thank you note and be listed as a donor on the web site and book.
$75 or more - NOTE CARDS AND FOUR PRINTS. You will receive a set of six color note cards as well as four custom 8" x 10" color prints of a project photograph of your choice (more than 100 scenes from which to choose). You will also receive a thank you note and be listed as a donor on the web site and book.
$100 or more - TWO SETS OF NOTE CARDS AND SIX PRINTS. You will receive a set of twelve color note cards as well as six custom 8" x 10" color prints of a project photograph of your choice (more than 100 scenes from which to choose). You will also receive a thank you note and be listed as a donor on the web site and book.
$200 or more - 70-PAGE SOFTCOVER BOOK. This is the must-have item! You will receive a signed copy of a private edition book (hardcover 8" x 10") featuring all 115 of the project scenes (two per page). You will also receive the note cards and prints from the $100 level, a thank you note and be listed as a donor on the web site and book.
$350 or more - 70-PAGE HARDCOVER BOOK UPGRADE. A true gem for the road scholar. You will receive a signed copy of a private edition book (hardcover 8" x 10") featuring all 115 of the project scenes (two per page). You will also receive the note cards and prints from the $100 level, a thank you note and be listed as a donor on the web site and book.
$400 or more - 120-PAGE DELUXE SOFTCOVER BOOK UPGRADE. You will receive a signed copy of a private edition book (hardcover 8" x 10") featuring all 115 of the project scenes (one per page). You will also receive the note cards and prints from the $100 level, a thank you note and be listed as a donor on the web site and book.
$650 or more - 120-PAGE DELUXE HARDCOVER BOOK UPGRADE. This is for completist roadside and George R. Stewart scholars. You will receive a signed copy of a private edition book (hardcover 8" x 10") featuring all 115 of the project scenes (one per page). You will also receive the note cards and prints from the $100 level, a thank you note and be listed as a donor on the web site and book.
$1,200 or more - A DAY ON THE ROAD. This is for the ultimate project supporter. In addition to the signed copy of the private edition hardcover book, prints, note cards and thank you items, you will have the opportunity to spend a day with me on Route 40 during the summer of 2015 for the final leg of field photography. Ride shotgun and visit the scenes firsthand. I will be working mainly in the western states (Colorado to California) with some spot coverage in Kansas and Missouri. You will choose the lodging (provided) at either mid-priced motels (e.g., Hampton, Holiday Inn Express) or at an independent motel (e.g., Best Western). Meals are also provided. Note that the field work will be on a rigid schedule and that I will be unable to alter the schedule to meet your travel date wishes. Please contact me if you are considering supporting the project at this level. I will be happy to provide information about schedules, logistics, what to expect as well as levels of physical exertion you may need for some locations.
Risks and challenges
I have queried several publisher (mostly academic press) who have an interest in publishing an update to Stewart's 1953 book. If the commercial or academic presses decline this project, I will pursue self-publishing including print-on-demand options. Regardless, delays beyond my control may occur in the ultimate publication of the final book. Editorial needs may necessitate a finished product different from the one I am envisioning.
Weather is another risk. I have selected summer months for the field photography as they afford some of the best weather and lighting conditions.
Automobile problems are another risk, however, I drive a well maintained Subaru Outback, a vehicle well suited for this project. Before heading out this summer, I will ensure the car is in optimum driving condition.Learn about accountability on Kickstarter
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