In the early days of motoring road were nonexistent. All county roads were little more than wagon paths. Towns might have gravel or brick streets if it was well off.   As the automobile become more popular things needed to change.

Early automobile owners needed to come up with a solution, without tax help or the support of most of the public as an automobile was considered a fad at best in the 1900-1910’s.   Early automobile owners needed to band together. A lot of auto owners that lived in town or closest to town created Automobile Clubs, like the Chapman, Kansas Auto Club. Their object was:  

“The object of this association shall be the furtherance of good roads and to collect and diffuse information from time to time as to their condition and encourage the cooperation of all that end.”  

All groups had some form of membership dues. The dues had a couple different ways they were used. Part of the dues were used to pay for road improvement. That money was given to city or townships for the purpose of road repairers and improvements pointed out by the club.   

The other reason was for theft. Yes theft. With most police department going not much farther than city limits. Most departments were limited to horseback patrol. Owners would turn in their make, model and, serial number to the secretary of the club. The way this worked, if your car was taken.  Local dealers were given information about the car in question. Club member would be notified to keep a look out.   In Chapman’s case, the club would put out a $25 reward out of the general fund, for the return of the auto to its rightful owner.       

Most of the meetings were held in city hall so that the Chairman or President could report to local city or township on conditions.   

In the mist of all the creation of these car clubs and good road groups, an idea came forth for the Golden Belt Road. A timeline of the major events leading to the creation of the road follows.

September 14, 1911- The Salina Union and Abilene Reflector newspapers broke the news about the new road idea leading from Manhattan to Salina. This new road would bring new tourists into local towns along the route. Helping farmers with transporting of grain and livestock market. Along with rural business being able to get their goods move efficiently.

 Towns that would be along route would be Manhattan, Junction City/Fort Riley, Chapman, Detroit, Abilene, Solomon, New Cambria, Salina.  

September 30th 1911- a planning meeting was to be held in Abilene with representatives from Manhattan, Chapman, Solomon, Junction City, and Salina. Meeting was to be called to order by C.M. Harger, President of the Abilene Auto Club. The discussion was about working with county commissioners of each respective county. Have the roads link up to make the best possible road. Other discussion was about the possibility of expanding the efforts as far east as Topeka and Kansas City, Kansas. An Auto Race was to be held with a $300 prize. Unfortunately the day of the meeting was rained out. Plans were made to meet in Manhattan. 

October 6, 1911- The Daily Nationalist paper (Manhattan, Kansas) reports that Mr. W.S. Gearhead, a state highway engineer, recommended that the Manhattan auto club invite the other community auto clubs to Manhattan to start working together to make this new road happen. Currently there are no good roads much past Iowa.    

October 25, 1911- A meeting was called to order in Manhattan, to have the discussion that was supposed to happen at the September 30th meeting in Abilene. During the meeting a suitable route was laid out and approved. The signs were discussed and approved. They are to be dark blue background with yellow lettering. Work would begin that fall and spring to put up makers. Uniting the four counties to start grading the road. Last order of business was to inform the towns from Manhattan to Kansas City, Kansas to join in on this new venture. 

October 25- 28, 1911- Newspapers across eastern Kansas were notified about the new road that Central Kansas was working on. Asking towns like Garnett, Eudora, Wamego, Perry so on to join in the new road idea. By the time October 28 rolled around, every newspaper in the state had information about the new Golden Belt Road. 

November 1, 1911- a letter was sent to Junction City, Chapman, Abilene, Solomon, Salina to invite them to a banquet in Manhattan to make an official Golden Belt Road organization.

November 16, 1911- Abilene Reflector reported on the banquet that was held at Manhattan.  Banquet had representatives from towns from Kansas City to Denver, Colorado, along with 100 area farmers.  Out of this banquet a new road organization was formed with G.W. Muenzenmayer of Junction City chosen as president, B.W. Smith of Manhattan as secretary, C.M. Harger of Abilene as corresponding secretary, and Frank Hegeman of Salina as treasurer. Executive committee of one person from each town will also serve on the board as well. They are to be named at a later date. 

A proposed route was laid out to follow the Union Rail Road, with work to start as soon as possible and road signs put on power poles to mark the way. The only section of the road not permitted to be routed was in the Sand Hills between Abilene and Salina, as the roads were bad.  Also to determine on how to cross the Smoky Hill River at Solomon was needed.

November 1911 - April 1912 Sixteen Commercial and Auto Clubs get busy making the Golden Belt road. Doctors, lawyers, local business owners and farms came together to build the road. Kansas State Highway Engineer Gearhart sent out the plans on how to make the road to local groups. 

W.S. Gearhart’s plans demonstrated how to grade roads 30 feet wide with ditches on each side. 

 The Chapman Advertiser on February 1, 1912 reports that 200 signs were to be out by spring to mark the road. Each sign will be mounted to a piece of two inch gas pipe six foot off the ground. Each telephone pole that is on an intersession will be clearly marked with Golden Belt Road. Coming into town there will be a sign with the name of the town, population, elevation, and distance to the next largest town.   Chapman was the first to send their money in for twelve of the Golden Belt road signs, with Abilene and Junction City in right behind.

Abilene Weekly Reflector on February 15, 1912 reports the town of Lawrence will join the Golden Belt organization. They are ordering their signs as soon as they can get money in. Making the idea for Kansas City to Manhattan stretch a real possibility.  

As winter months fade into spring many groups spent many hours working on the road, all with excitement. Except for the town of Kannapolis, Kansas. Kannapolis was just south of proposed Golden Belt Road. Kannapolis felt that the road should have taken a three mile jog to their town. At the time they had one of the oldest forts in the state. Kannapolis paper claimed that the road was being set up using taxpayer money that was controlled by people that could afford an automobile. In actuality it was the people that belonged to auto clubs and commercial clubs that were footing the bill. Tax payer dollars were not yet being taken for road maintenance.  They also claimed that some of the men in Ellsworth were pulling strings to cut out Kannapolis. 

The summer of 1912 saw many tourists stop in towns along the road going through Kansas, including a group of sixteen cars from Chicago that wanted to try this new road that went from Kansas City to Denver. They were very happy with the road conditions and were pleased to drive thought Kansas. They also noted that Colorado roads were not as well off.  

Other examples included a family driving a 60 horsepower Oldsmobile from Kansas City to Cold Spring, Wyoming and two young men of 14 and 16 riding their bikes from St Joseph, Missouri all the way out to western Kansas.  

This new road allowed farmers and businesses alike to move produce more efficiently, allowing economic expansion to happen faster than it has ever happened in Kansas to date. 

Today the Golden Belt Road is still in use, known to most locals in Kansas as Old Highway 40.   Over the years it expanded to run 2,286 miles from San Francisco, California to Atlantic City, New Jersey. Golden Belt road took its official highway 40 name designation in 1926.   It is considered one of the first transcontinental roads in the Unites States.    

 

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