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Learn how rivers already provided an avenue for the movement of goods and people in 1803 when Lewis and Clark traveled up the Missouri River to look for a waterway to the West.
Learn how World War II meant funding was diverted to all but strategic roads and highways. After the war, the state had to play catch-up on road maintenance, helped by federal funding of the interstate system. In today's world, larger and heavier trucks are critical to transporting freight. In rural North Dakota, providing local transit for a growing senior citizen population is a big issue.
Learn how by the 1910s, state government began making an effort to improve roads by financially aiding counties, and the federal government began assisting with funding. The economic hardships of the 1930s meant less funds, but the state authorized the state patrol and began issuing drivers' licenses.
Learn about the Red River oxcarts that were the primary means of transporting goods from the Red River Valley to St. Paul.
Learn about the role of railroads in North Dakota history. In their time, railroads had no peer in their ability to move people and goods, although shipping costs were high. The railroad companies helped increase immigration to North Dakota by actively marketing the opportunities here to foreigners, especially Scandinavians and Germans from Russia.
Learn about the history of automobiles in North Dakota. The automobile age gave freedom of movement and choice for passengers and freight. With more people driving cars, the push came for better roads.
Discover how transportation has affected every step of North Dakota history. North Dakota’s position in the center of North America has always made transportation a challenge with even the earliest peoples seeking ways to cover large distances of land. The arrival of horses to the Northern Plains had a radical effect on the Native American culture and way of life.
Learn about the history of steamboats on the Red River. Although its course meandered like a lost and homesick pig, the Red River of the North was a major artery for steamboats, which coordinated with stagecoaches from St. Paul to Fort Abercrombie.
Discover how the building and use of railroads declined due to the popularity of automobiles and trucks. One effect was the development of regional and short line railroads that served smaller communities. Several larger cities used local electric streetcars until the automobiles took over.
Learn about early airplanes, and how they were a novelty and flying a source of entertainment for bystanders, but quickly became essential in the transportation of passengers and goods.
The modern interstate system was not universally welcomed in North Dakota. Plans for Interstate 94 included dividing some farms, bypassing towns, restricting water drainage, and limited access. Interviews with North Dakotans in this clip include reminiscences about the early days of the interstate, such as one person who recalled when someone tampered with construction by pulling out stakes and piling them neatly next to the future road’s path. Even teaching North Dakotans how to use the interchanges and on- and off-ramps was a challenge after the Old Red Trail became the state’s first interstate highway.
Early road construction was time-consuming and expensive. In 1959, road crews could lay out one mile of road a day at best. With today’s technology and equipment, paving and grading roads is much easier and faster. Construction of bridges required specialists who could design the river-spanning lengths. In the 1960s, road construction cost $400,000 per mile of four-lane highway, including the cost of land, equipment, workers’ pay, bridges, and materials. Today, roads cost more than four times that for two lanes in one direction, but they last 50% longer
Crossing the United States before the federal highway system was in place was very difficult. Future President Dwight Eisenhower traveled in a military expedition from Maryland to California in 1919 and took that experience with him to the White House. He signed the Federal Highway Act in 1956, which resulted in the opening of the first part of Interstate 94 in October of 1958 between Valley City and Jamestown. The video clip also includes discussion of how the interstate highway project was funded, its value in national defense, and secondary road improvement projects.
In 1923, state highways were designated by number and the Old Red Trail became State Highway 3, then was named Highway 10 after becoming part of the national highway system in 1927 from Ludington, Michigan, to Seattle. It remained a gravel road until the 1950s, and in early years, travel was hampered by road and weather conditions and poor signage.
The Old Red Trail was a national effort put forth primarily by the AAA., and was laid out in 1914 from Fargo to Medora. Early directions were complicated and relied on local landmarks more than any official signage. Still, the Old Red Trail was the first major thoroughfare through the state and many people used it to travel more easily, independently, and farther than they had gone before.
Known by many names, the Old Red Trail was first devised in 1913 as the northern transcontinental route from New York to Seattle. North Dakotans embraced the automobile as it became more reliable, using it to go where the railroad did not for business and pleasure.
In the early days of the airplane people put on shows to display their flying talent. Some notable performing aviators, male and female, were known as barnstormers and were from the Red River Valley. Today modern jet aircraft transport people and freight all over Red River Land.
At first people in the Red River Valley thought that automobiles were a nuisance that scared horses, but as automobiles became cheaper people began to trade in their carts and carriages for cars. The gasoline engine resulted in big changes, and automobiles began realizing their full potential when a suitable network of roads was built in North Dakota. Electric streetcars and motorized busses provided city transit.
Homesteaders could take a train part of the way to homestead in the Red River Valley, but after they got off the train, they had to find a way to get to unclaimed land. These settlers used a variety of methods of transportation from walking to bicycles to wagons to steamboats, and, finally, on their farms, steam-powered tractors.
The first method of transportation in the Red River Valley that used wheels was the “Red River cart.” These were built by the Métis people, who were both Chippewa and French. Covered wagons and stagecoaches followed. River travel included steamboats and barges.