Road Trips

US 36 and the Pikes Peak Ocean-to-Ocean Highway in western Indiana

In the 1910s and 1920s, before the creation of the US highway system, an unofficial network of roads called Auto Trails crisscrossed the nation. The Lincoln Highway is perhaps the best known of them. Other well-known trails include the Dixie Highway, the Yellowstone Trail, the National Old Trails Road, the Jefferson Highway, and the Old Spanish Trail. These were major trails that spanned coasts or connected the far north to the deep south. Many smaller trails, some entirely within certain states, also existed.

Auto trails were mostly cobbled together out of existing roads, except out West, where roads sometimes had to be built for these trails. Each trail was managed by an Association, such as the Lincoln Highway Association, which determined it route and promoted it. Each Auto Trail had its mission, such as the Lincoln Highway’s to provide a well-marked transcontinental route. But how any city or town made it onto an auto trail was often a matter of politics and favors. Cities and towns very much wanted to be on these auto trails for the traffic, and therefore commerce, they would bring.

One lesser known — I’d argue little known — transcontinental auto trail was the Pikes Peak Ocean-to-Ocean Highway (PP-OO). It was formed in 1914 to connect New York City to San Francisco through Pennsylvania, the District of Columbia, Maryland, West Virginia, Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, Missouri, Kansas, Colorado, Utah, Nevada, and California.

For reasons lost to time, the road frequently avoided major cities, which hurt its commercial viability and may be why it’s not better known today. Also, I know of no other Auto Trail that changed its route as often as the PP-OO. For a time, it even had two western ends: San Francisco and Los Angeles!

Courtesy the Federal Highway Administration

In Indiana, it appears that at first the PP-OO followed the National Road to Indianapolis and then the Rockville State Road to Rockville in western Indiana, and thence to Illinois. This road would become US 36 in 1926.

But in the years that followed, this Auto Trail was heavily realigned. In the end, the PP-OO entered Indiana at Union City and then followed roughly what is now State Road 32 through Winchester, Muncie, and Anderson. Then it connected to what is now US 136 and ran through Crawfordsville and Covington on its way to Danville, Illinois. This new leg in western Indiana was also the Dixie Highway. I explored this section of US 136 in 2012; see those posts here.

Anyone trying to follow the PP-OO at any time really needed an up-to-date trail map!

In 2007 I grew curious about US 36 in western Indiana. It was one of the original US highways in 1926, and in those days its eastern end was in Indianapolis. Tracing US 36 on the map I found a number of possible old alignments, and I wanted to explore them all. This is also when I learned about the PP-OO and its original western-Indiana alignment along the US 36 corridor. I explored US 36 and the PP-OO on two separate trips, May 28 and August 17, 2007. I wrote about it then on my old Roads site, which I’m deprecating. In the weeks to come, I’ll share those stories and photographs here.

Old US 36

Further reading about the PP-OO:

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17 thoughts on “US 36 and the Pikes Peak Ocean-to-Ocean Highway in western Indiana

  1. Andy Umbo says:

    Love the old “as you drive” vertical maps! Went on a trip with a pal in the70’s, and she belonged to AAA, and got a “Trip Tic” map that was also used like this in sections….

    • They make it so easy to find the old road on current maps today! You can lay them right over a screen grab of Google Maps in the same area, et voila, there the road is.

  2. Really glad you’ve reported on this, I had no idea about the PPOO. A new route to go chase. Already did a little digging – Mountain Lake tourist camp in PA advertised one of the largest pools in PA . . . Might have found it on GoogleMaps, the pool is grown in but the footprint of the site looks too typical, and the site is now Mountain Lake boat storage. Thanks for another planned stop for my own journeys.

  3. Interesting how Wilipedia records the route passing through Colorado. Living in the Boulder County area I’m on both the Old Route and the New Route all the time.

    Having grown up in Cincinnati, I also love to see and hearing about old roads we used to travel in Ohio too. My father was a back roads kind of guy so we often took off from the Interstates when we could.

  4. Thanks for pointing this “trail” out! I don’t recall hearing about this one.

    It sorta reminds me of Trans-Continental Railroads in the nineteenth century: I’m going to over-simplify here, but they were all trying to get from the same Point A (Chicago) to Point B (San Francisco or maybe Seattle), but since they couldn’t use the exact same route, they had to vary. The first railroads got the direct and easy routes, the Johnny-Come-Laters had to settle for circuitous routes through secondary markets. (See Union Pacific vs Western Pacific for SF, Northern Pacific vs Milwaukee Road for Seattle). Perhaps the Pikes Peak Ocean to Ocean had to go out of the way of the main destinations to make it different from, say, the Lincoln Road, which had the same endpoints?

    As for semi-obscure cross-country routes, I’ve always been fascinated by US 6, which I used to live on. At its maximum length (from 1936 to 1964), US 6 was the longest highway in the US. But it also avoided most major cities. As someone put it: “Route 6 runs uncertainly from nowhere to nowhere, scarcely to be followed from one end to the other, except by some devoted eccentric”

    • I would have been that devoted eccentric.

      The PP-OO history is murky, but I do get the impression that they pivoted to the lesser cities to distinguish themselves. It was a poor choice.

      • You would have been in good company with Jack Kerouac! In On The Road, he attempts to hitch-hike the length of US 6, then got discouraged by a trucker who picked him up, indicating there was “no traffic” on the road.

  5. Your mentioning Pike’s Peak piqued my interest (pun sort of intended). I’d guess that through my part of Colorado it’s along US Highway 24 through Ute Pass, which I drive every day for work. That used to be the Colorado Midland RR in the 1870s as well as a wagon trail for settlers before that, and when the automobile came around it was the main route from the prairies to the mountains.

    I’d speculate that the small towns along the way (you mention that the route bypasses major cities) were probably historic, originally being trading posts or the like.

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