“Operation of automobiles on Martin’s Mountain”: Letter March 14, 1925

003aBy chance, I happened across this letter on its anniversary. Serendipity in the collections office once again.

When this letter was written to the State Roads Commission, the National Highway had already been serving as the major route between the Mid-Atlantic, through Cumberland and into the Ohio Valley for nearly 100 years. The Mr. John N. Mackall mentioned in the letter had served as the Chief Engineer of the Commission since 1918, and had come to Maryland State employment by way of Pennsylvania State Highway Department. Upon his promotion, Mr. Mackall was confronted with legal challenges introduced to road construction because of the onset of the First World War. One such restriction was the use of open top cars for transportation of materials other than what was deemed essential for war work. Once those open top cars were available for use again, the cost of transportation and labor had gone up considerably. Mackall agreed to pay higher prices to contractors that had been in waiting for years, thereby avoiding a possible catastrophe that would have been created by contractors going bankrupt and subsequently not being available to bid on state contracts.

Mr. Mackall was also the Chair of the Commission when it took upon as its responsibility the safety of drivers on the State’s highways. Painting road obstructions white for visibility and rerouting dangerous curves were on Mackall’s agenda for safety improvement. After 1920, Mr. Mackall was known to refuse requests from County Commissioners for road improvements if the contracts they submitted were exorbitant, which would always return at a lower cost in following years. His methods have laid the groundwork for Maryland having some of the best highways in the country at a lower average cost.

The author of the letter, Mr. L.T. Downey, was the District Engineer for Washington, Allegany, and Garrett Counties. (This is District 6 of Western Maryland today, part of the State Highway Administration http://roads.maryland.gov/pages/districts.aspx?did=d6). From 1921, he was responsible for seeing vast improvements in concrete highway construction from Frederick, MD west to Garrett County. One of his great accomplishments was to add concrete shoulders to the roads to increase width from 14′ to 20′.







The letter reads:

“March 14, 1925


Mr. Mackall is desirous of obtaining some results in actual operation of automobiles on Martin’s Mountain. The idea is to find out the difference in the braking power in coming down the mountain in second gear with the ignition on and with the ignition off.

He has asked me to try and get some people around Cumberland to try this out, and I wish you would, in going over the road, try coming down the mountain on either side with the ignition on, in one case; and in the next case, with the ignition cut off, and estimate the difference as to the effects on your car.

I would be greatly obliged to you if you would advise me  as to the results of this as soon as possible.

Very truly yours,

L.T. Downey, District Engineer.”


Concrete Highway & Public Improvements Magazine, Vol. 6, 1922. pp. 174-177

Bittner, J.H.F “Development of the State Roads Commission of Maryland,” Thesis submitted for Phi Mu Honorary Engineering Fraternity, University of Maryland, Jan. 17, 1927.