The Lima News, Sunday, 11 October, 1987

Crash on Lincoln Highway Gomerís claim to fame

GOMER - The Lincoln Highway, the original backbone of todayís interstate highway system, brought this small Allen County village national attention 48 years ago.

Martha Evans

Martha Evans, a Gomer native who researched the history of the highway, recalls the 1939 visit of the Snow Cruiser, "a 37- ton giant."

The vehicle, 55 feet long, 20 feet wide and 16 feet high, was designed by Dr. Thomas Poulter and built in Chicago for Adm. Richard E. Byrdís Antarctic expedition. The cruiser traveled on "the Lincoln" from Chicago to Boston for shipment south.

It reportedly cost $150,000, "an enormous sum in that late Depression period," Evans said.

Police escorts preceded the cruiser, and two cars followed to assist motorists who became stuck after pulling off the highway to permit its passage.

"Thousands of spectators lined the route, and in places, a half-mile traffic jam brought up the rear," she said.

Problems began early, even though the road was inspected in advance to assure adequate clearance. The cruiser was sideswiped by a truck in Columbia City, Ind. The hubcaps had to be removed just west of Warsaw, Ind., to allow it to pass through a two-lane highway bridge, and fuel pump problems developed in Fort Wayne.

Problems reached a climax when it came through Gomer at about 1 p.m. on Saturday, Oct. 29, 1939. The vehicle scraped the corner of a bridge just east of Gomer, went out of control and landed in muddy Pike Run, tearing down a farm fence and, a guardrail en route.

The four crew members bailed out.

A break had occurred in the hydraulic line that controlled the steering and brakes. The cause of the break was never determined.

Six others were aboard, including Poulter and his wife. According to eyewitness accounts, Mrs. Poulter stood in the road after the crash, screaming and beating her head with her hands, "apparently because her husbandís life-long dream had been thwarted," Evans said.

Headlines in The Lima News on Oct. 30, 1939, reported "Byrd Snow Cruiser Crashes Here" and "Gigantic Snow Cruiser Crashes Near Gomer Bridge."

Photographer, Vic Sherow and reporter Herb Coates of The News were standing against the south guardrail when the cruiser went off the north side of the same bridge. Sherow was able to get a picture of the disabled vehicle right after it crashed.

Traffic was detoured and 18 highway patrolmen were assigned to stay with the cruiser until it was moved.

That weekend, an estimated 125,000 spectators, reportedly from as far away as Wisconsin, flocked to Gomer to see the wreck, Evans said.

Parking space was limited and some walked as far as five miles to get a glimpse. Evans said some residents rented parking spaces, taking in as much as $50.

"Boys set up hot dog stands and sold hundreds of sandwiches at 10 cents," she said.

Crew members were able to lighten the cruiserís load by removing supplies and fuel, reducing the weight to 27 tons. They raised the wreck, she said, by lowering the hydraulically operated wheels so that shoring could be placed underneath. They repeated the process until the cruiser could be backed onto the roadway under its own power.

The cruiser was ready to move at noon Tuesday and the trip was eventually completed.

"But apparently it never fulfilled the hopes of Mr. Poulter," she said.

Evans said at last report, the vehicle is still in Antarctica partly buried in snow, unused and forgotten. Poulter, however, never forgot Gomer.

Evansí brother, John Partch, living in Menlo Park, Calif., met Poulter almost 40 years later. Partch worked as a chemist at the Stanford Research Institute, where Poulter also worked.

Her brother met Poulter for the first time and greeted him with "Mr. Poulter, you surely put my little home town on the map," Evans said.

Mr. Poulter responded, "You mean Gomer?"

Adm. Richard E. Byrdís crashed Snow Cruiser near Gomer in 1939

This page last updated: 13 August 2000