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Frank Gray

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Courtesy Jeff Blair
Jeff Blair poses Friday in Dyer, Ind., at the Illinois border, where he started his walk across Indiana.

Lincoln Highway trek adds cause

Jeff Blair was born in Goshen, but it wasn’t until he retired and moved to a house on Lake Tippecanoe in Kosciusko County that he learned from a brochure that the original Lincoln Highway passed within a block of his boyhood home.

Blair, who had lived all over the country during his career, was fascinated by that little fact, and suddenly he found a whole new interest in retirement. He became active in the Indiana chapter of the Lincoln Highway Association – he’s currently the group’s president – and traveling the highway became a passion.

The Lincoln Highway, in case you don’t know, was the idea of Carl Fisher, who built the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. It was built in 1913 and was the first coast-to-coast highway in America, passing through 750 towns along the way.

In 1928, the route was adjusted to make it straighter, and that year Boy Scout troops throughout the country put up 3,000 concrete markers along the way to guide travelers.

The interstate highway system eventually made the old highway obsolete. The interstates bypassed cities, and the little towns, gas stations, restaurants and motels along the old highway withered.

But the Lincoln Highway is still there, and Blair is following its route, on foot, across Indiana for the second time (the first in 2011), discovering the remnants of what travelers would have found 80 to 100 years ago.

Blair, who is trying to raise money for the Lincoln Highway Association and the Alzheimer’s Association of Greater Indiana, started his walk in Dyer on Friday. He will passing through Warsaw, Columbia City, Fort Wayne and New Haven from Thursday through Sunday on his 154-mile walk along the highway’s route. The trek is scheduled to end Monday at the Ohio state line.

The Alzheimer’s connection, Blair says, just came to him one night. His father-in-law has Alzheimer’s. Everyone has heard of Alzheimer’s, but not that many people are familiar with the Lincoln Highway, he said, so he decided to raise money for both organizations and bring some attention to the highway at the same time.

Along his way, Blair plans to stop at every museum and tourism office he comes across, discover the remnants of the highway, including some of those markers Boy Scouts put up 86 years ago. Many have disappeared or ended up in museums, but some still stand.

So far, Blair has discovered a half-mile-long stretch of the highway, still in its original brick, and two buildings from the 1870s that were standing when the highway first came through and which are now bed-and-breakfast inns.

It’s an opportunity to look at the way people lived their lives 150 years ago, Blair said.

It is a different look at the way America traveled when the automobile was new and ordinary people were venturing out to cross the country in cars for the first time.

Blair is following the newer, 1928 route. He’ll be easy to spot. He’s the one wearing the lime green shirt.

He’s welcoming people to join him on his trek, if only for a little while. Anyone who does will get a bright orange T-shirt that says Alzheimer’s and Lincoln Highway on it.

He also has a website, www.blairwalk.com.

Frank Gray reflects on his and others’ experiences in columns published Sunday, Tuesday and Thursday. He can be reached by phone at 461-8376, by fax at 461-8893, or by email at fgray@jg.net. You can also follow him on Twitter @FrankGrayJG.

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