LIGONIER, Pa. - Vo-tech students in four Pennsylvania counties will design and build giant roadside displays along a section of the Lincoln Highway.
The projects will pay homage to the nation's first transcontinental highway along a 200-mile stretch of what is now U.S. Route 30 from North Huntingdon Township in Westmoreland County to Gettysburg.
That stretch of road is the pet project of the Lincoln Highway Heritage Corridor, a Ligonier-based nonprofit group dedicated to preserving Pennsylvania's leg of the highway.
The heritage corridor got a $49,340 grant from the Community Connections-Pittsburgh 250 Initiative to pay for the giant exhibits that will enhance the Lincoln Highway Roadway Museum. The museum is a collection of 75 roadside exhibits that celebrate the highway's history in Pennsylvania, including barnside murals, kitschy landmarks such as a renovated coffeepot-shaped building near Bedford, and historical markers.
"We're always trying to get a buzz going about the Lincoln Highway," said Olga Herbert, executive director of the Lincoln Highway Heritage Corridor. "It's a nice way to involve the community and have students work within a budget."
The San Francisco-to-New York highway, was the brainchild of Carl G. Fisher, an Indiana entrepreneur who sold bicycles until the motor car craze of the early 1900s. In 1913, Fisher launched a national campaign to build the highway to boost the automotive industry and Prest-O-Lite, the automobile headlamp company he owned.
Congress passed federal highway legislation to make the road and others like it a reality. The last stretch of the road was paved, in Nebraska, in the 1930s.
Locally, Route 30 is known as Lancaster Avenue, which runs from Philadelphia through the Main Line toward - what else? - Lancaster. In Chester County, Route 30 picks up the name Lincoln Highway. In Camden, part of Route 30 is known as the Admiral Wilson Boulevard.
Two of the giant exhibits will be built by students from Westmoreland County, and one each by students in Bedford, Franklin and Somerset Counties. The Central Westmoreland Career and Technology Center is already on board and other vocational schools are being solicited.
The projects will be limited only by the students' imagination and some broad design categories. The roadside giants must depict a vintage vehicle, a historical figure linked to the road, a Lincoln Highway-era figure (such as a gasoline attendant or diner waitress) or some kind of vintage highway equipment, such as an older-style gasoline pump.
Commercial art students in Westmoreland County will design the exhibit, while welding students will put it together, said Clentin Martin, administrative director of the Central Westmoreland vo-tech school. Building trades students will transport the pieces and install the exhibit, while culinary students will be asked to make a giant cake replica of the project.
Martin wouldn't say what is planned at this point.
"We're in the process of getting together, brainstorming what the actual sculpture will be," Martin said.
A professional structural engineer will oversee each of the five roadside exhibits.
Herbert said the projects will hopefully be finished by June.
"We have to make history fun for these students," Herbert said. "This is something they can really get their arms around."