Ottawa Test Loop
That game got old pretty quick.
A cursory internet search produced no information until very recently. Like this morning. After learning about the Ottawa test road's history and the important role Illinois played in the development of the pavement we drive (distracted) on every day, I thought it would be neat to share it here.
The plan for the test road site was sketched out by the AASHO team and was bordered by US Route 6 to the south, and nestled between Illinois Route 178 in Utica and Illinois Route 23 near Ottawa. The configuration would call for six test loops over a seven mile stretch of virgin farmland. Different loops would be subject to various tests of actual vehicular traffic over a two-year period.
|Construction of AASHO Test Track. Circa 1956.|
Construction began in August of 1956 and the various loops were assorted in size, application, and building method. Some sections used an asphalt mix, while others were straight concrete. There were a total of more than 800 short road test sections. Nearly 20 small bridge spans were crafted to examine everything from bracing techniques to pavement degradation. In all aspects, the AASHO engineers did their homework.
|The U.S. Army Transportation Corps carried out tests at the Ottawa Test Loop. Neighbors included miles of corn field and country roads. Photo Credit: Gerry Buehler|
|Ribbon Cutting Ceremony at Test Loop #6. October 15, 1958.|
|A truck leaves a turn-around and enters the straightaway at the Ottawa Test Loop. Photo Credit: Gerry Buehler|
If you look at the map of the test site above, you'll notice the army barracks on site. I'm sure working there had its high points, but to me, driving a 1950's semi truck in a circle all day in the middle of the Illinois countryside doesn't sound appealing. The value of their work was ultimately realized by the engineers and number crunchers in the main office. The data that was collected was indeed carried out during their 'experiments' behind the wheel. This laboratory was open until November of 1960, when the testing ceased and the AASHO compiled the data for publication and reference.
|Fuel Stop. Circa 1958|
And as more Americans wanted more and more goods and services delivered to them in the post-war boom years, the folks at the AASHO knew that more and more trucks would have to travel the interstates full of heavy trailers. Trailers crammed full of shiny Kelvinator refrigerators, Philco television sets and cases of Bubble Up cola. It wasn't just the big trucks that needed to go on a diet. The average weight of the American automobile was also creeping up toward 4500 pounds by the end of 1950's and there were more of them. More motorists and wider use of popular road network meant someone would have to eventually take care of it. This would eventually put a financial burden on the federal government to maintain the massive interstate system that was already under construction. Armed with the evidence, the AASHO clearly spelled out what causes the most damage to a highway and the best ways to counter that damage by sound construction and maintenance methods. Pretty neat stuff when you dive into the history of a simple road sign. If you pass it next time you're on I-80, give it a glance. That stretch of road near Ottawa, Illinois will never look the same to me again.
Epilogue, 5/2015 : I would like to extend a hearty thank-you to Gerry Buehler for sharing his service in the U.S. Army and for sharing his experience and photos from his time at the Ottawa Test Loop in 1960. (You can read his recollections in the comments section below.)
Its incredible history and we're grateful for your willingness to get in touch.
-D*Photos in today's post were also courtesy of the Federal Highway Administration. They're good people.