Interview with Dennis Boots of the Military Vehicle Preservation Association by Rob Hodges, THC Social Media Coordinator
On September 19, 2015, a convoy of historic military vehicles set out from Washington, D.C. for a 3,400-mile journey along the old Bankhead Highway. The procession will reach San Diego on October 17, having crossed 11 states, including Texas, in 29 days. Officially known as the MVPA 2015 Bankhead Highway Convoy (BH15), it’s organized by the Military Vehicle Preservation Association (MVPA). We spoke with Dennis Boots, an MVPA organizer of the convoy, about the original Bankhead Highway convoy in 1920, what it takes to pull off such a transcontinental expedition, when the group will be in Texas (October 2–10), and some fun public events in Dallas-Fort Worth.
Tell us about the Military Vehicle Preservation Association (MVPA).
The MVPA has been in existence since 1976. We have approximately 8,000 members worldwide. We are a 501(c) organization based out of Independence, Mo. There are two main facets of the MVPA. The first is to restore and display, so vehicles are either exactly like or better than when they came off the assembly line. The second facet is our convoy groups. We restore our vehicles to a condition as original as possible, using parts that are available from dealers throughout the world. Then, we run our vehicles on historic military convoy routes. One of the main goals of the MVPA is to educate the public, to show them the military vehicle history, and to renew old acquaintances with the men and women of our armed forces. They bring out their grandchildren and say, “This is what grandma rode in during World War II when we took airplanes across the country. We rode out on the runway in these old Jeeps.” That would be our WASP women who were stationed out of Sweetwater.
Getting back to the convoy vehicles, these are working vehicles. They travel at 30–35 mph for eight hours a day. So one of the main things we require is that the vehicles be in exceptionally good condition and be ready to roll.
Why is the MVPA staging this convoy along the old Bankhead Highway?
In 1916, there was an act in Congress called the Good Roads Act, and it was headed by the speaker of the house at that time, John Hollis Bankhead. The Army decided it needed to get goods and services from the East Coast to the West Coast, and in 1919, it commissioned a convoy that went from the Ellipse at the White House [a park south of the White House] to San Francisco on the Lincoln Highway. And you’ve got to understand that “highways” back then were little more than mud roads at times.
After driving the Lincoln Highway, the Army realized it’s adversely affected by mountains and winter weather. They needed a southern route. So in 1920, the Army commissioned a second transcontinental motor convoy to go from Washington, D.C. to San Diego, and they named it after the speaker of the House, John Hollis Bankhead, from Jasper, Alabama. He never saw it come to fruition. He died that summer before the convoy took off, but it did go through his hometown, as will we.
Tell us a little about yourself and how you got involved in the MVPA.
When I was 19 back in 1966, I joined the Army. I worked my way up from private E-1 and went through Engineer Officer Candidate School. Within a year of being an enlisted man, I was a second lieutenant and remained in the Army for over five years. The last two and a half years, I attained a rank of captain of combat engineers. I had a tour of duty in Vietnam. After that, I remained interested in military vehicles.
I’ve lived in Denton since 1963 and been married for 48 years. I was a building contractor and have been retired for four years. I’ve been on two previous convoys. The Lincoln Highway Convoy in 2009 from Washington, D.C. to San Francisco was another 3,400-mile convoy. I also did the Alaska Highway Convoy in 2012, which went from Dawson Creek, British Columbia, through Alaska to the Arctic Circle and back to Dawson Creek for a total of 4,100 miles.
What is your role in the BH15?
I will be the second in command. It’s called the executive officer, or XO, and I will also be the scout. I developed all the maps. It took me two years, following road maps we had from 1920 and John Asa Rountree’s journal—he was the scout back then, more or less.
Were you involved as a planner in the Lincoln and Alaska highway convoys?
Yes, I have been involved in the convoys virtually since day one. I became an MVPA member in 2005. On the previous two convoys, I was maintenance officer and trail officer. We have a group of about six vehicles at the end of the convoy, and that maintenance group picks up any broken-down vehicles and either fix them on the spot or get them towed to the next spot and repaired. I was trail officer, the last vehicle in the convoy, for both those. And now as executive officer, I’ll go to the front, about 15 minutes ahead of the convoy, making sure the route is clear. I’ve been involved in the planning on all three convoys.
What are some of the logistics involved in planning such an expedition?
We have to decide on the route. In this case, I had to do two years of research. I lay out the route we’re traveling based on historical information. The Bankhead Highway has been covered over or moved in places, and we have to determine the best route for us to travel. Then, we have to determine stopping points, and we email a letter of introduction to all the towns along the route. We show them newspaper clippings from the 1920 convoy, and a lot of them volunteer to help out and have been fantastic in their support.
Getting back to logistics, we have to make sure that fuel is available. We get out to West Texas, and it’s a long way between fill ups, so we need to make sure that our people have sufficient fuel onboard. We also have to have sufficient spare parts. We identify all the parts for each vehicle and figure out where things can be ordered in the case of an emergency. We identify lodging at each town along the way. We provide lists of lodging in each city for our participants, and it’s up to them to make their own reservations. Sometimes cities or veterans’ organizations provide us a meal or put us up in a local park with hookups, which is great. Sometimes they can’t afford to feed us, but they can prepare a meal and we pay them back, and that’s great. We’re happy for any help we can get. We also coordinate with law enforcement agencies in each town, so that we’re escorted through town and not stopping at every light. They take us through town in a parade formation, and the town turns out.
How many vehicles and people will participate in the cross-country trek?
We’ll have at any one time 55–60 HMVs, or historic military vehicles, and they range from Jeeps to five-ton or larger tractor-trailer rigs. On this one, we’ll have a 1918 Dodge Brothers command car, which was also on the 2009 convoy, and more modern vehicles like an MRAP [Mine-Resistant, Ambush-Protected]. There will be about 130 people on the convoy. All along the way, there will be people coming in to join the convoy, and people going out. There are probably close to 50 that will be going coast-to-coast.
Tell us about your vehicle you’ll be driving.
The M151A2 was made by American General Corporation. It’s the last of the Jeeps as we know them.
What portions of the Bankhead Highway in Texas are you most looking forward to?
Texas has about 850 miles of the entire route. One-quarter or more of the entire route will be within the state. I’m going to toot our own horn here. Texas is about as varied a state as you can find, and we’re going from the Pineywoods of East Texas through the Cross Timbers area, through Dallas-Fort Worth, and to the desert Southwest. I love Texas, and I’m looking forward to seeing every bit of it. But what I’m really anxious about is the convoy members who have never been to this part of the country. I want to put our best foot forward in the state of Texas, and I think they’re going to be amazed. I think people have a preconceived notion about what Texas looks like, and I’m excited to show them the diversity of the state and what we have to offer. I hope they go back home and say, “Wow. If I were moving, I’d head for Texas!”
Have you already driven the Texas portion of the Bankhead Highway on your own?
I’ve driven every mile of it. Back in February 2014, my wife and I drove the route on the way out to a conference in San Diego. We also have family in East Texas, so we’ve driven that portion of the route many times.
Tell us about the public event in Fort Worth on Monday, October 5. If people come out to Farrington Field, what can they expect to see?
Well, let me back up just a little. On Sunday, October 4, we’ll depart Garland at 9 a.m., and their police department will escort us to the city limits. Then, we’ll be picked up by Dallas motorcycle officers and brought into Fair Park. At 11 a.m., we’ll parade from the parking area at the State Fair to the Hall of State. The flag will be raised, and military songs will be played by the Marine Corps band. Then, we’ll parade through the Fair again and have lunch there. We’ll depart around 1–1:30, and Dallas motor officers will escort us through downtown. We’ll follow Elm Street, which was the Bankhead Highway there, then cross Dealey Plaza, and then head for Fort Worth. We should arrive at Farrington Field by around 2:30.
A number of our vehicles will be staging at Farrington Field, and the public is welcome to come out then or all day Monday [the convoy’s rest day]. Our people are anxious to talk to folks and show them the vehicles. And I want to make one thing very clear—these are not show vehicles. We encourage the public to come out and touch the vehicles. Sit in them. Bring the grandkids and have them sit in them or crawl over them. These are working vehicles.
Is there anything else you’d like to leave our audience with?
In 2017, we’ll be back in Texas on Route 66. We’ll be going from Chicago to Los Angeles.
You can also experience the history of the Bankhead Highway in our free mobile tour, “Historic Bankhead Highway.” An interactive map, videos, and photos allow travelers to revisit familiar places and discover nostalgic gems from among the many vintage diners, cafés, motels, hotels, museums, and attractions along the route. View the tour on the web, or download the full Texas Time Travel Tours app to your iOS or Android device.