Old Hwy. 40 gets historic designation
Less than two weeks after the Donner Summit Bridge rededication, the State Assembly and Senate unanimously adopted resolutions to recognize Old Highway 40 as a historic highway, and people involved in the decision from Donner Summit to the state capital are cheering.
“I’m really happy about the decision,” said Assemblyman Thomas “Rico” Oller. “It’s not a landmark decision, but it is an important decision for the communities along the route.”
The decision will bring recognition to the highway forgotten after the completion of Interstate 80 in 1960. The interstate made travel easy, but stripped the older highways, like Highway 40, of its regular traffic packed with tourists.
“I live and eat Highway 40,” said Eddie Lang, a longtime publisher and founder of the Historic California U.S. 40 Club. “It’s a cause that I feel strongly about.”
Lang, a native Texan, moved to Auburn in the late 1950s. He published a magazine focused on traveling the western highways until he received a call from Donner Ski Ranch owner Norm Sayler.
“He (Norm) told me that he didn’t like my magazine because it didn’t talk about Highway 40,” Lang said. “Norm told me about the efforts to bring recognition to the highway and asked if I would join the cause. I did and I haven’t stopped since.”
Lang said what makes the highway interesting is its history along its route from Atlantic City to San Francisco. He said the route has been paved over and diverted in many areas, but is really still where it has always been. Groups are being contacted in the East for information about the highway’s history, with an ultimate project to map the highway. Lang has already started to attempt mapping the highway and access to it, but said he has learned that it is a daunting task.
“We want people to know where the highway is and how to get to it,” he said. “It’s tricky.”
Lang said the real importance is bringing tourism back to the highway and being as accurate as possible with a Highway 40 map that is the key to the awareness of the highway’s scenic treasure.
“It’s all about history, tourism and entertainment,” he said.
The management at Donner Ski Ranch in Norden has been mixing these Highway 40 ingredients for the past decade. Sayler and Ranch General Manager Steve Grimm have successfully planned events focused on all three components. Historic rendezvous, motorcycle races and fairs have taken place at Donner Ski Ranch, and this year equestrian and mountain biking events were added to the list.
“I think it’s about time that the highway got the recognition it deserves,” Grimm said. “Maybe it will encourage others inside and outside the community to learn about the highway’s history.”
The history, Grimm said, that directly helped with the area’s development.
Sayler agreed, and said the highway means so much to so many people.
“People used to go on Sunday drives,” he said. “We are trying to encourage that. It’s like browsing, but from your car.”
The Town of Truckee embraced the nostalgia and passed a resolution in October to support Sayler’s efforts to make the route that is known as Donner Pass Road through town, historic.
“Property owners get scared when they hear that an area is recognized as historic,” Sayler said. “The historic designation only means that there is new signage and hopefully increased tourist traffic. There aren’t any new guidelines for construction or requirements for construction.”
Added awareness and the possibility for grant monies and highway improvements are topping the expectations for the highway’s supporters.
“We’re on the right track, but there is still a long way to go,” Lang said.
For information, call Lang at 887-9656 or write H.C.40.C, P.O. Box 4712, Auburn, Calif. 95604.
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