You can’t talk about Bernie Queneau without speaking about the Lincoln Highway. The nation’s first coast-to-coast paved road first brought him a brief period of fame. More recently it brought him love. Bernie and his highway are turning 100.
Bernard “Bernie” Queneau of Pittsburgh is turning 100 with his highway.
Queneau, one of a truckload of Eagle Scouts who traveled the length of the Lincoln Highway the summer of 1928, is passing the century mark at about the same time as the road which he followed on that “Safety Tour.” His July 14 birthday was celebrated Thursday night at a banquet at the Canton Club by those attending the annual Lincoln Highway Convention.
That convention, held in Canton this week at the McKinley Grand hotel, kicks off the centennial year celebration of the Lincoln Highway, conceived in 1912 and routed in 1913.
You can’t talk about Bernie Queneau without speaking about the Lincoln Highway. The nation’s first coast-to-coast paved road first brought him a brief period of fame. More recently it brought him love.
The name of that love is Esther — Esther McNaull Oyster of Ashland before she married Queneau in 2003.
“When he came to our conference (in 1997), everybody loved Bernie,” she said. “They still do.”
A LOVE STORY
Esther was president of the Lincoln Highway Association in 1997 when she decided to find Queneau, who was then 85. Her sister-in-law Mary Ann McNaull, the wife of Esther’s brother Cloyd, searched on the Internet for Queneau, and found that he was the only one of the four Eagle Scouts who had taken the trip who still was living.
“I figured we’d better get his story on film,” she recalled. So, in 1997 a member of the Lincoln Highway Association, Brian Butko, videotaped an interview with Queneau at the
Heinz History Center in Pittsburgh. His appearance at the 1997 Lincoln Highway Conference in Mansfield, to talk about the “Safety Tour,” came next.
“We didn’t meet again until five years later,” said Esther. “They were dedicating a plaque at the west end of the highway, in San Francisco. The conference that year was in Sacramento.”
Esther had moved to California and was attending that 2002 conference. Having already met Queneau, who was invited to give another talk at the conference, Esther was asked to be his escort to the plaque dedication. The trip took two hours to San Francisco, and, because of traffic, almost four hours back to Sacramento.
The two had time to talk.
“He was so intelligent and witty and interesting,” she remembered.
“She gave me a big hug in Sacramento and I was lost,” said Queneau. “We were married by the time of the next year’s conference. We went to it together.”
“That was our wedding trip,” his wife said with a smile.
The trip that brought them together, in a roundabout way, was taken by Queneau more than eight decades ago. Then a 16-year-old from New Rochelle, N.Y., Queneau was one of Four Eagle Scouts — a Scout leader, a driver and a publicity man also made the 1928 trip — who traveled 3,300 miles from New York to California along the Lincoln Highway in a 1928 Reo Speedwagon.
Page 2 of 2 - “It was made up to look like a Conestoga wagon,” he recalled. “We had wooden benches in the back. We went coast to coast on wooden benches. You have to be 16 to do that.”
The trip was a publicity stunt, said Queneau, designed to draw attention to the Boy Scouts and to remind America that the Lincoln Highway was available for their travel. The trip’s theme was one promoting safety during highway travel.
“They really made us work. We put on six Scout demonstrations a day and went 200 miles. We didn’t travel on Sundays.”
Queneau kept a diary — a request of his mother — for the entire trip. Its entry on July 13, 1928, shows that it rained the day they stopped in Canton.
The weather has been sunny and warm for their stay in the city nearly 84 years later.
Queneau took park in seminars at the Lincoln Highway Conference and participated in area tours offered during the event.
A sign at the McKinley Grand speaks to the high esteem in which Queneau is held by the Lincoln Highway Association.
“This conference is dedicated to Bernie Queneau. Almost 100 and still going strong.”
Queneau smiles at the stir his Boy Scout trip in 1928 has caused. Since that trip he has taught as a college professor, served as a commander in the Navy, and worked for years in quality control for U.S. Steel. But, his latter years have been filled with Lincoln Highway events. He even was the subject of a public television documentary, Rick Sebak’s “A Ride Along the Lincoln Highway.”
“I had forgotten all about the Lincoln Highway. I didn’t use the words Lincoln Highway for 69 years after the trip,” he said. “Then this lady called and I’ve been Lincoln Highway ever since.”