Around 1910 tourist travel in our wonderful state had increased and several associations realized there was a need for visitors to drive from one end of the state to the other without getting lost in a wheat field. This kind of travel would require a system of cross-state highways that linked Kansas with other states and provided travelers with the necessities en route. Up to this point these requirements were only being met by private individuals and private initiatives. The route was first marked between Junction City and Salina, and then in 1911 it was extended to create a link between Kansas City and Colorado Springs. This route came to be known as the Golden Belt Road, and became one of the most important of seven highways that crossed Kansas by the end of 1911.
The Golden Belt Highway got its name from the band or belt of yellow paint on roadside telephone poles. These yellow belts guided and reassured travelers in the 1920s that they were still following the path they intended to. These belts marked the Golden Belt Highway, now Highway 40, all the way across Kansas. These bands were painted by members of the Geary County Automobile Club.
The club was formed on June 6th in 1913 and had approximately forty members to its name. At their suggestion an advisory board was named with one member from each township in the county and two from the city. The matter of painting signs on the poles throughout the county on the Golden Belt Highway was taken up at the first meeting. Twenty men volunteered their services and went out the following Monday to paint the yellow rings around the poles on the route.
Very soon this highway connected Kansas to other major highways across the country including the Old Trails Highway to the Atlantic Coast and the Trail to the Sunset out of Chicago. Eventually the Golden Belt became part of a national highway known as Pikes Peak Ocean to Ocean Highway to advertise its tourist attractions.
By 1924 the American Association of State Highway Officials stepped in. They recommended a new country wide system of numbering highways. It was decided that roads going from east to west be given even numbers with chief routes assigned numbers 10, 20, 30, 40, etc. North to south roads would be given odd numbers with main roads ending with 1 or 5. The success of the numbered system was immediate and overwhelming.
Highway 40 is mentioned in the “WPA Guide to 1930s Kansas” which in addition to facts and historical trivia boasted some of the best travel information. These guides were researched and written by unemployed Americans, the WPA (Works Progress Administration) writer’s project which kept these people busy producing guides to all 48 states. The tours highlighted different aspects of the Kansas landscape and tourist attractions. For example, Tour 3 started in Kansas City and headed west on Highway 40 through Topeka, Junction City, and on to Weskan. The trip would take you 451.1 miles from the Missouri line.
As you travel along old Highway 40, once named the Golden Belt Highway, you are actually following some of the same route that was used in the settlement of this country.
Henry Harrison (H.H.) Ziegler was the president of the Geary County Automobile Club