Turnpike History

Meet Raymond - Present at the Creation

By Joe Agnello
Raymond N. Summy

As the original 160-mile Pennsylvania Turnpike approaches its 60th birthday and full-fledged senior citizenship in October 2000, opportunities dwindle to visit with those who had a hand in its creation. Meet Raymond N. Summy of Grantville (Dauphin County), an even fuller-fledged senior citizen and one of the precious few alive today whose employment with the Turnpike Commission ended before America’s first superhighway opened. "I was thrilled to be a part of it," said Summy, 83, who retired in 1974 from the then four-year-old Pennsylvania Department of Transportation after a long career as a civil engineer.

It was considered to be the eighth wonder of the world."

Hired as an apprentice by the Pennsylvania Department of Highways in July 1937 after taking a correspondence course in mechanical drafting from Chicago Institute, Summy was placed in a special engineering unit that was providing support services relative to the planning of a limited-access, four-lane divided configuration toll road that would be operated by the Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission. Gov. George Earle had signed the legislation authorizing the PTC’s creation just two months earlier. Summy, a 1934 graduate of Highspire High School, was stationed first at Newville but soon was moved to Shippensburg, one of four field offices at which design and construction of the new road was supervised.

At first, he pored over the findings of mining surveyors who measured the elevation of the borings in the unfinished tunnels that had been dug some 50 years earlier along the proposed route of William H. Vanderbilt’s ill-fated Southern Pennsylvania Railroad. Summy and his counterparts would then draw cross-sections of the new highway and calculate how much more excavation would be needed at the tunnels to make room for the superhighway. He remembered visiting one of the tunnel sites on his own time with family and friends and his sister-in-law telling him "they’ll never (be able to) go through there (with a new highway)." He chuckled, "I reminded her of that on their 50th wedding anniversary." Later, after completing a highway engineering course on his off time from International Correspondence School, he found himself engaged in other details of the project - the road itself, configuring interchanges, doing grading analysis.

Employing design specifications and safety standards that had only been imagined in this country and placing this new high-speed roadway through south-central Pennsylvania’s mountains and narrow, twisting river valleys was an imposing task. "It was tricky moving all this earth around to support the road," he said. "Some of your materials could be a lot of rock, some was loose ground. The goal was to minimize the need for outside fill. They showed us movies of the German autobahns." Begun in 1933, the autobahns were designed for 100-MPH travel and eventually extended for more than 2,300 miles. Many of the principles incorporated into the autobahns or seen at General Motors’ Futurama exhibit at the 1939-40 New York World’s Fair, which included a vision of life in 1960 showing tiny cars racing along limited-access superhighways, were used in the design of the Turnpike. He occasionally drove stretches of the Turnpike before it opened visiting batch plants to help perfect the recipes for the Turnpike’s concrete pavement. "Obviously, there was no traffic to contend with," Summy recalled. "I found out how fast my 1936 Plymouth would go - 85 miles per hour."

As construction wound to completion in late summer 1940, Summy’s employment with the Turnpike Commission also drew to a close. After a brief stint with a sandblasting company in Hagerstown, Md, he spent the World War II years as a map-maker with the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Soil Conservation Service in Beltsville, Md. before joining Gannett Fleming engineers, one of the consulting firms contracted by the PTC for design of the Turnpike’s Eastern (Carlisle to Valley Forge), Western (Irwin to Ohio) and Northeast extensions. They opened in November 1950, December 1951 and November 1957 respectively.

Summy then rejoined the Pennsylvania Department of Highways, first as a cartographer, and by the late 1950’s was back in highway design as the nation’s Interstate Highway System began to take shape. Highway engineers were in demand nationwide and Summy decided to try Florida and work and work with a consulting firm that designed stretches of Interstate 4 between Daytona and Tampa. He rejoined the Pennsylvania Department of Highways again in 1960, left again for what turned out to be a seven-month stint with the Florida Highway Department in Fort Lauderdale, and then returned to the Pennsylvania Department of Highways for the remainder of his career. In 1970, the Pennsylvania Department of Highways was dissolved after a 67-year existence and the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation (PENNDOT) was born.

Summy and his wife Anna were married in January 1938 and have four sons ranging in age from 39 to 59. Ray Jr., the oldest, retired from Boeing North America in 1997. His career included 19 years with the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), where he was involved in operation and maintenance of the space shuttle (including re-design of the thermal protection system or exterior tiles). Their three other sons have careers in the U.S. Air Force. In 1988, Summy’s youngest son recruited him out of the stands to catch for his slow-pitch softball team in the Hershey area Palmyra Softball League so that his team would not have to forfeit a game for lack of players. Dad remained with the squad for the rest of the season and wore number 72, his age at the time. He and Anna were instrumental in the formation of the Tri-County Senior Games for older Americans in Dauphin, Perry and Cumberland counties. They got the idea after a trip to Sanford, Fla. and joint participation in the Senior Olympics. "I’d like to do a lot more of that stuff but I can’t," he joked. "I’d like to play softball again."