Those long and winding roads

By Rick Houser – 

After the very cold and rough winter we had this year I am sure you noticed how bad our highways and  private driveways took a beating. This spring the different level highway crews spent a lot of time and money in patching the roads so we wouldn’t have to tear our tires up on the potholes old man winter left us to remember him by.
As a matter of fact, looking at the roads this spring caused me to think a little harder and further back to the 50’s and 60’s and even the 70’s and recall how our roads compared then to today. The quick answer is, there is no comparison. I guess the first thing I need to say is that I had never seen a four-lane highway until Mom and Dad took Ben to Ohio State to college in the fall of 1958. We drove up I-71 and I really hate to admit this, but until that time I had never seen so much blacktop so well structured and so smooth and going on in four-lanes forever.
Until this trip I had only seen two-lane highways and I got to see them on our routine visits to Grandma and Grandpa Benton’s house outside of Owensville. Most of what I had grown up experiencing was going to Moscow down Fruit Ridge Road which was a county road and was one and a half lanes at best in width and surfaced with tar and chip. Two-lane highways were surfaced with blacktop for the most part. The other way from home was to Felicity which was up Fruit Ridge Road and then on up State Route 756 which was a state highway but barely two lanes and that had many one-lane bridges that could cause traffic troubles if you got the idea of going too fast and stopped driving defensively. (Watching out for oncoming traffic.)
Since my Dad was a township trustee I learned at a very young age that the township roads made up more roads than the county and state highways added together. If they didn’t, it was darn close. As I have said before, when Dad would go out to inspect a road or see if a road needed work, I was in the truck right beside him. He seemed to enjoy taking me along and maybe I had some good advice in this area. (I doubt it.) But I learned just how poorly constructed so many of the township roads were and I saw just how narrow and how easy they would erode.
The township roads were the ones that came from where settlers had decided to make their homesteads, so on many of these roads there might only be a two or three families that would live and use the road. Since dollars for road repair were few and maybe only a couple of voters might live on a road, it was hard to justify investing a lot into a road.
The progress of improvements moved along slowly. A township road was usually made of gravel only and only the wheel paths would hold the gravel. The center of the road would be green with grass as hardly any stone rested in the middle. About once a year a man working for the township would hook up to a piece of equipment that that was designed with four steel wheels and in the center a grading blade fastened on a pivot so that the blade could be turned to a desirable angle. When it was run down a township road the blade would scrape the surface and move the gravel around so that it would return stone to areas where it had gotten away from. Also, it would level any hump in the road and this was usually in the center. By removing the hump it exposed the flaws in the road and the trustees would haul in more new stone and spread it on the road causing the road to become much improved and all who traveled it became happier voters.
It seemed to me that the county and township roads were designed out of material that would allow it to be moved by the weight of the traffic to the center of the road. A county road was made with tar and chip. After a period of time the stone seemed to kick either to the center or off onto the berms and left the areas where the tires would run over as nothing but smooth tar. Bubbling tar was a great attraction for kids to play in when it was a hot day and would cause many a mother to be frustrated with the tar on their kids’ feet and clothes. (So I’ve heard anyway.)
Another area that brings back memories was that on our other farm we had a driveway a half-mile long back to the house and barns. It wasn’t straight, nor was it easy to care for. At least four times a year I had to attach a scraper blade to the tractor and blade that driveway. Since it was all loose gravel, it would hump greatly. There were three places where when it rained real hard the gravel would wash off the driveway and leave nothing but ruts. Had this been a township road or on up, more gravel would have been bought, but this was my Dad’s driveway and the way he saw it was I had time and a good shovel and rake to scoop up the washed away rocks and return them to the road and then level it nicely with a rake.
To this day when I drive past a lane that is designed out of gravel and has a grass center, that I think about just how easy it is for gravel to wash away. To this day I don’t think about the time when I grew up that I don’t think about those old winding roads. No they weren’t the best ever made, yet but they got us to where we wanted to go. Most of the time.

Rick Houser grew up on a farm near Moscow in Clermont County and loves to share stories about his youth and other topics. If you would care to read more of his stories he as them in two published books. ‘There are Places I remember” and Memories ARE From the Heart’ He can be reached at houser734@yahoo.