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Long trips on dusty roads

Long stretches of two-lane highway capped with a three-inch layer of asphalt or tar-on-gravel surface were an exception to the rule when I was a country boy growing up on a farm in East Central Alabama.   

Splitting our 50-acre homestead was a narrow dirt road that began in the eastern foothills of the Cheaha Mountains and ended at the Tallapoosa River, separating Randolph and Clay counties.  

The road’s historic significance was linked to the westward movement of early Georgia settlers into Alabama in the 1800s. More than 100 years later, it was used primarily by farmers to drag plowing equipment from field to field and ensure daily and once weekly runs of the rural postal carrier and rolling store.  

Imagine, years later, jumping into the back of a pickup truck and getting a good dusting on the way to town to see a Saturday afternoon movie. 

There were other pockets of heavily traveled unpaved roadways in Alabama that created problems for motorists during the World War II era. 

The Horseback Mountain Road, a gravel-covered demon that snaked its way through the northern peaks of the Talladega National Forest for 13 miles – from Highway 78, which is now Interstate 20, to Hollis Crossroads, which is State Highway 9, was one of them. Its gravel roadbed, with chunks of limestone rock as big as a man’s fist, made it an accident waiting to happen.  

We had no choice but to travel on the “Horseback” anytime we made an overnight visit from our home in Etowah County to the homes of our relatives who lived in Clay County. To be prepared for a roadside emergency, we carried as many spare tires as we could get into the trunk of our 1936 model Chevrolet sedan, along with a jack, lug wrench and patching kit.  

More often than not, they became a part of our travel day.  

As our father worked without ceasing to fix a flat and get us back on the road, us kids played our usual fun games without realizing our trip had been interrupted. Little did we realize long trips on dusty road would become a thing of the past, and we’d become backseat passengers in cars driven by our grandchildren at breakneck speeds.