Rev. Edgar F. Wheeler: 17 We Get A Modern Road, A Life-Changing Event

In 1928 or 1929, the Kansas Highway Department felt that it was time to modernize the road system because of increased automobile ownership, increased traffic, and the need for a better system to transport produce to market.

The road past our home was just plain dirt, and not much more than a wagon road. It was just the breadth of a wagon from our barn or outbuildings. The mud became almost bottomless after spring thaw and heavy rain. There was a level stretch of road in front of Uncle Edwin’s home next door to us. One rainy day our 1923 Chevrolet open car sank to the axle in the mud there. As we tried to get it out, the car overheated and would not run. Dad never got it repaired, but removed the body and turned the chassis into a four-wheeled trailer.

Where two country roads intersected, they were like a cross with sharp right or left turns. The updating eliminated those sharp turns, cutting long gradual curves that were touted to be 75- mile per hour curves. For the average driver of that period, such a speed on a curve appeared beyond need. Even with today’s cars and improved road surfaces, I would not want to be riding or driving at that speed on those curves. Add to that the fact that the surface at that time was just plain gravel, an invitation to disaster!

Dad owned land on either side of the road to both east and west ends of the mile stretch there, so the highway department bought necessary land to accommodate the curves at a price requisitioned by legal process. I believe it was that sale that enabled our family to make a driving trip, along with Grandpa’s family, to Colorado.

The road was widened, making it necessary to tear down the old barn and rebuild it probably 200 feet to the south. That, in itself, was an exciting adventure for us kids. The methods and machinery used to build the road especially fascinated us. First, a man with a team of mules and walking plow made a furrow marking the curve. Then, teams pulling scrapers and wagons moved dirt to desired locations. Huge Caterpillar tractors pulled graders to excavate and level the road surfaces.

In the lower area west of our house, more modern equipment hauled larger amounts of soil. Mack trucks with open cab and solid rubber tires did that. Derrick-like devices of post and crossbar with cables and pulleys attached to lift the front of the bed to dump dirt. The trucks made deep ruts across the landscape that are still visible nearly eighty years later.

We children were impressed by the wide and high concrete bridges that replaced culverts.
We liked to run up and down the fairly high banks where the road was leveled on land rises. Probably those banks would not have appeared high at all to adults, and time has worn down the angles and vegetation has covered the surface.

In the late Thirties and Forties, traffic speeds increased with more advanced cars. We began to use the west driveway where we could see traffic in both directions. Later, with macadam road surfaces, we had to avoid using lugged tractors on the road, so we had to update to a new tractor that had rubber tires. In many ways the new road changed our pace of life, for good in some cases, negatively in others. Yet we would never want to return to the old narrow dirt roads with their right angle turns.

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