Life smoother in the bumpy days of dirt roads

I grew up in the era of dirt roads.

Dirt roads were our most prolific crop out in the country where I grew up.

My family lived across the road from one. My siblings and I and the neighbor kids churned up clouds of “smoke” on our bicycles as we practically jarred out our brains with hours of rough riding on the crater-pocked thrill that was a dirt road.

Life was slower in the era of dirt roads. It had to be. Otherwise motorists would lose wheels and gas tanks and such. Those were necessary and valuable, unlike our brains, which we hardly used anyway. It didn’t take brains to wipe out and skid into the ditch when popping a wheelie on a dirt road.

When you lived on a dirt road, your whole property was covered by a fine sheen of good clean dirt. It was like living inside a giant chalkboard, only instead of chalk, you drew funny faces on the house siding with your finger.

Every once in awhile, the township or county would spread what looked like tar and used motor oil on the dirt roads as a form of dust control.

If you thought moms threw fits at kids tracking dirt into the house, they really blew up at oily tar sneaker prints tracked all over the living room carpet.

Rainy season could become problematic. After a pounding thunderstorm, you could get stuck in the middle of a dirt road, which now was a mud road. Fortunately in the country, nearly every farmhouse came equipped with a couple of tractors and dozens of tow chains. Or a hog and baling twine. We’d pull your vehicle out of the middle-of-the-road muck one way or another. Dirt roads encouraged neighborliness and cooperation.

Our bus driver, Smokey, had the reputation of being a fast driver. We kids loved her as she bounced and jounced us home without unnecessary delay. We didn’t have to go to the dentist. All our baby teeth rattled out to and from school.

Some busybody claimed she was endangering our lives. So one day the superintendent of schools showed up at our elementary building in his expensive fancy car to follow Smokey on her route. He essentially became a traffic cop in suit and tie with a luxury car.

Our little miniature parade of big yellow school bus No. 17 and a shiny white Cadillac poked along the asphalt of the “improved road” in front of the school until we finally got to the dirt roads. Even at pokey speeds, dirt roads are bumpy and, well, dirty. The fancy schmancy car gasped and whimpered back toward smoother, paved sailing. Smokey punched the gas pedal, kicking up clouds of dust and gravel as we tore down the dirt road determined to make up for lost time. It was awesome!

You don’t need to bounce off to an amusement park for roller coaster rides when you live around dirt roads.

Dirt roads also discouraged tailgating. Get too close to the vehicle in front of you and you’d choke on the dust and your car would be pelted by mud clumps and rocks. Dirt roads taught patience.

I found an essay by Country magazine editor Delmar Wallen, who opined that America needs more dirt roads.

“Dirt roads build character,” Wallen wrote. “People who live at the end of dirt roads learn early on that life is a bumpy ride. … But it’s worth it if, at the end of the road, there’s a home with a loving spouse, happy kids and a dog.”

Here’s to dirt in your eye.

— Jounce along with Cole at burseyeview@tribtoday.com or at www.burtonwcole.com.


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