Dirt roads can jar, but life on them is worth it

One thing all rural counties have in common is roads. Roads that are built by and maintained by counties and their equivalent localities exist in every state in the nation. Some are better than others, but they are all an integral part of a state's highway system.

County roads in Texas have existed for years. Originally landowners could work off a portion of their taxes by maintaining the county road that ran through or adjacent to their property. Over the years things have changed and the county now takes care of the roads.

For the majority of my life I have lived on county roads. Growing up, the road in front of the house was dirt but then we moved up a notch to a shell road. I lived near the coast and oyster shell roads were a great advancement over the black gumbo that would stick to everything when slightly wet. Oyster shell was however tough on the feet.

Most of the roads in the Alief area where I grew up were dirt. Black gumbo that was so sticky you would have to clean your shoes every hundred yards or so to be able to walk. Stuck to everything shoes, bicycle tires you name it our local mud stuck. Then the day after the rain it was concrete again.

Those roads were easy to maintain. It would rain, they would rut and then the county would grade and you had a new road again. I do not remember the rub board that gravel roads seem to inevitably get right before an intersection or stop sign. I never have figured that out.

Those roads are all gone today. Matter of fact, the road in front of the house was seal coated in the early sixties. By the mid- to late-sixties the only dirt roads left in the area were on the farms that remained.

One thing I do remember well is that the new concrete roads in the subdivisions would always flood when it rained. The dirt roads never did. It must have had something to do with the ditches.

Milam County roads are mostly gravel roads. There are some that are paved and some that are still dirt, but the majority of the roads in the county are gravel. I live on a gravel road. Living on a gravel road, I do know about the problems. The dust, the ruined tires that have been sliced by razor sharp f lint rock and the occasional tree across the road that impedes your travel.

I have some city friends that have come up and they remark about the roughness of the road or the dust and ask questions. Questions like, "How do you stand the dust? How often do you have to wash your car?"

I have never had time to explain to them that there are a great many benefits to living on a gravel road, and they far outweigh the inconveniences. I tell about the drives to work when I have to be careful not to hit the deer crossing the road. I ask if they see painted buntings in the road picking up gravel on their way to work. Oh, and how are the wild flowers in the spring, the red bud or the dogwood trees in bloom along their drive to work?

Paul Harvey once said that what is wrong with society today is that too many dirt roads have been paved. He went on to say, "People that live at the end of dirt roads learn early on that life is a bumpy ride. That it can jar you right down to your teeth sometimes, but it's worth it, if at the end is home, a loving spouse, happy kids and a dog."

It has been said that you never really appreciate some things until you lose them. Progress is all about improving things. I can remember maps that list "improved roads" on their legend.

I am just not real sure that you can improve on life on a country road.

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2009-07-16 digital edition

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