My life has had personal contact with several highways. Some of them are almost part of my daily existence. Others are part of my history. But today I am going to visit with you about U.S. 71 and U.S. 54 and a little bit about Highway 43.
I have traveled U.S. 71 all of my life. When I was a child we would drive to Kansas City several times during the summer to meet my father as he was working in a short break at home while on some of his travels for his job with the American Farm Bureau Federation. Of course the highway was only two lanes then and went into some of the towns it now bypasses. It seemed like it took a long time to get to Kansas City, but I enjoyed reading all the billboards along the way. (That was long before Lady Bird Johnson had her drive to beautify the highways by reducing the billboards.)
Many years later I frequently traveled U.S. 71 when Lester became the minister of the United Methodist Church at Archie and my parents were living here at The Wayside. During their last years I was their only child close enough to visit often so I usually came at least once a week. After my father died I came down several times each week.
I noticed the changes that had occurred since our childhood trips on the same highway. It was still only two lanes, but missed more of the towns. I happened to notice a certain old farm house on the west side of the highway that always seemed to have a clothes line full of diapers flapping in the wind. As time went on, the house took on a new look by having pink siding installed. That was an odd color for those times so I always watched for it as I passed. When the highway was expanded to a divided highway with four lanes, the house lost some of its frontage and was much closer to the pavement. However there often were still diapers on the line. Yesterday when I drove that same route to visit our great-granddaughter Marilyn in Adrian I looked for the same house. I almost missed it because it is now completely surrounded by trees and brush. It is obviously empty and the faded pink siding was barely visible from the road. I assume the diaper wearers had grown up and left home.
We travel U.S. 54 almost daily. Often two or three family members will drive on it in the same day. But I am the only one who can remember when U.S. 54 was a gravel road. What I remember the most about the paving of our highway was the detour we had to take to get to town. We had to turn off the usual road and go south two miles to what some people now call Happy Hollow Road. The west hill of that stretch of Little Drywood bottoms was quite a challenge for the old time automobiles and some people got out and walked to relieve the load, and to relieve their own anxiety about the steep hill. It is not just my childhood selective memory, that hill was actually much steeper then. Near the top of the western hill there was one final ridge that was the last straw for some old Model T cars. We didn't go to town as often as usual until they got the bridge constructed and that section of the road paved.
In more recent years they have made this road a divided highway with four lanes, until Highway 43 turns south. One of the biggest changes that improvement has brought is the number of really nice, well-kept homes and lawns that now grace our path to town.
Speaking of Highway 43, I also remember when it wasn't even a numbered road but was called simply a "Farm to Market Road." It was graveled which made it passable in rainy weather, where the other local roads were just dirt. The idea was that if you could get to this type of road which would lead to a town (market) or a paved road, you were not isolated in the country.
The present goal for rural transportation is to have a paved road within two miles of any home. Now it is easy to get almost anywhere from any rural home. But first you have to be able to afford the gasoline!