There is Facebook group I recently joined entitled “You are probably from or lived in Hinesville if you remember.” I have thoroughly enjoyed learning much about the city, county and things that happened years ago.
I ran across some short articles written by Robert Butch Beaver Jr., an Army child who grew up in Hinesville. His father was on the city council from 1979-83. Robert, who graduated from Bradwell in 1968, is retired and spends much time with his wife on the road in their RV, playing golf and volunteering as a swim instructor with YMCAs. They live in Moultrie, where his wife helps care for her elderly parents.
Robert said, “If I’m proud of anything, it is having served in the military for 30 years. I retired from the Army in 2005 as an O-6 and was fortunate to have commanded as captain, major, lieutenant colonel and colonel. My father wanted me to make a career of the Army, and it made me quite proud to make him proud.”
The other day, I was reading something Robert had written about dirt roads, and I asked him if I could share it with my readers and he graciously agreed.
“The other day, my wife told me she had run across an ad in the Moultrie paper from a farmer who was expecting a good crop of lady peas. Seeing as they are one of favorite foods, I jumped at the chance to get some. We called the farmer, negotiated a price and got the address. I Googled the location, and off I went.
“After a few miles down a county road, I turned onto a dirt road. After a couple of miles, I turned onto another one and then another one. Finally, I saw the mailbox, found the farmer and bought the peas. We spent two days shelling that bushel of peas but that will be enough for several months. I hadn’t spent much time on dirt roads lately but that started me thinking about dirt roads in my past. (Lady peas are my favorite also, but seldom can find any.)
“First time I ever drove anything was on a dirt road. I was 14 and my daddy had bought a used Vesper motor scooter. He let me drive it wherever I wanted to with one promise: no paved roads. It was 1964, and that did not present a problem. We lived on Stafford Street across from where Bradwell Institute is today.
“From there, I could cross the railroad tracks that came out of Fort Stewart and ride for miles without coming near a paved road. Bearing left would eventually take me to Highway 196 just on the far side of Garden Acres. Bearing right would take me onto Fort Stewart and its collection of tank trails.
“I did break the rules one time. A group of us raced each other down Highway 196 in our motor scooters. I remember it primarily because Karl Myers had somehow rigged his scooter with a stick shift. I’ll never forget the sight of gear shift sticking through the floorboard of his scooter. That said, it did work!
“The first time I ever drove a car was on a dirt road. It was still the summer of 1964, and my daddy had some business in Gum Branch one Sunday afternoon. When we were leaving, he asked if I wanted to drive. Stupid question! Of course, I did!
“We drove a few miles on the dirt roads in the area and eventually ended up on Highway 196. I expected him to tell me to pull over, but he let me drive all the way home.
“When I was 16, I inherited a paper route from the Barrington Brothers. It was a ‘county’ route, meaning that I had to deliver papers on just Sunday. The route ran from the laundromat by the Coastal Bank out to Branch’s Fishing Camp running through Dorchester, Midway, Sunbury and Isle of Wight. That was a round trip of 96 miles with more half of them on dirt roads running off Highway 84, Highway 17 and the other road from Midway out to Yellow Bluff. I still remember the arbor of oak trees as you turned off Highway 17 and headed east toward the coast. To this day, I have never seen one as attractive as that half-mile drive of oaks covered with moss, especially with the sun rising early in the morning with the air thick with summer mist.
“Those miles and miles of dirt roads taught me a lot about the differences between ‘city folks’ and ‘country folks,’ and I met some pretty interesting characters. There was one lady who put the money in her window behind the screen, so I had to pry it open to get the $2 each month. There were those who just didn’t have it to pay, and then there were those that didn’t particularly want to share it with me. There were those that paid for one newspaper from the machine, but took several.
“And then there was Mr. Givens, who owned the funeral home and was married to the delightful Mrs. Givens who taught English at Bradwell Institute. He’d pull out a huge wad of cash and could have easily paid me for the whole year in advance. Instead, he made me come by each month for the $2. It was a somewhat understanding that he enjoyed flashing his huge wad of money more than he did talking to me, but I dutifully stopped by his funeral home each month to watch him fish in his pocket for his money roll.
“I saw some sad things on these dirt roads. Once, I knocked on a door on a Sunday afternoon to collect money but no one answered. The door was open and after my eyes adjusted to the dark interior, I saw my customer passed-out drunk wearing his Sunday church clothes. I had a very elderly lady customer who could barely walk to the door and, unfortunately once opened, the stench was unbearable. I could tell she had no running water in that old frame house and I quit collecting the money even though I made sure she got her paper.
“I later bequeathed the paper job to Roger Sasser after I got a job at WGML, the local radio station, which, interesting enough, was on a dirt road as well. Driving on dirt roads presents its own peculiar set of circumstances.
“For example, you never have to worry about being tailgated because the plumes of dust are so thick that the car following you has to lie back a few yards to make sure they have time to react if you hit your brakes. Not that you could see the brake lights clear in those days, as they were so small.
“Driving on a wet dirt road was another challenge. Instead of ‘hydroplaning’ one had to worry about ‘mudroplaning.’ That slick Georgia red clay could get real slick real fast on a tight dirt-road curve. I’ve seen more than a few cars straddling a culvert or two after a good strong thunderboomer.
“You also knew you couldn’t outrun anyone because every turn made a telltale cloud of dust marking your new direction. Of course, if you were discreetly following someone, it was actually an asset. After a good rain, the roads fell victim to the washboard effect, leaving a series of shallow ruts running from side to side.
“Driving at a safe speed meant you would shake yourself to death after a while. Driving faster smoothed out the ride but that raised the risks of hitting a curve too fast. Dirt roads do not offer the friction of pavement when it comes to tight turns.
“And then, of course, was the ever-present layer of talcum-powder dust that settled on anything and everything within 50 yards of a dirt road. This was slightly problematic when it came to keeping your newly shined shoes clean. It was a real problem when you bit into your bologna sandwich and discovered it had invaded your food. Dust, no matter how fine, was bad because it didn’t chew well at all!
“Progress brings paved roads, and that’s a good thing. But the dirt roads are still there; they just happen to be the roads less travelled. I wonder if Robert Frost ate bologna sandwiches?”