Muddy Roads

New Plymouth Road

New Plymouth Road 1904-1910

This is how many of our roads looked until after WWII in 1945-46 (when I was 12), when it was finally graveled and barrow pits graded at the sides to drain the water off.  Some roads were graveled to some degree. Then, in 1947, the county began to blacktop–first of course, the roads close to town.  The road here is actually in pretty good shape.

This photo must have been taken before the thaw.  Ruts normally could be almost axle deep and twice as wide as this, where folks tried to not get mired in the deep ruts.  Buggies were used by many until 1945, since cars could not negotiate many of the roads.  This photo was taken on Ada Road in front of a neighbor’s house (Albert’s – you can see their house).  You can imagine what these roads looked like after winter, when they became unfrozen and the rainy season started!  This area was actually one of the better ones.

Many kids rode horses to outlying one-room schoolhouses, because the distance to town was just too much when travel was so hard.  After the roads were graded and WWII over, the state consolidated most of the one-room schools into schools in town, so our classes doubled in size.  I was 12 and in the seventh grade when our consolidation of a dozen or more schools was done (1946).

Many kids rode horses to school in town because the “bus” just couldn’t get through their roads, or lanes or, in some cases, could not turn around.  And many of us just walked, rather than waiting for a “bus” that might or might not get there or standing out in the cold, not knowing if our wait would be in vain.  The girls’ legs would turn blue in the cold.  The  homemade “bus” had so many openings that the wind factor in the “bus” made it much colder in the “bus” than outside.  Many of us arrived at school looking very blue or cherry red!  We actually looked forward to pushing the stuck “bus” out of the mud. At least it warmed us up.

It was hard to say which was the best or worst season.  In summer the dust and ruts were horrific, flat places would turn to “washboard” conditions.  In spring and fall the ruts would be hard, and the rough ride of the trucks used for “buses” would just about shake your teeth out. You could not sit down on the benches provided, but would have to stand and bend so that your knees could soak up some of the jarring.  The bouncing would jitter-dance us all around the “bus” and chatter our teeth, so we made a game of it – kind of like bumper cars.  We loved to talk so we could hear our voices quiver with the jarring.  About once a year the county would grade these roads, but the smoothness did not last very long.  The farmers who lived along the road would occasionally “drag” the road with planks with weights on them to level out the bumps. That helped a little, but it always increased the dust.


The school board were practical men.  They knew the “buses” would need help getting  around the bad roads.  We believed that they deliberately scheduled the routes so the bigger boys were picked up first. Then they would be available to “push” the bus out of the mud holes.  The worst mud holes were at the end of long lanes where the bus had to turn around.  This was a big mess. So all the boys would get out (big and little), and push the bus through or out of the mud hole. The wheels would spin and splatter us from head to foot with mud and water.  By the time we got to school we were really a mess!  Clothes soaked, mud head to foot, shoes soaked.

But, our teacher took it in stride.  She would let us take our shoes and socks off and set them by the radiators—where they dried.  It was quite a sight to see twenty pair of socks – all colors – not necessarily matching – and all with “darning” to repair the holes in them.  I always thought that there must have been a “perverse” streak or two amongst our mothers – because they seemed to insist upon “girlie” colors to use for darning thread – pinks, baby blue, etc.!  So that we would be embarrassed!

Can you just imagine the scene?  A row of socks of all persuasions on each radiator – along with the smells of wet socks.  No “wet dog” ever smelled that bad. Let alone the rows of drying shoes!  For drying our clothes, the worst off could sit on the radiators alongside or on top of the drying socks while our wet clothes dried.

As it dried – the mud would just fall off. And we would rub it to flake it off. “Cleanliness” was always relative in those days!  So after such a session, there would be quite a pile of dirt and mud on the floor around the radiators.

Also, because our pants would have mud up to our belts — just sitting at our desks we would dry out. Of course the last area to dry was the seat of our pants where we were sitting.  It would also have a funny effect whenever we stood up! The rest of our pants would now be dry — but our seat still wet!

The caked mud would flake and fall off leaving each boy’s desk with a circle of mud flakes on the floor.  This was the very finest texture mud — easily smeared and transferred everywhere. So the teacher would just send one of us for a broom and dustpan to clean the room BEFORE letting us out for recess, and tracking it everywhere. School just went right on all during such sessions.  It was taken in stride, just like everything else.

The farmers (Mike King, Ralph Siple) who supplied our “buses” used them as trucks during the day.  They had a pulley mechanism that would lift the box off the truck, leaving the bed open for whatever they hauled.  Sometimes they hauled cow manure.  You can imagine how the buses smelled, because there was simply no way to really clean them off.  But, we were farm kids and were used to the cow and pig manure smell.  I’ll bet that none of my current readers could tolerate it for even minutes, let alone the hour it took the “bus” to make its round. In 1947, they finally got real school buses and paved the roads. We thought that we had died and gone to heaven!

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