Roadcommissioners

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by Bob Sanders

They are (finally) resurfacing the little street by our house in Prestige Plaza. They put the tar on the cracks many moons ago, and now they are actually doing the work.
It makes me think about commissioners, then and now. In Frontier Country, it was common knowledge that commissioners took care of the roads. In fact, they were commonly called roadcommissioners, one word. Judge (probate) Johnson took care of everything else. Uncle Grady was a commissioner a time or two. He was in some bitter races with Mr. John Price. When Joy Fay, Uncle Grady’s daughter, and Betty, Mr. Price’s daughter would meet in the hall at school, people would gather round, expecting maybe some fireworks. But it never happened, they were cool.
When the big road machines weren’t working, they were parked in the commissioner’s yard. To us kids, it was like having a space rocket or something similar parked there, very interesting and very tempting for kids to play-like with them.
All roads in The Community were unpaved, so at regular intervals, here would come the old road grader up the road, scraping out bumps and washboard places. They always raked toward the middle of the road, leaving a line of clods and rocks waiting foe some careless driver to hit and get his oil pan knocked out. Sometimes, when the blade had cut through some red clay, the surface would be like glass, good feeling to bare feet.
Ah, but the really big thing was when the ditcher came along! That was a grader-like machine, pulled by a powerful Caterpillar. Wow! You could hear it coming, from way past Aunt Lessie’s. Closer and closer. Jack, about four at the time, couldn’t stand it any longer. He’d break for the house and cautiously peer around Mother to see the action.
The drivers of the machines seemed like ship captains or airline pilots to us, or like Alley Oop on Dinny, his pet dinosaur, legendary characters. Mr. Deeward Roberts, from our own community, was one of them. At Mt. Pisgah, we looked on him with new respect.
Back in those days — I understand the practice is frowned upon today — if you needed a little land scraping around the house, or some grading or gravel on your driveway, why just ask.
No problem.
Sometimes the roadcommissioners would work overtime. Take the Protracted Meeting flood. It had been terribly dry. Crops were dying. Springs were drying up. The preacher called on Cousin Mary Todd to give the closing prayer that night, after 15 verses of “Why Not Tonight.” She prayed for rain, and prayed and prayed.
Somewhere in there, it started raining. Not a little, not just hard, but a deluge.
We had two streams to cross between Mt. Pisgah and home. At the first one, below Grandpa Boman’s, where the men shot sweetgum balls at Christmas time, the water was already hill to hill, but we made it across in Grandpa Sanders’ T-Model okay.
The next one, the branch down at the Pierson Place, was more daunting. Also hill to hill, but deeper and swifter.
Hmmm. Was the bridge still there? No other way to tell, so Daddy stripped down to his union suit and waded out to find out.
I was six or seven. The water looked black and swift and ominous, with the T-Model’s flickering little lights on it. Daddy couldn’t swim. I was afraid I’d never see him again
But he made it there and back, and we forded on across and made it home.
Next day , we found out that bridges and culverts had been ripped out all over the area. Stream configurations had been changed. The flood gouged out such a hole below Grandpa Boman’s that they used the place for the baptizing that year, instead of the usual place over at Cousin Bailey’s.
Roadcommissioners had a lot to do for a long time.
Bob Sanders is a veteran local radio personality, columnist, author and raconteur of note. He can be reached at bobbypsanders@gmail.com.

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