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James R. Stout

Trippin'

            My recent road trip brought back memories of road trips that my family made in my growing up years. The biggest difference between those early trips and my recent trip is the distances covered. Our family didn’t make long road trips of any kind during my first 7 years. This was mainly because we just didn’t have the money. There was also a period of about 3 years when my father was in the hospital after a car accident and his slow recovery. But by the late 1950’s we would drive the roughly 120 miles to my grandparent’s farm about one weekend a month.

            When I think back on those road trips, I remember them fondly. We lived in the south part of Houston in those days. The Gulf Freeway (I-45 South) was being built and to my recollection it had not yet reached far enough south for us to use it until we had first driven on Old Highway 3 (Old Galveston Highway) a distance and then we picked up I-45 for only a short distance into downtown Houston. There were no loops around downtown then. If you wanted to go north, then you had to go through downtown. Many times, our trips would begin once my parents got home from work on a Friday evening. If we were lucky, Mom and Dad would decide to treat us to dinner at a Prince’s Hamburger Drive-In near downtown. Otherwise we had sandwiches at home before we left for the trip. I was always excited to go on those trips. Going to the farm was a treat.

            Once we got through downtown Houston, we would take Shepherd Drive a few miles until it connected with Airline Drive. My memory is a bit hazy on this part, but at some point, Airline got us to Highway 75 which was the main highway that went between Houston and Dallas. Parts of 75 are still used today and these parts are mostly through the middle of several small towns. I-45, once completed, would replace 75 as the highway between Houston and Dallas. 60 years later they are still working on it. Highway 75 was a two-lane highway and its origins were much the same as most highways of that era. It was basically a highway built on top of what was once a dirt trail.

            On those trips our family of five included my parents, my two sisters, and me. Depending on the time of year some of those trips were made in the dark. Even without stopping it took us 3 hours to drive from our house to the farm. Keep in mind that a lot of time was spent just getting out of Houston and then once on Highway 75 we had to deal with 55 mph speed limits between towns and 30 mph limits in the many towns that we had to go through. These included Conroe, Willis, New Waverly, Huntsville, Riverside, and Trinity to name just a few. Another hinderance was the nature of a two-lane highway that included curves and hills along the way. If you got behind a slow poke you had to wait for just the right moment to pass them. And you better have a V-8 engine! I can still hear some of the sounds of those drives. The clicking of the high beam headlights being engaged or disengaged by my Dad’s left foot, the stretches of the road that were quiet versus the loud stretches depending on the material used to build the highway on different sections, the clop-clop-clop of the tires going over the tar that had been used to fill holes and cracks in the pavement, the sound of the air coming through the open wind wings of the front doors, and sometimes the whining of the road on certain stretches were all sounds that were part of the cacophony on those drives.

            With 3 kids in the car Mom had to find ways to keep us busy. I also believe it was just plain fun for all of us to do those things. There was the alphabet game. There were many billboards and signs along the way. You started the game with the letter “A”. If you saw an “A” you had to be the first to call it out. The first person to get all the way through the alphabet won the game. Of course, “Q” and “Z” were the tough ones. From an early age I got to know what make and model of cars were out there. Dad would quiz me sometimes. Ahead in the distance there would be a car coming and he would ask me what make and model it was. I did pretty good after getting to know the grills, headlight shapes, etc. Then there was perhaps the best part of those drives. The family singing of songs together. We sang some hymns, some old songs like “In the Good Ole Summertime” and “Little Annie Rooney”, and sometimes we would sing current or recent hit songs such as “Love Letters in The Sand”. Anything by Hank Williams or Eddy Arnold was fair game. We even learned the chorus to a Ray Stevens song called “Jeremiah Peabody’s Poly-Unsaturated Quick Dissolving Pleasant Tasting Green and Purple Pills”. Dad excelled at doing the “gut-gut-gut-gut” part. (Listen to it on YouTube)

            Being inquisitive as I was (still am) I would ask Mom and Dad about things that we saw and what they were and what they were used for. It might have been a piece of farm machinery or perhaps an animal. When we got to Huntsville, we picked up State Highway 45, not to be confused with I-45, which up until 1961 was the number for the highway between Huntsville and Crockett, Texas. It was changed to Highway 19 in 1961. I used to get a tad fearful going over the long iron truss bridge that crossed the Trinity River at Riverside. It was a very narrow bridge and you didn’t want to meet a big rig coming from the other direction. That bridge was refurbished about 15 years ago and is still there. It’s a one-way bridge going south and was basically saved due to its historical value. A new bridge sits beside it and sports two-lanes each way.

            Another 7 miles and we drove through Trinity, Texas. We always knew we were getting close by then. About 4 miles north of Trinity we took a farm-to-market road that turned into a dirt county road within a mile. Once we were on the dirt road, I was getting pretty excited about getting to the farm. The county road did some winding around including a couple of “Y’s”. When we passed by the Baptist Church (still there and open) that my great-great-grandfather started in the 1860’s one of us would announce that we were on Grandma’s Road. As we crossed an old wooden bridge (a wooden bridge is still there, but it’s a newer one now) about 3/10’s of mile from the farmhouse we would all start looking through the trees that lined the road. The goal was to be the first one to see Grandma’s house. It was always easier in the winter because the front porch light would be turned on and it would shine through the trees.

            Finally, after 3 hours on the road we would drive up to the farmhouse (still there with some remodeling along the way). Grandma and Grandpa’s dog “Lep” and then later “Bullet” would be on the front porch with a wagging tail. My grandparents would come out onto the front porch to greet us and as soon as we could get out of the car there was some fierce hugging going on. Those days have been gone now for many years. Grandpa passed in 1967, Grandma in 1989, Dad in 2016, and Mom and my sister Barbara in 2018. It’s just me and my sister Debbie now. But the truth is those days will live in our memories until we join our family again in Heaven. And, even though they didn’t live through those days, those days will live in my kids and grandkids memories via these memoirs of mine. To those of you who aren’t from Texas, I apologize for mentioning towns and places that you are likely not familiar with. If you have any questions about them, then make a comment and I’ll reply. I suspect that if you are over a certain age you will have similar memories no matter where you grew up.

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