Thursday, July 29, 2010

Old Highways - Learning to Drive

In doing the reading about the old DFW Interurban rail line for the previous piece, I ran across a number of opportunities to answer some long unanswered questions about roads and highways around the DFW area that I recalled from childhood. My road memories predate the D-FW Turnpike, I-820, LBJ, the Airport Freeway, and all the Interstate Highway system.

After WWII Air Corps service and further service during the Korean War, Dad bought his first house east of Ft. Worth just off Hwy 183. A few years later, he built his move up house near EHHS. My grandmothers, both widows, lived in Dallas; one in Oak Cliff and the other near White Rock Lake. Many of our Sundays in the 1950s were spent visiting one or both of the grandmothers, so I had plenty of road time on the old highways at an early age.

Two uncles lived in Corpus Christi and since that meant a free place to stay when we wanted a beach vacation on Padre Island, we made that long trip numerous times before the Interstates were built. I recall seeing old sections of abandoned highway pavement running beside the existing roadways and often wondering about them. Dad’s answers were always clipped and none too informative. I don’t think he knew much about the old roads himself…in his Depression-era childhood there wasn’t much money for elective motoring.

The old roadways shown above are very similar to the abandoned bits of pavement I recall seeing as a boy. One of my first cross country trips as a new driver was on the highway west to Weatherford about 1961, which was then still one of the original brick roads, like the left one above…and rough as a cob—I remember it well. Most of the remnants of the later concrete pavement, I recall seeing in the Meadowbrook-Handley area along Hwy 80.

Like the Interurban, the old highways were put down and obsolete before our time. What we saw was the post-WWII transition from the early 2-lane U.S. highway system to 4-lane divided highways, which then gave way to the Interstate limited access system we’ve been using since the 1960s. All those highway right of ways essentially used the same routes originally laid down starting about 1915. The 1957 Turnpike was an exception as it was laid down on an entirely new right-of-way. Both the Turnpike and 183 were huge improvements over our old Hwy 80, and effectively replaced the old Dallas-Ft. Worth Pike.

The maps below show the first 2 iterations of the highway (Hwy 80/East Lancaster) that passed through our Eastside neighborhood. The first route was called the Dixie Overland Highway and dated to 1915-1927. It was privately funded. Starting about 1926, the Dixie Highway was made a part of the U.S. highway system and renamed U.S. 80.

I think TX 183, today's Airport Freeway, was the earliest 4-lane divided highway built between Ft. Worth and Dallas and the first new highway built to augment U.S. 80 between the two cities. I remember riding my bike alongside it in the mid-fifties and it was a 4-lane divided highway then. A few years later, after getting my drivers license in 1961, I recall driving to Dallas on 183 and it being a nice, quiet country drive. This was before Cowboy Stadium, DFW Airport, or much of anything else was built beside it. I’m sure there was a turnoff to Arlington somewhere out there, but until reaching Loop 12, there just wasn’t much traffic.

“Old Highway 80” as my dad called it, was a different story. Since it had been in service for about 40-years when we attended EHHS, a lot of commercial building had taken root along its path through Arlington and Grand Prairie. I drove to Dallas on 80 a few times and recall it as a slow, stop and go effort dotted with a lot of stop lights. I also recall seeing a lot of 1930s vintage gas stations.

Believe it or not, I really learned to drive when I was 13 or 14. Dad’s new house wasn’t quite ready when school at Meadowbrook started, but he wanted me to start the year there, so he rode shotgun while I drove the 2-lane back roads through the Trinity River bottoms between NE Ft. Worth and Meadowbrook. There was nothing out there then, so the roads were very quiet. It was there that I got about 30-minutes of driving time each morning and learned to keep the car going straight. By the time I was 16, I had quite a bit of time behind the wheel…imagine trying to do that today!


1 comment:

Parsa said...

The red and white DH marker was for the Dixie Highway, which went from Michigan to Florida. The Dixie Overland Highway was a red, white and blue marker: red DOH on white set inside a blue border.