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Kentucky Color: Walking Thru History
By Billy Joe Fudge
With the beginnings of the new and wonderful South Highway 61, Dad often spoke about the fact that this would be the third Highway 61 that he had traveled on. Recently, I was blessed to find myself walking upon what I would consider to be Highway 61, number one. One day Houston Pennington, his Dad David and I were looking at a timber stand for a client. While David was walking in front of me I realized where we were walking; yep, on Highway 61, number one! We were walking South toward Breeding up the hill from Harrod's Fork Creek with Harrod's Fork Circle Road about a hundred feet to our right and a couple hundred yards beyond that, the new Highway 61.
Just to think that I was walking along the very route that my Dad's family and thousands of our ancestors would have been traveling by foot, on horse back, by wagon and by early automobiles, began to bring on a rush of memories; memories which Dad shared with me about when he was just a boy. Memories of trips to Columbia riding in a wagon that began at dawn of day and would finally end with them arriving back home late in the day and sometimes after dark. As he grew older, trips would often be made by him and his Dad, my Pa Abb, in a Model A or Model T of a neighbor who was making the trip into town.
Then I began to think back to many of my thousands of trips on my generation's Highway 61. Trips with memories which I will never forget, some of which were tragic and some of which may have been fraught with difficulties but are now cherished memories and of course, many memories filled with joys which still flood every facet of my being.
One of those "fraught with difficulties" trips which is now a "cherished memory" was a trip to an Adair County basketball game in Larue County.
Dad and I rode to Hodgensville with J W Fletcher and his son Daryl and even though I cannot remember who won the game, I can still remember the joy of our companionship during that trip. At any rate, when the game ended and we went outside, the snow was pouring down. No wind, no ice just big old snowflakes falling straight down. By the time we negotiated Highway 61 from Hodgensville to Columbia there was some 5 or 6 inches on the roadway. Then the first of the two hills on South Highway 61 most feared during snow events, loomed large before us, Drive-in Hill.
Drive-in Hill, for those who might not know, rose up on the South side of Pettit's Fork Creek to the Drive-in Theater at its peak. That trip went quite well as we were able to carry enough speed to make it around the "S" curve near the top. So onward through the Flatwoods we went with much discussion about the second and most daunting snow event obstacle yet before us, Wheeler Hill.
Wheeler Hill's "most daunting" status came from three conditions not present on Drive-in Hill; elevation, location of its "S" curves, and length. The elevation is over 300 feet higher than than the countryside to the North and Northeast which often would squeeze more moisture from storm clouds which in winter would increase the amount of snow on the ridge. The "S" curves were located in the middle of the hill which slowed the speed to a crawl making the other 1/4 mile of steep incline very difficult to climb. All those three criteria came to play on our trip home.
We made it about half way up the hill beyond the "S" curves, when we finally lost traction and came to a stop. Daryl, Dad and I got out to push. J W let the car roll back just a little so as to get a little traction before the tires encountered the piled up snow and then slowly but surely as we pushed, the car pulled and spun its way to the top of Wheeler Hill. Dad had parked our car at Ms Wheeler's store and man alive, were we glad to see it!
Finally, I would like to pay my respects to my good friend Ed Waggener. Ed, very early on in the construction of the New South Highway 61, dubbed it the Chattanooga Highway. Then he labeled the newly created Pettit's Fork Hill and Wheeler Hill, Grider Hill Pass and Wheeler Hill Pass, respectively. May those names forever remain in the Great Wooded South Lexicon!
This story was posted on 2020-04-05 12:41:04
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