There was a hill just north of my house. We had moved to somewhere near Spartanburg, South Carolina. I think my father was opening up a new district for the company he worked for. I was 9 years old, according to my sister Latrelle, who was an ancient 12 or 13 at the time.
We didn’t live there long but I remember the hill. Two lane blacktop with a long sweeping incline down to a stream of water, over a moldy old concrete bridge and then back up again. I guess it was about 200 yards, top to bottom and very steep. The sign at the bottom of the hill said, “Narrow Bridge.” There was never any traffic on that road. Just an occasional car or pickup with someone local in it. The house was in between a timbering operation and the saw mill so there would be an occasional logging truck passing by with a load of fresh cut logs. I could tell the local folks because they would blow their horn and wave.
Since my yard was all clay and grass, the highway was perfect for me to hang out with my red Western Flyer wagon.
When we would sit on the front porch of my grandfather's farm over in Jasper County, S.C. It was so quiet out there in the country, you could hear a car coming a mile away. I guess the fact that it was a washboard dirt road helped with the rattles.
Sunday, no work to be done, everyone sitting on the porch would sort of stop what they were doing and concentrate on the approaching vehicle. You couldn’t see it because of the trees until it was in front of the house. Sometimes one of the old folks would venture a guess as to who it was coming by the noise the vehicle made or the speed at which someone might be driving it! “That boy is gonna kill his sef one of these days!” It was usually a pickup truck, an old one. When the vehicle did reach the house there would be a couple of toots of the horn, a wave of a hand as it passed and a tremendous cloud of dust following. Then the usual reprimand, “Now see there!
I told you that weren’t so and so. I know their truck”.
I remember the time my cousin Ronny came to visit me in Savannah. He lived in Statesboro which was about as big as a postage stamp in 1950. Definitely in the country. Georgia Southern was known as Georgia Teacher’s College. I guess they have more people on the football team now than they had in the entire student body then.
One day Ronny and I were sitting on the front porch of my house on 35th street in Savannah. A car came by. He asked, “Who was that”? I was amazed at the question. Now there were about a thousand people living past me in any direction. I had no idea who any of them were.
After I told him I had no idea, which surprised him beyond belief, I thought about it. Made me realize that my cousin was a real country boy and I was very disappointed that I wasn’t.
Every day I would get in my wagon and start down that hill by my house in Spartanburg. Within a short distance the front end would start to rattle and shake. It was kind of scary.
I would turn off to the side because I could feel myself gaining speed with the front end vibrating more and more. Each trip down the hill I would mark my last point of exit and try to beat it. I kept going a little further and a little faster, learning to control the vibrating, rattling wheels with the metal handle that was the steering for a front end not designed to go very fast at all. The side of the road, an embankment, was graded and smooth till the roadbed got close to the bridge. Then it turned into rough ground and lumps of concrete put there to help prevent erosion around the bridge. I could pick a spot where I could exit the pavement and go bouncing across the grass down the graded embankment before I got to those rocks but it was my goal to make it to the bottom and sail smoothly across the bridge. I realized that once I was close to the bridge I was committed. I could not leave the pavement because of the rocks.
Not sure about how much of those 200 yards I had covered at the point in time I went out there determined to make it to the bottom and across the bridge.
I stopped by the road at the top and listened. You could hear cars coming long before you saw them. It was a straight-a-way for a long distance on the approach to the hill so I could see a long way and no cars.
I guess I was kinda like the wildlife that you see smashed along our roads.
They have no concept of how much ground a fast moving vehicle can cover in a very short period of time. Expecting a human to use their brakes and add about three or four seconds to their travel time to avoid smashing the critter is inconceivable. Too self-important and their time too valuable.
Anyway conditions were go. That day was the day. I was going to the bottom. I started the roll. I had a two handed, white knuckle grip on the handle jutting back from the front axle. Feet braced against the front rail. All of my senses tuned to the vibrating front wheels. I approached my last marker gaining speed and fearfully realizing that the slope was getting a lot steeper the further downhill I went. I was flying and beginning to lose control. The handle was vibrating almost out of my grip and I was scared.
I was looking at the road side flying past searching for a soft spot to curve off the pavement and plow into. Then I heard it. The long deep bellow of an air horn from an 18 wheeler. I didn’t have to look, even if I could have, I knew it was a logging truck loaded with logs for the mill.
It’s taking me longer to type this than it took to happen but the air horn never quit. I was being told to get off the road! One hundred thousand pounds of truck barreling down on me, breathing down my neck. I realized that the driver probably had no idea that I was hanging on for dear life with that wagon bouncing and jerking back and forth. Just a nudge one way or the other would have sent me side-ways down the hill without benefit of the wagon. I realized that the driver had to keep up speed in order to make it up the steep incline on other side of that creek. I could see the sign at the bottom. “Narrow Bridge”.
He couldn’t pass me. He would be passing on a hill.
He had to stay in my lane on that bridge. We didn’t fit! My brains were churning looking for a way out of the mess I had gotten myself into.
I could hear the tires on the pavement he was so close. That airhorn drowned out everything else. In desperation I hung a right. Off the pavement, airborne for a second or two and then slamming down onto hard clay and grass lumps. On my back in the wagon, legs in the air, one hand still clinging to the steering handle. The other waving in the air like a bull rider. In an instant I went from top speed, which felt like a hundred miles an hour, to zero. I flew out of the wagon at the same time the tractor trailer flew by, still leaning on that air horn. It has since occurred to me that at that moment, the driver had his best laugh of the week.
Zero injuries. Guess once again the good Lord heard me praying to Baby Jesus when I was coming down that hill. It is amazing the punishment a young body can take. Not like now. I bought a T Shirt the other day that sez, “If you see me jogging please kill whatever is chasing me!”
A retired former Green Beret, Roy Hubbard lives in Richmond Hill. He can be reached at skipperhubp2025@ comcast.net.