December 1955: Highway woes and 13 ways to destroy your hometown


The poor condition of our roads and highways is a favorite topic of local conversation today. It seems that our forbears had similar gripes in 1955.

"We're paying the price for 25 years of underbuilding our highways. The traffic increases at an amazing rate, but our highway improvment program has bogged down," Starr Smith, public relations director in Alabama for the Portland Cement Association, told the Jasper Rotary Club on Dec. 13, 1955. "The fact remains that we are using roads which were built for much lighter traffic than we have now. We are using 250 horsepower automobiles on highways built for T-model traffic. Naturally the accident rate is high."

Smith quoted figures from the Alabama Department of Public Safety and Revenue Department that showed 93,000 more vehicles were registered in the state in 1955 than in 1954, and he predicted that over 1 million vehicles would be on the road in 1956. 

In Walker County, there were 16,087 vehicle registrations in 1955 — an increase of 1,319 from 1954.

Smith, who had served on the public relations staff of General Dwight Eisenhower in Europe during World War II, recapped the then-president's struggles in getting a highway bill through Congress.

"Pointing to the Eisenhower bill, the Gore bill and the Fallon bill, all of which would have improved America's highway system had they not been defeated, Smith praised the work of Rep. Carl Elliott in highway legislation," the Walker County Times reported.

Eisenhower was finally able to sign a highway bill, the National Interstate and Defense Highways Act, in June 1956. Eisenhower signed the historic bill unceremoniously at Walter Reed Army Hospital, where he was being treated for an intestinal ailment, according to an article written for Prologue magazine for the highway system's 50th anniversary in 2006.

The highway system was renamed the Dwight D. Eisenhower National System of Interstate and Defense Highways in 1990 by the late President George H.W. Bush.

The other headline that caught my eye in the Dec. 15, 1955 edition of the Walker County Times was "There are 13 sure ways to destroy your hometown."

It was a reprint of an article that first appeared in the Sedalia (Mo.) Democrat and had been shared in newspapers across the country.

Here's the list. Try to get through it without cringing at at least one of the points. 

• Don't pay taxes. Let the other fellow pay his. Vote against taxes. Then fuss because the streets are not kept up.

• Never attend any of the meetings called for the good of the town. If you do, don't have anything to say. Wait until you get outside and and then cuss those who made suggestions. Find fault with everything that was done.

• Get all the city will give you and don't give anything in return. 

• Talk cooperation but don't do any work for your city unless you get paid for it.

• Never accept an office. It's easier to criticize than to do things. Accuse anybody who serves in an elected office of being a publicity seeker. (Or a crook.)

• Don't do any more than you have to. When others willingly and unselfishly give their time to make a town better, howl because the town is run by a clique.

• Don't back your fire department or your police department. Don't thank them for endangering their lives that you might have a safer town. Demand special treatment. Raise cain if anybody expects you to obey traffic or parking laws.

• Look at every proposition in a selfish way. 

• Don't do anything for the youth of a town. Criticize them as potential delinquents. Encourage them to move away when they grow up.

• If you have good town leaders, don't follow them. Take a jealous attitude and talk down everything they do.

• Don't work on any committee. Tell them, "I'm too busy."

• Don't say anything good about your town. Be the first to point up its shortcomings. Pretend that if trouble comes your way, it will be residents of some other town who will visit you while you are ill, bring in their department if your home is burning, comfort you if you lose a dear one or stand back of you in a disaster.

• Don't support local retail stores and industries. But if you need a donation, ask your local stores and industries for it. Expect them to back you, but don't back them.

Jennifer Cohron is the Daily Mountain Eagle's features editor.