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Traveling by car involved a lot more than going down the road in the early days

BY Doug Hensley
For the Avalanche-Journal

Madeline Hegi remembers when getting somewhere by automobile was a family adventure rather than today's convenient duty of merely traveling from one point to another.

"When I was a young girl, we traveled to Indiana from Kansas," said Hegi, who moved to Texas in 1929. "We had an open-air Ford, and when we made that trip, we would stop and sleep on the roadside. We had our blankets, and of course, at that time it was safe."

Hegi, a 97-year-old Tahoka resident, said she had four brothers and a sister, and in those days, making a long car trip had to be done as economically as possible, meaning motels and restaurants generally were not part of the plan.

"We took our food; we carried it with us," she said. "We didn't eat out."

Longtime Lubbock attorney Bob Moody had similar memories of a family trip in 1942.

"We had a four-door Nash during the war years," he said. "And it was made where you had a bed in the back. I remember we made a trip over to New Mexico to White Sands and Carlsbad Caverns. At that time, the CCC (Civilian Conservation Corps) had finished a lot of the roadside parks. You could just pull off into one of those and lower the backseat that made into a bed. Mother and dad slept in the back, and we slept in a small tent."

Moody said cars that had beds were common at the time.

"Even after the war, they made cars with beds in them for traveling," he said. "Sleeping on the side of the road wasn't uncommon then."

It took time, but in this part of the country the automobile became the primary means of transportation, replacing the railroads and the horse.

But it wasn't easy.

According to "A History of Lubbock," by Lawrence L. Graves, local residents were skeptical of early bond packages to upgrade roads. A $2 million bond issue failed in 1928, despite the efforts of a group known as the Lubbock Good Roads Committee.

According to Graves' book, the bond failed "because people could not see the need to help finance 65 miles of roads in the county not directly serving the city."

The committee shook off the setback, and a more modest $1 million proposal emerged in early 1929. But that failed, as well. Only after the package was retooled once more - to $991,000 - did it woo voter support, according to Graves' book.

"The thing I remember is it was one flat after another," recalled longtime Lubbock businessman Bill Murfee. "We would go to Petersburg or to Acuff, and it seemed like every time we had a flat going or coming."

Murfee, 83, also said travel was a luxury for some families.

"To put it bluntly, we didn't have the money to travel," he said. "It was cornbread and red beans in our family. We didn't travel much except to farm and work."

Murfee remembered one trip his family took to Alamosa, Colo., in a 1936 Ford, but the demands of his father's business cut things short.

"We drove up there and got in late, late," Murfee said. "My dad got a phone call and we came back the next day."

The Great Depression and World War II had a significant impact on local road construction, according to Graves' book, but in 1945, city and county officials met with state highway authorities, selecting Fourth Street, 19th Street, Avenue Q and Avenue A as primary traffic arteries through the city. Fourth and Avenue A were designated to handle the majority of commercial traffic. The plan required clover leafs and traffic circles to be built, and traffic bond elections were approved in 1945 and 1956. In the early 1960s, work began on Loop 289 around the city.

Former longtime Texas Tech athletic department staffer Jess Stiles joined head football coach J.T. King's staff in 1969, and assistant coaches traveled extensively during recruiting season.

"We did a lot of driving back in those days, but when I first came to Texas Tech I thought it was some kind of deal because when we recruited in Dallas, Houston, Austin or San Antonio, we flew," said Stiles, who accepted the job with Tech after serving as head coach in Borger.

"We flew unless we were going on a scouting trip here in West Texas, and then we'd rent a car because most of us didn't own good enough cars," he said. "Those were hard days. When I joined the staff, the athletic department owned one vehicle - an old beat-up Ford station wagon."

Stiles said that was the car King used to show him around the campus, but the automobile and Red Raider coaches were about to become better acquainted. Stiles recalled that incoming coach Jim Carlen was key in bringing about the transition.

"We got in the car business when Jim Carlen came," he said. "If we went somewhere around the area, we'd rent a car. That was one thing he wanted, and the first cars we ever had were Don Crow Chevrolet courtesy cars. We leased nine cars because there were nine assistant coaches at that time. We got those cars and we weren't to fly anymore. We were trimming the budget."

West Texas and the automobile have been longtime partners, and many still fondly look back at vehicles they owned from days gone by. Moody, who moved to Lubbock in 1958, remembers a 1948 tan and olive Packard.

"I paid $100 for it, but it had 18,000 miles on it," he said. "It had sat in a lady's barn, and she hadn't driven it since her husband died. I remember once I was driving to Amarillo and looked down at the speedometer and it was doing 90 mph. That Packard was some automobile."

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SPECIAL SECTIONS: 1909-1933 / 1934-1958 / 1959-1983 / 1984-PRESENT | PRINT VERSION