2017-09-14 / Editorial Page

The Long Way Home

Across The Savannah
By TOM POLAND tompol@earthlink.net


Old US 1 north of Aiken a ways. See the old petunias just to the right of the column on the right? See, too, the baseball next to the steps. Old US 1 north of Aiken a ways. See the old petunias just to the right of the column on the right? See, too, the baseball next to the steps. Labor Day I reached the end of the road, the end of writing about traveling back roads. I estimate I drove over 10,000 miles delib­erately avoiding the interstates when possible. I saw unforget­table places and photographed many of them. I came across good stories.

Labor Day I labored. I submit­ted the captions for the photos to go in this new book due out next spring about lesser-traveled roads. It’s a familiar refrain. By now you readers surely can tell what I’m working on by the col­umns I write. Over the last good many columns I’ve often written about my expeditions into the countryside. I chose to take the long way home as Supertramp famously sang.

Even though the book is in production, I’ll continue to seek out back roads. They’re just too peaceful, beautiful, and surpris­ing not to travel. Plus, they reveal that the past isn’t past in a lot of places. If you live along a back road, you live in a special place. You may take it for granted, and you may grow weary of the trips into the city to get provisions, but you live in a place where life seems more genuine even if you live amidst a lot of abandon­ment. As Aida Rogers, editor and writer of books and magazines, wrote in her foreword, “It takes a certain eye see beauty in the abandoned, the collapsing, the forgotten.” Indeed, it does. Here are excerpts and photos.


Bull Durham Tobacco ... A wall dog’s work graces a building in Lau­rens. Note the old earthquake bolt just below and to the left of “Ad­vertiser Office.” Bull Durham Tobacco ... A wall dog’s work graces a building in Lau­rens. Note the old earthquake bolt just below and to the left of “Ad­vertiser Office.” Along back roads, pay atten­tion to old churches, stores, and home places and you’ll spot old- fashioned petunias. They bloom spring through autumn in muted pastel shades of pink, lavender and white and unlike modern pe­tunias, they’re fragrant.

Along forgotten byways, in small towns especially, you’ll spot ghost signs, an old-fash­ioned advertisement painted onto a rough and unforgiving canvas, a brick wall. Ghost signs hawked products and businesses that no longer exist, Coca Cola being an exception. The products and businesses they peddled pos­sessed names as colorful as ghost signs were in their prime. Owl Cigars. Old Reliable Bruton’s Snuff. The Creamery Café. King Midas Flour. Can’t Bust ’Em Overalls. Uneeda Biscuit. Bal­larat Bitter. Made by Cows Milk, Mother’s Bread 100% Pure, and Nightly Bile Beans. Some ads shone a light on the times such as Clark’s Café All White Staff. Exuberant American capitalism some called these ads.

There was a time when build­ing a home depended on access to water that was fairly close to the surface. That changed when electricity and drilled wells came along. Thanks to those modern conveniences you could build a home most anywhere and you could lift water deep from Moth­er Earth’s bosom. For folks out in the country an electric pump and tank meant water was as close as the faucet—as long as they had power. An ice storm that knocked the power out for days, however, meant no water. That’s not a problem with hand- pumped water.

The pump connection—off  High­way 23 near Ward two rusty rel­ics bespeak of times gone by.The pump connection—off  High­way 23 near Ward two rusty rel­ics bespeak of times gone by.
Continuing on Highway 181, I found the bridge I had crossed years earlier, a bridge of the old days. Neither you nor I will ever cross that bridge again. Its South Carolina terminus has been cut away. It hangs over the river, a dropping off point if ever there were one. A wide concrete bridge, which seems to be the trend, now, has replaced it. Bar­riers prevent you from driving onto the old bridge. Drive across this bridge and you essentially walk the plank with a plunge into the Savannah River your fate.


Bridge to nowhere ... The Smith-McGee Bridge dead-ends in air just beyond the border ... looking into South Carolina. Bridge to nowhere ... The Smith-McGee Bridge dead-ends in air just beyond the border ... looking into South Carolina. I remember seeing a car barrel­ing down a dirt lane eons ago, a billowing wake of dust settling onto the purple-green leaves of silage. We pave every road we can now and cars trailed by dusty contrails are a rarity.

I love an old, weedy back road more than a freshly topped high­way with pure white stripes. The old roads have character. Re­member the centerline of tar? Gone. James Dickey mentioned that centerline in Deliverance. “Around noon we turned off onto a blacktop state road, and from that onto a badly cracked and weedy concrete highway of the old days—the thirties as nearly as I could tell—with the old splattered tar centerline wa­vering onward.”


A vintage rural scene come summer. A farmer’s crops and a dirt road just off Highway 34 between Silverstreet and Chappells. Blue, green, white and beige, the colors of the Earth. A vintage rural scene come summer. A farmer’s crops and a dirt road just off Highway 34 between Silverstreet and Chappells. Blue, green, white and beige, the colors of the Earth. So, that is but a small glimpse of my book. In the epilogue I closed with this advice:

The beginning of the end be­gan for many of South Carolina’s fine two-lane highways June 29, 1956. That’s the day President Dwight Eisenhower signed the Federal-Aid Highway Act, the Interstate Act. Eisenhower, a general to the end, envisioned highways, “broad ribbons,” laden with tanks and troops, and South Carolina got its share.

Over sixty years, five inter­states, and 757 freeway miles later, a grid of steel, cement, and asphalt makes it possible to cross South Carolina and see little of anything other than interchanges, bridges, concrete barriers, and orange safety barrels. And lots of trucks ... at times it’s like driving beside a train.

Don’t despair. The real South Carolina is still out there. While it’s true that interstates relegated once-busy highways to back- road status, think of it as an act of preservation. The state’s hid­den beauty, history, and mystery wait along forgotten byways and back roads.

With great patience they wait for you and me. And as Aida Rogers pointed out in her fore­word, And this world, this “Place Called Obscurity,” is even more fascinating because it exists right alongside us. At least for now.

Visit my website at www.tom­poland.net

Email me at tompol@earth­link.net

Return to top