Not a day goes by that someone is not complaining about the congested traffic on our local roads, especially along heavily travelled Goodman Road that crisscrosses DeSoto County all the way from its intersection with old State Highway 161 in Walls to the point where “Old Goodman” intersects with Mississippi Hwy. 305 in Olive Branch.
The new concrete medians installed up and down Goodman Road have also brought with them consternation and plenty of commentary.
The Time Traveler has noticed that time and distance have not changed the fact that the cosmos is simply buzzing with traffic, whether it’s a buggy from the 1890s or a Tesla from 2019.
Not long after the twentieth century dawned, automobiles began invading once tranquil cow paths and gravel lanes, and local police and government officials began to crack down on the bothersome contraptions.
Town officials in Hernando set the top speed for an automobile navigating through the city’s thoroughfares at a dizzying pace of 12 miles per hour. The local paper, the DeSoto Times, captured the mood in a story from 1915, as recollected by former historian J.B. Bell.
“Frightened horses and mules were spooked almost daily into running away when cars came by. It was not unusual for the occupants in wagons and buggies to be thrown out and injured. Automobiles also brought other problems in the form of robbers and safe blowers. Most of these lawless persons are from Memphis and their automobiles provide them with the advantage of speed so that they can get away. After the Post Office safe was blown open this year, the empty cash box was later found in Horn Lake Creek. There was a rash of store robberies, especially in outlying rural areas which had little police protection.”
Cars were hot commodities on local car lots. DeSoto Auto was owned by “Cap” W.H. Entrikin, who advertised the Ford Runabout for as little as $390 without a speedometer. Touring cars were the most costly at about $440. Early owners of automobiles soon learned that the motors would crank backward when they “backfired” and this usually meant that the hapless car owner would get his or her arm broken.
Wilson Darden, the editor of the DeSoto Times, which had changed its name to the Times-Promoter, cautioned his readers about what he called “Sunday drivers.”
He pointed out that everyone wanted to show off his car driving around the square at a fast clip. He reminded the reader that on Sundays, most of the local drivers had the spare time to take their vehicles out for a “fast clip.” There were more accidents on Sunday than on any other day of the week. The roads were dirt or gravel and frequent accidents occurred when the driver lost control by getting out of the dirt ruts in the roads or “tracks.”
Cars were easily turned over, and while this did little physical damage to the car, it tended to break a few bones as it often threw the occupants out.
During the next decade, several automobile dealerships and affiliated businesses would spring up, including Stewart Chevrolet, DeSoto Auto Company, Standard Oil, Massey Service Station, Gore Truck Line and Garrett Motor Company, among others.
Gasoline would be rationed during the war years. In April of 1941, there were only 10 passenger tires and eight inner tubes allotted for the entire population of DeSoto County. There were 21 truck tires allotted and 37 inner tubes for truck tires. Several individuals were sentenced to 30 days in jail for hoarding sugar. Ration stamps were needed for the purchase of rubber boots and shoes, gasoline, and other goods. Bourbon whiskey was extremely scarce until enterprising moonshiners learned how to make the stuff from potato peelings.
These “high octane spuds” allowed for greater speed.
Some of these “moonshiners” would go on to race around the tracks in Memphis while others would become legendary NASCAR drivers.
My simple prayer is to get home safely each day from the mad rat race into which I embark.
Where is George Jetson and his fleet of flying cars when you need them?
ROBERT LEE LONG is Curator of the DeSoto County Museum.