georgia clay


My-my-my, how times have changed in your and my lifetime!

Back when I was young, our home was in a tiny, small town. To drive to our church on Sunday, about eight miles, we were riding in a model 1940 automobile, and past a grist mill. Most of the time, the drive was easy with no complications. However, after any sort of rain, first going down one Middle Georgia red clay hill, then crossing a creek where the mill was, then seeking to go up the next hill, a distance of about a mile altogether, was not necessarily a joy ride.

Remember, we mentioned the red clay. What you hoped if it had rained, was first, that the county road crew had “sanded” the red clay hills to give more traction. If the crew had not, you hoped that several cars had gone before you to carve deep ruts in the clay. If you got out of the ruts, that clay could slide the automobile toward the ditch. Sometimes throwing you ditchward could also mean that the relatively-light automobile might turn sideways, or even turn over.

So you breathed a sign of relief once getting down the first hill and crossing the creek. But then you faced an even harder task: going up the next hill. (In those days, while tire chains would give more traction, they weren’t routinely used. After all, it would take 30 minutes or more to get the tire chains on, which could really get grime and mud on your Sunday clothes. So you risked it.

The driver, with his load of passengers, would attack the hill with as much speed as possible, perhaps going 30 miles an hour. Often that tactic would work, as the car maintained enough speed on the slippery road (if staying in the ruts) to gain the hill. The run was only about 200 yards, but the hill was somewhat steep. If you got outside the ruts, eventually you stalled, or were on the extreme edge of the road. At this point the passengers got out and waited by the side of the road. The driver had to carefully back down the hill. Even that was difficult, as the mud could slide the car this way and that backing down the hill.

Then the driver would rev up, by himself in the car this time, and again attack the hill. If that didn’t work, the car backed down the hill again, then most of the passengers would walk down the hill, and help push the powered car up the hill. To say the least, their shoes and legs were often muddy.

Today that same road never stalls anyone, since it is smoothly paved. Few ever think of having to sand a dirt road much any more.

Muddy hill problems throughout rural Georgia gave politicians like Gene and Herman Talmadge, Ellis Arnall, Marvin Griffin and their ilk a campaign issue. They introduced “farm to market” roads to be paved, to speed Georgia crops to sale points in any weather, often winning votes this way. The Sunday church crowd benefitted, too. Remember, this was in the days of the Georgia County Unit System, when rural votes were more important than big city votes. So the issue of paved county roads was a key one, with politicians trying to out-promise one another.

Editor's note: This story originally appeared at Image: Georgia Muddy Road Following Rain, 1939 from Georgia Performance Standards (public domain), color added by
Elliott Brack

Elliott Brack

Elliott Brack is a native Georgian and veteran newspaperman. He published the weekly Wayne County Press for 12 years; was for 13 years the vice president and general manager of Gwinnett Daily News, and for 13 years was associate publisher of the Gwinnett section of The Atlanta Journal and Constitution. He now publishes, in retirement, Web sites on Gwinnett County,, and Georgia news,