The Evening Tribune, September, 1891

Special Feature


A Few Suggestions Concerning Their Structure and Maintenance ― Illustrations of the Effects of Both Good and Bad Causeways ― Good Roads are Profitable.

   A prominent English gentleman, who, while traveling through the States, had occasion to do some considerable riding through the smaller towns and country districts, once remarked that while the buildings he saw represented a high standard of civilization, the roads were still frontier highways, on which little thought or money had been spent.

   To the expeditious traveler the winding roads soon seem to be the greatest possible distance between two points, and are not only an annoyance, but cause an absolute loss of time and money.

   The losses resulting from the imperfect building of roads, if seen or felt in the aggregate, would call the attention of the public to this work until evils would be remedied; but unfortunately the same indifference is in human nature which the old Eastern farmer showed when he drove around the great stump in his driveway. Instead of trying to remove it, he said: "Oh, it’s only a little bother to drive around it, but ‘twould take a day to dig it out." In building roads in this country too little attention is paid to two important things, viz, good surveying and proper drainage.

   Road limits should be as straight and clearly defined as the rows of the marker in a cornfield.


   The Romans, without consideration of expense, always made their roads the shortest distance between two points to be connected. This will not of course be found to be practicable in many instances; but, while the road must be laid in such place and manner as to make the least expense of building and repairing, some sacrifices of money and labor can be afforded, when the question of loss of time is to be considered. Of course there can be no arbitrary rule in regard to width, but many country roads are inconveniently narrow. I have often driven over long stretches of roads in the State of Illinois, where to meet a team meant certain collision, and have several times seen a light buggy lose it’s balance and women, children, and numerous bundles of dry goods and groceries roll in general confusion down the embankment, simply because of too narrow a road-bed. A bed amply wide enough for the meeting and passing of vehicles, with a strip of sod five or six feet wide on either side, would be much more satisfactory, and its construction would require but little more labor or expense.

   For country roads the greatest inclination should not exceed a rise from five to seven feet in one hundred. For heavy teaming a road rising ten in one hundred is suppose to be injurious. Near the highest point the grade should be either decreased or the plan adopted by Telford practiced. Where the expense of making a piece of road a mile long a on a less grade than five in one hundred was too great, he provided for the increased fatigue of the horses by building a mile of much smoother and better road than that of the first part of the ascent. There are few localities which are not provided with some suitable material for building or repairing, yet in localities where such material abounds may often be found the worst possible roads. The loss by wear and tear on horses and vehicles on a stretch of poor road in a month, where constant traffic is to be supported, would cover the expense of building a road which, with slight repairs, would last for years. In St. Joseph County, Michigan, a strip of corduroy through a marsh thirty rods long caused two deaths years ago. The township paid $5,000 in one instance, and losses resulting from accidents from time to time would make no small sum; yet the road remains in an unsafe condition, while at either approach to this strip is material enough to make a road sixty feet wide and its use would two long, heavy grades. The indifference and ignorance of farmers in working out a poll-tax is unexplainable. A half dozen men, with two or three teams, meet to repair a road which is used for heavy traffic. These men are obliged many times to haul loads over roads which have no foundation drainage and imperfect surface drainage, full of holes and washouts; yet without plan or method they gather, and by use of the scraper the dirt form the road is dumped on to the roadbed, which has not been prepared to receive it.


   One or two enterprising citizens fill up two of the ten holes without removing the cause, while others sit about on a rail fence and discuss the tariff and similar subjects, upon which these public spirits are so well versed.

   "A stitch in time saves nine," applies to road-building as well as to feminine employment.

   To simply fill up a hole with the substance nearest at hand generally proves as satisfactory as trying to fill a sieve with water.

   Wherever a piece of quicksand is found, it should be thoroughly removed, if possible, and the hole filled with stone or some hard material.

   The custom of dumping stone, regardless of size, into low places, and then covering with roadside dirt, causes much trouble. The small stones soon work to the bottom and the large ones to the surface, where they become slippery, and as they are not bound together they cause a jolting which is harder on horse and vehicles than hauling through mud would be.

   The Chinese roads are built, many of them, of solid rock. If some system which was a compromise between the macadam and Chinese systems could be carried out, the problem would be solved. The macadam roads, where they can be afforded, are undoubtedly the best. A study of the Telford and macadam methods by all citizens in public affairs would be very helpful.

   Let road districts unite in a proposition to begin at a certain point and make thoroughly good roads for certain distances each year.



   A small stretch of road, well built, with proper drainage, would furnish as an inspiration to all who had occasion to use it, which might lead to an enthusiasm for this often too neglected branch of public work. No method of building can do away for the need for constant repairing. Much labor and expense could be saved by taking the work in hand soon enough. The covering wears away and the road, whose rounding surface should always be preserved, instead of burdening traffic with a heap of stones in the roadbed.

   Unless strong reasons exist to the contrary the work should be done when the ground is wet. In filling long ruts only short pieces should be filled in at a time. If work is all done at once, vehicles avoid the place, and new ruts are formed. The use of the roller in the building of roads is to well known to need mention, but a section of patched road, which is practically useless for six months of the year, could be made much more suitable for traffic by its use.

   The Yankee in London opens his eyes at the unusual speed which he is whirled through the busy streets of that city. He grasps his carpetbag tightly in both hands and bends his long body forward as he rides to what seems to him certain death.

   Such speed would be checked by a policeman in New York or Boston. The carriage in which he rides is heavier than those he has seen at home. The horses are much better-looking than those seen in our cities.

   Says Dr. Holland, in a letter to the Springfield (Mass.) Republican: "I have never seen but one lame horse in London during all my stay here. The English horse does twice the work of an American horse similarly employed. The simple explanation is, that the Englishman has invested in perfect and permanent roads what the American expends in perishable horses which require to be fed."

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