Tuesday, October 20, 2015

3 Penny Acre – "Highway 71" (2010)

In 'twenty-six
They laid that asphalt down

I've spent a fair amount of a my life on U.S. Route 71, a 1532-mile-long north-south highway that was opened in 1926. 

Highway 71's northern terminus is the Fort Frances-International Falls International Bridge, which connects International Falls, Minnesota, and Fort Frances, Ontario.  

Its southern terminus is where it  intersects with U.S. Route 190, northwest of New Orleans. 

You can think of Highway 71 as sort of a north-south version of Route 66 – which intersected with it in Joplin, Missouri, where I spent the first 18 years of my life (and where my parents still live).

(I'm not sure why it was "Highway 71" and "Route 66," but it was.)

When I was a child, my acquaintance with Highway 71 was limited to the 100 miles or so between Joplin and Fayetteville, Arkansas.  That's because my mother's very large family lived in and around Fayetteville. and we drove down Highway 71 to visit them.

Back in those days, much of that stretch of highway was just two lanes wide.  It was four lanes wide in parts of northwestern Arkansas, but it wasn't a limited-access highway – there were plenty of stoplights along the way.  

We would often end up behind a chicken-coop-toting flatbed truck belonging to Tyson Foods, which left a trail of chicken feathers and a truly appalling smell in its wake.  (Tyson, which didn't become a publicly-held company until 1963, is now the world's second-largest processor and marketer of chicken, beef, and pork, with annual sales of about $35 billion.)

Highway 71 went right past the original Walmart store in Rogers, Arkansas.  Walmart had a few stores back then, and those stores were nothing special.  I looked down my nose at the people who patronized the Joplin Walmart store – I thought I was too good to shop there.

I grew up in very humble circumstances, so it was a bit ridiculous for me to think I could look down on anything.  But at least both my parents were employed, so I felt quite superior to Walmart shoppers – I thought most of them were at best trailer trash, at worst welfare mothers.

The most exciting thing about driving down Highway 71 was seeing the large Daisy air rifle factory in Rogers.  I lusted after a lever-action Daisy, but there was no chance my parents were going to let me get within a hundred yards of a BB gun.

These days, the stretch of Highway 71 I'm most familiar with is the 150 or so miles between Kansas City and Joplin.  (I usually fly to Kansas City and rent a car when I go to visit my parents, so I make that drive several times a year.) 

That part of Highway 71 was redesigned as Interstate 49 in December 2012, but I still think of it as Highway 71.

There aren't a lot of people between Kansas City and Joplin.  Half an hour or so south of downtown Kansas City, you pass through Harrisonville (population 10,019).  Butler (population 4219) comes next as you continue driving south, followed by Rich Hill (population 1396), and Nevada (population 8386).  

About half an hour before you get to Joplin, you pass through Lamar (population 4532), which was named after Mirabeau Buonaparte Lamar, a hero of the Texas Revolution.

Mirabeau Buonaparte Lamar
The day before the Battle of San Jacinto – the decisive battle of the Texas Revolution, which took place on April 21, 1836 – Lamar bravely rescued two Texans who were surrounded by Mexican forces.  Lamar's gallantry drew a salute from the Mexican lines.  That night he was promoted from private to colonel by General Sam Houston, and put in command of the Texas army's 61-man cavalry.

The San Jacinto Monument is even
taller than the Washington Monument
Later that year, Texans elected Houston as their first President and Lamar as their first Vice-President.  Lamar then succeeded Houston as the President of Texas in 1838, and was in turn succeeded by Houston in 1841.  (The Constitution of the Republic of Texas did not permit a President to serve consecutive terms.)

Texas has a county, a university, a number of schools, and a number of streets named after Lamar, but it appears that the only thing outside of the Lone Star State named after him is Lamar, Missouri.

The Harry Truman birthplace (Lamar, MO)
Lamar's main claim to fame is that it was the birthplace of Harry S. Truman.  

We'll learn about Lamar's two most interesting businesses in the next 2 or 3 lines.

"Highway 71" is the title track of a 2010 album by a folk trio from Fayetteville, Arkansas, who call themselves 3 Penny Acre:

Click below to buy the song from Amazon: 

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