LAUREL COUNTY, Ky. — The main drag through the Paint Lick suburb of Lowell is called Old Railroad Grade because it occupies a portion of the real estate on which the tracks from Lancaster to Paint Lick to Richmond once sat. Of course, neither Lancaster nor Paint Lick have been within 12 miles of a railroad in nearly a century but that’s another story for another time.
So anyway, as you might imagine, our equivalent to a main street is nearly plumb flat and the curves are very gentle except for one little uphill-downhill stretch that bypasses the first tunnel. Charlie Brown Road was, I believe, originally a side track that runs parallel to The Grade for a quarter mile.
The second tunnel actually was in use up until the turn of the new century. Daughter Jennifer, Loretta and I drove through it twice a day on our way to and from school and work and all three of us, at one time or another, have had to engage in serious negotiations with drivers headed in the opposite direction as to who had to back up when you met, head-to-head, in the tunnel.
I’ve actually gotten into terrified little old ladies’ cars and backed them up 100 feet or so to one of the wide spots on each end of the tunnel so that I wouldn’t have to back my truck up 200 yards or more.
The tunnel was only just over a tenth of a mile in length but it curved in such a way that you couldn’t see daylight from one end to the other and it took a big imagination to determine its width to be even one lane. Passing another vehicle in the tunnel was out of the question. But it shaved two crooked miles off the drive to Lancaster on old Highway 52.
When the new 52 was built in the late 90s, the tunnel was closed and a spur was constructed to connect back to Old Railroad Grade. Now, for the most part, our road is only used by just over a dozen families who live alongside it, by service vehicles and apparently by the occasional never-do-well trying to outrun the law.
But when we first moved here, it was a popular short cut used by drivers headed west on 52 because it saved both time and distance. The new road solved those problems. I only use Old Railroad now to get to Lancaster when I want to see how my neighbor’s gardens are doing or to see if Lois Todd’s big mare has a new mule colt.
For the most part, the folks who live here have sense enough to know that 35 mph is about the maximum safe speed for the grade. Even though it’s flat as a fritter and reasonably straight, it’s just barely wide enough for two vehicles to get past one another, and there are a couple of blind intersections that have seen their share of collisions made by even sensible drivers.
Still, at least once or twice a week, while I’m sitting on the porch, I’ll see some fool going by at well over 60 mph. That’s like driving 100 on a full size road.
It’s almost always a vehicle with which I am unfamiliar, hence my assumption that it must be someone trying to dodge or outrun the law. Unfortunately, I don’t live close enough to the road to get license tag numbers and it would probably be an effort in futility if I did.
If you’ve never been on Old Railroad Grade, and I would wager that 99 percent or more of my readers have not, the five mile drive from one end to the other is a wonderful way to see what life in the country is all about. Just be careful. Keep your speed to 25 mph and a sharp eye out for children playing close to the road, for dogs sleeping on it and for livestock that somehow got over or through the pasture fence.