Monday, November 09, 2009

A Change Comes to Sloss

It happened in super slow motion, so none of us kids in Sloss saw it coming. One day you could play stickball right in the

middle of Sloss Road, but then came “progress.” The next thing we knew our little community had changed forever.
We were all pretty miffed when a crew from Birmingham came in and hauled away our railroad tracks. One warm summer

day they came clattering slowly down the Sloss spur line on flatbed cars pulled by a tired old freight engine. They pulled up

the rusted railroad spikes by the thousands and they hauled our tracks off for scrap.
The railroad no longer had a use for the old tracks, since the coal had already been scratched out of the hills and hollows,

and burned in the furnaces at U.S. Steel in Birmingham
But the kids of Sloss used those rails all the time, for home base, and rail walking contests. We really hated to see them go.

Even today, I can close my eyes and smell the creosote, and the bitterweed that grew between the crossties. The tracks

were perfect speed bumps for the community. Any car that hit those tracks too fast could blow a tire or break an axle!
Sometime later, a state survey crew came into our neck of the woods with a chain gang and a man with a telescope. I later

learned that the device was a transit, which surveyors use to accurately lay out tracks of land.
We peppered the workers with questions, and they told us they were building a new road to replace the tar and gravel pig

trail that ran through Sloss. They were also paving the red-rock section of road that connected Sloss to highway 78.
That sounded OK at first, until they walked deep into our yard and drove wooden stakes with handwritten numbers in the

They went even deeper into Mama Watson’s yard and the yards of our other neighbors.
As soon as they left, we pulled the stakes up and threw them in the creek.
The next time they came through the crew chief threatened us with life in Atmore Prison, if we fooled with the stakes

again. We were pretty sure he was jacking us around, but we didn’t bother their stakes anymore.
Men in suits came to visit all the families on the west side of the old tracks and made offers to buy their homes.
We had property in the back of our house, so the state simply moved our house a few hundred feet. Neither my

grandmother, the Plunkett’s nor the Castleberry’s had any land behind their houses so they were forced to find other places

to live.
As time passed, more state trucks, road graders, dump trucks and Caterpillar bulldozers showed up.
The construction foreman said, “Progress will be good for this place.” I wanted to say, “If progress is so fine and dandy,

why don’t you do some progress in your community.” But I kept my mouth shut and endured the sadness I felt as I

watched my childhood friends pack their things to move away.
We stayed in touch with our friends, but our community was never the same after the new road came through.
I was looking through a box of pictures recently and came across some faded photographs taken in front of the old home

place. The houses weren’t much by today’s standards, but they suited us just fine. The old thoroughfare wasn’t much wider

than a driveway, but these days when I stroll down memory lane, it’s always on the old road.

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