road stock

Good roads are a necessity today and we pay taxes to ensure that our highways and roads are maintained. But it was not always this way.

In the late 1800s and early 1900s there was no federal, state or local system for financing the building and maintenance of roads. And places like Sheridan County were pretty much left to their own devices.

Between about 1880 and the 1920s the nation’s bicyclists provided the impetus behind a national “Good Roads Movement. This movement resulted in state and local organizations that advocated good roads. Eventually the increasing demand for decent roads spurred the federal government into action. But it took a long time for the system to evolve. Until it did local governments had to do the best they could in the good roads department.

Sheridan County found itself in the same pickle as the rest of the existing counties in the state — not much money for roads but an increasing demand from the citizenry for more and better ones. So, in cooperation with a statewide Good Roads Program, Sheridan County, under the auspices of the County Agricultural Agent, looked to the community for volunteer efforts with some assistance from the county.

The Good Roads Program was in effect for many years; the last one in Sheridan County was in 1919. There were several community efforts in the spring. One was locally instigated in the Ucross area. The local farmers and ranchers in the area called a meeting to discuss what could be done about the roads. The County Agricultural Agent, H. J. Thomas, attended the meeting where several committees were chosen to get data on the productivity of the valley and availability of shale for shaling roads. A Good Roads Day was scheduled for Ucross on May 31.

At about the same time Wyoming Gov. Robert Carey declared a statewide Good Roads Day for June 22. The plan was the ranchers would work on their own roads on May 31 and then, on June 22, the entire community would assemble to fix the worst places on the area county roads. An emissary was sent to the county commission to secure the required culverts and a truck. The use of a truck was refused but the culverts were made available for the project.

True to their word, the men worked on the roads on May 31 and June 22. The men met at Wm. Roberts’ ranch, started work at 8 a.m., returned to the ranch for the Good Roads picnic, and resumed work until 5 p.m.

During these two days in the Ucross area, 45 men donated their services to fix the roads and among them provided 28 teams of horses. While the men fixed the roads, the women prepared an excellent picnic dinner, which, as the agent report stated, “…was largely responsible for the great amount of soil moved during the afternoon.”

Across the rest of Sheridan County, 10 other additional communities responded favorably to the June 22 call to action. At the end of the day all of the communities had furnished the following resources to improve roads in their respective areas: 375 men; 210 teams of horses; five tractors; and one truck. In addition, 119 women prepared and served lunches. It was a typical community response for those days when people had to be self-reliant and if they needed better roads, it was up to them to “neighbor up” to get the job done.

More Good Road Days were scheduled for the next year but they were ultimately canceled. Sheridan County commissioners decided there needed to be a more formal and structured program for maintenance and construction of county roads. Therefore, they scheduled a bond election to finance the program. The citizens voted in favor of the bond issue. This source of funds, plus growing support from the federal and state governments, eliminated the need for the volunteer Good Roads Program.

But while it lasted it was a vital and commendable community effort.

Tom Ringley is the author of four local history books, an emeritus member of the Sheridan WYO Rodeo Board and a serving county commissioner.

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