Recently Route WW has been in the news a lot. We hear of a possible addition of several hundred homes and of the possibility of a golf course.
This busy, narrow, curving road has known more than its share of tragedy this year and ever since I was in grade school. Two lives were lost in the darkness when floodwaters washed an old iron bridge away in 1928.
Bus travel was almost unknown, but two bus lines, Purple Swan and Yelloway, used the winding creek-gravel road we now know as Route WW. It was an important segment of the shortest and most used route from New York City to the West Coast!
Early buses were little more than enclosed trucks fitted with seats. The Yelloway, carrying 28 people, plunged downhill toward Columbia from the Richard Estes farm, past the Ustick place - now El Chaparral subdivision - passing the entrance to our long dairy and home driveway.
In the darkness, and by the force of habit, the driver made the sharp right-angle turn to cross the iron bridge. He had done this many times, gaining speed to help get his load up steep "Crouch’s Hill" ahead. From the hilltop he would see the twinkling lights of downtown Columbia.
At 2 a.m. his passengers were almost to Columbia, some sleeping, when the driver approached the flooded north fork of Grindstone Creek. He went down the familiar hill with its 90-degree turn onto the bridge at the bottom. He made the turn! The bus nosed sharply down into floodwaters!
The bridge was gone! That heavy, iron bridge had washed away! The thick, wooden floor planks had floated to who-knows-where. Alarms rang in every phone on the country lines, and people came with farm lanterns, bed sheets and blankets to bind up the injured. They came in buggies and trucks for hauling the injured and frightened passengers. Women at home prepared breakfasts for an unknown number of frightened strangers. In the usual way of rural residents, the search for people and things was under way. Two lives were lost, and possessions were gathered and lined up for owners to claim, but Dad - O.D. Meyers - and Carl Hobart searched the creek banks for more than a week and returned possessions to their owners in many parts of the nation.
Precious lives are still being lost at that curve where cars can legally travel too fast to safely negotiate the combination of hills, curves and hazards of Route WW and Grindstone Creek. In my life of driving and riding on this hazardous part of Route WW, I have ridden a bicycle when Columbia’s motorcycle cop Tommy Lloyd rode back and forth to his home near mine several times a day. I have driven to school and work, but the present hazards seem to be even greater than ever.
The creek’s position has been altered, new bridges have been built and the surrounding terrain has been improved. Water has been diverted, highway curves have been rerouted and new speed limits have been posted, but emergency vehicles are still needed, often too late to save lives. Comes now the prospect of heavy development on land where horses and cattle have grazed on open pasture farmland. With bumper-to-bumper traffic several times each day and night, how can additional traffic be handled by existing Route WW? New speed restrictions with enforcement might help at once.
Perhaps the roadway must be elevated over this naturally hazardous spot on Route WW.