Too Quiet to Sleep

As a small child, my direct understanding and involvement in World War II was nil. However, I do have certain memories that were direct results of our nation’s war effort.

For example, once a week my brother and I were each given a dime or quarter to take to school. When the lady came to our classroom, we used that money to buy U.S. War Bond Stamps. When we managed to collect $18.75 worth of stamps, we could trade them in for a $25.00 U.S. War Bond that would mature in ten years. Although the war had ended when I was a mere toddler, the war debt still had to be paid. This was our way to contribute to the cause.

Yesterday I mentioned a couple of teen idols. One that came along in the early 1960’s was Gary U.S. Bonds. In truth, Gary Anderson became Gary U.S Bonds because the sleeves of his demo records encouraged people to “Buy U.S. Bonds”.

Naturally when we played songs such as this on our hi-fi record player, our parents hit us with the universal time-worn parental admonition, “TURN THAT CRAP DOWN!”

That brings us to my second memory of the late 1940’s and early 1950’s. We lived a half block away from Steuben Street. If we traveled west on Steuben Street, we would pass through Crafton, Pennsylvania and eventually cross Chartiers Creek on the Thornburg Bridge. After that, the name of the road changed to the Steubenville Pike and eventually wound its way to Steubenville, Ohio. However, if you turned onto Pennsylvania Route 60 – long before you reached Steubenville – you’d find yourself at the Greater Pittsburgh Airport. As teenagers, we’d often ride our bicycles there to watch the planes taking off and landing.

At the time, the Steubenville Pike was a major artery linking Pittsburgh with cities across the northern tier of the United States. The road was, for a time, a merging of U.S. Routes 22 and 30. Route 22 was known as the William Penn Highway and originally ran from Elizabeth, New Jersey to Cambridge, Ohio. Pittsburghers often used it to get to Steubenville.

U.S. Route 30 was known as the Lincoln Highway. It originally was the main route from Atlantic City, New Jersey to Astoria, Oregon. Many Pittsburghers used it to get to East Liverpool, Ohio and Canton. I never thought of it until now, but the Penn-Lincoln Highway that passed so close to our home represented a direct route for my father to return to his birthplace near Atlantic City.

Anyone who has ever visited the Pittsburgh area knows that the hills are just as challenging as those found in San Francisco. To tell someone to go straight on any road in the Pittsburgh area is bound to be confusing. Not only do the roads twist and turn, they often change names with every ninety-degree turn. As a result, truckers find it extremely difficult to build up speed prior to starting up a long hill. That was especially true of Steuben Street.

A trucker traveling eastbound across the Thornburg Bridge is immediately faced with a slight incline. As the rig passes through Crafton, the driver encounters three or four traffic lights prior to arriving at the base of the biggest hill in the area. The driver must then travel for approximately a mile to reach the crest of the hill and begin the long descent into the West End where the road levels off while running along side the Ohio River.

The normal truck traffic in the late 1940’s meant that we were constantly hit with the sound of trucks slowly climbing that hill in low gear. This sound was heard twenty-four hours a day.

But at that time, the truck traffic was increased as a result of the end of the war. Many World War II bombers were flown into Pittsburgh to be turned into scrap metal. We children watched many trucks laden with fuselages and wings slowly making their way up Steuben Street on the way to some scrap heap. I have no idea where their final destination was. We had lots of steel mills along the rivers, but I believe most of the scrap metal was aluminum. Perhaps the metal was loaded onto barges and taken down river to an Alcoa plant for recycling.

At any rate, on a hot summer’s night we’d either sleep outside on our front porch or in our bedrooms with the windows wide open – who had air conditioning back then? – and be lulled to sleep by the sound of trucks crawling up the hill.

And then it happened! On October 15, 1953, the Parkway West – from Saw Mill Run Boulevard to Pennsylvania Route 60 – opened and became the new U.S. Routes 22 & 30. Not only that, the local governments came along and posted signs along Steuben Street and the Steubenville Pike – NO TRUCKS!

Suddenly, the nights were deadly quiet. We could hear an occasional wail of a river-boat’s horn or a far off train whistle, but little else. We had few tree frogs and crickets, so the only sounds that were clear and distinct came from motorists on their way home. It was downright spooky!

For the first week or so everyone in our family had trouble getting to sleep. Our lullaby had been snatched away!

Looking back, there were others who suffered more than my family. Many truckers avoided the Steuben Street hill by taking some side streets through Crafton and following Crafton Boulevard into the West End. In so doing, they passed by, and usually stopped at, Alma’s Diner. That eatery was out of business within a year. The Crafton Diner along the Steubenville Pike also lost a lot of business, but converted into a family restaurant and managed to survive. Bear in mind, that family restaurants were few and far between in the early 1950’s. Back then, eating out meant either having a backyard barbecue or going to someone else’s home for dinner.

With all of that said, let me leave you with one of my favorite trucking songs. Since Dave Dudley’s song starts in Pittsburgh, I think it’s especially appropriate.


2 Responses to Too Quiet to Sleep

  1. Ivan G says:

    I have been looking online for a copy of another Dave Dudley trucking song that I like even more than Six Days entitled There Ain’t No Easy Run. It’s the I’ve Been Everywhere of trucking tunes, and started when Dudley and songwriter (at the time) Tom T. Hall would play a game in which they would try to name as many trucking companies as they could…until Hall finally put it to music. I’ll try digging around some CDs I burned a while back because I know I have that song around here somewhere.

    By the way–did you ever notice that when country group Sawyer Brown covered Six Days in the 1990s they left out the part about “I’m takin’ little white pills and my eyes are open wide”?

  2. jimsjourney says:

    I hadn’t noticed Sawyer Brown’s omission. I did notice he changed it to a “Georgie” overdrive and wondered if he had any idea what such a device was.

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