From cold, clammy to bright, sunny

Published 10:49 am Saturday, July 26, 2014

by James D. Howell

Few delay departure from Adak beyond that required. I am no exception. Our next duty station will be Jacksonville, Florida, with a hurricane hunting squadron. In February, we pack, sell the car, and set about all that’s necessary for another transcontinental move. My family will find temporary housing in New Orleans while I get trained to fly the Lockheed Super Constellation at the Patuxant River Naval Air Station, Maryland. It’ll be another short term separation with a final move to Jacksonville, Florida.

I retrieve our car that has been stored by a relative, settle the family into an apartment, purchase a second car, and prepare for the cross country trip to Maryland. Doesn’t seem too difficult; I’ve made long distance drives before, and I will be able to visit with my Virginia family a couple of times while in training. En route, I’ll drive the Blue Ridge Parkway for as long as I can, before branching off for Franklin. I’ve not visited the southern mountains scenic drive and it won’t require much deviation from the direct route north.

I’ve driven the route from the Gulf Coast several times before; so way points have some familiarity. This time I’ll take a more northerly route via Birmingham, Chattanooga, and Knoxville. That will allow me to cross over into Ashville and drive a little of the scenic route. I say yet another goodbye to wife and kids and head north very early.

Roads are clear on this late winter day and I’m hoping the good weather will hold until I cross the mountains. I’ve made the trip from Pensacola to Franklin several times nonstop. This time I wish to see some different landscapes at a slower pace and will overnight along the way, maybe around Ashville.

Mississippi delta farmlands stream past my window for a few hours and gives way to foothills and valleys. Birmingham, Alabama comes into view. I recall passing through here a few years back when I went through the US Army’s chemical weapons school at Anniston. Birmingham is an industrial city, the largest in Alabama. All the raw materials for making steel can be found in this one area. High demand for steel during World War II rapidly increased the city’s size and importance.

I enter the beginnings of the Tennessee River valley. Here is where rural electrification had its start. The same governmental impulse that brought electricity to my home county also started the enormous Tennessee River Authority, that ranges ahead a hundred miles or more. Dams were built, power plants installed, and distribution systems created for electricity to farmlands and fertilizer plants, and to control flooding. Just west of Knoxville, Oak Ridge is home to laboratories and nuclear enrichment plants that furnished materials for the Manhattan Project during World War II.

After Knoxville, the road takes a decided change in character as it climbs into the mountains. To the South, Great Smoky Mountains National park occupies most of the foreground and all of the distance. I’m told the last glacial ice sheet stopped in this area and receded north. Plant life is much different to the south and the extra oxygen in the region gives the mountains it’s “Smoky” name and color. I know little of the geology, but I can attest to the beautiful hazy blue mornings where smoke lays close to the ground in this area.

I turn north after a night’s rest and find my way to the twisting, turning blacktop that will be typical for the next hundred miles or so.

Nobody is in a hurry on these roads and my sightseeing is relegated to pull-offs. I’m a little intimidated by the sheer drop offs just on the other side of the guard rail. Many areas have no guard rail; my eyes stay on the road. I do marvel at the view; sometimes I’m driving , glancing down at soft clouds that drift on an unseen breeze below me. Sometimes visibility is reduced on the road and I’m forced to drive even slower.

It’s obvious that I cannot stay on these roads and make my show time for the Navy.

I consult my gas station map and it shows a crossing road at Boone. It leads to familiar territory of Greensboro, North Carolina. That’s where I’ll leave the mountains in favor of speed.

It’s an easy ride along familiar roads past Greensboro; I’ve hitch hiked here many times. Future tobacco fields and red clay welcome me back.

I drive north, intersecting US 58 at Danville. I call my family outside Emporia; they are expecting me.

It’s well after dark when I turn into the path; the porch light is on.

JAMES D. “ARCHIE” HOWELL is a Southampton County native and 1955 graduate of Franklin High School. He can be reached at