Profiles of Mountain People

The Roads Were Bad

wooden sled

Sled at Foxfire Museum

“Somebody wrote, “The roads are not”—now don’t blush—”the roads are not passable, not even jackassable.” They were very narrow. This road that goes from Cranberry on into Plumtree and to Spruce Pine, I remember it distinctly because I lived in Minneapolis and walked it every day during the four months of school, and then I’d have to go to the mill and the store and the post office, borrow meal and flour. (Usually neighbors borrowed meal and flour and everything else when they’d run out.) It wasn’t a good sled road. I remember when this [Highway] 19 wasn’t a good sled road. It had chuck holes in it and rocks, and the wagons would rattle over it like a freight train. This road was just a path then. and I know a lot of the highways now in Avery County that were just paths, and some were blazed trails. I remember we had a lot of blazed trails here in Avery County when I was a young boy. They were bad.

Most everybody had work horses, at least two of them, some several. And they had sleds. They used big sleds, medium-sized sleds, too, of course, depending on whether one horse or two horses or three horses would pull it, through the snow. Yeah I was out in snow all the time nearly every day when I was a boy. I was the only son of the family. My father had eleven children.”

—Horton Cooper “Mountain Voices” by Warren Moore


Pap told me when he was a boy folks used sleds more than they did wagons. Not the kind of sleds used in snow, but sturdy strong sleds like the one in the photo that could be pulled along bumpy mountain trails.


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  • Reply
    Tamela Baker
    April 24, 2019 at 2:02 pm

    skids or sleds often worked better than wheels which could get blocked by a rock or a log. If the runners were made with the proper slant, they would get pried up by the obstacle and then slide over it. That meant the load might end of at a precarious angle and slide off if it wasn’t secured well. Maybe skids vs wheels were (and are) “6 of one, half dozen of the other”!

  • Reply
    April 23, 2019 at 1:07 pm

    I’m sure my grandparents used a sled like that because their roads were awful back when they were growing up. I remember my mother saying her father had his men use a I think a “skidder” to get logs moved out as they cut wood. It was something like a pallet with ropes that attached to mules or oxen. The sled in the photo does look like it would have been used to move anything heavy on the farm. When I was a kid they had covered the roads with gravel and when we would go to see my grandparents, I would think the car was going to be shaken apart. When I was grown and married, my grandparents had moved to town but still owned the old place. When we took a ride out to it I was shocked and in awe when we turned off the interstate onto a macadam road going back in the country. About four miles back that road we turned off into my grandparents little road that was still dusty red clay that wound about 3/4 of a mile back to their old place. There are still old red clay roads off the main roads and in rainy weather you might not should go back on one.

  • Reply
    Ken Roper
    April 23, 2019 at 12:18 pm

    When I was a little thing, I remember my grandpa (daddy’s dad) bringing us a big sled to gather our corn behind ole Alice. It was used to put corn in the crib. One time I was in the sled, waiting on my brothers to finish pulling the corn and Alice got spooked by a Copperhead. She took off and I was in there, over the bank and to the barn. I dove under some corn, waiting for Alice to stop, never thinking about getting out cause she could really run. By the time my daddy and brothers got to the barn, it was over. They dug me out and we all had a good laugh, but boy, what a ride. …Ken

  • Reply
    April 23, 2019 at 11:28 am

    My dad made a couple of sleds. We used them to carry our wood to the house. My brother and myself would sometimes ride on the back of the sled. We had a mare, her name was Nel. She was an amazing horse, strong as 2 horses. That was the best times. God Bless!

  • Reply
    Jim Keller
    April 23, 2019 at 11:23 am

    Growing up one of the chores assigned to the kids in the summer was to pick up rocks from the fields and haul them on a sled to a pile in the center of the field. We used our grandparent’s horse ( a 29 year old mare) who taught us a lot , even though we didn’t realize it to later in life.

  • Reply
    Ed Ammons
    April 23, 2019 at 10:55 am

    We used sleds similar to that one up on Wiggins creek. Daddy made the runners out of sourwood. He picked sourwood because of the natural curve you find in the sprouts that grow from an old stump. A downed sourwood don’t go easy. When you cut it,it immediately starts sending shoots out in a ring around it. These shoots (sprouts) grow out for a ways then turn straight up. In four or five years they are ready to cut and be made into sled runners. Not all of them make perfect runners but if you have a good eye and have several sourwood stumps, you can find two that match perfectly.
    Sourwood is not the toughest wood but it is straight grained which makes it slide easier across the ground. And the grain in naturally curved wood is much stronger than if you cut a curve in a board. This means thea runner won’t break if you hit something.
    We used sleds like that wherever people today would use a pickup or a tractor and wagon. We hauled tobacco, hay and corn to the barn. We used it to pick up rocks out of the fields. It brought in firewood and spread manure. It was also entertainment of sorts. I remember riding the sled down the road one day. We got too close to the side and the sled slid over the bank. The passengers hung on and Old Kate just turned her rear toward the sled and continued her leisurely pace down the road. After the initial shock we all decided that this was fun and went back and did it again, over and over. We even came with a name for our new sport. It was called Land Surfing.

  • Reply
    Melissa P (Misplaced Southerner)
    April 23, 2019 at 10:29 am

    Road are STILL like that around our home in Michigan. I only wish we could get to and from with a sled and horse.

  • Reply
    Paula Rhodarmer
    April 23, 2019 at 9:46 am

    I remember the old wooden sleds used around the farm. We had one and it was so heavy I could barely move it but it was used to haul stones. Those horses must have been super strong!

  • Reply
    aw griff
    April 23, 2019 at 9:27 am

    I can’t remember roads being that bad, but I do remember when many roads in were gravel. Some of the old roads used the creek bed,which is still true for narrow hollers. Now the state has blacktopped almost all these roads and in the process has made them more narrow.
    My Papaw Lewis would take a hickory sapling and split it and make runners for his sleds. The last time I rode on a sled my Uncle drove the mule while us boys scattered tobacco stalks where the tobacco had been raised. For those not familiar with raising tobacco. After stripping the stalk of all it’s leaves, you have a huge pile of stalks. The best thing to do with them is let them rot on the field. I guess you could call that organic backer rasin.

    • Reply
      Ed Ammons
      April 23, 2019 at 11:06 am

      We took an axe and chopped up the baccer stalks into 4 to 6 inch pieces so that they wouldn’t get caught on the plow when we plowed in the spring. We spread them on the fields where we planned to grow corn so that any diseases wouldn’t be transferred to the new crop. We chopped up the corn too like that but we did than in the field with a knife if it was standing and a good sharp hoe if it was on the ground. I guess corn wasn’t so bad to pass on disease to the next crop.

  • Reply
    April 23, 2019 at 7:45 am

    I built a sled once. Split a small sapling for the runners. It was a crude sled but i learned a lot and it was usuable. I enjoyed your post. Thanks!

  • Reply
    Don Byers
    April 23, 2019 at 7:44 am

    My dad, Ralph C. Byers, used a sled as did my grandpa, Nick Byers. School buses and pulpwood trucks cut the roads so bad it was almost impossible for a car to get through in bad weather. Murphy hwy(129) from Blairsville was a one lane road. When two cars met, both had to get the right wheels on the shoulder.
    My mother, Alice Mauney Byers was also my teacher at Antioch school. When the new road was being built in 1950, the wet red clay was so bad that we rode Dad’s horse from our home across from Deaver’s store to Antioch which was behind Uncle Rush Mauney’s store at the corner of what is now Gumlog Rd. and Murphy Hwy(129). Sometimes Ray Stepp or Jud Lewis would transport us in a logging truck.
    I’m getting old!

  • Reply
    Ron Stephens
    April 23, 2019 at 7:41 am

    I had about forgotten but Dad made a sled or two when I was very young. They were, of course, on their way out by then. I was too young to understand how it was put together to make it strong enough for the work work it was put through. As best I recall, he never pulled a sled with a tractor.

    As common as they were back in the day, I don’t recall ever seeing one at any kind of interpretive display. I expect there may be one or more at the Museum of Appalachia at Norris, TN though.

  • Reply
    Bill Burnett
    April 23, 2019 at 7:05 am

    As a boy I can remember riding in our next door neighbor’s sled behind his mule, we thought it was a great treat and where we forded Brush Creek was extra special in the summer but not that great in the winter. He used the sled (like the one in the photo) primarily for gathering his crops and hay. Great memories.

  • Reply
    Miss Cindy
    April 23, 2019 at 6:27 am

    My grandparents had a horse. I always wanted to ride it but it was a work horse, not a riding horse. They used it mostly for plowing by the time I was a child though they did have a sled for moving things too.

  • Reply
    April 23, 2019 at 5:35 am

    I can remember Daddy having a sled we’d pull behind the tractor, we’d haul rock or dirt with it mostly. We also had a wagon to haul our winters wood with. It was the same wagon his family used to haul cotton on, we still have that old trailer today, I replaced the boards with pressure treated wood and had some welding done on it but it’s still a good trailer.

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