The Bullitt County History Museum

Bullitt Memories: Stop Those "Devil Wagons"!

The following article by David Strange originally appeared in The Courier-Journal on 4 Apr 2012. It is archived here with additional information for your reading enjoyment.


It was common in many areas in the early 1900's to fight against the coming of the automobile. After all, many people proclaimed, wide sales of cars could destroy the horse industry, cause all sorts of disturbance, and radically change the status quo.

Clearly something that must be stopped.

This article from The Bullitt County News, January 21, 1908, over one hundred years ago, is an interesting example of the controversy:

Representative Thompson Introduces Bill to Put "Devil Wagons" Out of Business
in the State of Kentucky

Fixes Speed Limit at Three Miles an Hour

Automobiles will have to go out of business if a bill which is to be introduced by W. M. Thompson, who is known as "Windy Bill", and who has a voice when it is in condition that reflects great credit on its owner, says that so many autos have been running over the state and especially his county, that they have become a menace to the lives of the people and he would put them in the class with traction engines.

The bill which is being framed by Mr. Thompson is a lively one. It will provide that a man must go ahead of each automobile and keep one hundred yards in advance of it, on foot, all the time so as to warn persons along the route that the engine is coming. The machines will not be allowed to travel at a rate of speed greater than three miles an hour, and no more touring parties will be permitted.

Mr. Thompson thinks that he can get the bill through the two houses and will make a speech in support of it in which he will touch on the dreadful horrors of the automobile and the immense damage it does to the nerves of mules and persons driving the mules.

Mr. Thompson represents Bullitt and Spencer Counties and says that the rich people of Louisville who have automobiles dash through Bullitt County as though it was a race course instead of a county. He wants this stopped and will try to reach it with his law.

It might be important to note here that Mr. Thompson only served one term in the legislature, that being 1908-1909. Judging by the speed (and existence) of cars today, apparently his bill did not pass.

And so, despite the "visionary" laws proposed by "Windy Bill", the use and speed of automobiles did increase.

By 1925, Bullitt County was celebrating the completion of a "new" Bardstown Road. I once read an article from that time proudly proclaiming something like, "with this fine new road, cars can now travel as fast as forty miles per hour!!"

Bardstown Road 1925
Construction on Bardstown Road in 1925.

Forty.

Surely fast enough for anyone, right? And certainly faster than the three mph proposed just sixteen years before by Representative Thompson.

But, by the 1970's, that same Bardstown Road built for forty miles per hour was supporting cars trying to travel sixty...or faster, and the road first praised for its safety had developed a horrible reputation for all the deadly car crashes along its curves.

And so the "Bypass" at Mt. Washington was born, and plans made to improve the road all the way from Louisville to Bardstown. "A road for our future", it has been said.

Time will tell how far into the future.

Today governments are almost consumed with the demands for new roads and bridges. We all deal with the dangerous traffic congestion on Highway 44 (the current road with a most deadly reputation), Cedar Grove Road, Highway 61, and almost everywhere else as we try to cope with tens of thousands of cars daily speeding along roads that were originally and literally simple animal paths. (Part of Highways 44 and 61, for example, really did originate as buffalo trails that were known as "The Wilderness Road").

My how things have changed.

I remember my grandfather talking about an old Model T car that he had so long ago. The car had a simple gravity-fed gas tank; so, when going up a steep hill, he would have to drive backwards up the hill in order to get the gas to flow to the engine. But it wasn't a big problem at the time. The road was narrow, but there were seldom any other cars on the road. And if he had a problem, someone with a plow mule would soon come along to help him out.

You know, maybe Representative "Windy Bill" Thompson was correct in 1908 when he tried to restrict automobiles because of all the problems they would cause. And you know, I haven't seen any mules on the road in quite a while.

Related Photos

Edgar Fischer and car
Said to be "New" 1926 car owned by Edgar Fischer.
 
Horse Carriage
A horse drawn carriage in Bullitt County
 
Roy Maraman
Roy Maraman standing beside his first motorized hearse at his Shepherdsville business.
 
McFarland Hearse
First motorized hearse at McFarland Funeral Home in Mt. Washington, about 1925.
Grigsby McFarland is in the car. Methodist Church in background.
 
McFarland Horse Hearse
Horse drawn hearse from McFarland Funeral home. Circa 1925.
 
P. Carrico
P. Carrico and horse drawn carriage.
 
Two Ladies
Two ladies sitting on running board of old car in Bullitt County; names unknown.
 

Copyright 2012 by David Strange, Shepherdsville KY. All rights are reserved. No part of the content of this page may be included in any format in any place without the written permission of the copyright holder.


The Bullitt County History Museum, a service of the Bullitt County Genealogical Society, is located in the county courthouse at 300 South Buckman Street (Highway 61) in Shepherdsville, Kentucky. The museum, along with its research room, is open 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday and Friday; and from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. on Thursday. Admission is free. The museum, as part of the Bullitt County Genealogical Society, is a 501(c)3 tax exempt organization and is classified as a 509(a)2 public charity. Contributions and bequests are deductible under section 2055, 2106, or 2522 of the Internal Revenue Code. Page last modified: 12 Sep 2017 . Page URL: bullittcountyhistory.org/memories/devilwagon.html