A View from Glen Hill: Hauling gravel, a weighty subject

While gravel comes in many sizes and shapes and is good for a variety of different purposes, it usually only intersects with us in Wilton when we get that large bill for a truckload that looks so big on the truck but so small in proportion to our driveway’s surface.

My more personalized view of gravel derives in significant part from the fact that shoveling and hauling gravel became a bonding experience for my late father-in-law and me over a number of summers in Maine when I was a young man. He was a great role model in many ways, and especially so after my beloved father died suddenly and unexpectedly when I was 30.

A small but significant part of the work of restoring an old farm — with house, barn and other outbuildings in major disrepair — entailed first graveling, and then regularly regraveling each summer, the long driveway with its large circular end. We’d go to our one source at that time of free gravel. (With so many necessary repairs, we weren’t paying for anything we didn’t have to!) That source was the broad margin in summers of a small river that runs along the edge of our property where gravel was, for many years, faithfully replenished by river action.

The way down to the river with a trailer to load gravel was around the edge of hay fields farmed for us by a neighbor, then down a steep grassy slope, through a small forested area, down a sandy bank, and finally onto the gravel strip by the river. The only way we had to do that was by Jeep — the Willys acquired in 1971 for that and other purposes.

That Willys was a 1950 model, Army surplus, and allegedly a Korean War veteran — though it modestly told us nothing of its wartime experiences. What it was for sure was a very solid and reliable vehicle. Its simple four-cylinder engine was not impressive to look at but easy to maintain; its transmission, though, was something extraordinary: in four-wheel, low range, it could pull anything, anywhere — slowly but surely, never complaining; just giving its all.

So down to the river we would go, Dad usually driving, me riding shotgun. The trailer we used was old when we got it. It had no fenders or tail-lights but was blessed with a former truck axle and hefty metal framing and yoke that made it strong as an ox. Yet it was no giant thing, having a bed just eight feet long and three and one-half feet wide with sides that rose only about seven inches. Its color was almost the same olive drab as the Jeep that pulled it, and so they looked like they were made for each other; to their credit, they behaved that way, too.

Once we reached the river, one of us would use a strong garden rake to pull together gravel suitable for our purposes and the other would shovel it in, with the river’s cool refreshing water always there when we needed a break. Then, when fully loaded, we’d make the trip back, with slow (5-8 m.p.h.) but steady progress in that ever-faithful Jeep: up the river bank, through the wooded trail, up the steep grassy slope, onto and around the hay fields, and finally back to the driveway for unloading.

The whole process left lots of time for discussion about plans, hopes, ups and downs — big and little things. In the course of that time together, we forged some of those special bonds that are hard to establish in the usual rush of life. Those were precious moments, though neither of us would have described them with that precise word back then.

I still do gravel shoveling and hauling today. It’s not so popular among the next generation (though that may change), and now I do it from a small gravel pit at the back of our property since the river no longer yields up its gravel treasures in sufficient quantity. I still use the ’50 Willys with that same trailer, though the Willys is supplemented with an ’88 Jeep Wrangler that has a lot of power and moves right along when you’re in more of a rush.

But the pace of the ’50 Willys is my preferred style: slow, steady, letting you enjoy the beauty of nature all around and skies that stretch forever on a clear day — and with many good memories that stretch as far as those azure skies.

Mr. Hudspeth lives on Glen Hill Road.