designation on the state highway map is State Highway 207, but south
in Armstrong County that stretch of pavement is far better known
as Hamblen Drive.
SH 207 extends 199.7 miles from the Texas-Oklahoma
border to Post. In the
process, the highway cuts through Palo
Duro Canyon and crosses the Prairie Dog Town Fork of the Red
River. That segment, one Texasí most
scenic drives, honors Will H. Hamblen, a one-time Armstrong County
elected official who spent much of his life making that roadway
Born in 1876, Hamblen came to the Panhandle
with his family on an immigrant train in 1890. They built a dugout
on the south rim of Palo Duro, but the small shelter didnít have
enough room for everyone, so Hamblen slept in the wagon until they
could complete a larger residence.
As a boy Hamblen
helped his father cut cedar posts in Palo Duro and haul them to
Amarillo to sell
for three cents each. When they first started making the trek, they
followed an old Indian trail Ė blazed earlier by buffalo Ė across
and then up the rugged canyon. A long, tough trip, the only alternative
was bypassing the canyon via the newly founded Canyon.
Hamblen and his father removed rocks and did whatever else they
could by hand and plow to improve the route across the canyon toward
efforts benefited from state law, which provided that a countyís
eligible men annually had to put in a few days working to maintain
and improve roads passing through their property. That or they could
pay a road tax.
By the time
Hamblen married and settled on a section of land along the rim of
Palo Duro near the small community of Wayside,
he rankled at how long it took to get to the county seat at Claude.
Going to the courthouse via the Canyon-to-Amarillo
route was a 120-mile trip. The only other way was the still-rough
route across the canyon.
Elected a county
commissioner in 1928, Hamblen quickly got improvements underway
on the cross-canyon road he and his father had begun nearly 40 years
earlier. Men with picks and shovels working along side men operating
mule-drawn slips, Fresnoes and wheel scrapers removed rough spots
and lessened steep grades. Two years later, Hamblemís colleagues
on the court voted to name the road in his honor.
While better than ever, the road still meant a rough ride across
the canyon, especially the stretches up and down its steep, rocky
sides. Following Congressional passage of the Public Works Administration
Act in 1933, Hamblen secured federal funds to pay men $1 a day to
further improve Hamblen Drive.
Showing up for
work in Hamblenís Model A truck and another farmerís Model T, the
men used dynamite, hand tools and mule teams to move boulders and
tame cliffs. But one hill stood in the way. When the crew working
up from the south met the hands assigned to the north crew, they
couldnít agree on what side of the hill to go around. Finally, the
foreman said he would turn his horse loose and see which route he
chose. And thatís the way the road went.
With the new road, though it remained unpaved, the public had its
first easy access to Palo Duro. Meanwhile, on the eastern side of
the canyon Civilian Conservation Corps men blasted a drivable way
down into what would become Palo
Duro Canyon State Park.
On Nov. 24, 1952, a snowy day, Hamblen walked from his house to
the post office. Picking up a letter concerning a traffic accident
he had been in earlier that month, he headed across the street to
talk with his insurance agent. But before he got there, he slipped
on a patch of ice, suffering a fractured skull. Eight days later
he died, 76 years old.
Two years later the Highway Department assumed maintenance of Hamblenís
road and converted it to FM 284. In addition to paving it, the department
built a 975-foot concrete bridge spanning Prairie Dog Town Fork.
Having the road under state maintenance amounted to a tremendous
improvement, but Panhandle
civic leaders wanted a state highway connecting Borger
on the north with Post
on the south. But that was only a small part of the dream. The grand
vision entailed a roadway to Canada that would go north from Borger
via Kansas and Nebraska and south beyond Post
Angelo and Del
A year after Hamblenís death, Plainview newspaper publisher and
attorney Marshall Formby gained appointment to the state Highway
Commission. While it probably would have happened sooner or later,
Formby pushed for the Panhandle
segment of the proposed Canada to Mexico highway.
Accordingly, in 1958, Formby and his fellow commissioners designated
FM 284 as a segment of SH 207. But the change involved more than
nomenclature. The FMís 8-9 percent gradient would be reduced to
the departmentís standard for highways Ė 6.5 percent.
A decade after Hamblen Drive became part of SH 207, the state put
up a historical marker chronicling the routeís history. The marker
stands eight miles northeast of Wayside
at a roadside park overlooking Palo
Duro Canyon at a point where Hamblenís road seems to go on forever.
© Mike Cox
"Texas Tales" October
11, 2012 column