designation on the state highway map is State Highway 207, but south of Claude
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 a reality.
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.
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
Hamblen and his father removed rocks and did whatever else they could by hand
and plow to improve the route across the canyon toward Claude.
Their 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.
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
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.
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.
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
to San Angelo
and Del Rio.
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.
- October 11, 2012 column
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