The perils and pitfalls of an all-volunteer road crew


25 Responses to “The perils and pitfalls of an all-volunteer road crew”

  1. Brainspore says:

    In Colonial times, you owed the city or county so many hours of labor every year. And, when they called you up, you had to go out and work on a road crew. Sort of like jury duty. Only sweatier. (Of course, if you were wealthy enough — or, in the case of colonial Virginia, owned enough slaves — you could have other people do your labor for you.) In 19th-century Wisconsin, you could substitute labor on the roads for cash road taxes.

    Are you sure about all that? Because I just read some comments from my Libertarian friends a couple of posts back which explained how Americans used to get by just fine without mandatory civil service or taxation.

  2. prentiz says:

    Slightly O/T- I never understood why the US uses so many workers with Stop/Go signs – the rest of the developed world uses temporary traffic lights.  Is there something I’m missing?

    • apenzott says:

      Sometimes the construction crews need to move heavy equipment or materials across the remaining lane so by radio the flaggers can do an “all stop” to vehicle traffic to effect those maneuvers.

      In cases where construction is put on hold (no crews present) or semi-permanent barriers separating the construction from traffic flows are in place , then temporary signals are used.

      Consider the case where there is a malfunctioning railroad crossing.
      (Gates down and lights on, but no train for 10+ minutes.)
      Personally I trust the humans in that you can roll down the window and ask; “What’s the delay?”

    • beemoh says:

      Speaking as one with a friend who looks after the temporary traffic light situation for the roadworks company he is under the employ of, it’s because they never bloody work.

    • Dada Smyrna says:

      The road is actually in Canada, the Yellowhead Highway between Saskatoon and Winnipeg.

  3. Andy Lester says:

    Aw man, I thought it was going to be about this kind of road crew:

  4. lknope says:

    Ah, but can you get out of your duty by pretending to be biased?

  5. Bray_beast says:

    I refuse to believe that a gathering of townspeople in rural Wisconsin could be turned into an excuse to get drunk!

    • dollared says:

      You got in ahead of me!  I’ve driven the roads between People’s Brewery and Point Brewery, er, Oshkosh and Stevens Point.   This post explains things about those roads that cannot be explained any other way.

  6. dollared says:

    Why do I think this system was instrumental in the development of the more than 60 breweries that were located in Wisconsin at the turn of the century?

  7. What’s the problem?  Just arrange miles and miles of alternating blocked-off lanes with thousands of orange cones.  Do nothing for 4 months and then take the cones away (or wait for them to be run over or stolen).  How hard is that?

  8. Jonathan Badger says:

    Speaking of the OpenLibrary book that Maggie mentions, check out the cool “futuristic” font that the chapter headings use — what is it?

  9. fnarf says:

    This system of road-building was still in use in eastern Montana well into the 20th century. Many, many issues of the Jordan (Mt.) Times in the teens and 20s were filled with reports on county disbursements (of a dollar or two each) to pretty much everyone in town for working on the roads. And yes, the roads did indeed suck horribly (literally in the spring; the “gumbo” was famous for grabbing hold of a man’s boots and never letting go as he slowly settled into the center of the earth).

  10. Childe Roland says:

    Well, really, if you can’t afford to own and operate your own personal roads you’re a socialist leech anyway.

  11. beemoh says:

    This is an interesting piece, if only because it goes directly against the ‘The General Public Is Always Better’ ethos that a lot of posts here follow, certainly ones where Wikipedia or the word ‘Expert’ is seen.

    • OtherMichael says:

      Yeah, too bad there isn’t a way to change bad edits or view the history of a person’s contributions to a digital edition, in order to get an idea of their quality of contributions or expertise.

  12. JoshP says:

    You always hear about Rome uniting western europe with paved roads, and then we come to blacktop.  I do know that the term ‘levee en masse’(sp?) came to be referred to as not just a form of public service for road, but as one of the foundations of the feudal form of government.
      Then you hear about post colonial America and its ‘log’ roads, where, in the clay of the deep south around here was akin to pressing straw into a brick, until the wood rotted.  Makes you wonder about the cultural necessity of the title and education of surveyor as it was applied to so many of the educated.

  13. Christopher West says:

    The freeway I use every day has been under construction for ten years.  Ten years!  We can’t pretend that moving it from an inefficient local group to an inefficient federal group has made it better.  

    The problem is incentives.  If these guys were using their own money to build the road, they couldn’t just waste it.  They’d need to make their money back (or hopefully profit), or go broke by blowing their life savings on road construction-themed cocktail parties.

    What would you do if you could design your own road?  How would you make it better?  There’s a road idea contest over at:

  14. kiddoc says:

    When I visited rural Haiti around 1989, I saw people filling (enormous) potholes in the road with gravel in exchange for tips from passing drivers.  Of course, my local expert told me that not much work was done when there were no drivers nearby!

  15. Steven Schultz says:

    “…you owed the city or county so many hours of labor every year. And, when
    they called you up, you had to go out and work on a road crew. Sort of
    like jury duty.” – Or like a military draft. This is not “all-volunteer.” 

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