Monday, September 18, 2017

Cattle Guards

When I first moved to St. Tammany Parish, it was mostly rural in nature and there were a lot of horse ranches, landscape nurseries, and cattle ranches. Well, there are still a few horse ranches and nurseries, but not so many cattle ranches.

I mention this because of the gradual disappearance of cattle guards in the rural (and sometimes not so rural) roadways of St. Tammany Parish. Whenever you were driving along the highway and heard the tires go over a cattle guard, you knew you had crossed over into bovine territory and had better keep a lookout for the four-legged critters. 

For those of you who don't even know what a cattle guard is, they were gaps in the pavement of the road where evenly-spaced rails were placed which made it difficult for cows to walk across without their hooves falling down in-between the rails. While a car could easily cross over the cattle guard (accompanied by a low-frequency roar of the tires on steel), it was not easy for a cow to cross and therefore tended to keep them in the vicinity of where they were supposed to be. 

Cows were supposed to stay inside fences, but sometimes fences broke or gates came open and the cows found themselves wandering around the neighborhood.

Over time, fencing was improved and the need for cattle guards diminished. Here is an article I wrote in 1973 about the obvious need for those precautions back then. Click on the image below to make it larger and more readable.

The experience of crossing over a cattle guard was so frequent in northern St. Tammany that I wrote a song about them. The song was about a country boy who had gotten a job in one of the big cities, and when he couldn't take the stress of urban living any longer, he gets in his car and heads for the country. He knows that as soon as he hears his car go over a cattle guard, he has reached his destination. 

Been working in the city, been working real hard,
Couldn't take it any longer, so I got myself fired.
Threw my duds in the Chevy and headed for the hills
Where the horses run free tween the ridges and the rills

Coming from the city no need to further roam
Looking for a cattle guard to tell me I'm home
Looking for a cattle guard to make my tires sing,
Startle up the quail and make 'em take wing.

You know you're in the country when you cross a cattle guard.
You know you're in the country when the sky is fully starred,
You know you're in the country when you're finally breathing free,
You know you're in the country, it's where you want to be.