Our 21 Mile Commute to Higher Learning



In those halcyon days before the Korean Conflict, when we were forced to grow up in a hurry, we commuted to Southeastern State College in Durant in a, more or less, casual search of higher education. Some of us were more casual than others.

In those bygone days we drove older and slower cars. As such, we drove more sedately and sanely. One of our group, Jerry Henderson, ‘49 thought that 50 to 55 mph was a rapid rate of speed in his mother’s ’36 Chevrolet with 35,000 miles on it. We found it unusual that he became a naval aviator when he had such an aversion to speed.

When we came back in the fall of ’54 from our tours of duty in the services, we could have gone to most any school we wanted courtesy of Uncle Sam. However, most of us had had enough of standing in lines, large groups and the hassle that went with them. I, for one, chose to return to Southeastern State for the ease of going to school on a small campus with it’s laid back atmosphere and smaller classes. Most of my fellow veterans from Denison joined me. Getting a degree was now a serious quest not a casual objective as before. But in the years since we graduated they have changed the name to Southeastern Oklahoma State University. A more highfalutin name. I liked Southeastern State College much better. But, as we know, times change.

When we started back to dear old SSC it was just unspoken that four of us, me, Taylor Fuller, ’49, Joe Hollingsworth,’49 and Jack Kelly ‘48, would car pool. The only unresolved matter was who would occupy the open 5th spot. That spot was originally taken by Bill Holden, ’48, but he opted out after the spring semester of ’55 to go to UT and get an engineering degree, which he did. Then Chad Morrison, ’49, joined our merry band. Later, he opted out and Paul Ryan Jennings, ’51, joined our happy horde. Then he opted out and Chad came back. Jack Kelly got married and later decided to move to Durant and dropped out. It was a fluid group at times. But Fuller and Hollingsworth and me were there for the whole commute tour of duty to graduation in the spring of ‘57.

But, it was a convivial bunch. Telling lies and preposterous sea stories (and other stories not fit for mixed company) was the order of the day. Kamikaze driving was also a required.

We all had V8’s. I was the last to get one to complete our speedy group. With our V8’s we were the scourge of highway 69-75 Denison to Durant and return. Driving under 70 or 75mph was considered bad form. Faster was considered much better. Why we didn’t kill ourselves, and others, I don’t know. Our guardian angels must have had helpers all working overtime.

Of course, the Oklahoma drivers, especially on the south side of Durant weren’t too cooperative. They would try little sneaky things like signaling for a left turn, then turning right and vice versa. Going 20 miles an hour on a 65mph highway they thought was great fun. We had to admit, it kept things interesting.

However, we got a measure of revenge. On 9th Ave. leading into town there was a low place by a grade school just south of Main that gathered several inches of water after each rain. We’d wait for the intersection and pass a slow moving car. We timed it so that we drenched many an Oklahoman who didn’t have his window rolled up.

But, we all had our little adventures and narrow escapes on our daily journeys. The times we topped hills going 70 or so and what should be ahead of us but a horse and wagon merrily clippity clopping down the highway at about 3 miles an hour or so got our attention. Or some farmer looking straight at you at an intersection and pulling out in front of you did the same. Or our favorite; the oncoming driver who waited till the last second before turning left in front of you without a signal. Those all had a way of getting your undivided attention. Why we had no wrecks I have no idea. It had to be more than luck. Divine intervention was more likely.

We raced other car poolers and anyone else who had a mind to try and race us. Or, we just ran fast for the thrill of it. We were late on many occasions and had to go fast to make our Eight O’clocks. On most days we would go 60 and 65mph down 5th and 6th Avenues to and from the college.

Both those avenues were in terrible shape as were most Durant streets. They hadn’t been maintained or repaired since they were laid. They were hard on our cars, but, we didn’t let that slow us down. Luckily, the natives cooperated as none of them seemed to venture on those or the cross streets during our frantic runs. Children, on their way to school, were also noticeably absent. It were as if the locals knew better than to be on those streets, or let their children be on them, at that time of day. A very wise move.

There was also another strange observation which we made; we never saw a highway patrolman, sheriff’s deputy or local lawman at our commute times. It were as if they had decided that if we weren’t killing ourselves, or others, what the heck, leave ‘em alone.

Our most renown trip was one day when Fuller was driving. For some reason we were running late. Chad Morrison lived in northeast Denison at the time and we picked him up last.

We left his house and pulled onto north Houston at 7:43 am at Sears St. we parked in front of the Student Union Bldg. At 7:55am. We easily made our 8:00 classes. I wouldn’t have believed it if I hadn’t been there and timed it myself. 21 miles in 12 minutes. Traffic was very light that morning and we drove 125 to 130 mph all the way to Durant. That ’55 Impala V8 Fuller had was the best running car I’d ever seen till then. Top speed about 132 and very smooth running. Also, it held the road like it was on rails.

After we got to Durant, we drove 80 to 90 going through town on 9th Ave. to Main Street. Then about 75 down 5th ave. to the campus. It was one exciting ride. But, I wouldn’t have ridden that fast with anyone but Fuller or me. However, it was the thing of which legends are made. I doubt if that time will ever be broken. The local law would certainly frown on such a move now. Back then, that wasn’t a problem.

We never discussed the odds of our making that run with no problems that day. The odds that we would make that trip at that speed with no adverse occurrences must have been astronomical. Everything had to fall perfectly in place, and it did. The chances of that happening again were too great to calculate. It was just one of those once in a lifetime happenings.

We never talked about what could have gone wrong, just what went right and what a great run it was. It was as if the other outcome was too difficult to comprehend. So we just relived the exhilaration of our success and ignored the other less favorable outcome.

But not all things which occurred involved our gritty group. Others did their own little stultifying escapades which joined the folklore of the Denison to Durant commute. One such episode involved Ralph Covington, ‘49.

Ralph had a new PontiacV8 which he bought when he got out of the navy. There was just one problem, Ralph didn’t know how to drive. Therefore, he sort of learned to drive on the fly, so to speak. We sometimes followed him and wondered how he stayed alive. We took bets on when he would spin in. It was a close call on many occasions as to whether he would make it home.

We were following Ralph home one day, at a high rate of speed, when a scary incident occurred at the sharp curve just north of Colbert which had a 45 mph posted speed restriction. In the car were Ralph, Thomas Moseley, ’49, and Lonnie Perry, ‘49. Anyway, Ralph hit that curve at 95 mph. Moseley and Perry hit the floorboards. But, son of a gun, to our amazement, he made it. We were sure he was going to shoot off into the red Oklahoma dirt field and roll that Pontiac over several times and kill them all. He should have thanked god and General Motors that somehow he made that curve. He and his passengers must have had their own guardian angels with helpers. For we could see no other reason why he made that curve unless he had divine assistance. Later, he thought it was no big deal. Just an every day occurrence.

We had many other adventures which are now lost in the foggy mist of time. But, it was quite an adventurous and exciting commute on many occasions. However, it was fun and I wouldn’t have missed it. Where else could you have had that much fun, excitement, thrills and get an education, too, without getting killed in the process.

Yours for safer driving,

Bill Phillips, ‘48

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