January 23, 1998
Bertha Beier has lived in the 1000 block on Fir avenue since the early 1950s, and she has seen some remarkable changes in the area during that time. Originally it was a rather quiet neighborhood on a two-lane blacktop street. Then in 1962, things began changing, and Mrs. Beier remembers it well. In 1959, the Charles Machine Works, Inc., Perry's leading industry then as now, moved from downtown Perry to a large new building on the western outskirts of town because of the mushrooming demand for CMW's new small trencher, called "the Ditch Witch." The company, which now employs well over 1,000, had perhaps 100 employees at that time, but all of them had to travel Fir avenue to reach the plant. Added to that was traffic made up of vendors, delivery vehicles, semi trailers loaded with outbound products, plus customers and numerous visitors each day.
Fir avenue's blacktop ended at about 15th street, and from there to the CMW driveway, a distance of about a half mile, it became a narrow, badly rutted, just plan treacherous strip of roadway. In times of bad weather, the problem was severely compounded. Some vehicles twisted axles or slid completely off the road as they tried to traverse the miserable little stretch of Fir. The new Interstate 35 federal highway went past Perry just a half mile west of CMW, so it was obvious that Fir inevitably would have to be hard-surfaced for motorists using or leaving that route. Civic leaders, spurred on by Mayor Harold Scovill and the Chamber of Commerce, pressured the Oklahoma Highway Department for some kind of relief. In the end, contracts were awarded for converting Fir into a divided, four-lane, concrete road from I-35 on the west to near the junction with U.S. 64 on the east.
Mrs. Beier has saved and laminated a clipping from the front page of The Perry Daily Journal of November 25, 1962. It has two large pictures spread across the front page of that day's issue, showing work in progress on that project as it passed the front of her house in the 1000 block of Fir. Residences along the north side of Fir are very visible in the pictures, along with numerous shade trees. Some of those fine old trees had to be sacrificed to accommodate the new, wider Fir, much to everyone's regret. The road-building contract was held by Worth Construction Co. In the photos, large truck-mounted cement mixers are pouring the two west-bound lanes while some of the Worth workmen follow with hand trowels to smooth the surface. After the entire west-bound length of Fir was covered, the east-bound half began receiving its layer of concrete with a four-foot brick median separating them. Curbs were included on both sides along the entire stretch.
Mrs. Beier remembers that a cavernous hole was exposed in the substrata of Fir almost directly in front of her house and another was located in the vicinity of the First Baptist Church. Her understanding is that engineers concluded the big cavities had been created by an underground stream which once flowed from west to east roughly along the route followed by Fir avenue. The holes caused some unexpected delays in completing the job, and filling them turned into a major headache.
So, Mrs. Beier has seen Fir avenue change from a quiet, lightly traveled street to a major thoroughfare sprouting businesses in zoned areas at both extremes, and with heavy traffic day and night because of motorists using or leaving I-35. High school students, faculty members and other incidental traffic connected with the school, which spreads from the 800 block and crosses to the 900 block, also contributes a large share of the load, and Fir is not the same as it once was. No complaints from Mrs. Beier, who at 82 still mows her own yard and trims the hedge. But she enjoys reflecting back on the way things were, and she is aided in this by those two large pictures on the front page of the November 25, 1962 Perry Daily Journal I enjoyed looking at them with her.