Growing up, it was the only passage from Sloss Hollow into town, unless you wanted to drive several miles on a red-rock road to the new highway (I still call it that even though it was completed in the late 1950s), and then on to Dora.
Not much is left these days except brick, mortar and fallen timbers. Privets, kudzu and time have eaten away at most of the sites where the old buildings once stood.
Every now and then when I have time on my hands, I’ll drive down through the old town.
Recently I went to the Davis Cemetery to check on the graves of my mother and father, and on the way back, I decided to swing through the old tunnel.
Midway through, I instinctively tooted my horn as I’d done thousands of times before.
A long-forgotten memory flashed back like a rerun of “Andy Griffith.”
Mr. Arwine lived in a small house just on the other side of the tunnel. In thinking back, I’m not sure how he managed to keep his sanity because everybody tooted their horn as they drove through.
The acoustics of the tunnel acted like a megaphone, and when cars with busted mufflers drove through it, they roared louder than a Phantom Jet at takeoff.
I know this for a fact because I went to see him one sunny autumn afternoon.
He was a master craftsman specializing in rebuilding generators for old car. He’d rewind the copper in generators with great care, bringing obsolete auto parts back to life.
When the generator on my 1946 Plymouth died, buying a new one wasn't an option.
I started parking the old car on hills and other places where I could roll it off, pop the clutch and crank the beast.
Once when I did that, it didn't crank, and none of my buddies were around to help me push it off, so I decided to get it fixed.
I got up early on Saturday, pulled the tools from the trunk and loosened the two bolts holding the oily generator on.
The part was about the size of a loaf of bread but felt as heavy as an anvil in my hand.
I borrowed my mom's Buick and headed down to Mr. Arwine's house.
As we stood in his shop talking, one of my friends came through the tunnel in a souped up Ford. He punched in the clutch and revved the motor. The sound echoed out of the tunnel and off the hills and hollows around the old town. Before he exited, he blew his horn.
It was a ritual repeated all day and all night, according to Mr. Arwine.
Apparently he'd learned to tune it out, like the freight trains that blew for the Dora Crossing.
After about an hour of sitting in the corner and watching him work as delicately as a watchmaker, he pronounced the generator fixed. I paid him a few dollars and headed home to put the Plymouth back together. It worked like a champ. It was still working in 1971 when the Army drafted me into service.
After the state completed highway 78, all the businesses began to flee the old part of town and move to the new highway.
These days about the only people who drive through the old tunnel and through the old town are people taking a side trip down memory lane.