What’s the story behind Wheat’s Curve?

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Wheat’s Curve

Wheat’s Curve, the rest of the story.  Just outside of Sparta TN,  There is an interesting twist in the highway listed on many maps as The Broadway of America. Also-known-as US 70, this was the first paved road in the United States to reach from the Atlantic to the Pacific.

As a rule, road builders try to make highways as straight as possible. So when you encounter an almost right angle in a highway, you know that there must have been a reason. This bend is so pronounced that someone erected signs announcing (or warning) its position. Dubbed “Wheat’s Curve” for the family of Morgan Wheat who lived along the cusp, this curve has continued to slow traffic for the better part of a century.

Of course, for a segment of the population, a curve notorious enough to have its own moniker becomes a dare. It has been the site of many accidents through the years, some were sincere mishaps; others were caused by waging on who could travel the fastest through the curve; and of course, this has been the site of many traffic fatalities.

The alleged Wheat’s Curve speed record was set by a moonshiner who made the quarter-circle at 105 miles per hour. Interestingly, yet another segment of this same highway and still in Tennessee is where the story that became the movie Thunder Road took place.

Along with the sadness of the injured and the killed are a few anecdotes that have humorous twists. Ricky Mcbride remembers standing by the guard rail waiting for a school bus when a truck carrying pigs overturned unleashing startled swine that soon covered three subdivisions. Ann Holland recalls that incident and adds that the neighborhood children made sport of trying to catch the little pigs.  Carless Wiinnett remembers a similar day when a chicken truck overturned.

Civil Engineers spend years learning to calculate trajectory for vehicles likely to travel a given road so there must be a compelling reason to include a sharp change in direction at that locale.  We may never know for sure, but after studying maps of the area, and noting that the Louisville & Nashville

L&N Railroad Map. Note that Bon Air and Monterey predate Cookeville and Sparta

Railroad spur, that had been built decades before takes a similar turn in the same area; I think we might be able to deduce the reason for the curve. Apparently underlying geology resulted in these speed-breaking turns for both the highway and the railroad. White County Tennessee has more caves than any other county in the entire USA. Both the railroad and US 70 converge, just south of Sparta, on a ribbon of stable land bordered on one side by the Calfkiller River, and one the other by a huge, cave-induced depression called a “sink”.

Note the topo-map below. The contour lines illustrate elevation change. The contour lines that have tick-marks denote the geologic anomaly known as a sink. The tick marks point inward, and as you can see, this sink is probably over 3000′ long. Sinks are avoided for construction purposes because they flag unstable earth. Engineers for both the railroad, and the highway sought to avoid the mountains to the west, the river to the east, and at all cost, they skirted that unstable land in the sink. The cost of avoiding those three natural wonders was a temporary reduction in speed on both the rail and the pavement. Wheats Curve topo

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JR’s Place in Wheat’s Curve

One more good reason to slow down at Wheat’s Curve is JR’s Place. Known for ages as Webb’s Package Store, and operated for decades by WWII POW, Carl Webb and wife Margie.  Jimmy Ray Cantrell purchased the business last year and has converted it to a friendly tavern complete with a great selection of brew, karaoke, and various entertainment offered by local talent. I suggest that you try the “Third Shift” beer, but watch out for the boiled eggs that are soaking in napalm – – but I guess that fiery flavor sells a lot of brew.

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5 thoughts on “What’s the story behind Wheat’s Curve?

  1. Pat

    Just beyond the curve going south the white house where Ben Swindell lived and had a paint store is the same house that years ago a family with the last name Wheat lived there. They had a son named Curtis. I can find out more about that family if you like from my dad and let you know.

  2. Bill

    Wow, I remember “Wheat’s Curve” – I lived in Sparta in 1965 and tried the curve and my personal best (and that of my ’60 Chevy) was 85mph.. I’m lucky not to have crashed on that dangerous curve. This is a very interesting story of why the road curves there.. Now I’m older and have more sense, I would never try to make “Wheat’s Curve” any faster than the recommended safe speed.

  3. Gary Whiteaker

    I used to live in lake forest subdivision back in the 80s and remember Carl and Margie Webb. They were really nice people and I bought many a six pack there and played the poker machine.

  4. Allen Coggins

    Our mutual friend, Chuck Sutherland, sent your blog to me this morning. For the past two decades I have been compiling a data base on the origins of the names of Tennessee’s populated places (e.g., cities, towns, hamlets, communities, crossroads, known Indian Villages, forts and stands, old mining and logging camps, etc. in other words any populated place, past or present. Wheats Curve is one that, until now, I have been unable to document. A few years or so ago, I asked Chuck (who seems to know every nook-and-cranny within a hundred mile radius of his home) if he knew the origin of this oddly named place. He did not, but remembered the question. Now I know and can cite you as the source of the information. Any other place names that you can help identify will be welcome. Or, it might work the other way. If you have one or more that you can’t figure out, maybe I have it in my vast data base. Thanks. Allen Coggins, 4310 Reed Road, Louisville, TN 37777. H. (865) 380-0123 cogginsanb@charter.net


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