Clio Logo

The “Invisible Track Highway” or "Safety Road'' was a 6.671-mile length of road connecting the cities of Temple and Belton, commissioned during the administration of Miriam “Ma'' Ferguson. Billed as an advancement in travel and a highway that saved lives, the road ultimately proved to be an embarrassment and evidence of the Fergusons' corrupt tenure.

Temple police Chief Sam Hall looks over the “invisible track highway” between Temple and Belton

Land vehicle, Vehicle, Tire, Car

Location of the Invisible Track Highway

Ecoregion, Map, Slope, Schematic

Letter from H.P. Stockton to Gibb Gilchrist, February 29, 1936 re: Discussion of merits and basis of estimate for placing present Temple-Belton Highway 2 in good travelable condition.

Font, Paper, Paper product, Document

Letter from H.P. Stockton to Gibb Gilchrist, page 2

Font, Paper, Paper product, Document

Letter from H.P. Stockton to Gibb Gilchrist, page 3

Font, Parallel, Paper, Paper product

Miriam Ferguson was elected governor of Texas in 1924. Gibb Gilchist had been appointed state engineer during Governor Pat Neff’s tenure. Gilchrist set about organizing the state highway department, hiring workers to begin road projects, and requesting hundreds of trucks, tractors, and other equipment. When “Ma” Ferguson took office, she and her husband, former governor James Ferguson, began awarding highway contracts based on friendship and rewarding those who placed expensive advertisements in the Fergusons’ newspaper. Gilchrist and others resigned, and all work stopped on the road system due to a lack of matching highway money from the federal government.

The brainchild of S. B. Moore, a well-known engineer from La Porte, Texas, the “invisible tread highway” was an experimental road system based on physics similar to those of the railroad track. The road running from Main Street in Belton to the end of concrete at 31st Street in Temple was a dirt surface. Moore’s method required a bed of crushed rock overlaid on the dirt surface, surmounted by two parallel tracks of 12-inch bricks and covered with asphalt in the middle, giving a lumpy appearance.. The tracks were spaced apart by the width of a car’s standard wheel base. Automobile tires climbed up onto the slope and were centered on the brick tracks. Drivers had to maintain control so that the car would not fall off sideways. Another set of tracks at a safe distance accommodated cars going the opposite direction. If cars remained on their tracks, it was virtually impossible to have a head-on collision, thus the “safety road.”

The Fergusons were enthusiastic about Moore’s experimental design. Jim Ferguson had signed the bill authorizing construction, but his impeachment forced the project to be put on hold. Following Miriam’s election, Moore’s special project was underway by 1925. The Fergusons’ friend, Frank W. Denison of Temple, received the contract for construction of the road. With no experience in road paving, Denison sub-contracted the work to Harold Naylor of the General Construction Company of Fort Worth. All the materials, equipment, tools, and supplies for the project were supplied by Denison’s hardware store at inflated prices. The gravel for the roadbed was purchased from Jim Ferguson’s cousin.

A grand opening was held in December 1925 but the cold and wet weather did not dampen the turnout or effusive praise for the road. Temple Maylor, William W. Sellers branded it “the safest road in Texas.” The Fergusons declared it a great success, and in a speech at the Temple Theater later that day, Jim Ferguson announced that the cost of the road was about $26,000 per mile, a savings of $5,000 per mile using other methods of paving. When all was said and done, the cost was more than twice the original estimate, and the true expense was an average of $49,000 per mile.  

One traveler commented, “Once you get on, you have to stay on.” There was no way to exit the road except at the end. A writer to the Brownsville Herald determined to set the record straight concerning the high praise heaped on the road. He told of his experiences driving the road regularly, listing his reasons for a negative review: “It is the hardest to drive, the most uncomfortable and difficult to stay on of any surfaced highway in Texas. It cannot be driven in safety at over 25 miles an hour. It cannot be driven even at that speed without getting one’s car out of the brick runners and climbing the higher sides of asphalt. The highway has short turns in it, unsafe for any reasonable highway speed. It has later ditches for drainage between the runners that severely bump a car every few hundred yards. If you get behind a slow truck at Temple, you are probably behind it when you reach Belton. One could not drive over 100 miles of this kind of road in a day without being completely tired out.” By 1936, the road was in such poor shape that the resident engineer estimated repair costs at nearly $39,000. With the state in the grip of the Great Depression, a decision was made at the state level to abandon the road. Abandoning the road did not dismiss the scandals from the political arena. It proved to be the impetus for Attorney General Dan Moody’s investigation of the Fergusons’ cronyism and corruption in the Texas Highway Department.

Benoit, Patricia. “Temple-Belton Road Was Safest in Texas.” Temple Daily Telegram, January 19, 2015.

Dawson, Carol and Roger Allen Polson. Miles and Miles of Texas: 100 Years of the Texas Highway Department. College Station: Texas A&M University Press, 2016.

Texas State Library and Archives Commission. “Creation of the Texas Highway Department.”

Image Sources(Click to expand)

Killeen Daily Herald, 1.24.2015

Texas State Library and Archives Commission

Texas State Library and Archives Commission

Texas State Library and Archives Commission

Texas State Library and Archives Commission