Holy Modal Ramblers: Down The Old Plank Road
The Chieftains w/ John Hiatt: Down The Old Plank Road*
*Link removed due to hotlinking. Please don't steal our bandwidth!
The Highwoods String Band: Way Down The Old Plank Road
The Mammals: Way Down The Old Plank Road
The Old Plank Road was exactly what it sounds like: a 6.5 mile road built of wooden planks, without which it would never have been possible to traverse the sandy Algodones dunes between San Diego and Yuma, nor indeed the gap between Southern California and Arizona. Difficult to maintain, hard to drive, and too narrow for cars to pass in opposite directions, the splintery roadway only lasted from 1915 to 1926, when it was replaced by a mix of asphalt and concrete built on sand pilings.
California's Old Plank Road would eventually become part of US Route 80, and then Interstate 8. But the idea of the plank road, which had taken hold in culture long before as rural travelers and highway companies sought ways to cross soft or boggy ground, would live on in this old traditional tune, first recorded by Uncle Dave Macon on 5-string banjo, with guitar by Sam McGee, in 1926, and subsequently covered by a whole mess of my favorite tradfolk performers, including all of the above. Technically, I suppose, the tune could refer to any number of "plank roads" - but its title contains the name of one in particular, so we'll let it stand.