The Telegraph Rd Behind Dire Straits' "Telegraph Road"
"And the dirty ole' track...was the Telegraph Road"...the first time I heard those lyrics, I knew I was listening to one of the most incredible songs I'd ever heard. To find out it was based on an actual Telegraph Rd was just the icing on the cake.
Before the creation of Interstate 75, The major thoroughfare between Toledo and Detroit was Telegraph Road. Currently carrying US Highway 24, Telegraph Road was immortalized as a song by Dire Straits in their 1982 album "Love Over Gold".
|Early travel brochure for US-24, showing its importance as a road one could use between Los Angeles and Quebec; although it only ran from Michigan to Colorado.|
If you have 14 minutes to spare, the song is an awesome bit of 80's progressive rock. Today we're going to do things slightly different, in that I was to discuss the history of both the road and the song, because I think the lyrics do a great job to that end.
The modern-day Telegraph Road is one of the major parts of US-24 in Michigan; the other within the state follows the Saginaw Trail, one of the numerous Native American trails that have been incorporated into our infrastructure in some form or another. The trail connects Saginaw with Detroit, and then US-24 heads south to Toledo. Despite US-24 being an East-West US Highway between Colorado and Indiana, it makes a turn in the Toledo area to become a North-South highway and follow Telegraph Road and the Saginaw Trail.
|Looking in southeastern Michigan at an early mileage sign between Detroit and Toledo.|
Telegraph Rd itself got its start in the mid 19th-century, when telegraph lines were installed between Detroit and Toledo for use on the adjacent Michigan Central Railroad. For this reason, Telegraph Road is a very common road name in the US, since many roads were constructed to provide maintenance to adjacent telegraph lines.
|A very early photograph of Telegraph Road before it was paved, before 1919. (Dearborn Schools)|
|Telegraph Road as M-10. Today the M-10 designation terminates in Detroit. Image: Michigan 1919 State Highway Map|
|Telegraph Road looking north at Eureka, 9/14/1949. Image: Downriver History and Facts|
However, like much of the US Highway system, its importance as a through road between Detroit and Toledo was diminished by the Interstate Highway System, and the freeway that paralleled it, I-75 opened in the late 1950's as the first Interstate highway in the state, soon followed by I-94.
|Driving over Telegraph Road (US-24) on I-94 just outside Detroit. FRRandP photo, 2018.|
So how did a road, who we've established, is a fairly common named road in the US, and one that faced a similar fate to other through roads, having been largely replaced as such by the Interstate, get a song by a major rock group named after it?
Mark Knopfler of the Dire Straits explains the genesis behind the song in the following interview, quoted from here:
Chuck: "Look, as you heard, I'm from Michigan, and I was just wondering where you got the idea for the song "Telegraph Road," 'cause in Pontiac, going up to the SilverDome, US24 is called Telegraph Road and I was just wondering if you came up with that while you were on tour or something?"
MK: "Yeah, that's exactly what happened, in fact was driving down that road, and I was reading a book at the time, called The Growth of the Soil by Knud Hamsun, Norway and I just put the two together. I was driving down this Telegraph Road that you're talking about, I think it's the same road, and it just went on and on and on forever, it's like what they call linear development. And I just started to think, I wondered how that road must have been when it started, what it must have first been. And then really that's how it all came about yeah, I just put that book together and the place where I was, I was actually sitting in the front of the tour bus, at the time."
The song doesn't exactly match the history of why the road was created, but instead paints a narrative of a settler who begins to develop the area around the road. Telegraph Road's lyrics are as follows:
Well a long time ago, came a man on a track
Walking thirty miles with a sack on his back
And he put down his load where he thought it was the best
He made a home in the wilderness
He built a cabin and a winter store
And he plowed up the ground by the cold lake shore
And the other travelers came walking down the track
And they never went further, no they never went back
Then came the churches, then came the schools
Then came the lawyers, then came the rules
Then came the trains and the trucks with their loads
And the dirty old track was the Telegraph Road
Then came the mines, then came the ore,
Then there was the hard times, then there was a war
Telegraph sang a song about the world outside
Telegraph Road got so deep and so wide
Like a rolling river
And my radio says tonight it's gonna freeze
People driving home from the factories
There's six lanes of traffic
Three lanes moving slow
I used to like to go to work but they shut it down
I've got a right to go to work but there's no work here to be found
Yes, and they say we're gonna have to pay what's owed
We're gonna have to reap from some seed that's been sowed
And the birds up on the wires and the telegraph poles
They can always fly away from this rain and this cold
You can hear them singing out their telegraph code
All the way down the Telegraph Road
Well I'd sooner forget, but I remember those nights
Yeah, life was just a bet on a race between the lights
You had your head on my shoulder, you had your hand in my hair
Now you act a little colder like you don't seem to care
But just believe in me, baby, and I'll take you away
From out of this darkness and into the day
From these rivers of headlights, these rivers of rain
From the anger that lives on the streets with these names
'Cause I've run every red light on memory lane
I've seen desperation explode into flames
And I don't want to see it again
From all of these signs saying "Sorry, but we're closed",
All the way down the Telegraph Road.
Thanks as always for reading!