It was a hot, muggy July afternoon. We were flying along a gravel road headed for Carr’s Pool in Ames with the windows down. My cousin, Jim, was at the wheel, much to my chagrin. After all, he was only seven months my senior. The fact that those few months made him 16 and me still 15 were, to put it mildly, maddening.

Not far south of Ames we came upon a tractor heading the other direction. As we met, the farmer raised his index finger in the usual Iowa finger-wave. My cousin, who happened to be from Indiana, got all worked up. “Did you see that?” he bellowed. “He just gave me the finger!” I laughed and assured him that’s just how people acknowledge each other on the roads of rural Iowa.

I couldn’t help but think back to that event when I heard a couple of well-seasoned Iowans discussing a recent ditch fire as they consumed their coffee in a central Iowa convenience store.

One of the gentlemen had evidently taken the time and effort to follow the firefighters and knew exactly where the blaze had been located and was trying to explain the location.

“Well, you go out to Johnson’s corner and make a right; then you head past the old Henrickson’s farm and cut a left at the corner; after you go past the Big Creek bridge, it’s just on the south side. You can’t miss it.”

Yep, that’s how you get directions in rural America. It’s a cinch for anyone born and raised in the area, but for someone who is a relative newcomer, it can be more than a little confusing.

I remember being on the Slater Volunteer Fire Department back when the idea of a rural address system first emerged, and we tried to locate fires through numbers rather than names. It was, to put it mildly, a mess.

Nearly every volunteer had spent a majority of his life in the area and could tell you exactly who lived on what farm or at least who owned most every farm or acreage in our fire district.

Instead of giving the name, the dispatcher, who was located in Nevada, would only give the number. This often had us looking for smoke in the sky to locate the fire. Not a good situation.

Over the years, things gradually improved. Today, I’m sure the firefighters know exactly where they are going when they leave the fire station. Thank God for GPS. But there was a time when “the old Jones place” was the only direction we would get. And get there we did!

Ed Rood is the former publisher of the Tri-County Times.