King of the roads

Published 12:15 am Sunday, October 23, 2011

ERIC SHELTON | THE NATCHEZ DEMOCRAT Clarence “Curly” Jones, former Adams County road manager, retired in September after 46 years of service. Jones began working for the road department when he was 19 years old. Now he plans to spend more time hunting, fishing, gardening and watching his favorite Westerns.

NATCHEZ — Clarence “Curly” Jones’ navigation system beats the best mapping technology in Adams County.

Jones’ brand of GPS doesn’t give automated directions or light up at night, but for 46 years the comprehensive system has fit nicely under his signature blue cap. Jones’ mind knows every twist, bump and turn of roads, streets, highways, bridges and alleys across Adams County.

The Natchez native recently reached his destination as county road manager — his retirement. As the new detour will provide more hours for hunting, fishing and gardening, he also has taken a few turns down memory lane to reflect on the job he’s had since he was just 19.

Even as a little boy, Jones was driven to pursue a career on the roads, not so much driving them, but making them.

“I would build roads with my little blocks,” Jones said.

At age 19, when Jones was looking for a good job, he called his “Uncle Snowball,” who checked with Jim Marlow, road manager at the time.

“He said I should be at work the next morning,” Jones said.

Jones showed up, and the rest of the story is in the rearview mirror.

He worked his way up, first driving trucks and tractors until getting into heavy equipment, like dozers and motor graders.

With so many years of service to the county, and supervising approximately 35 road workers at a time, Jones agreed he deserves a break.

“Like I tell everybody,” Jones said. “I did for the public for 46 years, and now it’s time to do something for myself.”

To Jones’ wife of 45 years, Mary, that might mean more work around the house, he joked.

His commitment to Adams County’s roads took Jones and his crew from hilltops to valleys.

“I stayed with it,” Jones said, who oversaw the construction unit of the road department. “The ups and downs, good and bad times. When we got on a project, we really put out and worked. The crew did a good job, worked more than they had to, and they were always willing to do that.”

Jones said he always advised the crew on how to keep their jobs.

“Take interest in the things you do,” Jones said. “And you will always have a job. Once you get on with the county, you don’t want to get off. It’s no top-dollar job, but it’s good benefits for the men.”

Jones said when he first went to work for the county it was a bumpy road. Luckily, technology and machines have come a long way.

“When I first started we were using bush axes and sling blades,” Jones said. “Now there are all kinds of tractors used to cut grass.”

Sammy Gaines, who worked for Jones for more than 20 years, is now the interim road manager. While Gaines has big shoes to fill, he is equipped for the job after working for the expert.

“You couldn’t find a better boss,” Gaines said.

Road foreman Michael Chatman was at work Wednesday patching a more rural section of Martin Luther King Jr. Road. Chatman said Jones had been talking about retirement, but it was hard to imagine him actually leaving.

“(Jones) was always a good companion, good worker, and he did what he had to do to finish the job,” Chatman said. “He’s a good fellow.”

His friends, family and colleagues have celebrated Jones’ career. He said the Board of Supervisors pooled their personal cash to host a cookout in Jones’ honor. He said hundreds of well-wishers were there, and a little surprise was arranged for him too.

“I have two sons in Dallas and Houston,” Jones said. “They showed up and surprised me. That was the icing on the cake. Everyone I could think of was there. It just shows you how many friends you have.”

The supervisors presented a proclamation and also took turns thanking Jones for his service at a September meeting.

Jones said more than anything, he will miss his crew and the ladies who work in the road department office.

But this isn’t the end of the road for Jones. As he merges from the fast lane into retirement, he said he will cut grass at a few yards in town and spend mornings enjoying his Western shows.