The farmers drove their tractors last winter, the Native Americans walked this summer and now Hans Mullikin, a logger and licensed Baptist minister from eastern Texas, is crawling to Washington.
Mullikin crawled out of this little town yesterday morning, with 102 miles more to go in his 18-month, 1,600-mile journey.
The sky was cloudless, the air crisp as Mullikin, 39, who bears a striking resemblance to tennis pro Rod Laver, prepared himself for his assault on the western slopes of the Blue Ridge Mountains - the last mountains before the White House.
"I'd say this is perfect crawling weather," Mullikin told a gas station attendant and 13-year-old Thomas Strickler, who skipped school to look at the man who crawled into town the night before.
As he spoke, Mullikin smoothed suntan lotion on his nose, antiblister lotion on his lips and Vicks Vapor-rub on his ears. "They tell me that Vicks keeps the gnats out of your ears."
When Mullikin crawls, he pulls a cart that bears the words: PRAY AMERICA. It's covered with hundreds of signatures from the people he's met in seven states. It has bumper stickers: "If Your God Is Dead, Try Mine" and "Love America or Leave It."
"I'm crawling," said Mullikin, who is as soft-spoken as he is hard-muscled, "for God.
"I'm doing it to dramatize the message that America has to get back on its knees before the Lord to keep itself free."
The man who hopes to be in Washington by late October said that most people, of course, think he's crazy. A bachelor, Mullikin told his parents he wanted to do it three years before he actually left Marshall, Tex., and when he left they, too, thought he was crazy, he said.
Mullikin's congressman, Rep. Sam B. Hall Jr. (D-Tex.), said Hans "comes from one of the finest families in East Texas. I've known him all my life and he's a genuinely religious man, there's no put-on about what he's doing."
Hall said yesterday he will be glad to see Mullikin if he can crawl into Washington by Oct. 14, when the congressman leaves to campaign in Texas. "You bet I'll see him because God knows he's done a lot of crawling," Hall said.
Mullikin said yesterday he'd like to shake President Carter's hand, but isn't counting on it. There are a lot of people, he said, who are put off by his crawling.
It's comical on the road. When I crawl past people working in their yards, they'll hid behind their bushes and peek at me.
"When I'm crawling through a city, it really seems to embarrass the women. When I pull up beside them at a traffic light, I can see their ears turn red."
Mullikin began his journey in April 1976 and crawled until December of that year. He went home then to work in the woods near Marshall and make enough money to crawl again. In 1977, he crawled eight months; this year, he's crawled two months.
His average speed is about one-half mile an hour, and he crawls about eight hours a day, typically making four to five miles a day. The last mountain he had to crawl over was Lookout Mountain near Chattanooga, Tenn. On that mountain, which was 600 miles and 1 1/2 years ago, a passer-by on the road had to be enlisted to help Mullikin pull his 90-pound cart over the top.
With the memory of that last mountain, Mullikin yesterday said he wasn't looking forward to the Blue Ridge and he lingered on the grass near H. E. Estep's Gulf on Rte. 211.
Dogs haven't bothered him, he said. Only one snake, a cottonmouth near Carthage, Miss., came after him. "That's the only thing I killed. I rolled over it with my wheel I got it on the head," Mullikin said.
He's seen hundreds of dead-on-the road animals - oppossums, cats, weasels, snakes, armadillos, raccoons and skunks. "Do they bother you?" a reporter asked yesterday. "No, they're dead," Mullikin replied.
What does bother Mullikin, he said, are his knees. His knees hurt despite his knee pads, which consist of two layers of synthetic fleece, three layers of foam-rubber padding, hockey goalie shin guards and polyurethane plastic leg protectors.
"The knees are the only thing that bothers me. My back is fine and the mosquitoes don't seem to bite me," Mullikin said.
When Mullikin finishes his day's crawl, he runs back to a pickup truck and drives up to where he crawled.He sleeps in motels sometimes, but he said most nights he is invited to stay homes along the way.
"They feed me good, too. I gain weight when I'm crawling," Mullikin said. He says he has added 15 pounds to his 164 pound frame since he started the trip.
The dumbest question he's been asked, he said, was if he plans to crawl home from Washington.
"Well, are you?" he was asked.
"No," Mullikin said.