Musical road plays Auburn’s fight song when you drive on it

Musical road plays Auburn’s fight song when you drive on it
Tim Arnold kneels next to a stretch of Auburn Musical Road near campus on South Donahue Drive, which plays the first line of the university’s fight song “War Eagle!” (Auburn University)

Caroline Maddox has sung along to the Auburn fight song many times, mostly at football and basketball games inside Jordan-Hare Stadium and Auburn Arena.

But today, she’s standing on the sidewalk on South Donahue Drive, singing the first line of the song – “War Eagle, fly down the field” – to unlikely accompaniment, a passing pickup truck using the asphalt as its instrument.

“This is awesome,” said Maddox, who lives in Atlanta. “I could do this all day.”

Maddox is standing next to the “War Eagle Road,” a short stretch with bumps that vibrate tires, making them “hum” the first seven notes of the fight song. You can hear it inside and outside of a vehicle.

It’s the brainchild of Tim Arnold, an Auburn engineering graduate who, after a career as a freelance filmmaker in Los Angeles and Nashville, lives in Auburn with his wife, Margaret, and their two young boys.

The seeds of the “War Eagle Road” were planted years ago, when Arnold saw a Honda Civic commercial that featured a portion of Avenue K in Lancaster, California, with grooves cut in the road to “play” Rossini’s “William Tell Overture.”

“It struck me how science and mathematics were used to create music,” Arnold said. “It crept into my mind and rang that bell – Auburn should have a musical road that plays the fight song. … My wife reminded me that I would say it any time we hit the rumble strips coming off Exit 51 to drive down College Street into Auburn. There is a simple pattern to alert drivers to slow down, and it was enough to recall the musical road idea.”

Arnold enlisted a cadre of engineers to help him flesh out the project, which he describes as a “mathematically refined rumble strip” that is made out of a special material fixed to the road surface. He said the idea is a “funny combination of complex and simple.”

“The idea is just to make your tires vibrate at the same frequency of the musical note that it is recreating, but to work out the math takes some tricky calculations and plenty of precision,” he said.

With the support of Chris Roberts, dean of Auburn’s Samuel Ginn College of Engineering, the staff of the Opelika-based National Center for Asphalt Technology and others, a two-year process culminated in the War Eagle Road being laid down in October.

Arnold hopes it’s just the beginning.

“I’d love to see musical roads become popular in other places … anywhere that has a local culture to celebrate in a fun and unique way,” he said. “All other musical roads I’d seen were created by cutting or pressing grooves into the road, but I wanted it to be nondestructive and less prone to erosion and wear. Hopefully, ours is something that sounds better and lasts longer than other musical roads.”

Maddox, for one, is sold on it.

“I wish they’d all play ‘War Eagle,’ but if there were things like this somewhere else, I’d drive there just to hear them,” she said.

This story originally appeared on the This is Alabama website.

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