“Get the farmers out of the mud” was the original intention of the farm-to-market and ranch-to-market roads in Texas. These roads were officially sanctioned in 1949 and were meant to provide a paved road for farmers or ranchers to bring their goods to the market. These roads make up the secondary highway system of Texas, and actually form the largest secondary highway system in the world.
Today, the whole farm vs. ranch is a matter of semantics. They’re effectively the same type of road with a slightly different name. When these roads were created, farmers and ranchers wanted to distinguish between the different types of roads, but ultimately it was about what type of product they were bringing to market. You will often see each one abbreviated as either “FM” or “RM” followed by the number. Typically even numbered roads mean east-west and odd numbered roads mean north-south. For the FM\RM roads, the number isn’t based on direction (kind of like the alphabet highways of Wisconsin). The number is actually just incremented each time a new road is built. If you see RM2222, this means it was the 2,222nd road built.
In my opinion, I think the signage designating these roads is some of the coolest I’ve come across.
Being that these are effectively back roads, the shoulders are often narrow and there’s not a ton of room to pull over. Luckily, most of these roads are traveled lightly enough that it’s not that big of a deal.
With that being said, it is Texas. The roads may be narrow, but since they’re remote, the speed limits allow you to get from Point A to Point B fast.
Now here comes the interesting part. I’ve talked about the FM\RM roads in rural areas. These roads also exist in cities. Austin has been growing like crazy so once rural areas are now part of the city. I’m sure at one time FM734 was in the middle of nowhere, but now it’s a 6-lane highway that feeds into Austin and turns into Parmer Lane.
In many ways, if you want to truly see Texas, you need to travel the farm and ranch-to-market roads. These roads will take you to many of the rural areas that you wouldn’t otherwise see. Many of these areas are untouched by your typical tourist and remain in their true authentic form. You also can’t beat the scenery!