The Towering Past


Old grain elevators in a cotton patch, just off US Highway 65 north of Lake Village

Old grain elevators in a cotton patch, just off US Highway 65 north of Lake Village AR.

A funny thing happened on the way to shoot some old water towers in Mississippi. Just before I got to Mississippi, I ran into the grain elevators above, in Arkansas. The water tower adventure started at Lake Dick, Arkansas during a thunderstorm, all properly chronicled on the Photo of the Week page at Corndancer Dot Com.  Click here to see the picture and read the “start out” of this story.

Actually, the trip from Greenville, Mississippi north to Helena, Arkansas and back home started the next morning. As the trip developed, I kept seeing these old water towers and the story of the guy on the roof who refused to be rescued came to mind. So I started shooting old water towers. They do have some staying power, even if they are no longer used. Good engineering, one would presume.

old towers

1. Tower at the site of an old cotton gin on Mississipp1 Hwy 1 near Scott MS. 2. Tower at Shaw MS (where I found an RC and Moon Pie). 3. Tower at Rosedale MS 4. Tower at Gunnison MS, notice the gap in the pipe below the bottom of the tank.

Towers two three and four almost appear to be litter mates and this is not an isolated coincidence. There must be hundreds of these towers still standing.

So, exactly what do you do with a water tower no longer in use. It costs money, snarls traffic and probably will cause a power interruption to demolish or remove them. Solution: leave ‘em be.

It was snack time after the tower shot at Shaw. So I stopped at what appeared to be the busiest and most popular store and service station. Notice the terminology. This is definitely not a formula convenience store. It’s home grown. I was greeted by some sojurning customers and by the proprietress as I entered.

RC Cola and a Moon Pie. Can be a breakfast, lunch or dinner substitute or a convenient snack when the spirit moves one in that direction.

RC Cola and a Moon Pie. Can be a breakfast, lunch or dinner substitute or a convenient snack when the spirit moves one in that direction.

Thus welcomed, I  perused the drink and snack offerings. To my delight, I discovered two quintessential southern offerings, to wit: a cooler full of RC Colas and a shelf liberally stocked with Moon Pies.

Southerners need no further explanation. This is essential fare. For those of you not culturally aware of the nature of this food group, its roots are in the quarter-a-week allowance many of us experienced in childhood.

The logic was this: An RC was big.  So was a Moon Pie.  So for a dime, you could pig out and have some change left for other temporal pursuits, such as penny Fleers bubble gum. It was a practical matter.

As a result, one developed a taste for the combination. Later in early adulthood, or during continuing education,  the meal satisfied hunger when nothing else was affordable or available. The examples above are perilously tilting on the hood of my pickup, but where better to photograph this culinary delight?

voss is doss

This towering tank on top of an old building in Clarksdale MS, thusfar is a mystery.

Nearing the northern end of the journey, I wheeled into downtown Clarksdale MS to look around. They have done a pretty good job of restoring their downtown with an eclectic collection of shops, restaurants, watering holes and the like. Cruising around, I noticed a small tower/tank on top of an old building. I asked several folks if they knew what it was. They did not have a clue. Perhaps a reader has the answer.

Ground Zero Blues Club ® — Clarksdale, Mississippi

Ground Zero Blues Club ® — Clarksdale, Mississippi

Further downtown in Clarksdale is the Ground Zero Blues Club ® established in 2001 by actor Academy Award Winning Morgan Freeman, local attorney Bill Luckett and Howard Stovall of Memphis. The ambiance captures the essence of the blues. I am planning to return and hear some of its offerings and sample the cuisine.

Thanks for dropping by!

Joe Dempsey
http://www.joedempseyphoto.com/
http://www.joedempseycommunications.com/

http://www.corndancer.com/joephoto/photohome.html

Maple Hill Cemetery and Points South


Eva B. Coolidge

The grave of Eva B. Coolidge in Maple Hill Cemetery, north of Helena, Arkansas.

Maple Hill Cemetery, north of Helena, Arkansas is impressive in its size, large; its terrain, hilly; its age, 164 years; its condition, excellent; and the art of its gravestones, very impressive. The monument you see above is inscribed  “Eva B. Daughter of C.R. and L. E. Coolidge  August 17, 1868 – August 24, 1871 Aged 3 years – 7 days.” The monument is correct in every detail and shows that a well-studied and experienced hand created the sculpture. Little Eva’s death reminds us of one of the bad old things about the good old days, high infant and child mortality.

Photo of the Week at Corndancer dot Com

Photo of the Week at Corndancer dot Com

There’s more of Maple Hill Cemetery on the Photo of the Week page at Corndancer dot com where this story started. Click here to see three more pictures from Maple Hill Cemetery including a larger version of the dog on the tombstone, and the story about how he got there.

Maple Hill Cemetery also has a Confederate cemetery inside its confines. Markers range from simple stones with a last name only to an impressive, monolith marking the grave of a brigadier general. In 2002 some confederate soldier remains were found in the Helena vicinity. Local civil war enthusiasts interred the remains and provided a marker.

Works of art and works of simplicity

Throughout the well-kept cemetery, you will see works of art in granite and alabaster. You will also see simple markers which are little more than small hewn stones.

The barlow family plot

The Barlow family plot is marked with a skillfully carved and detailed angel sculpture. Considering the age and exposure to the elements of the Delta, the quality is clear.

But at Maple Hill, regardless of size or provenance, everyone is equal and receives the same loving care. The cemetery is impressive in one more category, that being the condition of the older monuments, which for the most part are intact, a condition not necessarily in fact at all cemeteries of this age.

Bird seed

On the return trip, south of DeWitt, Arkansas, rice farmers, taking advantage of a non-liquid day, were harvesting rice in a big way. Some say, “harvesting,” some say “cuttin’ rice” and some of the older ones will still say “thrashin’ rice.” Regardless of the semantics, the combines are rolling and the rice is coming out of the fields.

combines and egrets

A few of the flock of egrets that were following the combines like gulls follow shrimp boats.

These behemoths take in rice at one end and spit chaff and stalks out the other and in the process will include some rice in the jetsam. On this one particular farm, what appeared to be several hundred egrets, a wading bird which depends on small fish, tadpoles, frogs and other small marine critters for its meals, could not resist the temptation of food they did not have to stalk.

A fire truck, but no lake and no swans

Next stop on the way home was the small community of Swan Lake, southeast of Pine Bluff, Arkansas, my headquarters. SWan Lake has an active volunteer fire department. It’s rolling stock is garaged, but they do have an old Howe-International Harvester R 185 fire truck on display for all the world to see.

fire teucks

A retired R185 Howe-International fire truck at Swan Lake, Arkansas.

Swan Lake is an old community and one presumes that at one time, perhaps there was a lake and mayhaps a few swans, but no more. But it’s still Swan Lake.

SWan Leke

Looking down the bore. If you saw this in your rear view mirror, it was time to get your duff out of the way.

Thanks for dropping by!

Joe Dempsey
Weekly Grist for the Eyes and Mind

A ’63 pink binder


It’s an R-185

Miss Marci, Mason Sickel's '63 pink International Harvester R185 tractor

Miss Maci, Mason Sickel's ‘63 pink International Harvester R185 tractor.

There are a lot of things one simply does not expect to see: Martians disgorging from a “flying saucer,” a pick up ice hockey game on the White House lawn, and a flying giraffe with zebra stripes. Add to that list a pink 1963 International Harvester R185 tractor parked in a barn in the middle of a soybean field in the Grand Prairie region of Arkansas. Until now. Folks, this is not a computer creation. It’s real.

Corndancer dot com

Corndancer dot com

But there’s more to see in this rural neighborhood including a still-standing one-room school built in 1921. The school has a rich history not only as a center of education, but as a community center and a place where things happened.

See the Idlewild Schoolhouse and some pumpkins on the Photo of the Week page at Corndancer cot com. Click here to go there, a very cool thing to do.

The truck wasn’t originally meant to be pink, but …

When I first spotted the truck from a distance, I figured it was red and sorely in need of a paint job. Closer inspection revealed that theory wrong.

The truck now belongs to Mason Sickel of the Tollville, Arkansas community .  It originally belonged to a neighboring farmer who bought it new in 1963. “It was one of the first tractor-trailer rigs put into operation in this area,” Sickel said. “Farmers were using ‘bob-trucks’ (for the uninitiated, a ‘bob-truck,’ in this use environment, is a single axle truck with a flat bed, in the two-ton and up range), to carry their crops to elevators or mills.”

A change of plans

Sickel had coveted his neighbor’s truck for a while, but could never convince him to sell. Then the winds of fortune changed and Mason Sickel got his truck. He had owned it for more than a year when he decided to repaint in in the fire engine red common to IHC trucks of that era. Then he and his wife discovered their child-on-the-way was a little girl. That changed everything. From that moment, he decided he would honor his unborn daughter with a pink truck emblazoned with her name.

"You can hear it coming from a far piece," says one of Mason Sickels associates on his farm.

"You can hear it coming from a far piece," says one of Mason Sickels associates on his farm."The exhaust system is what you see, hooked up to a split manifold." To the non-mechanically inclined, that means there are no pesky mufflers to impede the engine's roar.

A family tradition

Mason is continuing a farming operation originated by his great-grandfather and subsequently carried on by his grandfather and father. He likes to restore old stuff. “I come by it naturally,” Sickel says. “My grandfather was a junk supreme junk collector.” Sickel then told me about one of his storage buildings that was full of stuff. He asked me to follow him to see for myself. I trailed behind his ancient doorless IHC Scout until we arrived at “the place.” He opened the door. I did not know what to expect, but should have suspected, given my experience with the truck. The building was full of pristine condition restored antique farm tractors. John Deere, Farmall, Minneapolis-Moline and Allis-Chalmers to mention a few.

Mason Sickel smiles beside his showroom new antique Farmall tractor. It is restored to perfection and is typical of the Sickel collection.

Mason Sickel smiles beside his showroom new antique Farmall tractor. It is restored to perfection and is typical of the Sickel collection. The tractor is showing a bit of storage dust in this picture, but a quick hosing and wipe down will make it shine like new money.

Mason says he will show several of his tractors and some other restored vehicles and equipment at the 33rd Annual Grand Prairie Rice Festival in Hazen, Arkansas October 24, 2009. The family-oriented event includes a parade and show of antique farm equipment, an inflatable playground for kids, bands and other entertainment. And it’s free. Mark your calendars. I bade Mason farewell and headed into the sunset so to speak. It is indeed refreshing to meet congenial people like Mason. He had never seen or heard tell of me and treated me “like comp’ny.” Thanks Mason.

A couple of weeks later,

I was through the territory again. Heading home, close to England, Arkansas, I encountered a couple of respectable thunderstorms. Thunderstorms fascinate a lot of folks and I am one of those. These put on a good show.

This is storm one, taking shape. Sometimes the clound dipping toward the horizon can form into something more serious, but not this time

This is storm one, taking shape. Sometimes the clound dipping toward the horizon can form into something more serious, but not this time

I followed the storm traveling east to west for several miles until I out ran it. There was another one ahead with a bit more oomph.

A few miles further west, storm one had begun to consolidate. This time a rice field is in the foreground.

A few miles further west, storm one had begun to consolidate. This time a rice field is in the foreground. As fascinating as these storms are, it's a good idea to give them some distance.

I turned south for home and another storm running east to west was bearing down on me. Fortunately, the storm would do nothing worse than pelt the truck with some major league rain drops.

Storm two. We were on a collision course, but a pounding rain was the worst this storm could generate. A rice field is in the foreground.

Storm two. We were on a collision course, but a pounding rain was the worst this storm could generate. A rice field is in the foreground. Just a few minutes after this shot, the truck got a good soaking.

Thanks for dropping by,

Joe Dempsey
Weekly Grist for the “Eyes and Mind
http://www.joedempseyphoto.com
http://www.joedempseycommunications.com
http://www.corndancer.com/joephoto/photohome.html

A tale of two bridges


The unexpected, towers from the abandoned rail bridge next to the highway bridge, shot through the windshield, on  a long zoom which tends to bring the towers closer together.

The unexpected, towers from the abandoned rail bridge next to the highway bridge, shot through the windshield, on a long zoom which tends to bring the towers closer together.

As you first cross the U.S. Highway 70 bridge just north of DeValls Bluff, Arkansas you are taken aback by the sight of two drawbridge towers left over from a bygone era. The towers are part of the former Cotton Belt Railroad bridge over the White River next door to the highway bridge. The old bridge was taken out of service in 1982. A DeValls Bluff businessman bought the bridge for $1.00 and still owns it.

This story got its start on the Photo of the Week page at Corndancer dot com. Click here to see more pictures of the bridge(s) and get in on the start of the story, a very cool thing to do.

Fortunately there is a road leading through a small riverbank community of houses on stilts which goes nearly to the foot of the old bridge. After that, it is simply a matter of inching down a steep riverbank reinforced with rip-rap to get into the correct place for a low-angle shot. It is a slow, deliberate traipse over impending disaster with a tripod, camera and a couple of lenses.

from te banks

From the riverbank, the old bridge is massive and impressive. Since the river is very low now, I was able to set up much lower in the river bed that I would under normal conditions. This accentuates the wide angle perspective. Considering its age, the old bridge is holding up well.

Turns out the real menace was a small strip of slick mud close to the water which put me on my duff near the water’s edge. Nothing was hurt but my feelings and I did get  a closer look at the ‘coon tracks left over from last nights coon supper. The view from the banks was worth the trouble. From where I was, I decided I wanted get closer to the old bridge. And that I did.

Looking down the bore, so to speak, after a climb up a homemade ladder.

Looking down the bore, so to speak, after a climb up a homemade ladder. At the upper left, the extensions from the bridge held railroad signal lights. Telephone and telegraph wires were strung across the right side. The gravel pile in the foreground was dumped there to discourage wheeled interlopers from the entering the abandoned bridge. You can see the bottom half of the north lifting mechanism counterweight in the middle of the bridge.

After a short stomp through some low weeds in a small stand of trees, I found the north end of the old bridge. It terminated as a wall. Lo and behold, there was a ladder (homemade and old, but sturdy), leaning against the wall. I’m guessing the wall and ladder are in the 16′ foot range in height. With a mite of trepidation, I climbed the ladder, stepping over one rung which appeared not capable of holding my weight.

Questioning my presence

After I arrived at the top, I was no longer in the convenient defilade afforded by the underbrush below. I was on the old bridge and in plain view. bigger’n Dallas. I said to my self, self, before you finish shooting up here, someone is going to arrive on the scene and question your presence. My prognostications were correct. I completed my shots and was tearing down equipment and preparing to descend, when I heard a four-wheeler engine approaching. Company was arriving.

No harm intended or perpetrated

In a few minutes, as I was about to start my descent, a young man toting a .22 rifle appeared at the bottom of the bridge and asked if I had encountered any red wasps on the bridge. I allowed as how I hadn’t, but I did take a number of pictures. He was a polite man and we engaged in a conversation. He became convinced that my intentions were honorable and that I had done no harm to the bridge. Concurrently, I became convinced that he would do no harm to me. Turns out he lives nearby and keeps an eye on the bridge for his friend the owner. He was doing his due diligence and had no idea what to expect. The bridge is normally festooned with “Posted” signs which were obliterated in a spring flood and never replaced. To me, that means open season. He was satisfied. I was satisfied. And I got the shots. All’s well that ends well.

Paul Hofstad, DeValls Bluff, Arkansas

Paul Hofstad, DeValls Bluff, Arkansas

This trip to DeValls Bluff was the second one in as many days. The day before, I took the shot at the top of the page and afterward, decided that it was foolish to drive and shoot simultaneously,  and harbor any expectations of a lengthy life.

To solve the problem, I garnered the services of a young man by the name of Paul Hofstad. I suggested that if he would allow me in the bed of his pickup and he ferried me across the highway bridge as I shot, he would have an extra ten bucks on Saturday night. The deal was struck and the picture is below.  Paul is a student at Phillips Community College. He is nearly finished with his course of studies  in wildlife management which he hopes will culminate in a job with the federal wildlife service. Thanks and good luck Paul.

Shot from the bed of Paul Hofstad's red Ford pickup.

Shot from the bed of Paul Hofstad's red Ford pickup.

“And now, as the sun slowly sinks in the west,” we are pleased to present the next entry in our continuing display of Joe Webb’s magnificent collection of signs. This time, dig the old, old, er … ancient,  Pepsi logo.

The sho' nuff old, old, old, er ... ah, ancient Pepsi logotype

The sho' nuff old, old, old, er ... ah, ancient Pepsi logotype

Thanks for dropping by,

Joe Dempsey

http://joedempseyphoto.com/

http://www.joedempseycommunications.com/

http://www.corndancer.com/joephoto/photohome.html

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