The Eternal Question for Arkies in 2009

“How high’s the water mama?”

Johnny Cash birthplace sign at Kingsland AR

Not far from the birthplace of legendary singer Johnny Cash is this sign with its feet in water. The sign, on US Highway 79 just north of Kingsland, Arkansas, normally high and dry, is being encroached upon by waters from the swollen Saline River, less than a mile north.

The symbolism of the sign with its feet in the water, in 2009,  is all too familiar to Arkansans. No one alive can remember a rainier year. All of which prompts one to hum “How high’s the water mama?” without too much provocation. I had the pleasure of watching the man in black perform that tune at Rison, Arkansas, a short ride up the road, in the seventies. I had no idea then that the tune would take on new meaning in this neck of the woods. Some local bards, tongues firmly ensconced in their cheeks, are musing, ” … makes Noah’s flood look like a mornin’ dew,” along with similar, but more colorful observations which I will eschew. Something about a boot.

Rodgers barn

See it at Corndancer dot com

This story started in Cleveland County, but water was not the subject. A really cool old barn was. I could not help but notice the water while going after the barn.

Click here to take a barn-break on the Photo of the Week page at Corndancer dot Com, a very cool thing to do.  We’ll be waiting here for you when you get back.

We nearly made it through the year without a moisture laden seven-fold amen to the aquatic symphony which has been 2009, but the two days before Christmas were soakers for most of the state.  Reports of six to 10 inches for the two days were not uncommon. As a result, the Saline has been a river on steroids.

Construction equipment under water

On Christmas day, this equipment, parked at the foot of the US Highway 79 bridge over the Saline was high and dry. Yesterday, Dec. 26, the truck and ‘dozer were still high and dry with a few inches of water over the tracks of the back hoe. This morning, Dec. 27, it was a different story. Blub, blub.

Bridges and other man-made structures are good standards by which Mother Nature’s machinations can be measured. In less than 24 hours December 26 and 27, Saline grew several feet. The signs and the bridge below are prima facie evidence of a misbehaving river.

Sign at Arkansas Game and Fish Commission Saline River access point

This sign is on the east side of the south end of the US 79 bridge over the Saline River between Rison and Kingsland, Arkansas. The left picture was shot at about 4:30 p.m., December 26, 2009. The right picture was shot about 11:30 a.m., December 27, 2009. The water color is the same, the direction of light is different, hence the different appearance.


I was recently made aware of the origins of the name of the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission access point, “POOL ACCESS.” It was explained to me by my good friend, Dick Warriner. The Saline, for the most part is not a deep or wide river. Under normal circumstances it is a docile stream and at least at one time, was legendary as a fishing resource. It may still be, but you could not prove it by me.

The river widens and deepens somewhat at POOL, just down river from the bridge, hence the name. There is also a bluff at POOL  which was also the site of the “old bridge,” and more importantly to Dick, a favorite swimming hole frequented by his family during his childhood. Dick’s grandfather, Grover Roberts, a resident of nearby Herbine, built a retractable tire swing there which was well used by his progeny and I’m certain by other youngsters in the area. Thanks for the info Dick.

Saline River Bridge

The US 79 bridge over troubling Saline River waters between Rison and Kingsland, Arkansas

Parting Shot

While crawling over the bridge on the west side, south end, on top of the abutment, I found a pile of nuts and bolts. These were certainly not placed here by four legged critters or birds, or one would certainly think so. And, there have been no plausible rumors of cults the members of which have a thing for galvanized nuts and bolts. Since this is not a pedestrian bridge, and few besides myself have probably ever noticed the hardware collection, the local curiosity coefficient is low, so an explanation is yet to be revealed.  Why pray tell, is there a pile of nuts and bolts on the abutment?

Nuts and bolts

This is nutty. But the nuts and bolts are the same as hold the bridge railings together.

Thanks for dropping by and Happy New Year!!!

Joe Dempsey
Weekly Grist for the Eyes and Mind


Two old Saline River bridges

The Saline River starts out in the Ouachita Mountains west of Benton, Arkansas with four forks. The four forks converge near Riverside in Saline County, Arkansas. The river leaves Saline County and winds on a serpentine path through Grant, Dallas, Cleveland, Bradley, Drew, and Ashley Counties. It empties into the Ouachita River near Felsanthal in Ashely County.

Before we go too much further, this “old bridge” story actually started in Mooringsport, Louisiana with a story about and pictures of an old draw bridge on the Photo of the Week Page at Corndancer dot com. Click here to see the old Mooringsport bridge and get the story.

Old Saline River Bridge west of Tull, Arkansas

Tull Bridge over the Saline River, west of Tull, Arkansas was finished and opened for service in 1916. The bridge was in use until it was replaced in 2005. I have driven over the one-lane bridge on many occasions. Though the wooden floor rattled loudly as you drove over the bridge, you finally become accustomed to the noise after enough trips to gain confidence that the rusty structure would indeed keep you high and dry.

I first came across the Tull Bridge the mid-seventies. It was a ferrous oxide poster child and rattled like a box full of bones then, but there was a certain charm to traversing a bridge with a wooden floor. That certain charm for the most part, ameliorated the fear and trepidation brought about by the attendant sound effects.

East view of the Tull Bridge

Looking at the Tull Bridge from the east bank of the Saline River. You can see the floor planking, the source of the bridge's percussion serenade as you dared to venture across it. the new bridge, completed in 2005 is visible in the picture to the right.

Even the approaches to the Tull Bridge were planked with wood. The approaches did not rattle like the planks on the bridge. On most trips across the bridge, if other traffic was not present, I would stop on the bridge and get out of my vehicle just to look at the construction. Don’t tell my mother I did this.

Side view from the north of Tull Bridge

Looking south from the new bridge, you get a view of the bridge not afforded until the new bridge was completed. And you begin to think, " ... I drove across that sucker a bunch of times."

If you seriously travel central and southeast Arkansas, crossing the Saline River is inevitable. On this trip, I lost count of the number of times I crossed it. Like most rivers, as it progresses downstream, it becomes a bit but not overly turbid. Under normal circumstances, the waters of the forks, originating in Ouachita Mountains, are gin-clear.

Upstream side of old North Fork Saline River Bridge

The upstream side of an abandoned bridge across the North Fork of the Saline River off Arkansas Highway 128 near the junction with Arkansas Highway 5.

Meanwhile, a county or so away,
still yet another abandoned bridge beckoned

This bridge in northern Garland County, Arkansas was built by a county road department in 1931. It has been replaced by a newer bridge which I was standing under to get the shot above.  The bridge is a favorite for photographers, but not at this angle. It took some delicate steps over some serious rip-rap at the base of the bridge to set up for the shot.

County road departments these days, it appears, eschew the obvious aesthetic considerations their predecessors put into this one. It is graceful with a shape reminiscent of a gull in flight. Not an easy appearance to achieve with concrete. They did well and someone was thinking in the right direction to leave the bridge standing. Whomsoever you are, thanks.

Down stream side of North Fork Saline River Bridge

One can see the second arch in this bridge from the downstream side. The sturdy bridge has a classic, but bruised bridge beauty. Even in rural Arkansas, grubby graffiti shows up.

It’s nice to see a couple of old bridges which did not suffer destruction. We’ll look for more.

Thanks for dropping by,

Joe Dempsey
Weekly Grist for the Eyes and Mind

The hunt is over

hunting club cabin

The smaller of two buildings at the abandoned "Chateau Log Cabin Hunting Club" near Carthage, Arkansas. The red circle is where a load of what appears to be number six shot impacted on the building. From the shot pattern, one can presume the shooter was standing and the muzzle of the gun was not far from the impact area. Looks suspiciously like one of the infamous, " ... I thought it was unloaded" shenanigans. See the closeup below.

This story started on the Photo of the Week Page at Corndancer dot com, where you will see pictures of the cabin and the hunting club sign. To see those pictures and find out how this whole thing started, click here, a very cool thing to do.

The two old buildings at the no longer active Chateau Log Cabin Hunting Club, just west of Carthage, Arkansas are just barely visible from Arkansas Highway 48 at highway speed. After a turn around and traversing a muddy ditch alongside the highway, I arrived on the premises. The building above has two rooms, both appeared to be bedrooms. Meals and socializing, of equal importance to the hunt in the hierarchy of deer hunting activity, probably took place in the cabin building just behind this one and to the right.

pellet impact area

A shotgun probably loaded with a squirrel shot discharged not far from these pellet holes.

We are presuming the pellet holes in the front of the building were accidentally made. One simply does not normally blast away at one’s deer club with a shotgun at point blank range. After the discharge there was probably a universal underwear change made by the members present at the time.

Hunting clubs run from palatial to pedestrian, with this one closer to pedestrian than palatial. Furnishings were (and still are) for the most part, spare furniture that most families accumulate by just being a family. Creature comfort is not the big issue, but protection from the elements is and this structure could handle that job well.

inside an old hunting club

The Hilton, it ain't, out of the weather it is. Accommodations were tight and if you had one really accomplished snorer, he probably filled the room with his raucous nasal concertos. The blue boxes in the window are electrical outlets, no doubt added after the walls were built. The window was the easiest and quickest place to mount the boxes. They were not shooting for a mention in Architectural Digest, only to have "juice" available.

Further down highway 48, I turned north on Arkansas Highway 9. North of Tulip on Highway 9, I came across Hunter Chaple Methodist Church, according to their sign, built in 1850. The church, in pristine condition is testimonial to a congregation of  caring members who understand the meaning of what is truly valuable.

Hunter Chapel Methodist Church

Hunter Chapel Methodist Church north of Tulip, Arkansas on Arkansas Highway 9.

Further up highway 9 is Lono, home of the Country Corner, purveyors of great sandwiches among other things. There is an old residence on its last legs across the highway from the Country Corner. I figured we had best shoot that sucker while we can.

old residence at Lono Arkansas

The elements are about to win. The fat lady is not singing, but she is warming up.

Thanks for dropping by,

Joe Dempsey
Weekly Grist for the Eyes and Mind

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