A really rice festival

antique farm tractor in parade

The 35th Annual Grand Prairie Rice Festival at Hazen, Arkansas, included a parade of finely restored farm tractors. The family-friendly event was well attended by an enthusiastic crowd.

 For 35 years, folks at Hazen, Arkansas have been celebrating a crop that grows well on the Grand Prairie of Arkansas, where they just happen to reside: rice. The Grand Prairie boasts fertile soils, is as flat as a pool table for the most part, and has an underlying clay strata which tends to hold surface moisture in place. If ever there were ideal conditions to cultivate rice, these are it. And cultivate it they do. Since the late 1800s. The good folks at Hazen consider these conditions to be a good foundation for celebration — and celebrate they do at the Grand Prairie Rice Festival. And we are there, so to speak.

Monster motor

fairbanks-morse pump engine

Click on the big engine to see more

Before we go too much further, let us point you to see where this story started at Corndancer dot-com, where you will see a well-restored, giant 92-year-old antique rice well pump engine operating at the festival. You will also meet the gentleman who did the restoration and shows the machine.

Though this neck of the woods was rife with these units at one time, this one is the only one left that we can find. Click here to see seven additional pictures of this unique piece of mechanical history.

Model T Ford sedan

Mason Sickel of Tollville leads the parade in his restored T-model Ford.

The festival is a is an exercise in and a fine example of living history. Eighteen well-restored tractors participated in the parade. Click here to see all 18 tractors. I was originally invited to attend the festival in 2009 by Mason Sickel of Tollville AR. I had photographed his pink 1963 R185 International Harvester tractor and had the good fortune to meet him after the shoot. He showed me some of his antique restored tractors and invited me to the festival. I’m glad I finally made it. (That weekend is when I accompany several of my hoodlum friends on a fishing trip. They fish. I shoot).

antique mecormick-deering rice threshing machine

Seth Skarda of Hazen set up and operated his restored forties-era rice threshing machine and demonstrated its operation. His good friend Mason Sickel is operating the pitchfork to feed the machine.

Seth Skarda’s fully operational forties-era rice threshing machine was a hit. Dozens of onlookers watched the ancient machine shake, rattle and roll as it separated rice from its stalks. The machine has no power source of its own and was driven from a large “flat-belt” running from the power-take off pulley of a 1949 Oliver Model 90 tractor. Click to see 11 pictures from a complete walk-around of the threshing machine operation, including the 1940 International truck full of rice and the Oliver tractor.

Anitque New Holland gasoline power unit

This completely restored New Holland power unit hit the streets in about 1912 according to Bob Sutton, the owner. These units were used wherever one had the need for rotary power. Water pumps, grist mills, and generators were among those uses.

 Not all of the machines on display were large. I found a small 1912 New Holland gasoline power unit with its fly wheel spinning and its cylinder hitting only often enough to keep the machine going. I struck up a conversation with the owner, Bruce Sutton of Mount Ida. About five minutes into the conversation I discovered he originally hailed from McGehee, Arkansas. After further interrogation, he freely admitted that he grew up with my friend and Ouachita Baptist College college classmate Jimmy Dale Peacock, formerly of McGehee. Further, he knew a number of other classmates from that area. Small world.

antique operating grist mill

Alan Sickel smiles as he prepares to hand me one of four bags of freshly ground corn meal. He refused payment from me and any one else who wanted some of his meal.

The antique grist mill above has been in the Sickel family since the 1800s. It is powered by an antique International Harvester gasoline power unit. Click here to see additional pictures of the grist mill.

great horned owl

Great Horned Owl from Raptor Rehab of Central Arkansas. The non-profit organization's home is at El Paso, Arkansas.

 Not all of the attractions were mechanical. Notably some were alive, well, and feathered. Rodney Paul and volunteer Kenley Money of Raptor Rehab of Central Arkansas brought some of their charges including the Great Horned Owl you see above, a barn owl, a barred owl, and a screech owl. They carried some of the birds with them as they strolled through the festival and explained some of the noble work the organization does. They also made a detailed presentation to an attentive and appreciative audience. Click here to see all nine of our owl pictures.

The good folks at Hazen know how to put on a great event. I give it five big ol’ stars. For history buffs, it’s like a trip to a history candy store. For gearheads, it is near Nirvana. For kids it will be an eye-opener. Do yourself a favor and put this one on your calendar.

Thanks for dropping by,

Joe Dempsey
Weekly Grist for the Eyes and Mind



2 Responses

  1. […] the event on my hit-list after an invitation couple of years before I finally made the scene. See our original post for pix and […]

  2. […] 37th Grand Prairie Rice Festival with a little time to spare before the event closed. We’ve been there before and it was fun. There were a lot of antique tractors including this 1938 Case C […]

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