Oh deer!

Four point white tail buck at Petit Jean Mountain

This fine young buck was the most cooperative critter on the face of God’s green earth for a few minutes October 25, 2013.

Sometimes fortune follows a foul-up and October 25 was one of those days. Earlier in the day, while photographing a reunion of the class of 1956 of Fort Smith Senior High School (now known as “North Side),” I entertained my classmates and their spousal units by meeting the surface of Petit Jean Mountain with my person in full view of all. I can say without hesitation that, at the time, it smarted. Despite being red-faced and a tad sore, I discovered later that the damage went no further than skin deep.

After being patched up, I returned to my intended target area, a road running between the base of the mountain and the Arkansas River. There is no doubt the delay of getting a local doctor to patch up an abrasion set me up to see a fine four-point Whitetail buck grazing in a pasture beside the road.

Not only did he stay after I stopped, grabbed the “Kodak,” rolled the window down and started to shoot, he remained still while I changed to a longer lens. He apparently decided that since I was no threat, he would continue munching out on the rich grass of the pasture. On several occasions, I whistled at him to convince him to get his head out of his grass and look at me. When that stopping working, I revved the engine on the truck.  Finally, I bade farewell and proceeded down the road.

White tail buck deer at Petit Jean Mountain

I believe the deer finally became bored with my presence.

Barn roof on ground

Click on the barn roof and check out the story of a barn with no walls.

As I proceeded down the road, my luck continued. I found a barn roof on the ground, less an attached barn underneath. I document and illustrate this odd finding on the Photo of the Week page at Corndancer Dot-Com. Go there and see this heretofore unseen phenomenon and learn how to deal with those things for which you cannot find an answer, and really don’t amount to a flip any way.

view from petit jean mountain

Some 11-hundred feet or so above the deer and me, the view from Petit Jean Mountain overlook was fine.

At the end of the day, I determined that a bit of bodily injury put me in the position to meet this buck. Early on in my career as a human being, I discovered that occasionally one must play in pain.  I have no complaints being the recipient of a camouflaged blessing —and to be truthful, the hurt from the crash was not that much.

Order prints

Click here to order prints of this week’s Weekly Grist and Corndancer pictures of the deer and the barn.

Thanks for dropping by,

Joe Dempsey
Weekly Grist for the Eyes and Mind



Homegrown locomotive

From the left, Engine 819, James Joseph Dempsey and Joseph P. Dempsey. We are grandson and grandfather and on this day, we visited the Arkansas Railroad Museum in our hometown, Pine Bluff, Arkansas. The museum is home for the 819.

From the left, Engine 819, James Joseph Dempsey and Joseph P. Dempsey. We are grandson and grandfather and on this day, we visited the Arkansas Railroad Museum in our hometown, Pine Bluff, Arkansas. The museum is home for the 819. The 819, formerly retired and later restored, is currently not in service, but we have high hopes to reverse that condition.


Click on the monster machine and learn more about the 819 and the Arkansas Railroad Museum.

Not everyone can say that a behemouth, 4-8-4 steam locomotive was built in their hometown. If you happen to be from my hometown of Pine Bluff, Arkansas, you can say that. In the early forties 20 “800” series 4-8-4 steam locomotives were built in the United States.

Ten of these locomotives were built at the Baldwin Locomotive Works in Eddystone, Pennsylvania and ten were built in the Cotton Belt Shops in Pine Bluff.

Only one of these machines has escaped the ignominy of the scrap yard, Engine 819. The 819 is currently housed in the same building where it was made. The building is a former shop of  the St. Louis and Southwestern (The Cotton Belt Line) Railroad, Southern Pacific Railroad, and finally, the Union Pacific Railroad in that order.

Construction started on the building in 1882 and reached completion in 1894 as part of an extensive complex of railroad shops. This building is all that is left of the former complex. Appropriately, it is now home to the Arkansas Railroad Museum operated by the Cotton Belt Railroad Historical Society. See their site at the link above for complete details on the 819 and the museum. You can also see and learn more of the 819 and the museum on the Photo of the Week page at Corndancer dot-com. We’ll wait here while you look. You can also find more tidbits our Weekly Grist post of April 11, 2010.

Cab of steam locomotive 819

You are looking in the cab of the 819. The controls are removed and in storage. The square device at the bottom of the picture is a seat frame, minus cushion. Inside the firebox hold and on the outside you can see x-ray section grid markings on the boiler shell. These markings were added prior to the big machine’s last inspection.

The 819 entered service in 1942 and was removed from service in the early fifties. The St. Louis and Southwestern Railroad donated the locomotive to the City of Pine Bluff 1n 1955. The city placed the locomotive in a city park where it stayed until 1983 when a local non-profit group, The Cotton Belt Railroad Historical Society, started a project to relocate and rebuild the historic iron horse.

The restoration was successful and the 819 made its first trips in 1986. The locomotive was removed from service in the early nineties for a tear down and inspection. Once the inspection was done, the price of steel needed for replacement parts vastly exceeded local resources. So,  if you know of anyone who can spare about $350,000 (that’s what we’re told that it will take to fire it up again) or so and wants to do something cool, the 819 awaits.

Engineer's station on a diesel-electric locomotive

While the 819 is the star of the show at the Arkansas Railroad Museum, there is plenty more to see including getting up close and personal with the engineer’s station on a former Southern Pacific diesel-electric locomotive. Now you know how the driver’s seat looks. Kids love it. So do their grandfathers.

Old switchboard

A long time ago, when one made a phone call, one talked to an operator who made the connection for you. The operator was likely seated at a device similar to this switchboard on display at the Arkansas Railroad Museum. You can see locomotives and rail cars on display in the background.

Depot stove

You can see just about anything that had anything to do with railroads in the museum. The contraption in the center of the picture is a former “depot stove.” I suspect it was a welcome sight on blustery winter days.

Museums, while not a source of heart thumping excitement are a wellspring of entertainment for the mind and spirit. Unlike the tube, you get to stare and sometimes touch as long as it suits you. In the case of the Arkansas Railroad Museum, the building is also a museum piece. It is a rare opportunity to visit a Victorian era industrial building which has not changed much since it was being used for its original purpose. The nooks and crannies are neat. And is a good thing to have neat nooks and crannies.

For those of you who do not yet have enough of the 819 and the museum, visit our Weekly Grist Gallery and see more pictures from this trip. Please forgive the shameless images of me.

Thanks for dropping by,

Joe Dempsey
Weekly Grist for the Eyes and Mind


Bizzare and bizzarer redux

Elvis statue on a fire truck

Click on Elvis for the original post and story.

It’s not every day that you stumble across a giant Elvis perched atop a retired fire wagon in clear public view. Only in Portia, Arkansas will you experience this phenomenon. So bizarre is this, we are sending you back to an earlier post to re-experience the experience, so to speak.

When in the course of human events this sighting does occur, one has this compelling urge to pull over and gawk in disbelief. Also to even ask questions if someone is available to comment. Alas, no comment target presented his or herself, but all was not lost.

Not to worry in this case. My passenger, a raconteur and grizzled newspaper editor, with years of “rode hard and put up wet” experience was cognizant of the edifice and explained it to me. Turns out, it is a business promotion. All is revealed in the Weekly Grist edition of May 1, 2011.

Old chevy protruding from Garage

Click on Gulf to see the protruding Chevy

As bizarre as this is, the sister story is at least as bizarre, or perhaps even bizzarer. Around the same time I was cruising on US Highway 70 on the northern outskirts of North Little Rock, Arkansas when I spied the backside of a “bustle-back” 1950 Chevrolet protruding from the side of a sign festooned garage.

Surrounding the garage was a duke’s mixture of everything from used plumbing parts to old steel-wheeled John Deere tractors. Go to the Photo of the Week page at Corndancer dot-com to see this bizarreness. You will be culturally edified and thank me later.

Thanks for dropping by,

Joe Dempsey
Weekly Grist for the Eyes and Mind


Running the levees

black angus cow

Number 32 in a small herd of cattle grazing on the river side of the levee decided she was the representative and would inquire as to who the interlopers were in the pickup that just pulled up. The interlopers were me and my granddaughter, Madison Dempsey. Madison graciously agreed to accompany me on this running the levees trip.

Commorants in tree

Click on the birds to see more levee pictures and a story.

September 28, 2013 on the way home from shooting Ding Dong Days in Dumas, I approached Arkansas Highway 11 at Grady, Arkansas. I turned north on 11 and headed for my favorite stretch of Arkansas River levee.

I can’t tell you how many times I have driven it, but I can say that despite deeply engrained familiarity with the territory, I see something different every trip. And this trip was no different. I saw critters and Delta scenery not heretofore shot. You can see some of those shots on the Photo of the Week page at Corndancer dot-com. We’ll wait here while you peruse the pictures and story.

Madison Dempsey and Joe Dempsey

Madison Dempsey and yours truly a minute or so before departing for the levees. Credit for this fine image goes to Tracey Dempsey Powell, Madison’s mother.

black angus cow

After the slightest hesitation, Number 32 decided she wanted a closer look. We obliged her with an intimate, suitable for framing portrait. When I reached out the window to adjust the mirror, she left like a fire alarm had sounded.

The aforementioned September 28 trip yielded good images for the Corndancer / Grist combo for one week, just not enough. I needed more. I sent a text to Tracey Dempsey Powell, mother of my two local grandchildren, to the effect that I was going on a Grist trip the next day and that one or more grandchildren would be welcome to make the trip if they so desired. Turns out grandson Jay was doing a sleepover with some buds, but granddaughter Madison was up for the trip.

Madison and I sallied forth, and jumped on the levee at the Highway 11 starting point. The rub is, that when you head southeast from that point, you run into the Arkansas Department of Correction property. At that point you turn around and go back, but you did see levee sights.  Back on 65 to the next jumping off point east of Gould, we saw some roadside posies that needed to be shot. Hollyhocks, some purple posies, and golden rod rounded out the group. A swam of bugs also shared the spotlight.

Hollyhock bloom

On U.S. 65 between Grady and Gould, Arkansas, Hollyhocks make an annual appearance. Shooting said Hollyhocks has been a “beengone” project for yours truly for a long time. (“Beengone,” as in “I been gonna shoot them Hollyhocks for quite a spell.) Today, the spell was over and we shot the Hollyhock(s). The bug appeared at the right time. October, 8, 2013, Ebenezer Baldwin Bowles informs me that I have erred. This is not a Hollyhock. It is a Rose (or Swamp) Mallow. Makes sense to me since it thrives in a ditch.

Golden rod bloom and bug

Swinging the lens just a few inches yielded still yet another bug approaching this stem of golden rod, beautiful in its appearance, but the bane of those allergic to its obnoxious pollen.

Purple flowers

Swing back past the Hollyhock and there are some fine purple posies, the name of which I do not know. However friends Ebenezer Baldwin Bowles and/or Fred Garcia will and I am certain they will graciously share their knowledge. No bug this time. Ebenezer has revealed that the flower is a “Scaly Blazing Star.” Now we know.

Swarm of small insects

Meanwhile, back at the Hollyhock, a swarm of tiny insects appeared. If these varmints are a quarter inch long, it would be a stretch. After I looked around, there were several other swarms. All of the swarms seemed intent on, well, swarming.

Angus cow and her calf

A few miles past Number 32, we ran into her cousin and offspring. After they discovered that our truck had no food for them, their newfound interest in us faded like the last rose of summer.

Cotton picker in cotton field

Not too long after we started the levee run, we found a cotton harvest in full swing. As quickly as the cotton was picked, the operators sent two tractors following in the steps of the picker. One of the tractors was plowing the recently harvested ground followed by another tractor which disked behind the plow. That’s why you see bare ground on the other side of the picker. When this picker makes one round, it disgorges the cotton it picked in a large round bale wrapped in yellow plastic. This technological advance has eliminated still yet another agricultural sub-specialty, job, to wit: cotton trailer tromper. (This is an insider’s joke for Delta denizens, former denizens, and others familiar with the process.)

Old building on river side of Mississippi River Levee in Arlansas

This old structure sits on the edge of the woods off the Mississippi levee. Perhaps it was once (or still may be) a hunting club house. It appears to have 50s era asbestos siding installed.

Old building in Rohwer Arkansas

We dropped off the levee at Rohwer and found this old building in a tamer environment. It has a lot of character and appears to have withstood the elements well.

Later in the day, we decided that if we were this close to the Mississippi River, we might as well take a look at it at ground level. Somehow that has more appeal than catching a fleeting glance at 65 miles per hour as bridge structure zips past.

truck wheel dipped in Mississippi River Water

Believing that we should ceremoniously observe our visit to the Mississippi at ground level, I (not we) decided to dunk the truck wheels up to the front axle to commemorate the visit. After we backed out, we recorded this image as proof of the baptism.

Madison Dempsey and Joe Dempsey

Madison Dempsey and Joe Dempsey with the Mighty Mississippi River providing a background.  We are standing between the truck wheel dunk tracks. Photo courtesy of tripod and self-timer.

While not everyone has a system of levees conveniently by, there are unique details in virtually every environment that will probably cast a slightly different look your way. All you have to do is look.

Parting shot


Right after I descended from the levee on the first trip (September 28), this ass presented himself as if he wanted the moment to be immortalized in pixels. I obliged him.

Thanks for dropping by,

Joe Dempsey
Weekly Grist for the Eyes and Mind


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