Gallivanting around the Grand Prairie

Old abandoned farm home

This old farm home near Pettus, Arkansas, sits on the ragged edge of  where the eastern Delta melts into the Grand Prairie of Arkansas. It is representative of early twentieth century farm homes. Be sure and see our Corndancer Photo of the Week story for more information on this old house.

Old abandoned farm house

Click on the old house to see more pictures of the house and the place where it sits.

The Delta has a proper name, which is the “Mississippi Alluvial Plain,” which also explains why in polite conversation the region is called “Th’ Delta.” Just imagine explaining how the Blues originated in “The Mississippi Alluvial Plain”— in common Delta vernacular “that dawg won’t hunt.”

We say all this to introduce you to a sub region of the Delta, to wit: The Grand Prairie. The area is roughly comprised of three Arkansas Counties, inland from the Mississippi River, between the White and Arkansas Rivers. Denizens of nearby areas will probably claim to live on Grand Prairie sod. That said, we understand that divine geographical distribution does not respect political boundaries. Or anything else political for that matter.

Whereas the eastern Delta is mostly characterized by permeable sandy loam, Grand Prairie soils for the most part are thicker with a tad of clay mixed in which makes the area ideal for crops that require flooding, such as rice. It also works really well for getting pickups, rice trailers, big trucks, tractors, and combines stuck.

The folks who live in the Grand Prairie will tell you in a heartbeat that’s where they live, much like their brethren to the east who similarly let you know they live in the Delta. People who value their reputations and bodily integrity do not intimate the awful truth, so I have fears for baring the issue. You will know that I survived if you get a Weekly Grist next week. For this epistle, we are exploring the Grand Prairie.

While nosing around the Grand Prairie, I did a map recon that revealed a promising road. I followed the road and found the old house you see above. Though the house was still standing tall, missing roof sections will soon take care of that. Two outbuildings that were apparently built when the house was built are also still standing. Both of these structures have the same vertical construction. See more pictures of the old house and out buildings on the Photo of  the Week  page at Corndancer dot com.

A fresh breeze kept what's left of the "front room" window curtain flapping.

A fresh breeze kept what’s left of the “front room” window curtain flapping.

The old curtains have a ghostly look in this video. Can you spot the graphic trick I played on you?

Old dilapidated farm buildign

Before we saw the cool old house, we saw this structure which would be described in sales literature as a quaint fixer-upper in a peaceful rural environment. But wait, there’s more.

junk tractor

If you act now on the previously offered fixer upper, we will throw in this project tractor. Perfect for the DIY aficionado. Meadow muffins not included.

trees in water at Humnoke Arkanasa

This is one of my “love-to-look-at-it places. U.S. Highway 165 splits this grove of trees, always in water, just west of greater Humnoke, Arkansas. Pronounced “hamah-noke” by some good ol’ boys (and girls for that matter).

Lutheran Cemetery near Slovak AR

Our last stop of the day was Slovak, Arkansas which has an interesting history. Just outside the community is this Lutheran Cemetery. There is a Catholic cemetery in the confines of the community.

Sunset at Slovak Arkansa

The sunset caught up with us as we were putting Slovak in our rear view mirrors. The Grand Prairie Water Association storage tank added drama. It was a good day.

Everything you saw today was not much more than an hour from the Chez Dempsey. I strongly suspect that in many other environments, perhaps yours, there are other close-by opportunities which have great interest but have yet to garner recognition by the local tourist promotion people. That means that crowd control will not be a problem. It’s just a matter of discovery.

Thanks for dropping by,

Joe Dempsey
Weekly Grist for the Eyes and Mind



Getting there is half the fun – again

Old Delta Share Cropper house

Click on the old sharecropper house for our original post


Way deep in the Delta

Back on July 17, 2011, acting on a good tip from a good friend, I sought out what I believed to be the photo-ready remnants of a former tenant / sharecropper house north of Lakeview, Arkansas. I was not disappointed.

The trip eschewed populated areas on roads that by-passed swamps and other natural barriers to traffic. Such forays will normally offer pregnant photo ops and this one held true. It’s like a drive-by shoot in the delicious depths of the Delta. (I hope the snoop police do not pick up on the aforementioned term).

Dead tree and sharecropper house

Click the pic for more pix and tales at Corndancer

You have to be there for the complete experience — which includes sweat, sounds, sightings, and skeeters — short of that, you will have to be satisfied with our  picture excursion.  For our original July 17, 2011 post, click here.

While you are there, you will be invited to click on our Weekly Grist Gallery where you will see 25 pictures from the trip. And be sure and  see our story of this downcast domicile on the Photo of the Week page at Corndancer dot-com. See two more pix and read more about the building and the times of its occupancy.

Thanks for dropping by,

Joe Dempsey
Weekly Grist for the Eyes and Mind

Trolley, train, and truck

A fine restoration at the Fort Smith Trolley Museum

Restored Fort Smith Trolley

This trolley at the Fort Smith Trolley Museum is completely cosmetically restored. The restorers are now working on some final mechanical and electrical details to make the car fully operational.

While visiting Fort Smith, Arkansas, the place of my birth and upbringing until my 15th year, during a high-school reunion, I stumbled across the Fort Smith Trolley Museum and discovered a old trolley nearly restored to operational condition. As you can see, the restoration job is pristine as would be expected when the labor is provided by dedicated volunteers. The museum people were very congenial and informative. You can follow the trolley museum on Facebook.

James E. Reynolds monument in Oak Cemetery Fort Smith AR

Click on the picture to see this unique monument

Actually, the trolley was my second shoot of the morning. The first was at Oak Cemetery in Fort Smith, where I hooked up with some high school classmates to shoot a unique and remarkable monument.

At the time, the appearance of the grave was reason enough to make a special trip to shoot it. Turns out, there was a story behind the artistry in the cemetery. Go to the Photo of the Week page at Corndancer dot-com to to see the monument and get in on an interesting story. We’ll wait here for you.

Meanwhile, back at the trolley museum, the trolley crew told me about the restored trolley. Museum officials found the trolley rotting in a field west of Hot Springs, Arkansas. The last place of the trolley’s active service was in Hot Springs. They showed me a picture of the trolley as they found it. The nicest thing you can say about the trolley as they found it was “pitiful.” What the Fort Smith volunteers have done with the trolley is miraculous. They are performing similar miracles on another trolley in the same shop, this one, an open trolley from Vera Cruz, Mexico.

Frisco steam locomotive 4130

Frisco steam locomotive 4003 on static display at the Fort Smith trolley museum.

The folks at the trolley museum show an interest in more than trolleys. They have a nice collection of rail equipment including cabooses, a dining car, and a whopper of a steam locomotive, the 4003 from the former Frisco Railroad. As I recall, back in the day, Fort Smith was served by the Frisco and the Kansas City Southern railroads and each railroad had their own depots.

An environmental picture

Abandoned native stone building on I-40

The environment for this old abandoned native stone structure is I-40, just south of Clarksville, Arkansas. Its job is to watch traffic go by.

One of my deals as a photographer is to show the subject in its environment which generally means that closeups are not a dominant force in my portfolio. I like to show some surroundings. Having driven by this old building on I-40 south of Clarksville AR about a jillion times without noticing it, I was delighted to finally notice it on this trip — while being ashamed of myself for not noticing it earlier. Then it occurred to me that I should probably include interstate traffic if I was to hold to my thing with a bit of environment in the shot. It took about a 100 shots or so to catch a truck in just the right place, but was worth the wait. In the immortal words of Hank Snow, the truck was “movin’ on.” I set the shutter speed high.

Old barn on US Highway 64

This old barn on US 64 has seen better days and is now a detritus dump.

On the trip to Fort Smith, I was running ahead of schedule, so I dropped off the interstate and traveled north on US Highway 64, the artery which was replaced as the main east-west thoroughfare by I-40. I figured I would spy an old barn or two and was not disappointed. The remnants of a lightning rod system are dangling from the peak of the roof. From all appearances the last use of the barn was typical of many in their last useful days — a repository for the the stuff you don’t want to throw away (but probably should), but can’t find anywhere else to dump it. And life goes on.

Thanks for dropping by,

Joe Dempsey
Weekly Grist for the Eyes and Mind

Showtime in LA

Showtime at last!

Ron MacClosky as Groucho

Ron MacClosky as Groucho shares the details of the Marx family version of a world map, a cartographer’s nightmare.

The New Community Theatre here in Pine Bluff just successfully presented the first of its 2014 series of live-on-stage performances, a great accomplishment. It did not come easy. Jack Stradley and his wife, Kathy Majewska, and their theatre crew, of this fair city worked long and hard to renovate the theatre, a building first occupied in 1889 and converted to a theater in 1922 after laying unoccupied for several years. The building, up until the renovation started, received only spotty use since 1996.

Groucho with book

Click here for more Groucho pix and stories

See more of the Ron MacClosky and Community Theatre in pictures and a story at the Photo of the Week page at Corndancer dot-com.

The idea was to gut the building and start over to restore it to the 1922 ambiance as much as possible — and then present live variety entertainment shows.

After delays, weather issues, and other unexpected gremlins nipping and clawing at the heels of Stradley and Majewska, they made it happen. The first shows, March 7 and 8, 2014, featured Ron MacClosky, a highly regarded Groucho Marx impressionist and comedian. He was perfect for the job.

Groucho with pith helmet

Groucho cavorts on stage during his “Animal Crackers” routine. Ron MacClosky authored the show, so it is a now a part of his DNA. At least that’s the way he performs.

Groucho and contestant

Groucho and his “You Bet Your Life” contestant exchange banter much to the delight of the audience.

Groucho Slide Show

Groucho puts on a slide show. Though his projector, the spotlight is doing a poor job of showing the image, the audience does not seem to care. The stage footlights at the Community Theatre present part of  the early twentieth century ambiance.

Groucho trips the light fantastic as he warbles "Lydia, the Tatooed Lady," a condition less prevalent among women in his time than it is now.

Groucho trips the light fantastic as he warbles “Lydia, the Tatooed Lady,” a condition less prevalent among women in his time than now.

MacClosky regaled the audience with his collection of Groucho and Marx Brothers legends, quips, and other rib-tickling wisecracks. He proved himself every bit as quick-witted as Groucho Marx as he bantered with the audience during a spirited and jaunty recreation of Groucho’s famous quiz show, You Bet Your Life.

Groucho and "The Adorables"

Groucho is all smiles as he strikes a pose with “The Adorables,” the greeter / usher team for The Community Theatre.

The show was also replete with sight gags that always invoked sight gag giggles from the appreciative audience. The audience repaid his stellar performance with a standing ovation for his efforts. Had I not been clicking away to photograph the event, I would have joined two-handed salute. The same for Stradley and Majewska for having vision and tenacity.

PS: Be sure and see pictures of the show at: Groucho Gallery 1 and Groucho Gallery 2.

Thanks for looking,

Joe Dempsey
Weekly Grist for the Eyes and Mind

Contrived reluctance

Convenience overwhelms  reluctance

Old barn east of Arkansas HIghway 46

I have seen this old barn so much, it is tattooed in my memory bank. Even so, I did some serious foot-dragging before I finally got it squarely in my view finder. The lean is real. I leveled the camera which eliminates vertical distortion. Gravity will win this fight. Get more looks at the old barn below.

It was convenience and a crying need for about a dozen pictures or so shot at a nearby source that finally pushed me over the edge to get off my duff and shoot this location. It was ripe with an old car (1950 Chevy), an old tractor, and a precariously leaning barn.

1949 Chevy in extreme disrepair

Click on the old Chevy for more pix and comments

For a person who enjoys photographing relics which have seen better days, it is a honey hole. Despite this strong appeal to my baser nature, I have driven past this location on a regular basis for pushing 14 years.

I finally figured out the underlying reason for this callous disregard which I freely discuss on the Photo of the Week page at Corndancer dot-com. It is, I suppose, a character defect. Imagine that.

As you enter the property, the first display is a rusting 1950 Chevy Fleetline, sans wheels, but well decorated with fallen leaves. Most of the parts are still attached to the engine, the ubiquitous Chevy in-line six that would remain as the only power plant offered until 1955 when Chevrolet introduced its second V8. They introduced their first V8 in 1917, which was in 1917 and 1918 vehicles. Don’t ask me what happened to the first V8 because I do not have a clue.

close up of junker 1950 chevy

A patch or two of blue survives on this 1950 Chevy Fleetline. The old in-line overhead valve six remains relatively unscathed, and probably is fused into one homogeneous chunk of metal.

1950  Chevy junker

There’s not much paint on this side which faces directly into the prevailing path of ill weather.

1950 Chevrolet Fleetline

The shape of the 1950 Chevy Fleet Line leaves no mystery as to how its name was contrived.

Old leaning barn in Grant county Arkansas

Not far from the old Chevy is the easterly leaning barn which has succumbed in part to the nasty weather which generally blows in from west/southwest. It is a sizable structure and at one time was someone’s pride and joy.

old falling barn

Moving around the barn, the light improves and we get a better look at what Mother Nature and her close ally, gravity, have wreaked on the old structure.

collapsing barn in Grant County Arkansas

Continuing the walk-around, we see that the southwest corner has borne the brunt of that which will eventually spell the barn’s demise.

collapsing barn

This is a closer look at the bludgeoned southwest corner of the barn.

front of collapsing barn

The walk-around ends at the front where we see how stress is popping boards loose. There is still “stuff” in the barn, but I doubt anyone would dare an attempt to retrieve it.

When one considers all the photo ops on this location, and the fact that I have known about it for 14 years and am just now shooting it, you may want to question my sanity. But that would be nothing new. That question has been posed for years with no satisfactory answer. We got close on the Photo of the Week  page.

Thanks for dropping by,
Joe Dempsey
Weekly Grist for the Eyes and Mind

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