The 2015 Grand Prairie Rice Festival
If you are in reasonable driving distance of central Arkansas in the middle of October and looking for something fun to do, making tracks to the Grand Prairie Rice Festival in Hazen, Arkansas, is, in my humble opinion, the top of the pecking order. The event kicks-off with a unique parade of for-the-most-part meticulously restored antique tractors led by a dad with his kids and their friends in a T-Model Ford sporting the Stars and Stripes.
This is a slow-moving, people friendly parade where you are just a few feet from the action with no “authorities” telling you to move your carcass back. Conversations and/or greetings between tractor drivers and/or passengers and spectators is not only tolerated, it seems to be encouraged.
At the conclusion of the parade you can get up close and personal with a Great Horned Owl, a Red Tailed Hawk and other raptors from Raptor Rehab of Arkansas. You can actually kinda get in each other’s face, judiciously of course.
A boat worth seeing
We also encountered a one-of-a-kind boat and its builder-owner, Ray Hightower. He had an inkling to build a clone boat to mimic the ones his father used back in the day as a fisherman on the White River near Gillette, Arkansas.
The results of his efforts are singularly impressive. You simply will not find another like it. See the pictures and story of Ray Hightower’s boat on the Photo of the Week page at Corndancer dot com. It’s worth a look.
There are food trailers with good ol’ stuff and more exotic fare that your grandmother did not make. A few local bake sales offer instant relief from sugar depravation. All of this goes on with a good band in the background playing everything from Hank Williams to current favorites. People will also look you in the eye and say “howdy,” or strike up a conversation with perfect strangers.
Three mainstays worth seeing
There are three mainstays you usually see: Randy Skarda with his gigantic, antique Fairbanks-Morse engine used in the early part of the twentieth century to power a rice well. Gigantic, I guess so. Randy moves it around with an 18-wheeler low-boy trailer set up.
In this video, Joe Dempsey and grandson Jay Dempsey visit the 2015 Grand Prairie Rice Festival at Hazen, Arkansas and take a look at Randy Skarda’s 1919 Fairbanks-Morse Type Y Vertical Oil Engine on display at the 35th Grand Prairie Rice Festival at Hazen on Saturday. Randy restored the 23,230-pound monster motor in 1990 and ’91. The video is in four clips: A wide view, a closer view, a closer view with Joe and Jay, and a clip with Jay and another boy being welcomed aboard the engine trailer by Randy Skarda.
Not far away you will find Carl Blackwell of Wynne, Arkansas who brings a tandem-axle trailer full of antique gasoline engines that work. If one happens to be contrary, he will tinker with it until if fires up.
In this video – Joe Dempsey and grandson Jay Dempsey see small antique gasoline engines during the 2015 Grand Prairie Rice Festival at Hazen, Arkansas. The video opens with Jay hamming it up for the camera followed by Carl Blackwell tinkering with one of his engines to get it started. In the second segment, Joe and Jay saunter up to the now running engine for a look-see. Joe show Jay how hold his hand over the engine exhaust. He does it gingerly the first time, then comes back for more on this and one other engine.
Go a few more steps down the park and you will find an antique, restored and fully-functional McCormick-Deering rice threshing machine. Back in the day before combines, farmers would swing through their ripened rice fields with mule or tractor drawn equipment to cut the rice. Then they gathered the felled rice and took it to the threshing machine to separate the grain from the stems. In the true vernacular (which I prefer) the device was known as a “thrashin’ mun-sheen.”
In this video – An antique McCormick Deering Rice thresher is in use during a demonstration at the 2015 Grand Prairie Rice Festival in Hazen, Arkansas. The video is a walk-around with four clips: The first show an antique Oliver 90 tractor in the foreground which provides power to the machine via a long flat belt. The second shows the crew loading from the front, the third shows the crew loading from the back and the final clip shows the machine trash discharge. In the last clip, in the left of the fram, grandson Jay is sitting under a tree watching the proceedings.
And last but not least, a trailer mounted grist mill that grinds out fresh corn meal which is offered to takers at no cost.
Back to the parade
There are also some carnival rides, crafts and other booths of interest. Parking is all within easy walking distance. And it’s hard not to feel welcome. Make your plans for 2016.
Thanks for dropping by,
Weekly Grist for the Eyes and Mind