A grand ol’ time on the Grand Prairie

The 2015 Grand Prairie Rice Festival

Mason Sickel and family in T Model Forfd

Mason Sickel leads the opening antique tractor parade at the 2015 Grand Prairie Rice Festival in his T-Model Ford full of his children and their friends.

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.

Joe Dempsey shaking hands with Mason Sickel at the 2015 Grand Prairie Rice Festival at Hazen, Arkansas

Truly, a people-friendly parade – From left, Mason Sickel shakes hands with yours truly. The picture was shot by my grandson, James Joseph Dempsey.

Joe Dempsey photographing tractor

While Jay was at it, he decided that another picture of his grandfather in action was in order. This big Case is a “rice” tractor with the wide-set front wheel arrangement.

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.

Handler and captive great horned owl

After the parade, take a gander at this Great Horned Owl. The owl and handler are from the Raptor Rehab Center in El Paso, Arkansas

A boat worth seeing

Ray Hightower and his boat

Click the pic to see the boat pictures and story

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.

Randy Skarda and his giant engine

Randy Skarda regularly brings is fully restored and operational Fairbanks-Morse Type Y Oil Engine to the festival.

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.

Carl Blackswells antique gasoline engines

Carl Blackwell tinkers with one of the trailer-full of antique small gasoline engines he brings to the Grand Prairie Rice Festival.

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.”

Antique McCormick-Deering rice threshing machine

This antique McCormick-Deering threshing machine is fully functional and being operated.

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

John Deere 820 diesel tractor

This green grunt power on the move, an 820 John Deere diesel rice tractor with a two cylinder four-stroke engine. The bore on the engine is somewhere between a lard can and a water bucket in diameter.

B-Model John Deere

This is B-Model John Deere with a row-crop front wheel setup, pulling a trailer full of happy kids.

H model farmall tractor

This H-model Farmall looks showroom new. It is a row-crop tractor with the narrow front wheel arrangement.

Replica steam locomotive

The Central Arkansas Antique Machinery and Historic Society sent its replica steam locomotive complete with whistle and smoke on demand.

Here is grandson, Jay snapping away.

Here is grandson, Jay, snapping away.

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,

Joe Dempsey
Weekly Grist for the Eyes and Mind


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