A day across Arkansas

Carl Blackwell with restored gasoline engines

Carl Blackwell of Wynne, Arkansas proudly stands beside some of his stable of restored gasoline engines at the 37th Annual Grand Prairie Rice Festival at Hazen, Arkansas on October 26, 2013. These engines were popular in the first half of the twentieth century in non-electrified rural areas where they were used to power generators, grist mills, pumps, and just about anything else that need rotary power to work. As electric service spread to rural areas, the engines fell from favor. Restoring these engines has become a popular niche avocation and Mr. Blackwell is one of the finest practitioners of the genre.

Carl Blackwell of Wynne, Arkansas is a master tinkerer, machinist, and restorer. I visited with Carl at the Grand Prairie Rice Festival in Hazen, Arkansas where he displayed several of his collection of old gasoline power units he has personally restored to working order.  It comes naturally to Carl. He is a retired machine shop supervisor and has a precision lathe and milling machine at his place in Wynne, Arkansas.

Restored and operating Star gasoline power unit

When Carl Blackwell starts an engine restoration project and can’t find the parts he needs, he goes to work and makes the parts. This restored Star engine is a prime example of Carl’s expertise. After he started the restoration process, he could not find parts for the cylinder head valve mechanism, (the round thing in front of the silver thing, and most of the parts around it), so he went to work and made the parts. As you can see the engine is fully functional.

St. Mary's Church at St. Vincent Arkansas

Click on the church to see how the story started.

We are chronicling a one-day trip through the heart of Arkansas. The story started on the Photo of the Week page at Corndancer dot-com at St. Vincent, Arkansas, where we took a look at fine country church. Take a look to get in on the start of the story.

This was our second visit to St. Vincent. On the first visit, we showed you a barn with an ecclesiastical message, which was down the road from LBJ’s Beer and Groceries. There is a nice distribution of cultural icons in St. Vincent where everyone seems to get along just fine, thank you very much,

Back to the trip

Carl Blackwell was toward the end of the trip, but he was so interesting, I decided to start this epistle with him. After we left St. Vincent, we saw barns and other sights and scenes as we headed toward the Grand Prairie Rice Festival at Hazen where we visited with Carl. Here’s what we saw on the way:

entrance to field with overhead flags

Here, we were trying to figure out if we arrived too early or too late. Those, it seems, were the only choices given that sense of abandonment.

Old horse barn

Not far from the flags, we saw this old barn, which we presume was a horse/mule barn due to the height. Normally the big doors on a horse barn were tall enough to accommodate a human on a horse. Note the abandoned disc harrow in the foreground.

Old rural utility building

After turning down a likely-looking gravel road we found this old utility building. It was probably a small barn that had something to do with livestock. We conjecture that due to the fencing on the property.

old rural utility bulding with blue sky background

More of the same with a different look. The still standing night-watcher light is disconnected.

old school bus with curtains

Here in the mid-south, it is not unusual to see old school busses converted to deer camp shelters or other use. This one has been curtained, and not moved for a while. The lettering on the bus says: “Licking Heights Local School District.” I Googled that name and discovered that Licking Heights Local School District is in Ohio. Folks, it’s quite a stretch between Mid-Ohio and Springfield, Arkansas. No telling how the bus arrived here.


As I was shooting the bus, one of the neighbor’s pups dropped by for a look. Looks like he has some greyhound in his background. He was friendly, but suspicious.

restored 1938 C Model Case Tractor

After the bus and dog, we transitioned to Hazen, Arkansas to barely arrive at the 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 Model.

back side of case 1938 c model tractor

This is the back side of the Case C model. In the background, you can catch a glimpse of a gigantic 24-ton antique, fully operational 1919 Fairbanks-Morse Type Y Vertical Oil Engine. You can see the engine in operation at Corndancer dot-com.

case combine harvesting rice

Exhibitors were folding their tents as we left the festival. South of Hazen we found a rice harvest underway. There were three combines in this field. They were trying to beat an incoming storm. If you are into four-wheel drive vehicles, this is the ultimate high-horsepower get-in-the-big-middle-of-it-vehicle. Entry level exceeds 800 grand and you need a lot of level muddy ground.

We digress from the trip

After the combine we made it safely to the carport. We will fast forward from this trip of October 26, 2013 to November 1, 2013 when we saw a tree full of shoes at Sardis, Arkansas. While this is out of the purview of our original trip, due to the shock value of a tree full of shoes, we include the picture below. If you want to see more details, see our Sardis Shoe Tree gallery.

Somehow you simply do not expect to find a tree full of shoes. Except if you are in Sardis, Arkansas. Then, it is an everyday occurrence.

Somehow you simply do not expect to find a tree full of shoes. Except if you are in Sardis, Arkansas. Then, it is an everyday occurrence.

Thanks for joining the trip. We have observed scenes seen by few — and seen by many — but probably not in the same day. That’s the beauty of cyber traveling.

Thanks for dropping by,

Joe Dempsey
Weekly Grist for the Eyes and Mind



Maple Hill Cemetery and Points South

Eva B. Coolidge

The grave of Eva B. Coolidge in Maple Hill Cemetery, north of Helena, Arkansas.

Maple Hill Cemetery, north of Helena, Arkansas is impressive in its size, large; its terrain, hilly; its age, 164 years; its condition, excellent; and the art of its gravestones, very impressive. The monument you see above is inscribed  “Eva B. Daughter of C.R. and L. E. Coolidge  August 17, 1868 – August 24, 1871 Aged 3 years – 7 days.” The monument is correct in every detail and shows that a well-studied and experienced hand created the sculpture. Little Eva’s death reminds us of one of the bad old things about the good old days, high infant and child mortality.

Photo of the Week at Corndancer dot Com

Photo of the Week at Corndancer dot Com

There’s more of Maple Hill Cemetery on the Photo of the Week page at Corndancer dot com where this story started. Click here to see three more pictures from Maple Hill Cemetery including a larger version of the dog on the tombstone, and the story about how he got there.

Maple Hill Cemetery also has a Confederate cemetery inside its confines. Markers range from simple stones with a last name only to an impressive, monolith marking the grave of a brigadier general. In 2002 some confederate soldier remains were found in the Helena vicinity. Local civil war enthusiasts interred the remains and provided a marker.

Works of art and works of simplicity

Throughout the well-kept cemetery, you will see works of art in granite and alabaster. You will also see simple markers which are little more than small hewn stones.

The barlow family plot

The Barlow family plot is marked with a skillfully carved and detailed angel sculpture. Considering the age and exposure to the elements of the Delta, the quality is clear.

But at Maple Hill, regardless of size or provenance, everyone is equal and receives the same loving care. The cemetery is impressive in one more category, that being the condition of the older monuments, which for the most part are intact, a condition not necessarily in fact at all cemeteries of this age.

Bird seed

On the return trip, south of DeWitt, Arkansas, rice farmers, taking advantage of a non-liquid day, were harvesting rice in a big way. Some say, “harvesting,” some say “cuttin’ rice” and some of the older ones will still say “thrashin’ rice.” Regardless of the semantics, the combines are rolling and the rice is coming out of the fields.

combines and egrets

A few of the flock of egrets that were following the combines like gulls follow shrimp boats.

These behemoths take in rice at one end and spit chaff and stalks out the other and in the process will include some rice in the jetsam. On this one particular farm, what appeared to be several hundred egrets, a wading bird which depends on small fish, tadpoles, frogs and other small marine critters for its meals, could not resist the temptation of food they did not have to stalk.

A fire truck, but no lake and no swans

Next stop on the way home was the small community of Swan Lake, southeast of Pine Bluff, Arkansas, my headquarters. SWan Lake has an active volunteer fire department. It’s rolling stock is garaged, but they do have an old Howe-International Harvester R 185 fire truck on display for all the world to see.

fire teucks

A retired R185 Howe-International fire truck at Swan Lake, Arkansas.

Swan Lake is an old community and one presumes that at one time, perhaps there was a lake and mayhaps a few swans, but no more. But it’s still Swan Lake.

SWan Leke

Looking down the bore. If you saw this in your rear view mirror, it was time to get your duff out of the way.

Thanks for dropping by!

Joe Dempsey
Weekly Grist for the Eyes and Mind

Bean men

If you’ve arrived here from the Corndancer dot com Photo of the Week, this continues the saga. If you’ve arrived here independently of the original story, and your curiosity is piqued, you can check it out here.

Eight row combine harvesting soybeans north of Gillette, Arkansas. John Cover's college senior nephew is at the wheel.

John Cover had every right to be more than curious about the unknown pickup parked near his field and the stranger with a camera who was photographing his nephew operating a combine, harvesting soy beans in the field. I explained that I was gathering information for a weekly picture-story internet column, and that I had high hopes of finding someone cutting beans. Once he was satisfied, his gentlemanly demeanor  and well-honed conversational skills quickly became evident.

John Cover hitches a ride on the way to pull his mired 18 wheeler to dry ground. He is riding on the back of Scott Place's fully functional, restored '49 International Harvester KB5 Super dooly bob truck.

John showed up at the field driving an 18 wheeler consisting of a tandem axle Mack truck and an empty grain trailer. While trying to negotiate the tight turn from a hard surface highway to a turn-row next to the field, the right drive wheels of the tractor became mired in a mud hole. This sort of thing is to be expected and happens in the best of families. During our conversation, John whipped out his cell phone, called Scott Place, a relative, and asked Scott to come to his rescue.

’49 “binder” to the rescue

Scott arrived shortly in a well restored, fully operational 1949 International Harvester KB 5 Super dooly bob truck, a vehicle you just don’t see every day. The truck was well equipped as a quintessential farm operation support vehicle. Its trappings included a visible cutting torch setup, fuel tank, oil tank and welder. No doubt the tool boxes contain a plethora of tools, chains, cables and every other imaginable device one might require to keep the wheels of agricultural progress turning.

The "binder" makes short work of pulling the Mack free of the mud hole. The term "binder" was a nickname, even a term of endearment for International Harvester trucks. The term has recently fallen to disuse, due to the restructuring of the International Harvester company.

The "binder" makes short work of pulling the Mack out of the mud hole. "Binder" is a nickname, perhaps even a term of endearment, for International Harvester trucks. The term has fallen into disuse since the International Harvester company was restructured.

This was not John and Scott’s first rodeo when it came to pulling a stuck truck from a mud hole. Without a lot of conversation, knowing exactly what needed to be done, they hooked the tow chain in just the right places on both trucks. Seconds later, the deed was done and the Mack was on dry land. The big Mack proceeded down the turn row to receive recently harvested beans from engorged combines.

The agony of moisture

The Producers Rice Mill Dixie Dryer north of John Cover's fields is huge/

The Producers Rice Mill Dixie Dryer. It's huge.

At the turn row, the trucks are filled with beans. From here, they will probably to go storage and subsequently to a dryer similar to the Producers Rice Mill Dixie Dryer you see to the left. To give you an idea of the size of this giant facility, take a look a look at the small black dot at the bottom of the orange structure in the center of the picture. That dot is the door to the weigh house. Compare the height of the door to the tallest point of the building. It’s not a stretch to say it’s more than 12 stories tall. Agriculture in this neck of the woods is big. Products are shipped to the world from here.

Moisture content is a big deal with beans. Growers are generally penalized if their beans have too much moisture. After all, water weighs in at 8.34 pounds per gallon. Bean buyers are much more interested in buying beans than water. So you add moisture content to the “when to cut equation.” Cut too soon and the moisture content is too high. Wait too long and a big rain comes which keeps you out of the fields.

Soy beans, up close and personal

On the vine ready to harvest and fresh from the combine.

Soy beans. Left, on the vine ready to harvest; right, fresh from the combine, ready for the next steps in a long trip.

Presuming that not all readers have easy access to soy beans, it is my bounden duty to elucidate those not so privileged. To the left you see a handy soy bean composite. On the left side of the picture, you see some soy beans ready to harvest. To the right, you see what comes out of the combine. Hundreds of products contain soy beans or compounds extracted from soy beans. All of our homes benefit from this tiny legume, thanks to the likes of John Cover, his family and thousands just like them. Thanks folks.

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