A race and a parade, if you peas

Rotary tiller racer starting the race

When a tiller race starts and the souped-up tiller first bites Mother Earth the dust flies, part of the appeal and excitement of rotary tiller racing at the World Championship Rotary Tiller Race during the world-famous Purple Hull Pea Festival at Emerson, Arkansas. The announcer sits calmly as the racer’s heartbeat jumps exponentially.

If you are searching for a unique experience in the company of  new-found friends, put the last weekend of any June, at Emerson, Arkansas on your calendar. It’s not necessary to dress up, come comfortably to the Purple Hull Pea Festival at Emerson. You’ll rub elbows with nice folks there.

Tiller racer at Emerson Arkansas

Click on the tiller racer for more Emerson pix and info.

You will also have the opportunity to consume the properly prepared namesake legume, watch a parade, be entertained, observe the World Pea Shelling competition, dance in the streets, see a fireworks spectacular, and observe The World Championship Rotary Tiller Race.There’s nary another place on the planet that can deliver on that.

You also now have the opportunity to see more pictures and information on the festival on the Photo of the Week page at Corndancer dot-come where this tale of fun got underway in the first place.

Rotary tiller racer underway

Up close and personal. The guy in the lime green shirt is a second or two away from the start now. He has about another six seconds and change to reach the finish line 200 feet away if he expects to to be “in the money.”

Little girl racing tiller

Rotary tiller racing at the Purple Hull Pea Festival is not limited to good ol’ boys. Little girls (and little boys), and their mothers, sisters, and aunts race tillers as well. It’s a family thing.

Before the big race starts, you can watch the world renowned “Million Tiller” parade as part of the festival. You will see a great collection of antique tractors, local beauties, four wheelers, horseback riders, motorcycles of all stripes, families being families and civic and church groups showing support for the big event. Be forewarned, sometimes the tiller count is a tad shy of a million.

Family in jeep in parade

The family that parades together stays together. It’s not every day you see a family in a jeep adorned with a teddy bear, (at least that’s what I think it is), a proper crusting of mud, all smiles, and a beautiful baby daughter under a parasol (OK, umbrella) — in a parade. It is just too cool, and you saw it here first.

Among the star attractions of the parade this year, in my humble opinion, was a “motor-trike” powered by a Chevy engine, the back end of which is a replica of the classic slick back Corvette Stingray.

Black Chevy powered trike

As I was salivating while shooting this magnificent beast, the driver told me to be sure and shoot the back. He was on the move so I had to whirl fast to do his bidding.

Stingray replica

As promised, the aft end of the trike is a true Corvette Stingray replica. The lacquer is so shiny it picks up a reflection of gravel in the street.

The Purple Hull Pea Festival in Emerson, Arkansas, population 368 (or there about) is small town America at its best. You go. You enjoy. You leave. And you are glad you went. In LA (lower Arkansas), that’s a “it don’t git much better than that” experience.

See more tiller race and parade pictures in our Purple Hull Pea Festival galleries. Click below:

Thanks for dropping by,
Joe Dempsey

Weekly Grist for the Eyes and Mind.



Ding Dong Days and muddy ways

An old fire truck in a parade

This old Ford fire truck is gussied up to the point of mimicking its former glory in active service. The event is the Ding Dong Days in Dumas parade, a part of a two day festival in Dumas, Arkansas. I could be wrong, but I believe it is a 1946 model.

Bull Mastiff dog

Click on the dog for more Ding Dong Days pix

This week we do not travel to Dumas, Arkansas as planned, to shoot the Ding Dong Days in Dumas festival. In my other life, a requirement to create and have complete a six-panel brochure by Sunday evening trumped the trip.

However, all was not lost. Turns out my son, Ralph Douglas “Doug” Dempsey and his family made the trip. Doug is a photographer, (like his father, among other things) and agreed to furnish images to his dear old dad for this week’s Grist. See more of Doug’s Ding Dong Days pictures on the Photo of the Week page at Corndancer dot-com where this story started.

Since I could not attend the event, any comments I make regarding the proceedings would fall way shy of satisfactory in the truth and veracity test results. Therefore I am limiting my commentary to remarks in picture captions. This will probably make understanding the gist of the thing easier on my fellow former Infantry officers.

Cars on display

Among other things, Ding Dong Days usually includes a good car show. This year was no exception. I thought this dude had his act together by using a wagon of nearly the same vintage as his car as part of the display.

1960 John Deere 530 tractor

The event draws participants from far and wide. This pristine, restored 1960 John Deere 530 and it’s owner, Jack Abernathy, hail from Bauxite, Arkansas, easily two hours or more from Dumas. The sign on the tractor says 415 of this model were made.

Henna tatoo booth

The young lady to the left is Granddaughter No. 5 (of six). Next to her is Granddaughter No. 4. They are in a henna tattoo booth at Ding Dong Days. No. 5 looks serious in this shot which is uncharacteristic. She normally has a smile on her face in the default mode.

Thanks for dropping by,

Joe Dempsey

Peas attend this festival

National Rotary Tiller Championship Race

This woman is competing in the 2010 World Champion Rotary Tiller Race as part of the 2010 Purple Hull Pea Festival in Emerson, Arkansas. The custom tiller is powered by a Honda motorcycle engine. The tiller was built specifically for action in this competition.

In their own web site, the people of Emerson, Arkansas call their festival, “The Purple Hull Pea Festival and World Championship Rotary Tiller Race, “ … quirky … and … fun.” From this observation post, they are truthful on both accounts. The longevity of the award-winning festival, the idea of which was hatched in 1990, seems to underscore the accuracy of their description of the event. The crowds just keep on coming. In your wildest dreams, you do not expect to hear of such an event.

To learn how the festival came to be and to see more festival pictures,  take a short trip to the Photo of the Week page at Corndancer dot com and get in on the start of the story. We’ll wait for you here.

Tiller racer at National Rotary Tiller Race Championship

Festival activities heat up on Saturday at the rotary tiller races. The goats grazing in the background are not disturbed. They have seen it before and it does not disturb a good meal. Yes, there were guys racing tillers too. These pictures just happened to fit the page. See the gallery link below for more tiller race, parade and other event pictures not shown here.

The two day festival is a Friday-Saturday affair. Down south, you go to church on Sunday. In true home-town fashion, the festival, for the most part, fills the Emerson School grounds. It spills over into some adjacent residential neighborhoods, but in Emerson, that’s no big deal and not a problem. The schedule on Friday includes a Pea Lunch, cake auction, gospel entertainment, the start of the festival basketball tournament and a bunch more. The action really really heats up on Saturday morning with the tiller races.

Miss Purple Hull 2010

Catie Cunningham, Miss Purple Hull 2010 wears the title with a big smile.

Close on the heels of the tiller races, is a parade featuring a great collection of restored farm tractors, Miss Purple Hull, and a lot more. The parade, unlike those of larger venues does not drag on for hours. (Speaking of tractors, be sure and click on the gallery link at the bottom of this page to see more of the great collection of tractors at this festival). The parade is short, full of good stuff and has a down-home personal feeling to it not found in bigger parades. After the parade, there is a go-slow tractor race. The idea is to cover the ground in the longest time, idling in low gear without killing the engine. The comments from the master of ceremonies are reason enough to attend the event. What a hoot!

Emerson Fire Truck

No parade is complete without a shiny fire truck and Emerson is no different.

A fully restored 956 Chevy Bel Air four door. How sweet it is.

A fully restored 1956 Chevy Bel Air four door. How sweet it is.

1951 Army Jeep

1951 Army Jeep, from pre-humvee days. Vehicles like this were used in the Korean War.

Color coordinated tractor and driver attire in the parade.

Color coordinated tractor and driver attire in the parade.

There was a lot of stuff for sale at the festival. Two vendors caught my eye, both of which were selling purple hull peas. The first, John KIrkpatrick of Willisville, Arkansas is a circuit riding fresh vegetable dealer. His veggies are frozen, but not the crass commercial kind. His merchandise is not long out of  the field when the frigid air hits it. It comes, for the most part in two-bushel bags.

John Kirkpatrick on his trailer.

John Kirkpatrick in his trailer on the festival grounds.

He pulls a long trailer which holds four large freezers chock full of peas, okra, corn, and scads of other desirable veggies. He follows a route to a number of towns in south Arkansas and East Texas, where he has a following. He carries a portable generator with him and runs it when his cargo begins to defrost.

John Kirckpatrick and customer

John Kirkpatrick completes a sale to a happy customer. The bag on top of the freezer is a two-bushel bag. The bag is sold by weight. The volume of un-shelled peas is to come up with this weight is in the neighborhood of two bushel baskets, thus the terminology.

On the other side of the festival grounds, Danny Gryder a truck-farmer from Plain Dealing, Louisiana is peddling freshly hulled peas. He brought more than forty large bags (toe-sacks in proper southern parlance) of fresh un-shelled  peas straight from the fields − and his pea sheller. He set up his machine and started shelling peas on the spot.

Danny Gryder and his pea sheller.

Danny Gryder and his pea sheller. The top swings open and Danny fills the sheller full of peas. The sheller spits out hulls on the side and peas out the small spout near Danny's feet.

The curiosity of the pea huller and the appeal of freshly shelled peas was a siren song to festival attendees. Danny sold out of peas by 1:30 p.m. on Saturday. “I’ll bring a bunch more next time,” he said.

Danny Gryder hand over the last of his peas for the day to a happy customer.

Danny Gryder hands over the last of his peas for the day to a happy customer.

Danny had a few peas left which he handed over to me and I subsequently handed over to my 94-year-old mother after a short drive. Mom was grateful, the quantity was just right for her. “Just barely enough to make a mess,” Danny said as he handed them over. To non-southerners, a “mess” is roughly enough of any vegetable to make enough servings for a meal, such as, ” … hon, Danny gimme a mess of peas.” “Well wundunat sweet of  ‘im Cletus. Didja thank ‘im?” “Yessum.”

Vendors at Purple Hull Pea festival

Vendors at Purple Hull Pea festival from Danny's pea sheller.

All I can say to the folks at Emerson is, ” … y’all done good,” one of the highest compliments proffered from one southerner to another. And if it wasn’t so, I wouldna sed it.

See much more festival in our high-resolution gallery

Each week, we shoot more pictures than we have room to publish. So we post all the pictures, used and those not seen anywhere else in our high resolution gallery. The pictures are bigger and better. My friend Cletus says, ” … Joe, thim pitchers in that gallery are more clearer.” We’re talking more tractors, more parade, more tiller racing.  Click here to see these pictures.

Thanks for dropping by,


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