Blues for a cause, a helping hand


Jimmy Thackery

Blues legend and guitar virtuoso Jimmy Thackery was the Saturday headliner for the second annual Blues for a Cause Blues Benefit and Music Festival in Pine Bluff, Arkansas.

Blues fans were regaled with seven, count-em — seven blues bands for two, count-em — two days of their preferred music at the second annual Blues for a Cause, A Helping Hand Blues Benefit and Music Festival.

Reba and Wayne Russell

See Reba Russell and four other blues concert pictures.

Second is true, annual may be a slight misnomer in this case since the organization’s first event was in March of this year. An opportunity to partner with Smoke on the Water, a barbeque event, came up, so the organizers, Joe and Tracey Powell, and Sandra Sallings made the move.

Get the background on Blues for a Cause and see four additional concert pictures on the Photo of the Week page at Corndancer dot com. We’ll wait here while you look.

Jimmy Thackery and the Drivers, the Saturday night headliners did not disappoint their fans and probably made a few new ones to boot. They came on the stage and cranked out everything from dirt-under-the -finger-nails blues to a closing Jimi Hendrix rendition of the National Anthem which brought the audience to their feet. What few smokers that are still surviving hefted their Bics as Thackery and his sidemen did the deed.

See more concert pictures in our Weekly Grist Gallery.

Amy Lee and Matt Kemp

Amy Lee and the Second Line from Oklahoma City were the opening act for Friday night. Bass player Matt Kemp is in the background.

Adam Varnell

Adam Varnell, vocalist and harmonica player for The Saints of Yesterday, the opening act for Saturday festivities. The band composed 12 new songs first heard at Blues for a Cause.

See 33 concert pictures in our Weekly Grist Gallery.

Josh Roberts, blues guitarist

Josh Roberts, lead guitarist for the Reba Russell band. Josh has been playing studio recording dates and concerts since his teens. One friend who used him in a recording session said his mother had to bring him to the session because he was too young to drive. Now in his northern twenties, he continues to get even better. I have photographed him before at the Memphis Blues Society Battle of the Bands and the Blues Music Awards.

Billy Jones Bluez

Billy Jones Bluez. The Little Rock native performs nation wide. He has a quiet demeanor which disappears when his performance starts. Then he transmogrifies into an animated music machine. A great musician and a gifted performer. And a nice guy.

Blues for a Cause, A Helping Hand Blues Benefit and Music Festival organizes and presents blues concerts to benefit persons suffering from catastrophic illnesses and have no insurance. All proceeds past expenses to for that purpose alone. Management and staff are volunteers as are all event workers. Nice folks. Great cause. Fine music.

Tullie Brae

Click on Tullie Brae for more concert pictues

See 33 blues concert pictures in our Weekly Grist gallery

See more of Jimmy Thackery, Reba Russell, Tullie Brae, Billy Jones Bluez, The Joe Pitts Band, The Saints of Yesterday, and Amy Lee and the Second Line shot on stage and from the amphitheater floor during the two day concert. See this blues concert from angles you don’t expect to see, with close ups and cool shots you’ll like. Click and see.

Thanks for dropping by,

Joe Dempsey
Weekly Grist for the Eyes and Mind

http://www.joedempseyphoto.com/
http://www.joedempseycommunications.com/
http://www.corndancer.com/joephoto/photohome.html

Save the Saenger


Originally posted in September 2011

Saenger Theater Pine Bluff AR

The 87-year-old Saenger Theater in Pine Bluff, Arkansas needs attention and needs it fast. Fortunately, a group of local supporters have organized and are raising money to stabilize and save the structure for eventual renovation to its former glory.

The long suffering Saenger Theater in Pine Bluff, Arkansas is enjoying renewed attention just in the nick of time. Little Rock video producer Chris Cranford got wind of the aging structure’s plight and put a video together detailing the predicament of the ailing edifice. It worked. The video touched more than a few nerves and stirred up substantial interest in rescuing the building from sure and certain disaster in the absence of attention. Now, more than 1,650 people are signed on to the “Save our Saenger” Facebook page and the Pine Bluff area is dotted with billboards soliciting support.

August 3, 2014 update

The city now owns the Saenger and is taking steps to stabilize it to slow down the forces of nature and age.

The Post Office Lunchery

Click on the picture for old building pix.

See the Saenger’s neighbors

Before we go too much further, may we suggest that you take a look at the Photo of the Week page at Corndancer dot-com where this story started.

You’ll see some of the theaters neighboring structures including the venerable old “Post Office Lunchery.” You’ll also get a few opinions on old buildings versus the newer ones. We’ll wait here until you return.

The theater was more than a venue for movies. Vaudeville acts performed there along with other entertainment. It had a classic theater organ which would rumble the foundation. Thousands of attendees got their first taste of film entertainment in the grand old structure. It was the destination for countless “first dates,” and no-doubt was the site of at least hundreds of first stolen kisses.

See more pictures of the Saenger, the Community Theater, and other historic Pine Bluff buildings in our Weekly Grist Gallery.

Exterior decor of Pine Bluff Saenger Theater

This bad boy under the Saenger flag pole has been on the job since November of 1924. Wonder what’s on his mind?

Though the theater has been dark for decades, say the word “Saenger” around Pine Bluff and you’ll probably trigger a recitation of recalled memories. I can remember my jaw dropping and roar of the crowd when Hawkeye and Trapper John dropped the shower curtain on Hot-Lips Houlihan and crew.

Pine Bluff Saenger Theater exterior decor

The arches above the windows on the front of the theater are in good condition and still show the attention to detail that is the hallmark of Saenger Theaters.

 The details you see on the outside of the Saenger give you an idea of the former opulence inside. It was spacious with cathedral class ceilings and well appointed with all of the nooks and crannies reminiscent of an era when tiny little details and ornate decor were the order of the day. If the Saenger supporters have their way, we may yet see this opulence again.

See more pictures of the Saenger, the Community Theater, and other historic Pine Bluff buildings in our Weekly Grist Gallery.

side entrance to Harlow Sanders Cotton Company

You gotta love the “Pointy” doors at the former home of the Harlow Sanders Cotton Company in Pine Bluff, Arkansas.

Just a couple of blocks away is the building which last housed the Harlow Sanders Cotton Company. I’m not sure what it was before it was the cotton company, but no doubt will hear from someone and can add that information when it comes in. The building has three “pointy” doors (for lack of a better word), this one is on the side, the other two are on the front.

Back entrance to the Henry Marx Company building

This has to be the fanciest back door in town. The building was last used commercially by the Henry Marx Company of Pine Bluff, the building owner. It now is home to a downtown church.

 You don’t find many windows like the ones you see in the upper floor of the Henry Marx Company building at West 5th Avenue and Main Street in Pine Bluff, Arkansas.The designer apparently wanted to achieve a unique look which probably gave a window maker fits as compared to a garden variety window with only two panes. Fits or not, the designer and the window maker were successful. Now there’s that little bit of art in our downtown. Just look up to see it.

Henry Marx Company bulding

The windows have a unique design. Wonder why the one on the right side of the sign is different? What were they thinking? Did the window maker pull a fast one?

art deco doors

Click on the doors for more pictues

SEE MORE pictures including

the Saenger, the Community Theater, and several other historic structures in downtown Pine Bluff, including the old Post Office Lunchery, in our Weekly Grist Gallery.

You’ll see some close up details most folks overlook. There are 31 new pictures of old stuff, some with lingering opportunities. Click and see.

Thanks for dropping by,

Joe Dempsey
Weekly Grist for the Eyes and Mind

http://www.joedempseyphoto.com/
http://www.joedempseycommunications.com/
http://www.corndancer.com/joephoto/photohome.html

Getting there is half the fun


old sharecropper house

Our trip this week was to photograph this old sharecropper house near Lake View, Arkansas. The trip was two hours each way so there were plenty of photo-ops along the way.

old share cropper house

See more pix of the old house at Corndancer dot-com

Long and winding road

After receiving a timely tip as to the existence and location of this old sharecropper house, I set out to shoot it early Saturday afternoon. Well, not too early, it was nearly 3:00 p.m. The route from the Dempsey domicile to the target is far less than direct due to non-negotiable wetlands, at several junctures, betwixt and between the starting and ending points.

The trip figured at two hours each way, not counting stops for shooting. Not a bad thing considering the mother lode of photo-fodder one normally encounters in the Delta. See some more pictures and read astute observations of this rare old sharecropper house on the Photo of the Week page at Corndancer dot com where this story started. We’ll wait here.

See more pictures of the old sharecropper house in our Weekly Grist Gallery.

tree trimmed for power line right of way

At more than 100° in the shade, it’s hard to image ice-encrusted tree limbs, but that’s why this tree is trimmed the way it is. Falling limbs zap the lights. Note the burned lower trunk. (My apologies, this picture has some bad faults).

 This old tree like many in these environs has been trimmed to prevent it dropping limbs during the ice storms we endure occasionally in rough winters. One does simply does not want the TV to falter at the crux of a serious football game or pickup truck commercial. Regarding the tree, to add injury to insult, its lower trunk has sustained fire damage.

burned tree trunk

Despite fire damage, the old tree seems to be holding its own. The fire which charred the truck killed some foliage, but the old oak seems to be oblivious to the damage. Good luck tree!

You will see all sorts of things on a swing through the Delta and abandoned houses may lead the charge. As farming becomes more automated and less labor intensive, people are moving into more populated areas for employment. If it lasts that long, the house below will eventually be in the same condition as the one above.

abandoned house

“Will the person who knocked the front porch off the house please report to Mama!”

 It’s same song, second verse here in the Delta. In 2010 it rained like a monsoon, then turned as dry as the Gobi Desert. Welcome to 2011. The only difference is the extra 1. The good news is, the farmers are cranking up the center pivot irrigation systems and that always makes for good pictures. These mechanical quarter-mile-long monsters crawl in half-mile circles refreshing thirsty cotton and beans as they go. I must add that my farmer friends will castigate me for saying cranking up center pivots is good news, but they do make for some cool pix.

center pivot irrigation system

This huge center pivot irrigation system is providing life-sustaining water to a growing cotton crop a few miles from the old share cropper house you saw above.

 As you cruise through the Delta, you will cross hundreds of creeks, “brainches,” and irrigation ditches. Some are civilized and some are about as inviting as an equatorial swamp. The one below fits that category. The critters in and around it will strenuously object to your presence. Some will manifest their displeasure by departing the scene. Others will come at you with malice. Enjoy these wild snippets of nature at a comfortable distance.

See more pictures of this trip in our Weekly Grist Gallery.

a small creek in the Delta

Observe and enjoy this sanctuary for untoward critters from a respectable distance.

 I was burning daylight and rushing to get home before dark, but saw another center pivot with back-lighting from a setting sun. It was worth the stop. Things have to be just right for images like that, so it was voluntary delay.

back-lit center pivot irrigation system

The sun behind the spray gives a gossamer look to an industrial application. Not bad for a bunch of good ol’ boys.

When I rolled in the dogs were waiting, to administer a slobbery welcome. It’s nice to have friends who jump for joy every time they see you.

pickup abandoned on weeds

Click on the truck for our Weekly Grist Gallery

SEE MORE OF THIS TRIP IN
OUR WEEKLY GRIST GALLERY

Take a gander at more shots of the old sharecropper house, some vehicles garaged in a weed bed, another center pivot shot, and a eatery with great personally unfulfilled promise in our Weekly Grist Gallery, this week with 25, count ’em 25 pictures.

Thanks for dropping by,

Joe Dempsey
Weekly Grist for the Eyes and Mind

http://www.joedempseyphoto.com/
http://www.joedempseycommunications.com/
http://www.corndancer.com/joephoto/photohome.html

Prairie Road barn and thereabouts


old barn on prairie road

The camera is level, the barn is not. Someday soon, an ill wind, a rotting structural member losing its final strength, a termite banquet, or other untoward circumstances will spell the endgame for this fine old barn. There will probably be no human witnesses. And passers-by may not notice the collapse until weeks later. What was once pride and joy will be a pile of rubble.

large catalpa tree

See the start of the story at Corndancer dot-com

At a sharp bend in Prairie Road in Cleveland County, Arkansas I spied this old barn coming close to losing its extended battle with gravity and age. Had the builders done less of their jobs, we might be looking at a pile of barn boards instead of a precariously surviving structure. There’s still enough left for an impromptu glimpse of rural history in an agricultural community.

Before we pursue this tale further, may I suggest that you take a look at the Photo of the Week page at Corndancer dot-com where the story started. You’ll see an old home place with some interesting trees less than a mile from this barn.

The old barn was no doubt built in stages. The idea was basic utility first, add on as soon as you have a good year and then expand your capabilities to support a growing family. A family’s barn was the epicenter of subsistence and production for income. There are probably a few remnants of a home nearby that did not grab my attention. At the time of this structure, absentee farm ownership was not yet in vogue.

detail of old barn

This is a horse or mule barn with a door tall enough to accommodate a man on a horse or mule. The loft stored hay for the winter and according to legend, was a place for some friendly encounters. They say.

The rough-hewn looks of the lumber means the owner operated or hired someone to run  a temporary sawmill close by  to produce lumber from trees felled close by. It was a common practice since trips to town for lumber took days not hours.

I was not far from New Edinburg, Arkansas, home of the McClellan’s Country Store, the proprietors of which will build you a fine sandwich. It was early afternoon and my Cheerios and yogurt breakfast was a long time back. Stephen McClellan did the honors. The ham-turkey sandwich laced with home-grown tomatoes plus the other traditional sandwich decorations met my wildest dreams in size and palate-pleasing yumminess. I washed it down with a Barq’s Root Beer in a long-neck bottle. Before I left, I bought a few home-grown tomatoes as well.

See more pictures from Prairie Road and thereabouts at our Weekly Grist Gallery.

sandwich and Barq's Root Beer

A Barq's and a great sandwich with a bite missing are the signs of a great lunch in progress. In the backgound, (left to right) Kristin Skelton and Stephen McClellan are looking at a previous Weekly Grist post while I am munching out.

 One cannot help but snicker occasionally as you travel about. Just south of Pine Bluff, Arkansas on U.S. Highway 63 is a store at which the proprietors display some of the merchandise in the front yard 24/7 /365. If I ever pass it when it is open, I will probably satisfy my curiosity and peruse the innards of the establishment, but for the time being, external observation is my limit.

See more pictures from Prairie Road and thereabouts at our Weekly Grist Gallery.

country junk store

The sign says "Just country junk and more." I can see the junk, but not the more.

The way home from Prairie Road takes me north on U.S. Highway 79. As of this writing, for more than a week, a couch has been sitting on the shoulder of the highway south of Pine Bluff, Arkansas, my home town. I posted a picture of the couch on Facebook and of course it has drawn the wit expected on such a post. Here for your viewing pleasure is the couch on the side of the road. Or should I call it a divan?

couch on the roadside

This old sofa just barely off the shoulder and in the right-of-way on the north-bound side of U.S. Highway 79 south of Pine Bluff, Arkansas has been sitting there now for more than a week. Wonder how the highway department people have missed it? It's not camouflaged.

red barn

See this barn and more in our Weekly Grist gallery

BUT WAIT, THERE’S MORE!

See more pictures from Prairie Road and our recent meanderings through the hinterlands in our Weekly Grist Gallery.

See an old store, another view of the big catalpa tree, a big woodpile and more.

Thanks for dropping by,

Joe Dempsey,

Weekly Grist for the Eyes and Mind
http://www.joedempseyphoto.com/

http://www.joedempseycommunications.com/

http://www.corndancer.com/joephoto/photohome.html

Fall arrives in LA (lower Arkansas)


Jefferson County Courthouse Pine Bluff Arkansas

The Jefferson County Courthouse in Pine Bluff, Arkansas. The original, in this location, was built prior to the War Between the States. A fire nearly destroyed it in the mid-seventies. After the fire, this part of the courthouse was reconstructed to the previous 19th century specifications. Some but not all of this part of the building is original. In the foreground is a Bradford Pear tree just about to peak out before dropping its leaves.

After a hot, dry and far-too-long summer, most of our trees here in LA have long since thrown in the towel on upholding their long-standing tradition of showing off with their best and brightest fall plumage. The two exceptions to this disappointing vegetative misanthropy are the Hickory trees, the Crepe Myrtles, and Bradford Pears. The former bright yellow and the latter two, screaming red.

Giant honey comb in tree

Giant honey comb

Before we go much further, my original idea to shoot leaves was fortuitously interrupted by my neighbor who advised me of a giant honeycomb in a tree in his former backyard. At first glance, you might have thought you were seeing an apparition in the process of eating the tree. Fortunately, it was benign.

It is a sight to behold, and you may behold it where this adventure started on the Photo of the Week page at Corndancer dot com. Click here to go there. We’ll wait here while you look.

Fortunately, a concentration of exceptions to this year’s generally anemic fall colors populates our neighborhood. Several crepe myrtles performed as programmed as well as all of our homeboy hickory trees. The former are screaming red and the latter are brilliant yellow. They rock!

crepe myrtles with fall colors

Spindly crepe myrtles in the spring and summer are almost incognito amongst our giant neighborhood pine and hardwood trees. The tables turn when crepe myrtles blast forth their fall colors. In this picture, you are looking at two. Mine in the foreground, and my neighbor's crepe myrtle across the street in yellow orange in the background.

When it comes to fall leaves, I am the neighborhood pariah. Most of my neighbors boast shiny garden tractors with leaf vacuum attachments. Like busy bees, they religiously suck up their share of the six-gillion cubic feet of leaves which annually fall in our neighborhood almost as they drop.  But not I.

crepe myrtle and hickory tree in fall colors

In the foreground a blazing Crepe Myrtle is backed up by a large Hickory tree. Both are in my neighbor's yard (the one who turned me on to the honeycomb in the tree). I see this every time I pull out of my driveway.

Personally, it is my belief that falling leaves belong where they fall. I like how they look. I like how they crunch under your feet. Our cats love to play and frolic in the leaves. Our dogs love the same. So I am always the last hold out with the leaves. Last year, I set a new record. The leaves stayed in place until after the new year before they were ground to smithereens by my good friends who provide us with lawn service. Some will say that being a pariah comes naturally to me. Perhaps it is true.

BUT WAIT, THERE’S MORE

See larger versions of all the the Weekly Grist and Corndancer pictures for this week including the view from my office/studio on our weekly picture only gallery. Click here to go there.

Thanks for dropping by,

Joe Dempsey
Weekly Grist for the Eyes and Mind
http://www.joedempseycommunications.com/
http://www.joedempseyphoto.com/
http://www.corndancer.com/joephoto/photohome.html

A Twist of fate


Thunderhead forming over wheat field

A thunderhead is forming in the distance from this winter wheat field on Arkansas Highway 42, not far from Twist, Arkansas, north of Earle. Fortunately a storm did not materialize.

The sign said Twist with an arrow pointing to the right, a temptation too rich with mystery to avoid. On the way to Twist, the cloud formation was similarly too good to resist. Late afternoon sunlight is the best, particularly this time of year when mother earth is freshly greened. This was just the first stop on the Twist adventure.

blonde bean field angel

Blond bean field angel

The last stop was to shoot a statuesque grave marker, an blond angel no-less, standing alone in a bean field. Before we go too much further, take a look at the bean-field angel on the photo of the week page at Corndancer dot com. Click here to go there, a cool thing to do and a trip you will enjoy. It’s not often that one encounters a blond bean field angel. But, regarding trips through the Arkansas hinterlands, one can always fall back on an observation by the immortal Fats Waller, to wit: ” … one nevah know do one?” Note: May 31, 2010: I came up with some additional information on the angel which may be of interest. The additional information is now posted on the Photo of the Week page, link above.

Once we shot the cloud formation, it was off again to Twist, Arkansas. Twist is what’s left of theTwist Plantation, an agricultural venture of the past. Twist was a typical company town. The company owned everything. It was well organized with courts, a jail, a water system and a company store.

tree tunnel in Twist, Arkansas

Twist is not a big town, but is has a giant, world-class tree-tunnel. Way, way, cool

Dan Douglas, a resident of Twist and an employee of the current operators was congenial and filled me in with Twist information. As I was shooting, I could hear birds singing a whippoorwill-like chant in the background. Turns out, according to Dan, I was listening to the industrial strength cooing of Ring-Necked Doves, a species he says is unique to the immediate area.

How Lucille got her name

Virtually any blues fan knows blues legend BB King has always named his current Gibson guitar Lucille. I have often wondered why. Although I have not lost any sleep over it, I was glad to know the answer. I found it in Twist.

How BB King named Lucille

Thanks to the good folks of Twist, now we know.

Mind you, this odyssey of the unusual is happening in the waning hours of the trip. I had begun to think there would not be much out of the ordinary that would go home on my camera cards. Wrong again.

ivy covered barn

Moving right along after we left Twist on Highway 42, the next surprise was the barn being eaten by ivy. There’s got to be a building in there somewhere.

Earlier in the day

Earlier in the day, heading north on US 79 from home-base in Pine Bluff, Arkansas,  we stopped in Wabbaseka and long overdue, shot the Wabbaseka United Methodist Church. The building is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

Wabbaseka United Methodist Church

While just about everything else in Wabbaseka has suffered a fate all to common in small rural agricultural communities in the nation, the Wabbaseka United Methodist Church is a pristine premises. Call it Divine Intervention if you will, but I’m betting sweat equity is more apt.

Further north past Clarendon on the way to Forrest City, we found a substantial flag waving at what appeared to be a farm headquarters. I decided if it was worth flying, it was worth shooting.

Flag on the highway

Camera perspective is fooling your eyes. That flag is about half as long as the truck trailer.

U. S. 79, in these parts is affectionately remembered as “the old road to Memphis.” It was a major thoroughfare until the interstate highway system lured travelers and trucks to its high speed concrete ribbons. Many a thriving business, dependent on highway traffic, went down “… like a one-egg puddin.’ ”

old store on US 79

Though disheveled, disrespected and dumpy in appearance, this old service station on US 79 must have some lingering use. The light bulb above the upper right corner of the door was burning when I shot this picture, prima facie evidence that something is worth a “light bill.”

Small railroad bridge

Click the bridge for more and bigger pictures

Each week, we post all of the “keepers” of the shoot or shoots for Corndancer and Grist posts in an on-line picture-only gallery. There is normally not room to publish all we shoot and like. The pictures are high resolution and larger that the posts.

Each week, we post all of the “keepers” of the shoot or shoots for Corndancer and Grist posts in an on-line picture-only gallery. There is normally not room to publish all we shoot and like. The pictures are high resolution and larger that the posts. This week includes a railroad bridge and another view of the ivy barn. Click here to go there.

Thanks for visiting our meandering. It’s a nasty job, but someone’s got to do it.

Joe Dempsey,
Weekly Grist for the Eyes and Mind
http://www.joedempseycommunications.com/
http://www.joedempseyphoto.com/
http://www.corndancer.com/joephoto/photohome.html

There goes the neighborhood


There goes the neighborhood

Not surprisingly, this is the worst house in the neighborhood.

The neighborhood consists of two houses. The other one is in somewhat better condition than this one, but not much. Someone at some time picked up and left, and never came back. We wonder why, but probably not loose any sleep over it. The old house and its neighbor can be found on County Road 49 in Lincoln County, Arkansas, not far from Yorktown. A lot of folks gladly tell you they are from Yorktown, which consists of a barbeque cafe, a gin and a bridge over Bayou Bartholomew. At 375 miles in serpentine length, Bayou Bartholomew is the longest bayou on the planet. I have never figured out exactly where Yorktown stops and starts, but it looms large as a community.

The site is marked by a large “home-place tree,” which is destined to far outlast the crumbling homes. See the other house and the tree on the Photo of the Week page at Corndancer dot com, a very cool thing to do. Click here to go there. We’ll be right here waiting when you get back.

collapsing house

Alas front porch, I knew ye well. Get a good look. The house is nearly history.

The retreat from this tar-paper sided house may have been hasty. At the bottom of the back opening is a cardboard box full of washed and capped jars, some of which are mason jars. Anyone who went to that trouble would probably have taken the box along as the departure unfolded. Perhaps they were one step in front of someone who did not have their best interests at heart. In that case, leaving the jars and the box springs may have been OK.

Good news, bad news

The good news is, it’s late April and early May in Arkansas. The bad news is, it’s late April and early May in Arkansas. Opposing forces of nature give rise to these observations. After a winter that finally departed, kicking, clawing and objecting as it bade farewell, a magnificent spring made its grand entry. Replete with blooms, bees, buds, and temperate days. the season, despite a more intense than normal pollen assault wasn’t all that shabby. There was enough rain to make nice waterfalls and most of it eschewed the weekend to make its arrival. As of about ten days ago, that honeymoon with spring was over. It’s thunderstorm and tornado time in the neighborhood.

As I pursued this Saturday afternoon trip, the weather worsened, mainly north of where I was at the time. As a result, the cloud formations were dramatic, not a bad thing for a photographer.

storm over fields

The storm is gathering over this field just west of Grady, Arkansas.

As I traipsed along, I turned on the radio for a tune or two, and lo and behold, the music was replaced by a TV meteorologist informing this part of the world that southwest Pine Bluff, Arkansas was precariously close to being struck by a tornado. Since that’s where I live, I pointed the truck north and depressed the accelerator. And kept my ears glued to the radio.

storm and traffic light

You are looking in the general direction of my residence a few miles from here. This is the junction of US Highways 65 and 425, southeast of Pine Bluff, Arkansas.

As I reached the outskirts of town, the news improved. The core of the storm had moved east and according to my spousal unit, the house was still standing and all occupants, one woman and a herd of animals, were alive, well and taking on nourishment. That being so, and the talking heads were broadcasting a blow by blow account of the storms progress, I decided to chase it.

Arkansas river bridge

The US Highway 79 bridge over the Arkansas River, north of Pine Bluff, Arkansas.

Turns out, the chase was futile and I terminated the pursuit on the outskirts of Altheimer, Arkansas and headed home on US Highway 79. Taking that route, gave me a consolation prize far better than a storm shot, of which there are probably millions. Since the Lord is continues to take care of fools and drunks, He saw fit to put me on this bridge, with no traffic in sight for miles under the conditions you see above. Not being one to argue with providence, the rest was up to me. The scene was there, and I recorded it. There’s something to be said for a higher power.

But wait, there’s more in our Weekly Grist Gallery!

Each week, we post high resolution versions of the Corndancer and Weekly Grist pictures. This week in color and black and white. These pictures are larger and at a better resolution. Click here to see these pictures in our Weekly Grist Gallery.

Thanks for dropping by,
Joe Dempsey,
Weekly Grist for the Eyes and Mind
http://www.joedempseycommunications.com/
http://www.joedempseyphoto.com/
http://www.corndancer.com/joephoto/photohome.html

The mighty 819: some repairs needed


Engine 819

Engine 819, restored in 1986 to original operating condition and put into service for special steam locomotive rail trips lies idle in the Arkansas Railroad Museum in Pine Bluff, Arkansas, after a partial dis-assembly for a Federal Railroad Administration inspection, it fell victim to rising metal prices and a shortage of funds to complete the necessary repairs.

In its heyday, the 819 pulled trains with the best of them. It is one of the last steam locomotives built for main line use and was absolutely the last steam locomotive built in the Cotton Belt St. Louis and Southwestern Railroad (more popularly known as the Cotton Belt), shops in Pine Bluff, Arkansas. To get a few more details about the life, times, and a picure of the restored 819, visit the Photo of the Week page at Corndancer dot com, where this story started. Click here to go there. We’ll wait here.

High prices, dwindling experts

The 819, once proudly restored, fell victim to ballooning metal prices and a dwindling pool of knowledgeable volunteer labor. The restoration effort started in 1983 and was completed by 1986, led by current and retired employees of the Cotton Belt, many of whom worked in the steam locomotive area of the Pine Bluff shops.

engine 819 driver wheels

The driver wheels on the 819 are about shoulder high to my 6'-3" frame.You can probably see some faint chalk lines in a checkerboard pattern on the side of the boiler. These are to facilitate the ultrasound inspection. See the next picture below for details.

By 1993, when the engine was sidelined to undergo its mandated 15-year inspection, the number of steam-experienced volunteers had begun to shrink. At the same time, world metal prices went through the roof. To make matters worse, a short time thereafter, the Cotton Belt changed hands and some of the shop facilities which afforded help to the 819 volunteer corps were relocated or shut down. Not a good thing when you have a 212-ton steam locomotive lying around in parts.

Ultrasound test grid on engine 819 boiler

The chalk grid on the side of the 819 boiler are to facilitate the ultrasound test of the boiler plate. The ultrasound test is completed by the square foot. If an anomaly is detected in a given square foot, that square foot must be divided into square inches and retested to isolate the anomaly. None of the square feet on the 819 boiler required the square inch trick. Not to shabby for a 67-year old boiler. Disregard the appearance, the old girl is in good condition.

Members of the Cotton Belt Rail Historical Society, caretakers for the 819, tell me that as far as the inspection went, it went well and the old girl passed with flying colors. After the inspection was nearly complete, their ultrasound machine went on the fritz, so in addition to everything else, they are waiting on that repair to materialize.

Joe Btfsplk not welcome here

Despite some daunting odds, don’t look for long faces in Cotton Belt Rail Historical Society, They know what they are up against and know it is up to them to do something about it. That being so, they never stop looking for sources of help and support to get the 819 back where it belongs … pulling cars of happy people over the railroads of America.

But wait, there’s more!

See all of this week’s Weekly Grist and Corndancer pictures, plus a few not published, in glorious, high resolution color. The collection includes a couple of T-Model Ford shots and a freshly painted diesel locomotive seen at the Arkansas Railroad Museum. Click here to go there.

Thanks for dropping by,

Joe Dempsey
Weekly Grist for the Eyes and Mind
http://www.joedempseycommunications.com/
http://www.joedempseyphoto.com/
http://www.corndancer.com/joephoto/photohome.html

Frozen opportunities


For it is written,

“ … when languishing in front of a roaring fire place in the aftermath of an ice storm, remove thyself from thy duff and go forth to shoot stuff covered with ice.”

The revelation made sense to me. As I departed with this mandate directing me, listening to Little Richard holding forth with Slippin’ and a-slidin’ would have been good background music. Thank goodness for anti-lock brakes and FWD!

Switch engine locomotives parked

Awaiting further orders, these ice crusted switch engines appear unfazed by the light coating of ice they are wearing. I saw them as I was crossing the viaduct barely visible in the right center background. They were saying "shoot us, shoot us .... ." Who could say no? Not I.

bell with ice

Click on the bell and see the big bell picture

Had I not obeyed the aforementioned Divine guidance, I would not have seen my friend Jon Phillipi and he would not have joined me as we toured the frozen underbelly of our environs. The first thing we encountered was not the line of locomotives above, but an icicle encrusted bell. See it where this story started on the Photo of the Week page at Corndancer dot com. Click here to go there, a very cool thing to do. We’ll wait while you click.

Open door policy?

Close up of locomotive cab

A closer look reveals an open door (and windows). Perhaps this is a defensive move. After all, miscreants generally will not break an open door. And the temptation is removed. You can also detect the rows of icicles. When you look at the door which will admit a grown man, you begin to get an idea of the size of the locomotive. Ain't a small thing.

One may safely presume the railroad had other things in mind for these switch engines when they placed the order and signed the check. Our good wishes to the railroad that the intended use of these locomotives be fulfilled. It will bode well for us all. When these engines are running, so is our economy. It can’t happen soon enough.

head on photo of locomotive

Under normal circumstances, this is not a healthy place to be. It's not often one of these monsters holds a pose for you.

In the meantime, cameras love trains and people like pictures of trains so there is at least one good outcome.

Those of us who remember the steam whistles silenced long ago by the air horns of today, can also remember the huffing and puffing and magnificent displays of steam and smoke. Several years ago, just a few miles from this forlorn machine, I had the opportunity to shoot Union Pacific’s magnificently restored engine 3985 under a full head of steam.

The big iron horse sped by with little noise and clanking, much quieter than its modern counterparts. An amazing machine. Thanks UP! Send her back again.

Meanwhile, back at the ranch

Ice had covered one of my front yard camellias. A couple of years ago, about this time, I posted a story on Corndancer dot com, the subject of which was the cussed toughness of a camellia bush. One simply does not normally think of flower plants and the word tough in the same breath. Check it out here, if you missed it on Corndancer.

Camellia with ice

The coating of ice does not deter the hardy camellia from its destiny to bloom and survive.

The shoot was  yesterday and today the ice is melting from the trees. It’s like another storm, except this one is in winter sunshine. The water stored in trees and shrubs as ice is now filling drains, puddles, and ditches. Mother Nature’s seven-fold amen to an ice storm. Or perhaps an encore.

Thanks for dropping by,

Joe Dempsey
Weekly Grist for the Eyes and Mind
http://www.joedempseycommunications.com/
http://www.joedempseyphoto.com/
http://www.corndancer.com/joephoto/photohome.html

If you’d like to see a gallery high-resolution versions of our Corndancer and blog photos for this week, click here.

A bear, a monkey, and a locomotive


bear in pond at Audubon Park Zoo

It ain’t the slime from Hades that ate Brooklyn surrounding the bear. It’s common duckweed.

This critter compendium started on the photo of the week page at Corndancer dot com with a gray fox and some ‘gators. To get in on the start of the festivities and see the critters, click here. We’ll wait while you look.

The black bear is swimming in the pond of the swamp area at Audubon Park, otherwise known as the New Orleans Zoo. Mind you, this shot was made with film around the mid nineties, so the bear and the pond are not the same, if at all.

When you first see the image, you say, “  … yuk, gah-rohss, eeetch!$#@! look at the bear in the slime. The green stuff is neither algae nor slime; it is duckweed, a prolific, emerald green aquatic plant that will cover a pond quickly. What appear to be green freckles on the bear’s muzzle are duckweed leaves.  It is an inordinately warm day in mid-April and brother bear has opted for a dip to cool the savage beast, duckweed notwithstanding.

primate in tree at Audubon Park Zoo

Now where in the $#@!!!^%* did I leave that lottery ticket?

Not far away, perched high above the ground is a monkey, the genre of which escapes me. He looks like he is wearing a roaring twenties raccoon coat. One thing I do know, it appears that his left ear is itching because he is vigorously scratching in that direction.  He looks like he has just lost his lottery ticket. Folks, these critters are why we go and gladly pay to get it. Go forth, learn and enjoy.

All steamed up

Cotton Belt Engine 819

Cotton Belt Engine 819, built, retired, and restored in Pine Bluff, Arkansas

What, you say, do monkeys, bears, and locomotives have in common? At first blush, nothing. Howsomever, these three do. They share a residence in my film image archives. This week, in-lieu of plying the highways and byways for Grist matter, I groveled through the archives. From a technical standpoint,  for those of you interested in photography, this image took a bit of unconventional chicanery. I knew I would not get to see the engine until the afternoon of that day, which, unfortunately meant the business end, which you see above, would be in the shadows. So I took a couple of 600 watt studio strobes and about a 175′ of extension cord to the rail yards and blasted 819 with a sterilizing dose of strobe to get the shot. I got some really weird stares and a couple of mild electrical shocks since steam engines cast off water, but, in the end, I got the shot and that was what counted. The images on this post are all in the 14-15 year old range, shot on Fujichrome 100.

The 819 was built in the Cotton Belt Shops at Pine Bluff, Arkansas in 1943. The locomotive was in regular service on the St. Louis and Southwestern Railroad, more popularly known in theses environs as the Cotton Belt Line, until 1955 when it was retired. The mighty locomotive was placed on permanent display in a city park in Pine Bluff where it remained until December 1, 1983 when a group of enthusiasts put the engine back on rails, returned it to the shops where it originated and meticulously restored it to the last minute detail. There is much more to this story than this synopsis, most of which you can find here. The 819 is currently housed in the Arkansas Railroad Museum in Pine Bluff, Arkansas.

May 6, 2012 update. The 8i9 is now disassembled and “on hold.” See a Corndancer article and a companion Weekly Grist article from 2010 which give some explanation of the 819 dilemma.

Where is this building (or where was it)?

auto auction barn

This old build is (or was) in plain sight, visible for a long way in either direction on the highway where it was located. Where, was that, within 100 miles?

Who will be the first to tell me where this building is, within a hundred miles, or so, a generous latitude of locations? I have passed this old structure a number of times and finally photographed it about 15 years ago. It’s been seven years since I have been past the building, so I am not certain that it is still standing. Who knows, it could have been razed or simply collapsed. For those who want to participate, email or post a comment below? Hint: It is west of where I live. I will reveal the answer (within a 100 miles or so) next week, it not sooner.

Thanks for dropping by,

Joe Dempsey
Weekly Grist for the Eyes and Mind
http://www.joedempseycommunications.com/
http://www.joedempseyphoto.com/
http://www.corndancer.com/joephoto/photohome.html