The Eternal Question for Arkies in 2009

“How high’s the water mama?”

Johnny Cash birthplace sign at Kingsland AR

Not far from the birthplace of legendary singer Johnny Cash is this sign with its feet in water. The sign, on US Highway 79 just north of Kingsland, Arkansas, normally high and dry, is being encroached upon by waters from the swollen Saline River, less than a mile north.

The symbolism of the sign with its feet in the water, in 2009,  is all too familiar to Arkansans. No one alive can remember a rainier year. All of which prompts one to hum “How high’s the water mama?” without too much provocation. I had the pleasure of watching the man in black perform that tune at Rison, Arkansas, a short ride up the road, in the seventies. I had no idea then that the tune would take on new meaning in this neck of the woods. Some local bards, tongues firmly ensconced in their cheeks, are musing, ” … makes Noah’s flood look like a mornin’ dew,” along with similar, but more colorful observations which I will eschew. Something about a boot.

Rodgers barn

See it at Corndancer dot com

This story started in Cleveland County, but water was not the subject. A really cool old barn was. I could not help but notice the water while going after the barn.

Click here to take a barn-break on the Photo of the Week page at Corndancer dot Com, a very cool thing to do.  We’ll be waiting here for you when you get back.

We nearly made it through the year without a moisture laden seven-fold amen to the aquatic symphony which has been 2009, but the two days before Christmas were soakers for most of the state.  Reports of six to 10 inches for the two days were not uncommon. As a result, the Saline has been a river on steroids.

Construction equipment under water

On Christmas day, this equipment, parked at the foot of the US Highway 79 bridge over the Saline was high and dry. Yesterday, Dec. 26, the truck and ‘dozer were still high and dry with a few inches of water over the tracks of the back hoe. This morning, Dec. 27, it was a different story. Blub, blub.

Bridges and other man-made structures are good standards by which Mother Nature’s machinations can be measured. In less than 24 hours December 26 and 27, Saline grew several feet. The signs and the bridge below are prima facie evidence of a misbehaving river.

Sign at Arkansas Game and Fish Commission Saline River access point

This sign is on the east side of the south end of the US 79 bridge over the Saline River between Rison and Kingsland, Arkansas. The left picture was shot at about 4:30 p.m., December 26, 2009. The right picture was shot about 11:30 a.m., December 27, 2009. The water color is the same, the direction of light is different, hence the different appearance.


I was recently made aware of the origins of the name of the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission access point, “POOL ACCESS.” It was explained to me by my good friend, Dick Warriner. The Saline, for the most part is not a deep or wide river. Under normal circumstances it is a docile stream and at least at one time, was legendary as a fishing resource. It may still be, but you could not prove it by me.

The river widens and deepens somewhat at POOL, just down river from the bridge, hence the name. There is also a bluff at POOL  which was also the site of the “old bridge,” and more importantly to Dick, a favorite swimming hole frequented by his family during his childhood. Dick’s grandfather, Grover Roberts, a resident of nearby Herbine, built a retractable tire swing there which was well used by his progeny and I’m certain by other youngsters in the area. Thanks for the info Dick.

Saline River Bridge

The US 79 bridge over troubling Saline River waters between Rison and Kingsland, Arkansas

Parting Shot

While crawling over the bridge on the west side, south end, on top of the abutment, I found a pile of nuts and bolts. These were certainly not placed here by four legged critters or birds, or one would certainly think so. And, there have been no plausible rumors of cults the members of which have a thing for galvanized nuts and bolts. Since this is not a pedestrian bridge, and few besides myself have probably ever noticed the hardware collection, the local curiosity coefficient is low, so an explanation is yet to be revealed.  Why pray tell, is there a pile of nuts and bolts on the abutment?

Nuts and bolts

This is nutty. But the nuts and bolts are the same as hold the bridge railings together.

Thanks for dropping by and Happy New Year!!!

Joe Dempsey
Weekly Grist for the Eyes and Mind


Two old Saline River bridges

The Saline River starts out in the Ouachita Mountains west of Benton, Arkansas with four forks. The four forks converge near Riverside in Saline County, Arkansas. The river leaves Saline County and winds on a serpentine path through Grant, Dallas, Cleveland, Bradley, Drew, and Ashley Counties. It empties into the Ouachita River near Felsanthal in Ashely County.

Before we go too much further, this “old bridge” story actually started in Mooringsport, Louisiana with a story about and pictures of an old draw bridge on the Photo of the Week Page at Corndancer dot com. Click here to see the old Mooringsport bridge and get the story.

Old Saline River Bridge west of Tull, Arkansas

Tull Bridge over the Saline River, west of Tull, Arkansas was finished and opened for service in 1916. The bridge was in use until it was replaced in 2005. I have driven over the one-lane bridge on many occasions. Though the wooden floor rattled loudly as you drove over the bridge, you finally become accustomed to the noise after enough trips to gain confidence that the rusty structure would indeed keep you high and dry.

I first came across the Tull Bridge the mid-seventies. It was a ferrous oxide poster child and rattled like a box full of bones then, but there was a certain charm to traversing a bridge with a wooden floor. That certain charm for the most part, ameliorated the fear and trepidation brought about by the attendant sound effects.

East view of the Tull Bridge

Looking at the Tull Bridge from the east bank of the Saline River. You can see the floor planking, the source of the bridge's percussion serenade as you dared to venture across it. the new bridge, completed in 2005 is visible in the picture to the right.

Even the approaches to the Tull Bridge were planked with wood. The approaches did not rattle like the planks on the bridge. On most trips across the bridge, if other traffic was not present, I would stop on the bridge and get out of my vehicle just to look at the construction. Don’t tell my mother I did this.

Side view from the north of Tull Bridge

Looking south from the new bridge, you get a view of the bridge not afforded until the new bridge was completed. And you begin to think, " ... I drove across that sucker a bunch of times."

If you seriously travel central and southeast Arkansas, crossing the Saline River is inevitable. On this trip, I lost count of the number of times I crossed it. Like most rivers, as it progresses downstream, it becomes a bit but not overly turbid. Under normal circumstances, the waters of the forks, originating in Ouachita Mountains, are gin-clear.

Upstream side of old North Fork Saline River Bridge

The upstream side of an abandoned bridge across the North Fork of the Saline River off Arkansas Highway 128 near the junction with Arkansas Highway 5.

Meanwhile, a county or so away,
still yet another abandoned bridge beckoned

This bridge in northern Garland County, Arkansas was built by a county road department in 1931. It has been replaced by a newer bridge which I was standing under to get the shot above.  The bridge is a favorite for photographers, but not at this angle. It took some delicate steps over some serious rip-rap at the base of the bridge to set up for the shot.

County road departments these days, it appears, eschew the obvious aesthetic considerations their predecessors put into this one. It is graceful with a shape reminiscent of a gull in flight. Not an easy appearance to achieve with concrete. They did well and someone was thinking in the right direction to leave the bridge standing. Whomsoever you are, thanks.

Down stream side of North Fork Saline River Bridge

One can see the second arch in this bridge from the downstream side. The sturdy bridge has a classic, but bruised bridge beauty. Even in rural Arkansas, grubby graffiti shows up.

It’s nice to see a couple of old bridges which did not suffer destruction. We’ll look for more.

Thanks for dropping by,

Joe Dempsey
Weekly Grist for the Eyes and Mind

The edge of wetness

Stuck truck

Stuck truck

The abandoned, bogged down truck you see above is adjacent to a flooded pasture, pictured on the photo of the week page at Corndancer dot com, where this story started. Click here to check it out, a cool thing to do.

It appears that our hapless driver made a valiant effort to come out of the ditch, but his efforts visibly were for naught. Getting stuck is right up there with an IRS audit notice, power outages,  and flatulence that fooled you for those anguish filled,  stomach churning moments that make us weep, wail and gnash our teeth. Our condolences to whomsoever the driver is. We have been there and done that. But not lately, knock on wood.

On Mother's Day, 2009, the Saline River is lapping at the bottom of the UA Highway 63 bridge, north of Warren AR.

On Mother's Day, 2009, the Saline River is lapping at the bottom of the UA Highway 63 bridge, north of Warren AR.

The truck is just a mile or so north of the Saline River Bridge north of Warren AR on US Highway 63. The river is well out of its banks and the rain is still falling. We will cross our fingers. Mother Earth is running out of traditional places to store excess water in these environs.

cr 96

Close by is Bradley County road 96, off Highway 63. For the time being, it is suitable for marine transportation only.

Seeing all of this water brings to mind Johnny Cash’s classic “How high’s th’ water mamma”, also appropriate to remember on a rainy Mother’s Day.

Since we are unable to control the weather, only to control how we react to it, we continue to grin and bear it. Lord willin’ and the creek don’t rise (no more), relief will come soon.

Our apologies to our friends in Florida, the arid southwest and other sections of the USA that could use this water. Trust me, if there was a way to send it, we’d do it.

Thanks for dropping by,

Joe Dempsey

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