A whimsical look at life growing up in the small town of Waldron, Arkansas in the 1960s and 1970s, plus occasional observations from the present. Want to start at the very beginning? Click HERE.

Monday, January 23, 2012

The Yates Family Goes Camping

Our campsite on the Fourche La Fave, just off Arkansas
Highway 28 East. 
You would not confuse any of the Yateses with The Swiss Family Robinson.  That is to say, we as a group are not noted for anything resembling a Quest for Adventure.  And so, there is actually no reasonable explanation why it was decided that we, as a family outing, would camp out on the Fourch LaFave River. 

The Fourche LaFave (pronounced locally as "fush") is a beautiful, winding river that originates in southern Scott County south of Waldron and makes its way towards central Arkansas, eventually joining the Arkansas River.  Fourche is a French word meaning fork, which the early French explorers, evidently a group lacking in creativity, assigned to the flowing body of water they had encountered as they were thrashing about wildly through the rugged underbrush of the New Land.  "Eh, look Pierre.  Zees leetle reevah seems to spleet, as though it were a fourche!"  "Ah, yes Andre; we shall call it the Fourche.  I'm sure there are no other leetle reevahs that do that," Pierre replied sarcastically.  Later on, "LaFave" was added to the name, just in case it didn't sound French enough.

Daddy, my brother Gene, and his sons Tony and Chuck,
and the Studebaker in later years.
I suppose the main reason that we went camping was due to the fact that Daddy had recently purchased a pickup.  Not a new one, but a late '50s model Studebaker, which he bought from James Hicks, who lived down the street from us.  With our flashy new pickup, the world of outdoors was now open to us.  It was simply a matter of jumping in!

So we did just that.  I don't remember whose idea it was, really.  I just remember that on a Friday afternoon, we loaded up the Studebaker with whatever supplies we had on hand, and then drove up to Sims Building Materials on Main Street to get the rest of our supplies.  Daddy went in and purchased enough camping equipment to traverse at least the first leg of the Oregon Trail in relative comfort, loaded it all in the back of the Studebaker where I was riding, and off we went.

It was me, my twin sister Janet, and Mama and Daddy.  The only family member left at home at that time was my brother Phil; he was working at the furniture factory in Waldron at that time and couldn't get off to make the trip with us.  Daddy, as regular readers know, worked for the phone company; I suppose he had come across our destination at some point when he was out working on phone lines and decided that we needed to camp there.  I don't know what must have come over him; Daddy was not an outdoorsman.  The only other previous outdoor adventure that I recall him participating in was a frog-gigging expedition a few years earlier with his friend Chee Jones and some other guys.  I don't know if any frogs were harmed during that outing, but we did have a pretty fierce-looking frog gig in our garage from then on.  But, even if he was not much of a sportsman, Daddy did have an appreciation for the beauty of the forests and mountains of Scott County, and I'm sure that's what led to the camping trip.

And what a beautiful place it is!  If you visited Scott County, Arkansas, you would not find a lot of industry or commerce.  But you would find the Ouachita (pronounced "Wash-ah-taw") National Forest, which encompasses about seventy-five percent of the land area of Scott County.  It's an outdoorsman's paradise; with abundant game for hunting and great fishing spots. 

And so, our Studebaker loaded, me in the back and Daddy, Mama, and Janet in the front, we headed down Highway 28 East toward our camping spot on the Fourche.  When Highway 28 was a gravel road, there were times when people coming in to Waldron from that direction were unable to cross the river due to high water.  But now, the highway was paved, and a bridge spanned the Fourche.  That's where we would camp; on the west bank of the Fourche, beside the bridge. 

We pulled off the highway and traveled down a short dirt road to the bank of the river.  Then, the excitement began, as we unloaded all the wonderful camping supplies.  We had air mattresses, flashlights, an ax for chopping firewood, just about anything you could need to camp.  Except a tent; we didn't have a tent, but sleeping under the stars, that's what camping is all about, right?

Daddy got a fire started and we had supper.  I think it was hot dogs, a sure-fire hit when it comes to campfire meals.  After supper, we got to fish for a while with the cane poles that we brought from home.  We didn't own any rods or reels, since we didn't get to fish very often, but fishing with a cane pole is pretty fun.  We caught a few little bream, but nothing big enough to keep.  As darkness began to fall, Mama got a little concerned about snakes, so we put up our cane poles and got ready to settle down for the night.

Mama's concern about snakes extended to the area surrounding our campsite, so it was determined that no one would be sleeping on the ground.  Daddy, in a grandiose gesture, volunteered to sleep on the soft bench seat of the Studebaker.  Mama, Janet, and I did our best to arrange our air mattresses in the now empty bed of the truck.  Thus situated, we tried to drift off to sleep. 

Along the riverbank, the word quickly spread among the mosquito population that The Buffet Was Open.  The high-pitched whine of mosquitoes is not conducive to a good night's sleep, so I quickly realized that I was in a pitched battle with the little buggars, and it was a skirmish that would likely continue all night.  My mind drifted back to the stories Mama had told me of when she was a little girl, and they lived along the Fourche, how the children would regularly come down with malaria and have to take quinine to treat it.  Then there was the spectacular chorus of the frogs, singing throughout the night.  Then an occasional howl (dog or wolf??) off in the distance, and every so often the sound of a car crossing the bridge.  I couldn't wait for morning!

Finally, the sky began to lighten, and soon a misty haze filled the air.  In other words, it was damp.  We dragged ourselves out of the back of the truck, and Daddy got another fire started.  Mama had brought her iron skillet from home, and we had eggs cooked over a campfire that morning.  They were really good.  Then, we determined that, as a group, we were pretty much ready to head back to civilization.  We loaded up the truck and, everyone back in their places, headed for home.

I can remember rounding the block and seeing our house come into view, with Phil's little red International pickup parked in the field by the back yard.  It felt good to be home!  Lucky, our dog, was happy to see us too.  I even got home in time to watch some of my Saturday morning cartoons.

I've often thought back on that little camping trip.  It's a good memory.  For whatever reason, we didn't do many things like that together as a family.  But there we were, not really knowing what we were doing, but trying our best to do something new.  And I didn't catch malaria.  Even better.


  1. My Dad used to opine that it took our ancestors many centuries to stop painting themselves blue and hiding in trees, so he was in no hurry to ruin all of their hard work by going camping.

  2. My Dad used to opine that it took our ancestors many centuries to stop painting themselves blue and hiding in trees, so he was in no hurry to ruin all of their hard work by going camping.