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, February 20, 2012

The Adventures of Smokey The Crow

One of Smokey's relatives
This story takes place when I was a little bit too young to develop any memories, so many thanks to my brother Gene for writing this for me.  Here are Gene's recollections along with some parenthetical comments from me:

When we were growing up our Dad worked for the telephone company. He also did electrical and refrigeration repairs on the side. Sometimes he would get real pay for these side jobs, but more often he would get other items instead of pay. He even brought home a 1930 Model A Ford one day.

I remember the day he brought home Smokey the Crow. We were mesmerized; Smokey could actually talk! He had taken the crow as payment for some repair he did for Blue Minor from Boles, Arkansas. He explained to us that some people said you had to split the crow’s tongue so they could talk, but Smokey disproved that because his tongue was not split.

For growing crows
He had a wire cage about 4 foot square made out of the same black sticks we got from the furniture factory to stake tomatoes and beans. They were nailed together and covered with chicken wire. We kept Smokey in that cage and Dad kept his wings clipped so he would not fly away when we got him out to feed him. Feeding him was an interesting job. We would mix him some “Pablum” baby cereal and separate a clothes pin to dip it out for him. We had to hold on to the clothes pin as hard as we could because Smokey would swallow it too if he got it away from us. I guess he really liked that cereal because he would make a “yum-yum” sound while eating.

We learned very soon that Smokey was very accurate when he had to go to the bathroom. We had to be sure not to get too close to the cage after he had eaten, if you know what I mean. For this reason we eventually let his wings grow out and got rid of the cage. There was a very large Elm tree by the driveway, and it soon became Smokey’s favorite roost. He would sit up there and exclaim “Hello” to anyone who passed by. Our Grandmother (Me-Maw) worked as a cook at Bill and Jo Cope’s CafĂ©. She would walk past the house on the way to work and return in the afternoon after work. Smokey took to greeting her with “Hello” in the morning and he would then escort her to work and go get her in the afternoon. I never could figure out where he wore his watch. (Mama used to tell about a day when Memaw was sick and didn't go to work.  Smokey became concerned, and went down to check on her.  He lit on her screen door and scratched until she came to the door!)

Smokey was a very enjoyable pet to grow up with but he sometimes got himself into trouble. Our neighbor, Sophia Floyd would hang her laundry on her clothes line behind her house. I suppose Smokey liked the different colors, so he would land on the clothes line and look at the bright colors. Refer back to my earlier mention of Smokey’s accuracy and you can imagine the trouble he brought onto himself. Due to this we had to get rid of Smokey so I have to believe that Dad took him out to a large group of crows and introduced him to the group where he lived out a very long and fruitful life. I always say “Hello” to any crow I see, in case it might be one of Smokey’s grand kids.

(My brother Gary recalls an incident in which Smokey went missing one day.  After searching the neighborhood, it was discovered that a local houligan who shall remain nameless had hit Smokey with a rock, breaking his leg and causing him to fall out of his tree.  The houligan then took Smokey to his house.  When this was discovered, Daddy went to get Smokey and gave the houligan a quarter for feeding him.  I remember this incident as well, but other family members think it may have happened with a different crow.  In any case, the broken leg eventually fell off and we had a one-legged crow.)

I'll bet that we probably weren't the only family in Waldron that had a pet crow!

Monday, February 13, 2012


The 1967 Ford Custom 500 that would eventually
become my car, pictured a few years before it tried
to do away with me.
It was a weird mixture of embarrassment and fear, that moment as I hurtled down Highway 71, behind the wheel of a car that seemed to have taken on a life of it's own, completely impervious to my commands.  My main concern was to keep from killing anyone who had the misfortune of being ahead of me that day.  I was going to have to figure out some way to bring this little drama to a close, but for the life of me I couldn't think of how.  All I could think of, oddly, were the words of that great cartoon character George Jetson, "Jane!  Stop this crazy thing!"  But I'll get back to that.

It happened at the conclusion of one of the happiest and most joyful periods of my life.  I had just graduated from Arkansas Tech University, and was moving back home to begin my post-college life.  Later that summer, I would be hired by the school district I had grown up in, Waldron, to teach fifth grade.  I would also buy a new car, a new 1978 Mercury Monarch, to replace the vile little machine that had tried to kill me. 

The little ghetto apartment I rented while I did my practice
teaching with Fort Smith schools.
I had spent the past 10 weeks doing my practice teaching, which is now called internship, at Morrison Elementary School in Fort Smith.  Those ten weeks confirmed that I had chosen a profession that I loved, a profession in which I would in fact spend the next 29 years looking forward to going to work each day.  Morrison was a small school in the northern part of Fort Smith, near the Arkansas River.  It was built as an "open classroom" school, meaning there were no walls separating the individual classrooms.  It was a little difficult for me at first, because I felt like I was on display to everyone in the building, but I soon adjusted to the concept.  There was only one class for each grade, and my class was Doris Collins' fifth grade.  Mrs. Collins was an older teacher, a gifted artist in fact, who could whip up a bulletin board for any topic just by painting it.  She was great, and gave me so much encouragement, once even telling me that I was a naturally born teacher.  I learned a lot from her, and she made my practice teaching experience a really wonderful time.  The kids were great too.  Many of them were from the local housing project located near the school, and I really bonded with them.  When I left after ten weeks, they put on a little skit, and one of the boys had a fake moustache and played the part of me.  I was so touched by it that I almost teared up.  I kept several little mementos from that time, including a note from a little girl who was participating in a contest from World Book.  The representative had visited our class, and the students were to prepare a little notebook full of coloring sheets to be turned in when he came back.  He made it clear that neatness was one of the main criterion for judging the book.  A little girl named Teri was going to be gone when he came back, but she entrusted me to turn in her notebook for her.  To make sure I didn't forget to turn it in, she left me this straightforward and to-the-point note:

I had arranged to rent a room from an old lady who had a beauty shop over by Sparks Hospital.  I moved in on a snowy February day, and my humble surroundings were like a palace to me.  I was so glad to leave behind forever my dorm, Paine Hall, at Arkansas Tech.  This little apartment had a little kitchen, a bigger room that was the living room and bedroom combined, and a tiny little bathroom.  But that little place was dear to me.  Usually, when I went home from college on weekends, I was in no hurry to get back.  But now, when I went home, I found myself eager to get back to my little ghetto apartment.  I was sad to leave it behind.  But on that weekend, I had traveled back to Russellville to go through graduation, then headed back one last time to my apartment to load up, and having done so, headed down Highway 71 to Waldron.  Along the way, my little Ford Custom 500 had one last surprise in store for me. 

I was south of Mansfield, in one of the rare straight stretches on that portion of the highway, when I saw the opportunity to pass a slow-moving car in front of me.  I eased around the car, stepping on the gas to speed up to complete the maneuver.  Once around the car, I pulled back into my lane and took my foot off the accelerator.  To my surprise, the gas pedal stayed where it was, and my car continued on at the same speed it was traveling when I passed that car! 

Now let me say, in the calmness after the fact, it occurred to me that the thing to do would have been to put the car in neutral and coast to a stop.  This solution, in all it's elegant simplicity, was nowhere present in the moments of the actual crisis.  Realizing that my car was going way too fast for the narrow curves that mark that part of Highway 71, all I could think of to do alternately stomp the brake pedal and the gas.  I briefly considered turning the key off, but I realized that to do that would disable my power steering and brake, and I knew that would be disastrous.

The immediate problem, as I careened crazily down Highway 71, was the traffic in front of me.  Since I appeared to be unable to shut down my demonic car, I though I should at least try to warn all the unfortunate people who were about to be slammed into.  So, as I came upon a little family driving leisurely down the highway, I tried to make my presence known. 

Imagine, for instance, a man driving his wife and kids somewhere, who, upon hearing a distant horn honking, happens to glance into his rear view mirror.  He sees a blue car moving alarmingly fast toward him, with a crazed driver who is alternately honking his horn and waving frantically for him to move over.  He wisely does so, and watches as the crazed lunatic zips past him and hurtles on down the road.  This little scenario is repeated several times.

Finally, I realized that if I didn't find a way to stop, this might not end well.  So, I decided that I was going to apply the brake, and even if it burned up both the engine and the brake pads, I was stopping this sucker. 

And I did.  I put on my brakes, and with the engine racing, eased over to the shoulder of the road and shut down the engine.  And I just sat there.  My heart was racing at the same level my engine had been, and all I wanted to do was not move for a minute.  And then, all those cars that I had passed came along.  Without exception, each driver and passenger stared at me like I was from the moon.  Nobody stopped to help, they just slowly passed by, evidently thankful that I was no longer on the road.

After a few minutes, I started the engine.  Everything seemed normal.  Just to be safe, however, I traveled the remaining few miles of my journey at a maximum speed of 30 m.p.h. 

When I got home, I got a can of spray carburetor cleaner and sprayed the linkage, which appeared to have a little bit of sticky gunk on it.  That did the trick, and my little Ford never had a sticky accelerator again. 

My mom drove that car for a long time after that.  But I was happy when I got my new Mercury later that summer.  It turned out to be a piece of junk, but at least it never tried to kill me.

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

The Whole School Goes To Lake Hinkle

Senator John L. McClellan signs autographs for a group
of Waldron school children.  Can anyone identify the
boys in this picture?
It was, by any description, a momentous event.  A flood-control dam had been constructed on Jones Creek west of Waldron, and a new lake would fill the valley, providing the residents of Western Arkansas and Eastern Oklahoma with a fantastic new recreational resource.  A new campground, a new swimming area, and almost a thousand acres of great fishing.  The date was October 15, 1971.

I was in tenth grade that year, and there was much excitement when it was announced that the entire school would be bused to the dam 12 miles west of town, where we would spend the day viewing the new soon-to-be-filled lake.  We would also listen to some speeches, a not-too-exciting prospect to most school kids, but the prevailing sentiment was that a day outside listening to speeches was still preferable to a day inside listening to teachers.  So, in what was actually my very first time to ride a school bus (I was a town kid, you know, and in those days, town kids got to school on their own!), we loaded up about mid-morning and headed out in a slight misty rain to Lake Hinkle.

The lake was named for Mr. Byron S. Hinkle, who was a Scott County legend.  He had served as county agent for many years, providing tremendous assistance to local families who were making their living by farming.  Later, he was elected to represent Scott County in the state legislature.  In honor of his contributions to Scott County, he was being recognized with the naming of the new lake. 

The big draw on that October day was the presence of one of our United States senators from Arkansas, John L. McClellan.  Senator McClellan was a part of the incredibly powerful trio of men who represented Arkansas in the late 1960s and early 1970s.  In addition to Senator McClellan, the state's "Junior" senator was none other than J. William Fullbright.  Both of our senators served as chairmen of powerful Senate committees, and carried considerable weight on a national level.  In the House of Representatives, central Arkansas was represented by Wilbur Mills, who, as chairman of the powerful Ways and Means Committee, essentially controlled the purse strings for most federal funding.  Representative Mills was often referred to as the second-most powerful man in Washington, after only the President.  Unfortunately, one night as Wilbur's limousine cruised around Washington, there was a little problem that resulted in a local stripper named Fannie Foxx jumping from the moving car and ending up in Washington's Tidal Basin.  Fannie spilled the beans on her relationship with Wilbur, which soon brought an end to Wilbur's political career and Arkansas' power in Washington.  But, I digress.

Edward P. Cliff (right), introducing the world to Woodsy
Owl, exactly one month before his (Edward's, not Woodsy's)
visit to Scott County.
Another visiting dignitary was Mr. Edward P. Cliff, who at that time was Chief of the National Forest Service.  Scott County, about 75% of which is covered by the Ouachita National Forrest (for nonlocals who may be reading, that's pronounced "Wash-ah-taw").  Mr. Cliff was not a politician, but a man who had started out as a forest ranger and worked his way up in the organization, becoming Chief in 1962.  He surely felt at home in the beautiful hills of the Ouachitas.

And a beautiful spot it was.  Jones Creek wound it's way through some of the prettiest scenery you could find anywhere.  Although the location was only 12 miles from Waldron, the road to the lake was extremely rough, having been cut through some very difficult mountainous terrain.  The rough dirt road was improved about 15 years ago to a nice paved highway, but for most of it's earliest existence, Lake Hinkle was not an easy place to reach. 

A picture of the construction of Lake Hinkle, from Wanda
Gray's Images of America Scott County Arkansas.
That day, the ceremony was held at the newly constructed dam.  Hay had been spread generously over the bare dirt.  I believe that there were large grills going most of the morning, preparing hamburgers for the hungry crowd.  Most of Waldron's leading citizens were there, as well as quite a few of the local residents. 

Sadly, I have no recollection of hearing Senator McClellan speak.  Mr. Cliff also spoke.  For the serious researcher, transcripts of their comments have been preserved in university archives.  I, in a slightly erroneous view of what was actually important, was fascinated by the presence of a news crew from KATV, the ABC affiliate in the far-away town of Little Rock.  That was actually back in my days of wanting to become a journalist, so I was intent on watching how the news professionals were covering the visit of our Senator.  In fact, I had my camera with me, and the only picture that I seem to have of the event is this picture of the Channel 7 news guy filming the speeches.  The Senator and the Forest Service Chief are just out of the shot.
Well, the festivities ended in time for us to load up and go back to school that afternoon.  As local residents can attest, Lake Hinkle proved to be a wonderful addition to Scott County.  At one time, a successful catfish farming operation was conducted near the dam, and after a storm that might cause some of the catfish cages to break open, it was not unusual to find fisherman standing shoulder to shoulder reeling in giant, corn-fed catfish.  Camping and swimming are still popular at the Little Pines Recreation Area, and people come from miles around to fish. 

I'm sure that the forgotten comments of the dignitaries who spoke that day alluded to these benefits.  I, myself, on July 16, 1998 caught 56 fish in the tailwaters of Lake Hinkle, where it empties back into Jones Creek.  So what if most of them were just a little bigger than my finger.  It's not just people that grow up in Waldron.

Thursday, February 2, 2012

W.L. Tuck Beats The Rap

We're hopping into the Wayback Machine on this one...all the way back to 1876, when Waldron was a town of dirt streets and oxcarts.  I just happened to be perusing opinions from the Arkansas Supreme Court; I have absolutely no idea why, and came across this one.

On January 26th, 1876, an affidavit was made before the mayor of Waldron, charging that W.L. Tuck "did sell ardent and vinous liquors inside the corporation of Waldron, without first having obtained license, as required by an ordinance adopted by the town council of said town."

W.L. Tuck, undoubtedly feeling somewhat taken aback, denied the charge, but the unnamed mayor overruled young Mr. Tuck.  With this turn of events, Mr. Tuck, feeling more and more put upon, declined to answer any more of the mayor's questions.  Mr. Mayor, by this point no doubt equally puffed up, levied a fine of $25 on Mr. W. L. Tuck.

Well, it seems that W. L., nobody's fool, appealed to the Circuit Court.  A jury trial ensued, during which W. L. pled "Not Guilty."  But much to his dismay, the jury disagreed and found our young hero "Guilty," and the court fined W. L. again the sum of $25.

In order to convince the Court that they were, in fact, messing with the wrong chump, young W. L. moved for a new trial.  The Court overruled.  This did not sit well with W. L., and so he appealed to the Arkansas Supreme Court. 

"That," he undoubtedly said to someone, "will show them."

The Town of Waldron was able to establish at trial that on January 26th, 1876, W. L. Tuck did sell to A.J. Patrick, within the incorporated town of Waldron, one half-gallon of whiskey.  They also introduced the statute, which stated that anyone selling "ardent or vinous liquors" inside the city limits without getting a license first would be fined "a sum not exceeding $25."  The ordinance had been passed on January 5th, 1876, just three weeks before the dastardly act was committed. 

Our young Mr. Tuck was able to establish that a firm, of which he was a member, did in fact obtain a license to carry on the business of selling wines and liquors from the City of Waldron, as well as from the state, for the period of one year.  The license went into effect on August 25th, 1875.  He also established that the town of Waldron itself was not actually incorporated until November 6th, 1875.

Well, it turns out that, under Arkansas law, the act providing for incorporation of towns gave those towns the right to regulateor prohibit "ale and porter shops or houses, and public places of habitual resort for tipling and interperance."  Mr. Tuck was not charged with keeping a tipling house; he was charged with selling ardent and vinous liquors, namely a half-gallon of whiskey.  There was actually no provision in the law that allowed towns to require persons who wished to sell wines and liquors to obtain a license.

The ruling was that the Circuit Court must be reversed, and Mr. Tuck was to be discharged from further prosecution for the offense charged against him. 

He got to keep the $25.