The Great Arkansas Post Office Tour

Tobacco Sorters  (1942-1944) ~ Thomas Hart Benton

In Arkansas and Missouri, the name is ubiquitous. Even the most casual visitor tends to notice, and occasionally asks, “Who is this ‘Benton’ character whose name keeps cropping up?” In fact, it isn’t “this Benton” but “these Bentons” for whom the states’ schools, counties, and towns are named.

The first Thomas Hart Benton (1782-1858) served five terms as senator from Missouri. A strong advocate for westward expansion, he petitioned Congress to fund a survey of the road to Santa Fe. The petition granted, Commissioners George Sibley, Benjamin Reeves, and Thomas Mather of Illinois took charge of the survey, measuring and negotiating their way across Kansas and New Mexico from 1825-1827. Continue reading

The Other Side of the Tracks

img_9607Arkansas Freight

Always, there were the trains. Whistles in the night; the sharp, insistent whining of brakes; the vibration at the country grade crossing as a highballing freight passed by: all hinted at goings and comings, arrivals and departures, denied to us as children.

Fascinated by the trains and intrigued by everything surrounding them, I visited a roundhouse with my grandfather, to see where locomotives lived. From the bridges leading into Kansas City, I admired the terminals and rail yards filled with long lines of cars and chubby cabooses. Always, I wondered at the mysterious letters painted on tankers and boxcars alike: ATSF, RI, C&NW.

Even the tracks provided entertainment.  Encouraging one another, my friends and I laid on the ground, pressing our ears to cold, hard rails in hopes of feeling the rumble of an approaching train.
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Life’s Little Vacancies

Wichita, Kansas

Somewhere between Ness City and Hugoton, it occurred to me: most of the aging, slightly down at the heels motels still clinging to life along the business routes of small Kansas towns had “(No) Vacancy” signs somewhere on their property. A few signs had been modernized with neon. Others were more traditional: wooden, with an adjustable covering for the dreaded “No” that, when visible, sent discouraged and already weary travelers father on down the road.

By the time I reached Satanta, I was a little weary myself, and ready to stop, so I paused to ask a convenience store clerk if the town had a motel. It did. She gave me directions, and I found it easily enough. Unfortunately, I hadn’t found it soon enough. It had a sign, too, and the sign said, “No Vacancy.” Forty minutes later, I had a room in Hugoton.
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Me, My Selfie, and I

selfieOn the banks of Fox Creek
(click any photo to enlarge)

After a combination of circumstances and a good bit of cyber-frustration led me to purchase an iPad early in the course of my recent travels, a friend pointed out what she clearly assumed to be a side benefit. “Just think!” she chirped. “Now you can send us selfies while you travel!”

Having known me for years, she should have known — but clearly didn’t — that it hasn’t been the lack of a camera phone or its obnoxious accessories that’s excluded me from the ranks of selfie enthusiasts. I simply lack the inclination. The thought of photographing myself when there’s so much else of interest in the world to record seems faintly ridiculous. Continue reading

A Museum Bridges the Gaps

I knew he’d be there, waiting.  I’d seen his photo and heard a story or two, so I wasn’t fearful of missing him. He wasn’t going anywhere.

Still, when I turned and saw him at the end of the gallery, I was taken aback, both by his air of patient weariness and by his obvious disregard for the people who’d clustered around him. Edging closer, I listened to their conversation.

“What’s his name?”
“Don’t think he’s got a name.”
“He sure enough looks real. I was about ready to ask him the time.”
“Yeh, and if he’d answered, you’d have been right surprised.”

At Crystal Bridges, it doesn’t take long to become comfortable enough to join in.

“He reminds me of my dad,” I said. “That’s how he’d look when Mom made him go shopping with her.”

After the laughter subsided, one of the women looked at a man I took to be her husband and said,

“That’s right. I’ve seen that look. But the artist ought to have put a woman on that bench, too – for all the times we’ve been dragged off to hardware stores and farm sales.”

Clearly, Rod Bigelow, Executive Director of Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art, had it right. Asked about his favorite piece in the collection, he said,

“My favorite work of art changes regularly, but today… it’s a Duane Hanson sculpture titled “Man on a Bench”.  It’s literally a depiction of an older gentleman sitting on a bench. I like it because of the way our visitors interact with the sculpture – they’re surprised by it, intrigued, sometimes taken aback in that they think it’s real. It elicits great response, from all ages.”


There’s a lot to interact with at Crystal Bridges, beginning with WalMart heiress Alice Walton. Once she put her energies – and her considerable money – behind her vision of accessible, quality art for the people of Arkansas and surrounding states, the reactions were swift and often predictable.

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