I’m still leaving a puff of Texas Gulf Coast sand on the ground even though it’s been nearly three weeks since our visit to the beach in Gilchrist. On April 25th, our grand tour brought us to Clover Bend, Arkansas – a town that I could not find on the Rand McNalley Atlas 2008, but I was told is located on Highway 228 West.
We had attempted to boondock in Hoxie close to our route north on Arkansas Highway 63. Officers in the police department advised us that our coach was too big for the city park. Their recommended pull-off site for big rigs half-mile down the road proved to be too noisy. Ed drove on in his persistent search for a great site for boondocking. He went to ask permission to park in a gravel lot next to four big grain silos but never made it to the farmer’s house. Two men in a white pick-up truck from Dickey Tree Service offered to show us a “perfect place” to park for the night.
They led us to the historic Clover Bend School. Ed Dickey and Ron Gaither boasted that the community united to renovate school and surrounding property. The efforts earned Clover Bend School a designation on the State and National Registers of Historic Places. The renovated school housed grades 1 to 12; an adjacent building housed the gymnasium. Ron attended Grades 1 and 2 back “in 1957, or thereabouts” he said. Each grade had 18 to 20 students in the class. In 1983, only three students graduated and the state government forced it into consolidation and eventual closure. Ron and Ed credited Viola Meadows, President of the Clover Bend Historical Preservation Association, with the preservation efforts.
There’s a lot of history in Clover Bend. We learned from Ed Dickey that the land had once been a sizable plantation and during Roosevelt’s New Deal this big plantation of yesteryear was subdivided. Homesteaders received “40-acreas and a mule” to work the land. Ron explained, “There are no small farms now.” A smallest farm is 185 acres. Most operating farms span 12,000 to 30,000 acres. Crops include rice, soybeans, corn and wheat. Some folks make a living on timber.
Shortly after we leveled the coach and settled in for the night, Ron returned with his 92 year-old mother Ruby A. Gaither. Her silver hair was curled real nice and looked like she’d recently been to the beauty parlor. Her son was taking her out to dinner on this Friday night. Ruby had come to Arkansas from Illinois in 1953. She said back then she’d get homesick and long for letters from family in Illinois. She remembered sending several of her children on the bus to the Clover Bend School, seeing homes modernize, and gravel roads paved. People knew everyone on the community back then, now Rudy says she doesn’t know all of her neighbors anymore. She says she looks forward to the once-a-year hog roast at the old School when folks get together like in the old days.
We wanted to see a bit more of this bucolic, historic community before hitting the highway. We decided to drive the coach to the Black River when we pulled out of the School lot. The Black River flows around Clover Bend in the outline of a clover leaf giving the town its name. When we came to a “T” in the road, signs pointed both left and right for access to the Black River. This makes sense since the river winds around in a clover shape. Do we go left or right? Ed hesitated, and then he decided to go to a local farm house for guidance. That’s how we met Vada Ballard Smith.
Vada came on board our coach early in the morning. She said she’d been on this farm for 50 years. She remembered helping to run the tractor until she and her husband could afford a hired hand. There were row crops, sweat potatoes, beans, and wheat on the farm. Since her husband passed away, her son-in-law stepped up to manage her 200 acres. She proudly shared that her only daughter attended the Clover Bend School and served as Valedictorian in the last graduating class. She thinks children can learn wherever they go to school. Reflecting on her observations about life today, Vada says people “rush, rush, rush” too much these days.
We certainly weren’t in a rush that morning. Ed and I visited with Vada and enjoyed her gentle ribbing of Ed. Our coach was parked at the “T” in the road for quite awhile. I never did get to the Black River, either direction would have taken us there. But, the river was high on its banks and not safe passage for the coach. We were pleased to learn about the history of Clover Bend and meet its lovely, friendly people.