Motorcycling in the Ozarks

By Nick Wilson, Photography by Nick Wilson

From the June 1935 issue of Motorcyclist Magazine

No doubt most of our readers have taken a slant at that humorous story entitled “Through Arkansas on a Slow Train,” but it remained for the Mid-South Motorcycle Club, of Memphis, to shift the scene to one viewed from the seats of their swift 74’s.

With this balmy spring weather getting under their hides, they decided one fine day in April that a week-end jaunt was the only thing that would afford relief, and it was soon agreed that Arkansas, “The Wonder State,” presented the most interesting route for the moment. True, some of the roads were still under water from the recent deluge and swollen streams, but why worry over a 50-mile detour, with the Ozarks beckoning in the distance? As a matter of fact, distance appealed to them largely, with the awakening of Spring, and all being of one mind on a matter of this kind, assured its success.

After crossing the Harahan Bridge, which spans “Ole Man River” at Memphis, with a few miles more traversing the new and thriving little city of West Memphis, they were off!

The hum of their motors, with the accompaniment of the squawking frogs from the bayous that lay on either side of the road, was music to their ears as they sped westward through the lowlands natural to this part of Arkansas. A boy on a motorcycle (to say nothing of the girl in the seat behind him) experiences a mental uplift, a buoyancy of spirit, that at once puts to flight “the cares that infest the day”; the worries of business are forgotten, and nothing matters except his motorcycle. This is the relaxation that so many city dwellers seek, in vain, and can be found only astride a motorcycle.

The distance from Memphis to Forrest City was soon covered. All dismounted to refill their gas tanks and take some liquid refreshments. Forrest City is in the center of the Crowley Ridge country, famed for its Elberta peaches, and hundreds of cars of these delicious peaches are shipped annually from this and nearby points.

With no mishap worthy of note, their next stop of consequence was Augusta, a quaint little old city, situated on White River about midway between Memphis and Little Rock, and still bears an atmosphere of antebellum days, with its many spacious old homes, constructed during the era when Cotton was really King in that section.

But you may be asking what is to be the ultimate destination of this caravan of some twenty motorcycles, only that number of the club members being fortunate enough to join in. To the wilds of the Arkansas Ozarks they are speeding, with headquarters to be established at Heber Springs. This is the county seat of Cleburne County, and while the many attractions of this town have never been heralded far and wide, it is to be noted that it is quite a health resort. We mention this as being its most outstanding attraction. Within its corporate limits are nine mineral springs, the water from each possessing its own particular curative properties. As evidence that this is no fiction, you will find gathered around these springs people from every part of Arkansas, as well as from neighboring states, imbibing freely of the life-giving waters. And it is noteworthy that some wonderful cures have been effected. These springs are situated within a lovely little park of about ten acres, in which a great many of the natural forest trees have been saved, and the ladies of the town have spent considerable money and labor beautifying it in many ways, making it attractive to the tourist as well as to those seeking to regain their health. It may be added that these waters are as free as the air to any who may take the trouble to journey there and be healed.

While invalids do not ride motorcycles, it is needless to say that all were eager for a big draught of “Black Sulphur” from the spring. One drink of that water calls for another, and it is passing strange what quantities of it the human system can absorb, with no discomfort. So, there ensued a kind of drinking bout between certain ones in the party, with the result that although a ravenous appetite gripped them, a lapse of some little time was necessary before they could partake of food. Finally a stampede was made for “Aunt Fanny’s,” where hot coffee and an abundance of substantial food awaited this devastatingly hungry crowd of riders. They were at the end of a 200-mile ride. It is now about 7 P.M., and with the inner man satisfied, all were ready for the next adventure. It was soon settled that the biggest fun for the evening would be to ride five miles out to the foot of Sugar Loaf Mountain, and, with their blankets strapped to their backs, scale its precipitous sides and sleep where the resinous odors of the piney woods permeate the air. Some two or three decided on riding to the highest possible point up the mountain side, for this club boasts several expert hill climbers. This was rather a hazardous ride, picking their way up between trees and rocks. But they made a splendid showing at that, and while this would be an ideal place for a hillclimb, it is needless to say that none would ever “go over the top.”

Up to this point we have neglected to mention the fact that Mr. B.W. Barfield, the Harley-Davidson dealer in Memphis, had the temerity to accompany this bunch of intrepid motorcyclists on this trip, and even entertained the idea of leading the way to the top of Sugar Loaf. But being a man of considerable avoirdupois he was prevailed upon not to attempt it. At all events, all will agree that he also possesses considerable breadth when it comes to sporting events. However, we must add that Mrs. Barfield was there to see that he did not attempt “Lovers’ Leap.”

It seems that without much having been said about it, some of this crowd smuggled in a big supply of fireworks, and after a campfire was lighted a night of terrorism reigned -giant firecrackers, torpedoes and skyrockets were set off promiscuously. The few who attempted to sleep were forced to take shelter behind boulders and under overhanging rocks, for the campfire was finally blown into the air and upon any blankets that happened to be near. Mahlon Wheatley was the only casualty, therefore is due special mention. Like the man who, playing cards, threw his cards in the fire and laid his cigar stump on the table, Mahlon lit his firecracker, dropped it on the ground and jumped off the mountain. Fortunately he landed on a ledge about 20 feet down, the only damage being a broken rib and some sore spots.

Sunday morning the return was made to headquarters at Heber Springs, all ravenously hungry, of course, and it is doubtful if “Aunt Fanny’s” profits rose to big figures on serving that breakfast.

With a whole day before them, their next objective was Indian Rock Cave, about twenty miles west of Heber Springs, and further into the mountains-nearer to the scenes and peoples made familiar to all by Harold Bell Wright in “The Shepherd of the Hills.” After riding some little time they arrived at a point where the roads forked, and, seeing a little cabin nestled among the pines, a stop was made to ask directions. An old man and a boy emerged from the doorway and approached with amazement in their eyes at sight of this aggregation of motorcycles and riders. The riders, in their turn, must have borne an expression of bewilderment at sight of this specter of “Ole Matt” and “Pete,” and typical of that old character, in few words, but courteously, he directed that we follow the road to the left, “’till you come to a narr’ place in th’ road gin th’ bluvvs.” That described it exactly and in fact it seemed to all that this must be the end of the ways. But the cave was reached, and a wonderful creation of Nature it is. At first glance one was reminded of the inscription envisioned by the immortal Dante above the entrance to Hell: “All hope abandon, ye who enter here.” The entrance is an immense archway of solid granite, almost as perfectly formed as if it had been carved with chisel and mallet, the interior being rounded out in a gigantic dome. This cave was used by the Indians as a general camping ground, evidently through the ages, and bears indisputable evidence of this in the many crude carvings of birds, animals and flowers on the walls and ceilings. In the extreme back of this cave bubbles forth a spring of water, cold and clear as a crystal. Truly Nature could hardly have contrived a place better suited for protection from the weather andthe convenience of the Indians in their mode of life.

But time was not waiting on this crowd of sightseers, and they must now be on their way. Hiram Dam was the next point of interest, and a most beautiful panorama was spread before their eyes on approaching the palisades between which this dam was constructed. Originally projected as a hydroelectric plant, and financed by private capital, for the purpose of supplying power and light to that northern part of Arkansas, it is unfortunate that it was doomed. The dam is now in ruins, and the four giant generators were left at the bottom of the canyon to rust and corrode. It is said the promoters were approached with a proposition to “forget it,” and let the larger utilities handle the business for that territory.

So much for that. And now for the return trip to Memphis. Without any untoward event or incident of special interest, all arrived, worn down somewhat, but full of pleasant memories that will linger long. For anyone wishing to make a short excursion of this kind into the country, the Mid-South Motorcycle Club can recommend, without stint, Heber Springs in the Arkansas Ozarks. The words ascribed to “Preach-in’ Bill” in Harold Bell Wright’s story sum it up about right: “When God looked upon the work of his hands an’ called hit good, he war sure a lookin’ at this here Ozark country.”

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By Nick Wilson
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