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By Joseph Dempsey No Roadgraders Please

Sunday, May 11, 2008

If you had trouble decrypting the sign,
so will others, so....

To the unknowing, this sign, politely entreating road graders to stay at bay, is a taunting mystery. Most residents of gravel roads want graders to visit on a regular basis. Not here. To those in the know, the sign, and this road, is the work of a local hero.

This stretch of backcountry avenue, right at a half-mile long, is Westgate Road in Cleveland County, Arkansas — and it is the Arc de Triomphe of gravel roads, yea even perfection in packed aggregate. It is the work of one Mr. Hoover, a resident of the road.

Turns out, Mr. Hoover owns a grader, and he takes care of the road for his neighbors, thank you very much. He was not satisfied with the job being done by the regular grader crew, so he put up the sign.

The sign stopped me like a brick wall when I saw it. A head-scratcher for sure. There had to be a story here. The formula for extracting the details is to set up a camera on a tripod and start shooting. In a tight-knit neighborhood, that simple little act will slow folks down better than a deputy sheriff with a radar gun. Then, passersby observe that you are a graybeard decked out in jeans and a tee shirt — and, therefore, probably harmless.

While I was shooting, the young man on the four-wheeler made several loops checking me out. After his behavior pattern became predictable, I set up the shot to get him looking over his shoulder — and got lucky.

Several other vehicles went in and out of the road with curious drivers giving me the eye, and being good people, returned my wave. (If you will look closely at the picture, the driver's hands are on his knees, not the handlebars. Someone should tell his mama).

About the time I had captured what I wanted, a guy on a tricked-out Honda Gold Wing motorcycle, or some other bike of that opulent genre, turned onto the road. He waved. I waved. I packed up my gear and ventured on down to see what was so special.

Proceeding down the road, I rounded a curve, and there was the motorcycle guy, dismounted and having a conversation with a guy in a pickup. They completely blocked the road. Although my pending arrival did nothing to diminish the conversation, they watched me like hawks as I pulled up and stopped. I was reading their minds, to wit: "Dadgummit, who is this jerk and why is he about to disturb our in-depth breeze-shootin' session in mid-stream." So, I stuck my head out of the window and allowed as how I was in no hurry, please continue. They did.

When they concluded the conversation, the pickup guy got under way, but I flagged him down. I asked if he would kindly explain the sign. With a big grin, he obliged and related the story of Mr. Hoover's engineering skills and his largess with the grader. "This is the best road in three counties," the guy mused. He reported that when other roads suffered mightily in bad weather, Westgate Road stood tall and remained passable, a luxury not enjoyed by rural residents on other gravel roads.

After the pickup guy, Mr. Brown, departed, I struck up a conversation with Vernon, the biker. Turns out he, Vernon, lived close by and was familiar with Mr. Hoover and his good works.

En route to my Pine Bluff home, I got a call from a friend who lives in Cleveland County. Small world. Mrs. Hoover, wife of Mr. Hoover, was one of his schoolteachers. The caller was also familiar with Mr. Hoover's grader exploits.

This Arkansas backcountry neighborhood and the gracious Mr. Hoover are prima-facie evidence that fine folks and good livin' are alive and well in the Year of our Lord 2008. A refreshing thought.

N O T E S:  
Nikon D200 / AF-S Nikkor 18-70 f 3.5-4. G ED / tripod mounted / Post processed with Photoshop CS3 Extended and Genuine Fractals Print Pro.

True confession. The photographers among you have probably already sniffed this image with suspicion. It is actually two shots. The area to the left is well lighted; the area to the right is woefully dark. The poor camera does not see as well as we do, so to do this shot, you need two exposures. With the camera locked on the tripod, I set the exposure for the sign area and shot until I had what I wanted. Then I set it for the road area and waited for the dude on the four-wheeler. Ain't science grand?

Click the jump wings
to see the previous Photo of the Week. . . .

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