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By Joseph Dempsey goodbye delta queen

Sunday, June 27, 2010

The people of tiny Emerson, Arkansas, can show the big boys a few tricks on how to hatch up and run a festival. Now in its 20th year, Emerson’s Purple Hull Pea Festival and World Championship Rotary Tiller Race continues to draw enthusiastic attendees. This year, visitors from as far north as Canada, as far northeast as Massachusetts, as far southeast as Georgia, as far south as New Orleans, and as far west as San Francisco, were on the scene.

umbrella man

Bob Broadway from Haskell, Arkansas, knows that necessity is the mother of invention. In the sweltering south Arkansas sun, he handily wired his umbrella to a security fencepost on the tiller race trackside. He and his wife Eula the enjoyed tiller races and had lemonade in the shade. Like me, this was their first trip.

The festival was the brainchild of the late Glen Eades of Emerson. Not short on imagination, Mr. Eades decided the hamlet needed something. “We were so boring, we didn't even have a cop," he said. After a few misgivings from his fellow citizens, Mr. Eades’ idea prevailed and, in the vernacular of the most overused phrase ever, "The rest is history."

Among accolades showered on the festival are:

  • The Henry Award from the Arkansas Department of Parks and Tourism recognizing excellence in tourism
  • The 2002 Arkansas Festival of the Year
  • The Bootstrap Award for doing the "most with the least"
  • Best New Festival
  • Best New Idea
  • Community Trademark Award

Not too shabby for a town of 341 good South Arkansas souls. What they lack in size they make up for big-time by having their heads screwed on right.

The whole idea is fun. And fun it is. The rotary tiller race is unique on the planet. Contestants vie for the shortest time to till 200 feet of south Arkansas terra firma in "stock" and "modified" tiller classes. The stock class is as it sounds. The tiller must be the same as it came out of the box. Modified tillers must have started life as a tiller. Past that, they can't exceed 50 horsepower. It's not every day you observe normal human beings in the back blast area of a dirt throwing machine for 200 feet. You have to see it to believe it. And it is fun.

Peas Parade

No self-respecting city festival can be complete without a parade, and Emerson's pea celebration includes a good one. Time-wise, it is short. Content-wise, it is just fine. They tout it as the "Million Tractor Parade." Despite the fact that it falls a few tractors short of that lofty tongue-in-cheek figure, the quality is good. You see a good stream of well-restored antique tractors plus a few that appear to be in excellent field-working condition. You also see Miss Purple Hull, a fine fire engine, a few political candidates, a troop of motorcycles, and few hangers on. You see all this up close and personal. In Emerson’s parade, there are no yellow tapes or storm-troopers shoving you back from the parade action.

Preparation and consumption of the namesake southern treat are a big part of the festivities. The Great Purple Hull Pea and Cornbread cook-off pits home-grown southern chefs going head-to-head for substantial bragging rights. The results make mouths water at 50 yards.

You can buy fresh veggies, including purple hull peas, and about anything else you can think of. There are a plethora of arts, crafts, and other vendor booths.

Add this event to your "bucket-list." You will be more than knee-deep in real southern hospitality.

N O T E S:  
Nikon D300, all shots / Tiller race shot, ISO 400, Nikkor VR 70-400mm f4.5-5.6 D ED, 1/640@f9 / Umbrella shot, IS0 200, Sigma 10-20 f4-5.6 EX DC HSM, 1/250@f8 / Parade shot ISO 400, AF-S VR Nikkor 18-200 f3.5-5.6, 1/320@f14. All hand held, all post processed with Photoshop CS4 Extended and Genuine Fractals Print Pro.

divider look see MUCH MORE FESTIVAL
on our blog, Weekly Grist for the Eyes and Mind.  More tiller racers, more parade, more tractors, and a couple of pea-vendors, one with a pea-shelling machine. Plus a link to a gallery of high-resolution photos. Click here to see it all.

Click the jump wings
to see the previous
Photo of the Week.
Click the camera
for an index to every
Photo of the Week.
weekly grist

Most of the time, there is more to the Photo of the Week story than can be told in an essay. And most of the time there are more pictures to be seen. Presuming that some folk will enjoy being privy to this trove of information, I have created a blog, “Weekly Grist for the Eyes and Mind,” where I am showing and telling “the rest of the story." There are also some blatantly commercial mentions of some of the things we do to earn our beans and taters. Click on the Weekly Grist logo and go to the blog.  — J. D.


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