photo of the week

Tough Tiller

This rotary tiller racer is just a few seconds past the start as he tries to beat the clock — and his opponent — to the finish line in the Purple Hull Pea Festival World Championship Rotary Tiller race. The course is 200-feet long. The fastest times are eight seconds and change for “modified” tillers like the one you see here. The tiller is custom built and powered by a “doctored” Honda motorcycle engine. Stock tillers lumber along in the high twenty-second range to cover the 200 feet.

Peas to You

Sunday, March 22, 2015
Pine Buff, Arkansas

Author's Note:

Two years ago, this coming June, I made my second trip to the Purple Hull Pea Festival in Emerson, Arkansas, home of the World Championship Rotary Tiller Race. Over the years, the race has developed a following. Followers range from casual observers and enthusiastic fans to stock tiller racers and dedicated roto-tiller mechanics who continually conger up ways to milk the last ounce of horsepower and torque from small engines and still remain within the rules of the race. They all converge at Emerson every June, and it is a sight to see.

You’ll enjoy the story below from the 2013 visit. Find the chronicle of my first visit at our June 27, 2010 Photo of the Week Page and the check out the June 27, 2010 Weekly Grist pea festival article as well. You’ll find even pictures this 2010 Pea Festival Gallery and still yet more in these 2013 tiller race and parade galleries from the festival. There’s enough reading and looking there to keep you from doing what you need to be doing for quite a spell. Enjoy yourself.

Joe Dempsey 


Girls Just Want to Have Fun (Too).

World class tiller racing is not limited to good ol’ boys. Women take their turn as well and duke it out in the dirt for braggin’ rights and a nice cash prize for winning the big one. The pink-striped racer in the foreground was the overall winner in the women’s class.

Purple Hull Peas Go Good with Cornbread.

First Published on Sunday, June 30, 2013
Pine Buff, Arkansas

Twenty-four years ago, the good people of Emerson, Arkansas, put on their first ever Purple Hull Pea Festival. That roll of the dice has yet to turn up snake-eyes. The festival continues to grow in popularity and attendance. This little town of 368 souls shows the big guys how the cow eats the cabbage when it comes to creating and growing a festival. Of course, it doesn't hurt that your namesake is a combination of staple and delicacy, a distinction shared by few dishes. In some corners, purple hull peas and cornbread are considered one of the basic food groups.

The idea and its first implementation were in the same year, 1990. Considering how long it takes municipalities of larger populations to make up their respective minds on anything of consequence, creating a major event and pulling it off in the same year has to be some sort of record.

The late Glenn Eades, an Emerson writer and humorist, came up with the idea for the festival and its star attraction, “The World Championship Rotary Tiller Race.” Eades believed his town needed a good livening-up. He observed that “the town was so boring it didn’t even have a cop.” I’m not certain how the town fares on the lively scale the other 364 days of the year, but during the festival, things are hopping.

The festival schedule includes: 

  • A tractor exhibition
  • The Great Purple Hull Peas and Cornbread Cookoff
  • Emerson Purple Hull Pea Meals
  • All sorts of entertainment
  • The World Pea Shelling Competition
  • The world renowned Million Tiller Parade (sometimes they do fall a bit short on this one)
  • The World Championship Rotary Tiller Race
  • The Peas Got Talent youth talent contest
  • The Purple Hull Pea Festival Pea-tacular Fireworks Show
  • the Pea-stompin’ Street Dance, this year with music by the “Band of Step-Brothers.”

As aforementioned, the world renowned “Million Tiller” parade sometimes falls a tad short on numbers but makes up for that in brevity and fun.


999,997 Short

What the “Million Tiller” parade lacks in tiller numbers, it more than makes up for in fun and originality. The “Rolla Rebel” is the prime mover for the “Till Billys,” a highly competitive rotary tiller racing team.


A Moving Museum

The “Million Tiller” parade included this meticulously restored 1951 M38 U.S. Army jeep. Close behind is a local fire truck of right around the same vintage — and it's for sale, just in case owning an antique fire truck is on your bucket list. Speaking of bucket lists, attending at least one annual Purple Hull Pea Festival is a good addition.

Take notice:  Emerson, Arkansas is prima-facie evidence that bigger is not necessarily better.

Photo Notes

Parade pix, Nikon D7100, ISO 200, Nikkor VR 18-200mm f3.5-5.6 G ED, all: Jeep, 1/320@f9; Rolla Rebel, 1/250@f14. Racing pix, Nikon D300, ISO 200, same lens: Guy racer, 1/500 at f9; Woman racer, 1/400@f10. Post processed in Photoshop® CC.


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