It's Friday and the old brain is wired in confusion, uncertainty and, honestly, it's almost asleep ... when remembering the flickering of a tiny candle, seen several days ago, provided enough light to let the cogs kick into action and ... and ... here goes the old 'cuffer conglomerating with bits 'o nothing and, well, here goes the rest of the story.
Appreciation of the railroad overpass in Gravette hit hard as ye old 'cuffer sat stranded at a train crossing near the entrance of the Port of Catoosa in Oklahoma.
Louise and I were en route to visit our daughter and families in Owasso, heading along a shortcut road to that Okie town. Ya gotta save time and gas and miss heavy traffic, ya know. Hence, we were almost to our destination when a flagman waved us to a stop as a train engine, trailing a line of cars loaded with what appeared to be crushed rock, approached. Of course, we stopped. Vehicles began piling up on each side of the crossing as the train dragged along at an ever-decreasing speed until ... you guessed it, it stopped. Not a hard crushing, noisy stop. Just a plain premeditated stop. I turned off the ignition. Gotta save gas. Its price is heading up, you know.
Minutes passed. And passed. And passed. What seemed like an hour passed and, as you can imagine the steam, not from the train engine, but that which was gathering in the old noggin, was inching to a real explosion. We were going to be late in meeting the kids at church where a special ceremony involving the great-grands was to take place. Gango. The fog lifted (in the brain, of course) as the train cars began inching forward and, miracle of miracles, the end of the cars of crushed stone disappeared.
We made it on time and that's the end of the story? Not quite. It brought to mind the frustrations that filled downtown Gravette several times a day when trains blocked the two road crossings in that community. It was many miles to other crossings -- one at Sulphur Springs, the other, halfway to Decatur. There were tempers and frustrations, worry about being late, being unable for ambulances to reach their passengers across the tracks and ... well, you can understand. Gravette was the only town in the area which could be split in two for many life-saving minutes.
And then, one day, a miracle happened. It was then-Mayor Dean Fladager who began a crusade to build an overpass on Highway 72. Easy, you say? No way! No highway funds! Besides traffic counts didn't justify such an expenditure. Sorry, maybe someday. The first story appeared in The Gravette News Herald July 6, 1994.
Money raising projects began; the highway folks began to bend a little as Fladager and others joined the march -- not as migrants, but citizens and businesses with an answer to a problem. It was a crusade.
Fast forward ... after several years, an overpass was completed and today train-stopped tempers are no more. Take-it-for-granted to and fro trips over the overpass occur by school buses, by ambulances, by fire trucks, by people heading to the post office or to the business district, by people headed to Pop Allum Park to watch games or Fourth of July fireworks and, yes, by people headed to their churches to worship, no matter which side of the track they are on.
End of story? Not quite. A story in The Gravette News Herald announced the ribbon-cutting ceremony for the new railroad crossing to be held two days later on July 4, 2002 ... just eight long/short? years of wishing and waiting and, more appropriately, work, work, work. It's a shame the structure was not named the Dean Fladager Overpass, but his legacy will always be a part of the town history.
That's all for this 'cuff except ... yep, there he goes again. Do you really believe my brain was steaming as we sat there blocked by a train headed for the McClellan-Kerr Navigation System port on the Verdigris River which flows into the Arkansas River near Fort Gibson, then to the Mississippi River and finally to the Gulf where products, merchandise and even crushed Oklahoma rocks may be heading to who-knows-where?
It was that thought that flashed through my brain, like a candle flickering about how it was the work of two men, Senator McClellan from Arkansas and Senator Kerr of Oklahoma, who were instrumental in making it happen. And another little flash was about a Mr. Burns, editor of the Fort Smith Southwest American newspaper, whose columns were filled with words about the importance of the project. Honestly, I can't remember Mr. Burns' name (I think it was G.F., or something like that) but I can remember when one of his columns was being discussed in the newsroom with comments like, "There he goes again with water on the brain." I can remember hearing those words and the chuckles that often filled the room. But they really were positive chuckles.
Thus it is that wants and needs can be filled through perseverance by those who realize a job must be done and then work at it. Yes, honestly, I was calm and patient as we sat there, much to the surprise of Louise (don't ask her about how patient I really am). It wasn't eight years or half an hour, but only about 10 minutes. A thought backward once in a while, lit by a flickering memory candle can headline the importance and realization of what life really is all about: Each person has his or her callings to answer ... every day, every hour.
Dodie Evans is the former owner and long-time editor of The Gravette News Herald. Opinions expressed are those of the author.Editorial on 03/06/2019
Print Headline: A railroad crossing candlelit experience