IRP trip to benin/arkansas, fall 2011

the smubbins and the state fair

my hosts for a good portion of my time (except for a miserable night in a motel 6) have been Ed Gubbins and Nell Smith and their son Henry.
well, the motel 6 really wasn’t that bad, especially compared with one of the places I stayed in Cotonou, but Ed and Nell have been overwhelmingly nice.
On Thursday night, we went to the Arkansas state fair in Little Rock. I ate my first fried Oreo. Ed saw some guy pound pins into his face. Nell told us a lot about livestock and Henry mastered some of the rides…Thanks, Smubbins!! .

winchester gin

After dinner with Andy, I went by the Winchester gin to take a few photos. It operates 24/7 during picking season….not a whole lot of action at a cotton gin–mostly a lot of noise.

Andy Saavedra

The highlight of my stay in lake village was dinner with Andy Saavedra. Andy and I went to Catholic University together and were both fans of the DC underground music scene.
For many years, Andy’s been working on low-income housing issues in the Delta.
I bored him to death with my Benin pictures, then we went to a filling buffet dinner at the casino on the Mississippi side of the bridge…

lake port plantation

I took an abbreviated tour of the lakeport plantation, located in Chicot County just before you cross the new bridge into Mississippi. Fascinating tour of the only fully renovated ante bellum plantation still standing in the state. There, I purchased a few books on the southern tenant farmer’s union (which caused a stir in Poinsett Co., in the Northern Ark. Delta during the depression) and on the mechanization of cotton farms and black migration from Ark.

lake village

During my stay in Desha County, I took a road trip to McGehee, about 20 miles south of Dumas. It was rainy mid-week and many of my plans were washed out… cotton picking when it is wet. usually, picking starts after 10 am or so, after the dew dries.
From McGehee, I turned north to Pine Bluff. Went to the mall there–one of the more miserable shopping experiences in a while. I was at the Pine Bluff mall a few years ago, and the vacancy rate was alarming. Since then, it has even gotten worse—mostly empty stores, and a few anchor tenants (sears, dillars, jc penny). I purchased a hooded sweatshirt—the rains brought in a cold front I was unprepared for.

On Wed., I traveled further south, into Chicot County. At Lake Village (located on the banks of the biggest ox-bow lakes in the US) I went to the Epstein & Co. Gin.
Well, my tour guide, the plant manager, had called in sick. I was loading up in my car to go, when the big boss, Sam Epstein Angel, yelled out to me….he invited me in, and gave me a good interview and tour. the gin is mostly used for the 21 farms Angel rents out. He is a big time farm operator, who also serves on the federal Mississippi and Tributaries Commission. On the commission, he works with bob portiss, the head of the Catoosa (Tulsa) port—he’s a source who was very helpful to me a while back….

huck finn

after my interviews, and while i was deciding whether to eat mexican, pizza or chinese food for dinner, I took a drive—and saw some great sights on the Arkansas River. A 12-container barge at the Pendleton park, a huge sandbar at the Wilbur Mills park and a lily covered swamp at Arkansas Post….

cotton, cotton, cotton (and a hidden honey bee farm)


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