I met Dr. MacMillan back on April 20, 2001, when I was the keynote speaker for the college's Annual Media Appreciation Day in Bluefield. He told me that he and his wife, Sandy, were going to be attending an educator's conference in nearby Branson, Mo., and they wanted to drive down to Conway and take Viola and me out to dinner.
It was a wonderful opportunity to renew our acquaintance and after spending some time together, we are now friends, because Dan and Sandy are definitely our kind of people.
Soon after sitting down at the dinner table, I learned that the MacMillans had never been to our state. The first thing Dan said to me was, "Tell me about Arkansas." Of course this was like saying "Sic ’em!” to a dog.
I gave him a quick overview of the "Natural State" and told him that we were the 25th state to enter the union (June 15, 1836), and we have 75 counties and approximately 2.4 million people, with Little Rock being the capital city. I also told him that Arkansas was pronounced Ark-in-saw, but spelled Ar-Kansas. This was the result of a dispute that arose back in the 1800s and was resolved by a compromise in the state Legislature.
Since the Arkansas River is only a few miles west of town, I told him about the tremendous economic impact it has had on our state. Back in the late 1960s, I was involved as a volunteer in the Little Rock Chamber of Commerce. This was about the time the McClellan-Kerr Navigation Project was being completed, at a cost of $1.2 billion. What this project entailed was the Corps of Engineers constructing a series of 21 locks and dams from the confluence of the Arkansas River and the Mississippi River in extreme Southeast Arkansas all the way to the Port of Catoosa, near Tulsa in Eastern Oklahoma.
This created pools of water that could be regulated to always maintain a depth of 9 feet or more, to allow barge traffic to travel this waterway. The shipment of goods by water is one of the cheapest modes of transportation, so you can see what this has meant to our state and others all along the way.
When I told Dan this, it reminded me of "Toad Suck," which is the name of the lock and dam located on the river just west of Conway. I also went on to tell him about the great festival that is held here in Conway the first weekend of May each year, and that draws up to 150,000 people, called "Toad Suck Daze." It's a big event, with all the TV stations doing live broadcasts and interviews, along with crafts, events and food galore.
Our Lions Club raises money to help the blind and visually and hearing impaired by selling Sausage-On-A-Stick, and you would not believe the people who line up four or five deep to get one of them. It's a fun time for all and getting bigger each year. This past year was the 22nd annual event and lots of volunteers work hard to make it a big success.
When I mentioned "toad," Dan gave me some good advice that I had never heard before. He said, "If you have to swallow a frog, don't look at it too long and if you have to swallow a lot of frogs, always swallow the big one first."
That's good to know and I'll keep it in mind in case I ever have to swallow any. But on a more serious note, many people over the past several years have asked me how "Toad Suck" got its name. Now there are a lot of local people who have been around a lot longer and know a lot more about this than I do, but if you have never heard this story it might be of interest to you. One thing for sure, the "Toad Suck" name makes our festival unique.
Here's the story. Back in the days before the 21 locks and dams were built, the water level of the Arkansas River would fluctuate dramatically, depending on how much rain we had and especially how much it had rained upstream. When a tugboat pushing barges would head up the river, they were literally at the mercy of the elements. During the summer months when the water was low, quite often a tugboat would make it as far as Conway, but could go no farther until the rains came. Of course, when the tugboat was tied up at the bank, the captain and crew had to do something to pass the time.
Well, some enterprising fellow built a tavern on a high hill overlooking the river and these riverboat sailors would make their way to the tavern and partake of the local hospitality. The report came that over a period of several days these men would sit on a stool and "suck" on corn mash whiskey or rum until they literally swelled up like "toads." Thus, the name "Toad Suck."
This is not a name that I would want to give one of my kids, but as Paul Harvey would say, "Now you know ... the rest of the story."
Hope you have a great day.
(Editor’s Note: Jim Davidson is a motivational speaker and syndicated columnist. He may be contacted at 2 Bentley Drive, Conway, AR 72034.)