Tubing our end of Current River did not catch the imaginations of any river rats until a group of local high school boys jumped on inner tubes at Deer Lodge and floated to the tie yard in town way back in the mid 1950’s. Or so it seems to John Bingham, a 1958 graduate of Doniphan High School. He doesn’t remember details other than not recalling anyone floating that way before he and his buddies tried it.
Back when Bingham and his buddies took that maiden tube float, he believed Deer Lodge was just a place to get into the river. By the time I was running around the area, it included a store and later some cabins, all in the vicinity of what is now Deer Leap boat access
Later, as a businessman in town, Bingham loaned tubes to any who asked if they stopped by his service station. Johnny’s Mobil Station was at the site of the former location of E&S Pharmacy, now a Schultz Engineering office behind Fred’s.
There were no outfitters back then. He didn’t realize he was the forerunner of what would become a major tourist draw in an area that outlived its fame as the railroad tie capital of the world.
I am a transplant to Ripley County. My parents Cal and Evelyn Pearson made the decision to exit south from St. Louis with me and my siblings Glenn and Phyllis in June of 1969.
Summer visits made to see grandparents Robert and Cecilia Pearson and Tom and Ardieth Bizzell included trips to Current River, either to Float Camp or to an area close to Pittman Ferry in Supply, Arkansas, or to Big Spring in Van Buren, MO, a favorite picnicking spot.
Tubes were among the images I remember on those visits, though I didn’t make a river tube float until I became a Ripley Countian. (As youngsters, my brother and I tubed Logan Creek with our Uncle Jimmy Bizzell as the guide. Yes, Logan Creek was deeper back then.)
My first tube purchase was from Butler Tire Shop on State Street back when there were parking meters and diagonal lines painted on downtown streets. Those early floats included cousins gathered for vacations at various grandparents’ homes. The Pearsons, in the Pratt Community on A highway, the Halls just across the state line on Snake Road, and the Bizzells, adjacent to their store and station on 160 E, hosted their rowdy grandkids, deeply etching memories of fish fries, homemade ice cream, cool drinks of well water from a basin with a dipper, trips to the courthouse square, baths in washtubs, parental ‘suggestions’ not to slam screen doors, jars of lightning bugs and snipe hunts.
My first canoe trip on Current River was with cousin Jeff Pearson from Indiana, but I can’t recall where we rented the canoe, if we rented it. The notorious root wads made their first appearance on my stage of memories then; it was also my debut in the front seat of a canoe.
As an adult, I would rent tubes from Floyd and Sue Lynxwiler operating out of a building they constructed on the edge of town that later became the first location of The Journeyman, and later Colley’s and Linda’s Creekside Restaurants in the building that now houses KC’s and Angela’s Nails. It was their leap into the floating business before opening Hobo’s, now Rocky River Resort.
Many seasons later I worked a couple of summers at RRR, helping locals and tourists relive their own early memories and create new ones with Current River as the backdrop.
Who could have foreseen that 30 years after my turbulent arrival to Ripley County – turbulent because every unexpected change is turbulent to a 16 year-old female – that another former RRR employee, Frank Winford, and I would launch a kayaking business, KC’s on the Current, at a location on Y highway that played a role in my early river memories?
See-Lou’s was at that location in those early memories, the last stop before arriving at Float Camp, for ice, RC Cola and probably bologna and chips. Sometimes it was the first stop after leaving Float Camp, too, for ice cream and maybe a chocolate or grape soda. Later the Chaillands would open See-Lou’s Country Music Theater on the hill above that original store location in the very building that housed the first KC’s. Seeward Chailland stopped by one day to share construction details of the big yellow building. It took quite a bit of dynamite to make the site suitable, first for country music then for kayaks and tubes.
After a couple of years KC’s became a concessionaire of the US Forest Service to include camping in its offerings during the tourist season. As a college student I had brieflly served campers in the same location, not in a recreational way but as part of a summer outreach ministry of First Baptist Church. I had hosted a children’s Sunday School class in a little bandstand that used to be near what is now campsite #1.
How neat it is to realize our river, along with its recreational options, is the catalyst for infinite connections and reconnections of folks we know, or folks who know folks we know. Sometimes we even stumble upon relatives!
It is curious to hear how visitors discover Ripley County; it isn’t always due to surfing the net. Stories and connections abound.
One day as I worked with broom and trash bag in hand at Float Camp Day Use, an elderly gentleman told me the story of the house that used to sit on the spot where the pavilion is now, a house he had lived in as a child. How I wish I had put down that broom and trash bag, rummaged around for a scrap of paper and a pen, and recorded the story he shared that afternoon.
It has come full circle. KC’s now greets floaters and campers at the place where the Lynxwilers initiated their seasonal business, next to Riverfront Park and the former TL Wright Memorial Boat Landing, the site that was the hugest tie yard imaginable to this city girl who visited regularly during her childhood. I vaguely remember the depot but I distinctly remember the smell of the ties. The Wright Estate has sold its riverfront property; the Missouri Department of Conservation will assume responsibility of the boat ramps and about 180 acres of riverfront will become part of Mark Twain National Forest. Another connection-my son once worked for MDC and now works for the USFS.
Local residents Kathy and Stan Schultz and Rodney and Cindy Moore, ( three of the four being former students of mine), purchased KC’s after its move to the current location and pushed it right on into the era of social media and expansion. The Moores are the sole owners now and it remains a feature destination of the area.