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The community of Bald Knob was an unruly place back in its heyday
Written by: Tracy L. Crain
Arkansas Democrat Gazette
Sunday, December 9, 2001

The community of Bald Knob, located in White County, is filled with unique restaurants, out-of-the-ordinary shops, and an electric array of sights. It's a fascinating place to visit.

One sight in particular draws a lot of attention--that would be the big red locomotive on display in the heart of the town.

The locomotive, a tourist attraction located at the Lyda Miller Public Library, is representative of the community's railroad history.

It's a fun place for children to visit or so it seems to one friendly, blond-hair, green-eyed child standing at the front rails, serving as a conductor. (That's my son, Trey Crain.) He's three and easily entertained. "Come on, time to ride the train," he says.

It's a priceless moment that seems to add to the rustic, southern charm of Bald Knob's industrial side, where train tracks run east and west beside a variety of eclectic buildings, antique stores and old houses that serve as a reminder of a different place in time.

The industrial park, also home to a stainless steel part plant, an electric motor plant, and a gun factory, employs many a factory worker here.

Claude Cantrell, a 72-year cherished resident of the community, doesn't have much to say, but his primary comment is one of genuine sincerity. "I enjoy living in Bald Knob," he said. "It’s a nice place and there are good people to be found here."

There's also some good produce.

"We used to be the strawberry center of the world, but we're not growing strawberries anymore," he said. "There are still a variety of fruit stands where fresh peaches, watermelons and peanuts by the pound can be purchased. There's also a really big watermelon that sits near the main road. The watermelon, perhaps the longest to be seen in the state, sits on a trailer."

It's an unusual sight, but certainly helps advertise the areas's many produce stands. Valerie Barnett, a former elementary resource teacher in Bald Knob, remembers when the town celebrated it's strawberry growing past.

"When my husband and I were first married, we used to pick strawberries for my husband's uncle. At one time, strawberries were the main crop and the town celebrated that with an annual celebration called Strawberryfest. That isn't celebrated anymore," she said. "We now have a new festival called Homefest. We also have a lot of carnivals and parades for the children."

To Barnett, the school is now the center of the community. "There are more than 1,200 people here and the majority of them are involved in the school system in some fashion. Our school provides a lot of activities for them and most of the area businesses support our functions," she said.

Barnett's favorite attraction in Bald Knob are the restaurants that are described as "serving up a lot of small-town atmosphere."

"It's the kind of place where you know the people who own them," she said. "We're a growing community. Not only are more residents opening restaurants, but the school is also building some new facilities. One of the great things about the school here is that if an elementary play is taking place, the high school students usually go over and watch them."

"That's not all," she says. "The entire student body attends the pep rallies at the high school. They hold banners, shout cheers, and show a lot of spirit. It's a neat event."

Along with Homefest, Bald Knob supports a Springfest. "That involves talent shows with singing and dancing every year. We also have a chili supper," she said. "The whole town comes out to support it."

As for other commerce, there are two banks, a post office, a few stores, and a new Sonic. "That was a neat thing for us to get in Bald Knob," Barnett said. "The kids love it."

As for extra-curricular activities, Barrett and Cantrell describe the primary source of fun as watching baseball games.

"Kids have a lot to do here, but the adults love to watch the baseball games," Cantrell said.

Barnett adds, "There's also football, basketball, softball and track meets to be found. The football team is a source of pride. We have some good players and they are a really special part of our community."

For the most part, there's a lot to be considered when thinking about this small town where a person can walk into the grocery store and run into someone they know.

Throughout the years, Bald Knob has seen some impressive changes and it's hoped that the area will continue to expand as it has done since its once very humble origins.

"The community originated during the Civil War," Cantrell said. "It was only a bald rock back then and was considered nothing but a big rock quarry. The name of the town originated from some old settlers who thought the rock quarry looked just like a big bald rock. When they took the rock out, a big hole was left here."

There’s warmth and hospitality to be found in this community of produce farmers, factory workers, and school supporters. When asked why it is such a distinctive place, Barnett credits the people. "They're special, especially to me."

(Bald Knob is an excerpt from Road Trips; a weekly feature of small towns in Arkansas written by Tracy Crain and published by the Arkansas Democrat Gazette.)