An Autumn Trip – 2001 IV

I don’t think there was one level square foot in the entire town. I coasted down more than a mile to HARTS SuperMarket for some take-outs, and then pedaled around the hilly, cutesy, contrived little downtown, replete with antique shops, of course. I quickly got my fill of that falderal and pumped my way up “cardiac hill” back to the motel. As I rummaged through the pamphlets, one in particular jumped out at me – the Thorncrown Chapel designed by E. Fay Jones in 1980. My gosh, I had been wanting to see this renowned piece of architecture for years, and now was my chance. Mind you, I had known it was in this neck of the woods, but the fact had completely slipped my mind. It was another one of those unplanned surprises that I have a habit of encountering on my journeys. I was really anticipating the next day’s venture. Now, the gridiron images on the TV screen seemed rather inconsequential, if you get my meaning.

The Chapel was about a mile west of Eureka Springs just off U.S. 412. After a short walk through the woods, the simplistic structure appeared – a masterpiece in wood, truly awe-inspiring. The massive timber columns soared skyward supporting a peaked roof on exposed beams approximately 80 feet at its high point. The width of the chapel was only 30 or 35 feet giving the structure a sense of strong verticality which complimented its setting of tall, straight deciduous trees. The interior was interlaced with diagonal members criss-crossing each other the entire length of the nave, almost in a state of suspension. Should I go on? Streams of light cascaded vertically through the skylights at the roof’s peak and horizontally through the glazed walls. In a sense, it was Gothic, and in another sense, Wrightian, with the outdoors and indoors blending together. I could only compare it with the same exhilarating experience of seeing F. L. Wright’s “Falling Water” Kaufman house in Pennsylvania in 1992 (in the dead of winter). That’s where another commonality came into focus. In both cases I had the place all to myself – there were no hordes of tourists to detract me from the serenity of the setting. Again, I felt blessed. I thought, “Can it get any better than this?”

I continued west on the twist and turns of the “mountainous” drive through the Ozarks, coming perilously close to the Missouri state line. It was then when I started remembering a memorable trip with Jim and Mary Donna Noack and Donne Sue Bales to the latter’s home town of Neosho in the southwest corner of the “Show Me State”. That was in one glorious November of 1972. I continued west on Highway 412 back into the “Sooner State” and noticed a late-50s Chevy pickup in a junkyard. For years now I had been coveting a steering wheel off an old van or pickup – they were a couple of inches wider in diameter and had that feel of thin, ribbed steel. In other words, they looked and felt like what a steering wheel should look and feel like. I was obsessed with the idea of transplanting one in Ol’ Blue. I thought, “Let’s go for it!”

A couple of hundred yards past the salvage yard, I made a U-turn and pulled off the road near the pickup. I pried off the horn to check out the mounting (size of shaft, etc.), then did the same with the wheel in the pickup. Son-of-a-gun, if it didn’t look like a perfect match, right down to the three-screwed ring plate! I didn’t find anyone home at the office/house and was about to relinquish all hope when the owner drove up. For $35 he pulled the wheel. I thought he might think I was a little daft, but in fact, he commented, “Hey, I don’t blame you. I know how you feel. That ’94 Dodge I drive has one of those small, padded wheels. Doesn’t even feel like a steering wheel.” I shook his huge, gnarled hand and said, “Thanks. You’ve made my day.”