Just as The Natural State has been home to “that Arkansas wine” for going on 150 years — borrowing an old tagline from Wiederkehr Wine Cellars — that “Arkansas airline” helped lay the foundation for the growth of commuter airlines in the United States.
For a chunk of the mid-to-late 20th century, Skyways was Arkansas’ regional carrier that could. And it’s on my mind this month with aviation a focus of our April issue.
Skyways was one of the first operations of its kind in the country, a trailblazer in the operation, management and structure of commuter airlines. Founded as Scheduled Skyways in 1953 by Fayetteville Flying Service owner Ray Ellis, the airline made its hay early on by ferrying University of Arkansas officials between campuses in Fayetteville and Little Rock.
According to the Arkansas Aviation Historical Society (AAHS), the first flight of Scheduled Skyways departed Drake Field in Fayetteville and touched down at Little Rock’s Adams Field on Sept. 1, 1953, with Ellis piloting the Cessna 195.
The route map soon expanded to include Fort Smith and Harrison, then Texas and Missouri. Eventually, it touched eight states. Flying mostly Piper Navajos and Beech 99s at first, Skyways had a fleet of 14 Metroliners when it was merged with Air Midwest in 1985, according to the AAHS.
By then, Ellis’ little airline was servicing 22 cities in Arkansas, Texas, Oklahoma, Tennessee, Louisiana, Alabama, Florida and Missouri.
Ellis indeed was a pioneer of Arkansas aviation — he’s considered a major influence on the development of airports and the aviation industry in Arkansas by AAHS. One of the founding board members of the Arkansas Air Museum at Drake, Ellis was appointed to the Arkansas Aeronautics Commission by Republican Gov. Win Rockefeller and re-appointed by Democrat Gov. Dale Bumpers. In 1972, he served as commission chair. Ellis served as president of the Fayetteville Chamber and Fayetteville Rotary as well.
My lone passage on Skyways came in 1978 as a 12-year-old, experienced with flights on larger jetliners but apprehensive about the prospect of a “commercial” flight on such a smaller plane. But we made it from Little Rock to Fayetteville and back just fine, none the worse for wear… after maybe a “small bump” or two along the way.
Lake Providence, La.
When it comes to black-void-inducing hopelessness, we have a winner. The one place capable of syphoning Lovecraft, even, of what little light dared to loiter in a tortured soul.
Unfortunately for me, this moss-covered fever dream just across the state border sits on what formerly served as a preferred route to New Orleans, a fairly Lovecraftian place in its own right. Strong connections to New Orleans, family and otherwise, have resulted in many trips down and back. Our son is finishing up school there, and I even lived and worked full time in New Orleans between stints at college back home in Arkansas.
(To this day, my time as a court runner at a corporate law firm in the New Orleans CBD remains my favorite former job. L.A. Law? Phssst. NOLA Law, baby. And I remain a proud, “honorary” UNO Privateer, much to the chagrin of a certain UNO department head.)
The belabored point being that I’ve driven to and from New Orleans through Lake Providence many times. And in doing so, have involuntarily contributed what must be thousands of dollars to the city and East Carroll Parish coffers.
Most Arkansans south of the tunnel would agree that Gould is a notorious speed trap. It’s got nothing on Lake Providence, a speed grapple/hook/net/snare rolled into one.
It is the grasp of a seldom-seen, aging relative wanting to hear about school on the arm of a 12-year-old boy attempting to answer the siren call of sunny skies and football on Thanksgiving. It is a Lovecraftian tax collector oozed from the primordial slime that levies a duty (or doody, take your pick) upon drivers deigning to traverse the lightly traveled straightaways north and south of town at more than 65 mph.
In other words, it is inescapable. For me, anyway. I learned this lesson — yes, the hard way — on my most recent solo drive to New Orleans. After years of crossing the bridge at Lake Village and sticking to the cotton fields along Highway 1 into Vicksburg — a strategy insisted upon by my less-stubborn wife, herself a victim of East Carroll — I went nostalgic on last fall’s solo venture, and rather than continue east on 65 to the bridge, turned south at the pecan grove.
Usually, parish deputies get me on the highway either north or south of town. This time, however, I got a “city ticket.” The blue lights of the LPPD got me before I made it out of downtown. I wasn’t blazing through by any means, but technically I was a few mph over the limit. And when I couldn’t find my proof of insurance, nor remember the login to my USAA app, the officer wrote me a second ticket for failure to show proof of insurance. Even though, after calling in this foreign terrorist (what we’ve done to LSU this year might qualify me), he acknowledged that I did, in fact, have up-to-date insurance.
No matter. The speeding ticket was $189. The fine for failure to show proof of insurance turned out to be $334. How the fine folks in East Carroll Parish, surely one of the poorest parishes in the state, can justify such a fine is beyond me. Unless I truly did get the visitors’ rate.
Next time, I’ll resist the urge to keep going at the pecan grove and leave my own “duty” on the steps of City Hall.
Thanks for reading. Let me know how we’re doing at [email protected].