There’s a young man doing a documentary on Dogpatch USA, a family amusement and theme park from the 70s and 80s that was based on the L’il Abner comic strip by Al Capp. My brother, Rob, and I decided to go to an open call for interviews of people who had worked, or been involved with Dogpatch, and while the kind of information the interviewer was looking for seemed somewhat different from what we had to contribute, it was super fun to relive that time with my brother.
When we first started working at Marble Falls in Dogpatch, I was 10 years old. It was 1980. My dad gave me a guitar and told me to learn how to play it. It wasn’t long before we were playing gigs together as a family. At the time we were living in Low Gap, in between Ponca and Jasper, about a mile behind the Low Gap church down a dirt road. We used to ride the bus to school and it took us an hour and a half each way. That was part of the reason that our parents decided to home school us. Too much time on the bus.
Our family was back-to-the-landers. We bought 20 acres of land and proceeded to build an 11 sided log cabin by hand, with stone floors. We loved it there. We didn’t have electricity, running water, or telephones. My mom cooked every meal on a wood cookstove. She gardened on a one acre garden and canned all of our food for the year. We went to the store once a month for necessities, and tried to get by with what we had. I think at one time I remember my dad saying that we lived on 1200 dollars a year.
My dad used to tell stories about taking the county road grader a case of beer in trade for dynamite that would help us blast past the rocks in our soon to be well. Newton County was a dry county, meaning that it was illegal to sell beer there, and for as long as I can remember, there were several bootleggers where my dad went to get beer when he wanted it.
My mom and dad were musicians so it was natural for them to give us instruments and for us all to play together. Sort of natural. My dad was the task master who mandated that we practice so that we could excel at our music. My mom played the bass, my brother played the fiddle, my dad played guitar, and I played guitar and mandolin. We played old bluegrass songs and country songs.
At some point when I was almost 12 we moved to Possum Trot in Osage (Carroll County). It’s a place best remembered by Frank Stamps’ store which still stands there today. Frank has since passed on, but when we lived there in the early 80s we would go to Frank’s store where he would be with his white hair, tending shop with his 5 white dogs following him around everywhere he went. We sometimes got to buy huge sandwiches there that he would make with his big meat and cheese slicer. There were shelves and shelves of general store items, some of them covered in dust because product didn’t always move as fast as it did in more populated areas. And in the winter time the wood stove in the middle of the store was surrounded by benches of old men chewing tobacco, whittling sticks, and telling tall tales. It was a beautiful time.
When we first started working at Dogpatch we had a Volkswagen bug that we would load up with a bass, two guitars, a mandolin, a fiddle, and all of the sound equipment necessary to produce our show. There were 4 of us. It was an exercise in, how many elephants can you fit in an VW.
We performed 6 shows a day. Every hour on the half hour. I wore a black and white polka dot cancan dress. Did I mention it was a summer gig in Arkansas. There was a lot of asphalt and it was HOT. My brother’s costume was red as was my dad’s and my mom also wore black. In between shows I would run around the park, in and out of the character dressing areas, roller coaster rides, and arcades. I remember riding a ride was a giant cylinder. You stood against the wall and the centrifugal force would propel you against the wall as you spun deliriously in a circle, eventually the floor fell out. I think if I rode that ride now I would puke my guts up, but then it was great fun.
Dogpatch was Daisy Mae and L’il Abner, costumed characters, and the Schmoo, hillbilly talking, goats on the roofs, and bluegrass music. It was teenagers with summer jobs in the most beautiful place on earth. It was a water slide and Ms. Pac Man when I didn’t have enough money to play arcade games. It was roller coasters and slow train rides, waterfalls and trout farm. It was music contests and Bill Monroe. It was hours at home at night practicing with my family. My brother with his self conscious slicked back hair and lack of a sense of humor. My dad with his constant hope of hitting it big. My mom working her butt off growing the food, cooking the food, canning the food, fixing everything, and at the end of the day singing and playing music. Supporting. Dogpatch was my first job. I was 12. I was a musician. It was a different kind of existence.
My earnings at Dogpatch paid for my homeschooling books from Calvert. It paid for my first braces on my very crooked teeth. It was a sweet time.