Written by David Holsted, published in the Harrison Daily Times on January 21, 2021
They tried to warn her. Roads in the Ozarks were terrible. Evelyn Dodds refused to listen. She was going to do it.
Federal highway legislation in 1916 and 1921 provided funding for improving post roads and highways throughout the country. Arkansas didn’t start to take advantage of it until about 1923 when, among other projects, a federally-subsidized state program led to the construction of Highway 7. Up until that time, it was the largest public works project seen in the Buffalo River valley.
Even after Highway 7 opened, the poor reputation of Ozarks roads discouraged most outsiders from using them.
Dodds, a “spirited” 19-year-old from Pine Bluff, was not one of them.
In August 1926, Dodds, her older sister, Lessie, and their mother, Henrietta, left their home in Pine Bluff embarking on a two-week vacation in the Ozarks. Their destination was Monte Ne, a resort near Rogers. Dodds, who was the only driver among the three, was determined to travel on the newly constructed Highway 7.
Dodds recalled her trip in a delightful essay titled “Vacationing in the ‘Land of a Million Smiles.'”
Dodds drove a Ford Coupe that she had borrowed from her brother, Homer. There was only enough room for three people on the car’s single seat, so the rest of the family had to stay home.
On day two of the trip, the Dodds left their hotel in Dover at about seven in the morning, headed for Jasper, “over the backbone of the Ozarks,” as Evelyn put it.
“There were several who tried to discourage us but we were not to be stopped,” Dodds later wrote. “Up the mountains down and up again. The roads were good, except for the rocks. The ‘hair pin curves’ were a sight to look forward to and when I saw the first one I was almost too excited to go around it. The scenery was such that I would not attempt to describe. I regret that I am not an artist that I might attempt to paint some of the scenes.”
The brakes on the Ford Coupe burned up on the steep descent into Jasper. They found a garage where the brakes were repaired. The owner of the garage drove them to Murrays Hotel where they stayed until the car was fixed. The Dodds had intended to tour Diamond Cave, but owing to expense and time they instead started out for Eureka Springs.
Somewhere between Jasper and Harrison, one of the car’s tires blow out.
“This was an experience for Lessie and I since we had never tried to change a tire,” Dodds said. “We had both tires off and were trying to put one on when two men and a lady stopped and helped. We were delayed about 40 minutes.”
Continuing on their way, the group stopped in Green Forest, where they had the tire vulcanized. Dodds recalled the garage men being very friendly.
They reached Eureka Springs about seven that evening and stayed at the Thach Hotel. They had dinner in their traveling clothes, Dodds reported.
Dodds, her sister and her mother reached Monte Ne, where they stayed for eight days.
Commenting on the trip, Dodds said, “The roads were good, except for the rocks. We had a lovely trip.”
Evelyn Dodds Besom died in August 2002, at the age of 95. She was buried in Hot Springs.