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Outdoors: Tornado wipes out historic field trial clubhouse

Posted: May 2, 2014 - 5:21pm
JOE MOSBY PHOTO   A fireplace and tall chimney stand among the ruins of the tornado-wrecked Camp Robinson field trial clubhouse.
JOE MOSBY PHOTO A fireplace and tall chimney stand among the ruins of the tornado-wrecked Camp Robinson field trial clubhouse.

The ferocious tornado of Sunday, April 27, took lives, injured dozens of people, destroyed millions of dollars in property — and snatched away some items of history.

In the last category was the clubhouse at the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission’s Camp Robinson Special Use Area. Call this the “field trial area” and most folks will know what you mean. It is on Clinton Road northeast of Mayflower and southeast of Conway, south of the Saltillo community.

The stone exterior of the clubhouse was familiar to visitors, dog event competitors and passersby.

Not only was it destroyed, but so were the equipment storage facilities. Many tractors, boats, trailers and other machinery were destroyed or damaged. The stables, dog kennels and restrooms were wiped out. But still standing and little damaged in the middle of all of this was a masonry and steel pavilion.

Two camping trailers were overturned, but their occupants had left ahead of the storm.

The clubhouse interior was mostly a large room with a raised stage area. It had a complete kitchen, offices and a large and unique fireplace.

The clubhouse was built in the 1950s by several dog competition organizations. This was a time when competitive events were highly popular across much of the nation and especially in the South and quail hunting parts of the country.

A good birddog was a source of pride and a focus of conversations as much as a high-performing or “hotrod” automobile. A top pointer, setter or even a Brittany Spaniel could sell for as much or more than a comfortable house. Retrievers came into this picture too but a little later than the upland dogs.

To set the history into view here, this Camp Robinson SUA is separate but adjacent to the Camp Robinson Wildlife Demonstration Area of the Arkansas National Guard. Both are remnants of Camp Zebulon Pike of World War I days and Camp Joseph T. Robinson of World War II days.

At the end of WWII, surplus land was given to public agencies, in this case the Game and Fish Commission. Some land was included in the building of Lake Conway shortly after the war. Some 4,029 acres to the east of the new lake became the field trial area.

The competitions were mostly for dogs used for quail hunting, in those days at or near the top of Arkansas hunting interests.

Deer were improving in numbers but still scarce.

Turkeys were behind deer.

Ducks had declined but would soon begin to rebound.

For most Faulkner County hunters, primary pursuits were quail, squirrel and rabbits.

Organized field trials became major events, usually filling the few motels and Hotel Bachelor in Conway. Camping was popular, especially since the big new fishing lake was close at hand.

Several field trail groups pitched in with labor and resources to construct the clubhouse. Game and Fish personnel had to maintain a schedule of reservations for both the grounds and the clubhouse, which was also in demand for other types of get-togethers.

Photos of winning birddogs lined the walls of the clubhouse. Trophies were displayed, and some of these survived the tornado.

And a personal note: this writer’s 50th wedding anniversary was held at the Camp Robinson clubhouse.

The structure is gone, the memories are still with us.

(Outdoor writer Joe Mosby can be contacted by email at jhmosby@cyberback.com.)

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