by Bill Ward
In 1981, Toad Suck Daze was imagined by John Ward while he was managing editor of the Log Cabin Democrat. He conferred with me, as a partner at the time in Ward Advertising Associates with headquarters in the Halter Building, and we put together a team of town folks.
The festival was launched the next spring, 1982, on the Perry County side of the river. Traffic on the bridge was backed up for miles.
Here are a few thoughts on Toad Suck, the ferry, as well as the festival:
- I have traveled across the Arkansas River on the Toad Suck Ferry countless times since my first trip in 1957. My family would cross the river into Perry County and drive to the Ouachita Mountains for their unsurpassed beauty of streams for camping and fishing. And, if we were entertaining out-of-town visitors, what a unique experience we could show them.
- I could talk about the Bob’s Grill story of how the festival got its name, Toad Suck Daze, and was finally inked — on a napkin — during our coffee marathon.
- The decision to have an ongoing Toad Master to lead major events for the festival, especially the toad races where politicians and other celebrities would participate … and when Arkansas Gov. Bill Clinton (now serving his second term, but not consecutive) unveiled Jim Stone prior to the second year of the festival in 1983.
The first day of the first festival in 1982 was unlike anything I had ever experienced. Scores of people working as a team could not have predicted the crowds of people and the joy of the festival on the Perry County banks of the Arkansas River.
While my brother John was the overall supervisor of that event, he was also good at assigning. With everyone knowing their job, the festival was coming together quite smoothly.
Before midday, on that first day, John was involved in directing an event and I was photographing it when a representative of the Corps of Engineers, across the river, appeared and breathlessly told John there was a call waiting in the headquarters from the Canadian Public Radio Station. John immediately pointed to me and said, “He’ll take care of it.”
I got in the CE pickup and we headed across the river. Sure enough, the host of that show introduced himself and asked, “Is there really a place called Toad Suck?”
I laughed and said, “Yes sir, I’m there at this moment and we have a festival underway called Toad Suck Daze—with a Z.” Pause.
Then he asked, “Wow…so what do you do at Toad Suck Daze with a Z?”
Searching for words, I blurted out, “We celebrate the lowly toad; he was responsible for the name of this community, so he deserves it.” Chuckling.
Then he asked, “So … do you actually have toads there at the festival?”
I said, “Of course.”
Then he followed with another question, “How do you catch them?”
I said, “Well (searching deeper for words) during the night in gardens around town (pause) we just call them.” That got him laughing and it turned into an enjoyable conversation, as he asked about events, like “toad races.”
So, I asked him, “Are you going to use any of this on your show?”
He chuckled and said, “Bill, thank you … for the last seven minutes you have been on Canadian Public Radio live … and we hope your festival in Toad Suck Arkansas is successful.” Following that, I journeyed across the river for more “on air” calls from New York to Chicago to Los Angeles.
- The late Guy Murphy was legendary in Conway, and is still honored by the Chamber in its annual awards. When Lock & Dam #8 was completed in 1969, Murphy, the chamber’s head, along with a contingency from Conway, visited Rep. Wilbur D. Mills in Washington, D.C. Soon after, the official name in the congressional record was changed to Toad Suck Ferry Lock & Dam. It lives forever.
- When we started planning the festival in 1981, my brother, John, began a research project regarding the “legend” of that colorfully-named place which just happened to be the ferry crossing between Faulkner and Perry Counties. Many legends exist, but we had to land on an “official” one. He crafted it, ran it by many creative minds and leaders in the city, even college professors, and then we published a post card to make it “official.” I’ve attached an image. As you might imagine, after more than forty years, they’re scarcer than “hen’s teeth.”
- The impact of Toad Suck Ferry in the history and development of Conway and the entire area would be a great subject of research by someone. I have been aware of it for more than 60 years. I would suspect that you could go into any area in a 20-mile radius and mention the name and whether the crowd is aged or teenagers they would know about it and have an opinion — mostly light-hearted.
But deeper in its history is the interest the River, the nation’s third longest, provided along its meandering way. It was opportunistic that a ferry was established, and that route was in constant use, as it linked two counties. For years it operated on its own merit by charging fees for vehicles. Then at some point, it was taken over by the Corps of Engineers, and the rest is history.
- Doris Dolan was a member of our Toad Council. One day at First State Bank, the group was meeting to talk about this proposed festival — bank presidents, corporate heads, and normal folks. We all kept our tongues firmly in our cheeks as various activities were discussed.
Doris broke in, saying, “Now, folks … this is going to be successful. I can just tell. But we need to look down the road and establish a way to give back to the community. I want us to use the funds produced to furnish scholarships for students in Perry and Faulkner counties to our three institutions in Conway.” There was a pause, then the group erupted in laughter.
“Profits? You gotta be kidding, Doris; this is a fun festival and we’re volunteers.”
Nevertheless, the group settled down and honored her with our first resolution. I do not know how much money has been awarded for scholarships, but a lot.