Approaching Amarillo, Texas on Interstate 40, one can’t help but notice BIG signs urging motorists to stop in for a meal at the BIG Texan Steak Ranch.  The BIG Texan has been operating in Amarillo since 1960.  Even if you haven’t been to Amarillo, you may have heard the BIG stories about this restaurant, as it’s renown has grown in a BIG way over the past 47 years.  The first time that I visited Amarillo, I wondered what the BIG deal was all about, so I stopped by the BIG Texan to sample their cuisine.

Big Texan Steak Ranch signage

The first indication that you are approaching the BIG Texan Steak Ranch is the appearance of the BIG sign that rises to meet the sky outside the restaurant.  The BIG cowboy on the sign is a stereotype of the long, tall Texan we have come to know in the Western movies of the past.

Big Cadillac longhorn limousine

As soon as you pull into the parking lot, you become aware that something is a little different with this restaurant compared to others you have patronized.  Exiting your vehicle brings you face-to-face with a BIG Cadillac limousine, adorned with the obligatory BIG Texas longhorn hood ornament.

Big Lincoln longhorn limousine

Careful not to show favoritism for any one automobile company, the BIG Texan Steak Ranch also owns BIG Lincoln Continental limousines to compliment the Cadillac limousines.  I counted six BIG white, Texas longhorn equipped limousines sitting in the parking lot, which are used to shuttle customers back and forth between area hotels and the restaurant.

Big Cadillac longhorn limousine and big model steer

In front of the BIG porch leading up to the restaurant you will encounter a BIG steer replica, which is mounted to a trailer and sits next to one of the BIG Cadillac limousines.  OK, I’ll agree that this place is getting a little weird, but amusing never the less.  Eventually, you will make your way into the restaurant, where you will see an old-fashioned shooting gallery, a gift shop, token-only slot machines, a rocking chair BIG enough to seat both Paul Bunyan and his BIG blue ox Babe, and a western style saloon area.

Big display of free steak meal

Finally, just before arriving at the maitre d’ station,  the reason for the notoriety of the BIG Texan Steak Ranch becomes clear.   Almost legendary by now, the BIG Texan presents an amazing offer:  finish eating a BIG complete 72 ounce steak dinner in less than 1 hour, and the meal is on the house.  Fail the challenge, and it will set you back a BIG $72.00, plus possible additional medical expenses to repair your now abused innards!

There are conditions attached to the offer.  First, you are required to pay for the meal prior to taking the BIG eating challenge.  I guess the theory is that if an ambulance has to cart you away after attempting this bizarre feat, the staff will not have to worry about trying to settle the tab with an incapacitated diner laying on a stretcher.  Successful diners will have their money refunded at the completion of the challenge.  Second, the diner must consume the entire meal, which consists of a dinner salad, a shrimp cocktail, a BIG 72 ounce (4.5 pound) top sirloin steak, a BIG baked potato, and a dinner roll.   Fat or gristle need not be consumed, but the staff reserves the right to be the judge in this matter.  Third, don’t expect this to be a private affair.  Should you undertake this challenge, you will be escorted to a table set on top of a stage located in the center of the dining room.  You will be the BIG focal point for the next hour, as other diners gawk, take pictures and video of you eating, and the staff provides running commentary regarding your progress.  Behind you, a digital timer ticks down the time that remains, and by your side sits a lined trash can, in the (all too often) event that you can’t hold down the last bites of your dinner.

Big 72 ounce top sirloin steak

This is what a BIG 72 ounce top sirloin steak looks like.  Let’s put this in some perspective.  The newest USDA food pyramid suggests that the proper serving size for lean beef is 3 ounces.  Therefore, to complete the BIG Texan eating challenge, one would have to eat a portion of beef that is 24 times greater that the USDA recommends!  This steak contains about the same amount of beef as 45 McDonald’s hamburgers,  or 18 McDonald’s Quarter Pounders.  Within the information contained in their on-line store,  even the BIG Texan Steak Ranch admits that the 72 ounce top sirloin steak can be expected to serve 8-10 ordinary diners (or one hungry Texan).

Here are a few interesting tidbits of BIG Texan trivia:

Over 42,000 people have attempted the BIG Texan Steak Ranch challenge.

Over 7,000 diners have been successful in completing the meal.

The challenge was completed in 9.5 minutes by former Cincinnati Reds pitcher and BIG eater, Frank Pastore, one of his seven successful attempts!

The challenge is successfully completed by an average of two women per year.

The oldest person to successfully complete the challenge was a 69 year old grandmother.

The youngest – an 11 year old boy.

In the ’60’s, professional wrestler Klondike Bill consumed two of the dinners in the allotted one-hour time.

A couple from Henderson, Nevada have completed the meal at least ten times since 1995, usually finishing in less than 30 minutes.

If you happen to be passing through Amarillo, consider stopping by the BIG Texan Steak Ranch for a meal.  If I happen to be there at the time, you can share a table with me as I attempt to consume a more sensible 12 ounce rib-eye steak.  And I’ll take as much time as I need, thank you.

Landscaping My Way – Installment #3

American Sycamore

American Sycamore

The trees that you can see on either side of this trail are semi-mature American Sycamores.  The American Sycamore is a massive hardwood tree native to portions of the eastern United States.   The sycamore has the largest trunk diameter of the American eastern hardwoods,  and reaches a height of 100 feet during a lifespan that may approach 500-600 years.

American Sycamore

The American Sycamore has a reputation among some as being an undesirable tree, primarily due to the characteristics of the tree which make it somewhat unsuitable to the urban environment.   The massive root system tends to uplift sidewalks and roadbeds, and many decry the constant mess of twigs and leaves that surround the sycamore.  On the plus side of the equation, the sycamore is draught tolerant, flood tolerant, and can grow in a variety of soil conditions, including both alkaline and acidic, as well as compacted soils.  Additionally, the American Sycamore is a very rapidly growing species, which will be evident as you examine the photographs in this post.

American Sycamore

There is a section of land on our property we call “the ridge.”   Formerly used to graze cattle, this area contains about 40 acres of what used to be exclusively forage grasses.  The ridge falls away to creek beds on either side, and because we do not raise cattle, the ridge has been a prime candidate for reforestation of some sort.

American Sycamore

The district forester with the Arkansas Department of Forestry conducted a field survey for us in 2001, and prepared a  management plan which included the suggestion that we plant this ridge area with Loblolly Pine trees.  Naturally, I had other ideas.   It isn’t that I have anything against Loblolly Pines, it’s just that I have an aversion to shovels, watering cans, and building protective cages to protect the young trees from the marauding deer which inhabit the area.  But the ridge needed trees, so what’s a man to do?

American Sycamore

The first year that we resided on this property, I noticed that the pastures of this ridge were inundated with young plants, which I was inclined to shred with the bush hog to promote lush grasslands.  On further examination, and with a little research, I determined that these small plants were tiny sycamores that were popping up in abundance on the ridge.  As long as the ridge needed reforestation, and being as these sycamore trees seemed intent on making the ridge their home, I decided to oblige them by sparing their lives and allowing them the opportunity to grow, unmolested by my tractor.

American Sycamore

In the short time (6 years) that the sycamores have been allowed to grow on the ridge, they have thrived.  Each year I allow additional sycamore saplings to take a foothold on the ridge, and the trees that have been growing since 2001 are now in the 15-20 foot range, perhaps taller.   In the photographs above, you can see sycamore trees of various ages, and how they are gradually taking over the ridge that had previously contained nothing but grasses.  I have not taken the time to try and count the American Sycamores that now make the ridge their home, but I would guesstimate the number to be around 150-200 trees.

This is the third installment of Landscaping, My Way.  The first installment covered the Dwarf Sumac that I am encouraging to grow in selected clearings.  The second installment dealt with the Silver Poplar grove that is spreading within a portion of our woods.  In the first installment, I suggested that you might see a pattern develop regarding what I call “Landscaping, My Way.”  Do you see the pattern yet?

Thirsty Fish?

Pond at low tide

When I noticed that the water level was down in one of our ponds, I began to wonder if the fish were drinking it all.   But after some reflection I realized that 6 grass carp, even aided by a couple of thousand minnows, couldn’t ever drink that much water ;) 

Actually, the water level in this pond is affected by neither the tides nor the voracious thirst of it’s resident fish populations, but by the slow, unrelenting process of evaporation.  Now, if this were a deep pond, I wouldn’t be concerned about the seasonal changes in it’s water level.  But due to some problems encountered during the construction of this pond, the pond is temporarily destined to remain in it’s present shallow state (until such time as budget constraints allow for remedial construction work).

Because this is a shallow pond, it is prone to develop masses of aquatic plant and algae life.  The algae that has formed in this pond in the past was the bright green, unsightly gunk that one does not want to view from the kitchen window constantly, so some kind of action was required to prevent the aquatic growth.  Not wanting to utilize chemical treatments (for a variety of reasons), we have opted to stock this pond with a small number (6) of grass carp, also known as the white amur.  This species of fish is commonly used for the purpose of controlling aquatic vegetative matter, and they have been successfully accomplishing that function in this pond.

The white amur is a herbivorous fresh water fish that is native to the orient.  Because this is a non-native species that tends to want to follow the flow of water, many states have certain requirements that must be met in order to legally stock them in a private pond.  Arkansas does not have such a requirement, but a listing of southern state permit requirements can be found at the Southern Regional Aquaculture Center.

Always curious, but they never lend a hand!

Back to my problem,  which is the low water level in the pond.  Something needed to be done to raise the water level, and since mother nature has not been all that cooperative in the rain department, I had to take matters into my own hands (OK – I’ll acknowledge I had a little help from my friends here.

Temporary solution to low water level

The temporary solution to the low water level was to simply attach enough garden hose to the closest freeze-proof hydrant and run it on down to the pond.  After a few days of running the hose, the pond was again full.

Pond at high tide

Now, when the rains are insufficient to replenish the water that has evaporated, I can simply turn on the hydrant for a few hours per week to keep the pond level up.  This keeps both me, and the grass carp happy.

Oh no! - not more arrows…

On the left-hand side this photograph you can see a half-submerged decoy duck (which I admittedly need to fish out of the pond, clean, and re-float).  On the right you can just barely see one of the grass carp.  The decoy measures 12″ in length, so I am guessing that the length of the carp is over 24″.  The adult grass carp will reach a length of about 4 feet, and weigh in at around 40 pounds.

We’ll be hearing from these fellas sometime soon..

Besides the grass carp to control the algae, and minnows to help control insect larva, you can see that this pond supports a health population of tadpoles.  That’s a good thing, because summer wouldn’t be the same without the chorus of a thousand frogs to listen to each evening.

Just Horsing Around

Chipper pawing the water

On occasion, we allow our horses the opportunity to swim in one of our ponds.  Chipper, our middle-aged gelding, really enjoys the water.  For some reason, he always likes to paw at the pond water, as you can see above.

Pawing becomes more frantic

The pawing starts off with gentle strokes of his front leg, but before long, the activity becomes more frantic, splashing water all over the place.

The commotion attracts others to the pond

Soon, all of this commotion draws the attention of Gracie, who feels compelled to check out the activity going on at the pond.

Pretty soon, the whole gang’s involved

Eventually, the whole gang gets involved.  Chipper, meanwhile, continues non-stop with the odd water pawing behavior.  He wants to be sure that every fish in the pond knows of his presence, I guess.

Just one more bite, please

Content in the knowledge that he has successfully sullied the pond for the next few days, Chipper grabs a few bites of grass before heading back to his grazing pasture (located away from the pond, of course).

Invasion of the Corn Snatchers

Black deer in Arkansas?

“Look honey, more deer at the far game feeder.

Wait a minute, deer aren’t black!

These animals aren’t deer, they’re cattle!

“Hey y’all, look what I just did over here.”

Well, as long as we’re already here…

“Well, as long as we’re already here…”

Well, just when I thought that I had pretty much solved the problem of critters molesting the game feeders by the judicious use of appropriate varmint guards, I find I may have to figure out a way to make them cattle-proof, as well.

Another one bites the dust!

You see, we share 1.75 miles of barbed wire fence with one of our neighbors (who has holdings of about 500 acres), as shown on this map, in the form of a bold black line.

Existing common fence

There is a .25 mile long section of this fence that I rigorously maintain to pen our horses.  Unfortunately, the remaining 1.5 miles of existing fencing between us is old and in pretty sorry shape.  This neighbor has recently rented out pasture to a local rancher, and over the past several days his cattle have been testing and challenging the old barbed wire fence.  Each day, try as it might, the fence ends up losing the battle, as two dozen bovines make their way into our early spring hayfields, eagerly dining on the succulent fresh fescue and red clover.

Each afternoon, a telephone call brings the rancher over to our place, to round up his errant cattle.  Yesterday the cattle discovered that not only do we have the best grass in the area, but there’s corn for dessert as well!  So, even though the neighboring rancher is apologetic and is working daily on mending the fence, I’m guessing we’ll be seeing the cattle here again soon.  But I really hope I’m wrong.  Besides the damaged feeder, there are other concerns that the encroaching cattle bring about.  Whereas I have been working to maintain healthy banks along our creeks, the cattle trample the banks, causing erosion of the soils and decimation of the filtering vegetation along the creek sides.

If this were twenty or thirty years ago, my neighbor would have come over to round up the cattle mounted atop his trusty steed.  Alas, cowboys don’t ride horses anymore, but are experts at herding cattle as they sit astride ninety horsepower ATVs equipped with aggressive off-road tires.  As you can see below, vehicle traffic and emerging hay fields don’t mix well. 

Modern “hoof prints”

Hopefully, the repairs that our neighbor made to the fence will hold the cattle.  I plan to walk this portion of the fence line tomorrow to make a current assessment of the situation.  I’d rather not have to share in the expense of having a new, sturdy fence built along this great a distance, but I am not prepared to try and keep an old brittle fence cattle-tight as a do-it-yourself project.  As they say, “I’ve been there and done that, and I ain’t doin’ it again.”

A Quaint Remnant of the Past

Perhaps you recall from a post back in July (Welcome to Our Hen Houses) that we have two structures for housing our fowl.  The guineas are housed in a free standing hen house, with  indoor and outdoor areas.  The chickens are housed in an enclosure within our equipment barn.  Locating the chickens within the equipment barn has proven to be a BIG mistake.   We like to release our chickens each morning and pen them back up at night, which means that there are times during the day that they congregate in the barn and on the equipment.  I’ll spare you any photographs, but you can imagine the mess they create on the equipment, which, I’m sure you’ll agree, is totally unacceptable.  I suppose I should have anticipated this occurrence.  I mean, it is called an equipment barn, is it not?

As it happens, our chicken flock has been reduced in number by predation, and there are only three remaining at this time.  We have ordered chicks from a hatchery to augment our shrunken flock, and expect them to arrive in a few weeks. (if this cycle does NOT seem like deja vu to you, see the post To Free, or Not to Free (range your chickens, that is).   Prior to their arrival, we thought this would be a good time to relocate the chickens to housing located some distance away from the equipment barn.  We have tried housing the chickens in a chicken tractor (see A Tractor for Chickens?) without much success, and have decided that another free standing chicken structure would be appropriate for our needs.

Having settled on the type of chicken housing we wanted, the next step was to choose between buying a prefab chicken structure or building one ourselves.  When attending a HorseFest in Springfield last year, Retta brought home a catalog from an Amish owned company in Seymour, Missouri that produces a variety of livestock shelters.  Within the catalog were several structures that could possibly suit our needs, so we thought we would take a ride to Seymour and look them over so that we could make an informed build-buy decision.  Only one thing stood in the way of our plan to drive to Seymour – Bull Shoals Lake.

Bull Shoals Lake

This topographic map depicts a portion of Bull Shoals Lake.  It is a lake about 40-50 miles long created by the (some would say the damn) damming of the White River, which formed a lake with a multitude of fingers and a shoreline exceeding 1000 miles!  You can see a yellow boundary line in the map, which represents the Missouri-Arkansas border.

We reside on the south side of Bull Shoals Lake, while Seymour, Missouri lies well north of the lake.  Driving all the way around Bull Shoals Lake is a long detour for someone heading due north, and there are no bridges spanning the lake at any point.  So what’s a person to do?

Peel Ferry

That’s right – hop on board a ferry to be shuttled across the lake!  The Ozarks is an area that is blessed with an abundance of surface water in the form of creeks, streams and rivers.  In earlier times, there was a large number of private and public ferries in operation that transported people, wagons and livestock across the many waterways that occur in this region.  One by one, the ferries halted operation as bridges were built to span the rivers of the area.  In Arkansas, by 1968 the hundreds of ferries that had served the state were reduced in number to 17.  By 1986, there were only 4 ferries remaining in operation, and today, there is only 1 ferry that continues to serve the public in Arkansas – the Peel Ferry.  And so our journey to Seymour, Missouri would take us on a minor, but quaint adventure across Bull Shoals Lake on the last surviving Arkansas ferry.

I have had the good fortune to travel around the Puget Sound and Strait of Juan de Fuca in the Pacific Northwest on many occasions.  Ferry travel is common in that area, and I have ridden those ferries a number of times.  Big ferries, with multiple automobile decks, passenger lounges, food and beverage service, and some (for longer journeys) with sleeping accommodations.  The Peel Ferry has none of these amenities, as is obvious from the following photograph-

The Peel Ferry

The Peel Ferry is about as simple as a ferry can get.  It is no more than a barge with ramps on each end, powered by a small tug lashed to the side of the auto barge.  It will only hold about six vehicles, and has no passenger amenities at all.  Simply a way across the lake.  But the price is right – the ferry is free for all to use.

Peel Ferry departing the dock

Here is a photograph of the ferry leaving the the dock on the south side of Bull Shoals Lake, as it begins it’s short journey to the opposite side of the lake.

What if there is a wave?

Unlike the ferries of the Pacific Northwest, which ply ocean like waters, this ferry only traverses a short section of placid lake water.  The loading ramps do not even need to be elevated for the trip across the lake.

Destination straight ahead!

Eventually, the ferry approaches the dock on the opposite shore of the lake.  Notice the massive lineup of cars awaiting the ferry at it’s terminus?  The question might arise, “why does this ferry continue to run, especially at no charge, when all the others have discontinued operation”?  The answer lies in a close examination of the topographic map that appears at the beginning of this post.  You will notice that below the Missouri border, but north of the lake the is a large chunk of land protruding down into the lake area.  This land area is too small to form it’s own political jurisdiction, but large enough to contain roads, and probably several hundred residents, all of whom need the services that are typically provided by a county government.  Lacking a costly bridge, the county would be faced with the daunting prospect of having to provide services to this portion of the county by routing vehicles and road equipment all the way around the lake, into Missouri, and then back down into Arkansas again.  Instead, the Arkansas Department of Highways and Transportation has opted to maintain the services of the Peel Ferry, primarily for the benefit of the county, but available for all motorists to use.

One lane bridge

After leaving the ferry, the small highway that services the area winds through the beautiful landscape of the Ozarks.  The picture above shows one of the two one-lane bridges that are located shortly beyond the north terminus of the ferry.  All-in-all, the Peel Ferry adds a quaint charm to what would otherwise be merely a bucolic and picturesque drive in the countryside.  If you are ever in the area, make it a point to be one of the few people who gets the opportunity to ride the last remaining ferry in Arkansas.

Signing Your Blog Post

I recently ran across an article which explains how one can incorporate an automatic signature line at the end of all WordPress posts.  I created this post to test the functionality of the WordPress plugin that is used to accomplish this task, and to provide the links that are necessary if you would like to add a signature to your own WordPress blog posts.

An explanation of the procedure involved can be found at Lorelle on WordPress, which is a most impressive and thoughtful blog about blogging in general, and WordPress specifically as a blogging tool.

Now, let’s press the publish button to see if this works the way it is supposed to.