Silver Dollar City calls

Published 12:01 pm Friday, August 28, 2015

Silver Dollar City has its very own newspaper. -- SUBMITTED | ARCHIE HOWELL

Silver Dollar City has its very own newspaper. — SUBMITTED | ARCHIE HOWELL

by James D. Howell

An entertainment section of our local (Dallas) newspaper carries a story about an amusement park called Silver Dollar City. It’s located close by Branson, Missouri; it also sits on top of a very large cave named Marvel Cave. It looks to be a long day’s drive from Plano, Texas, but we think it’s doable.

We’ve sold the travel trailer and bought a tent, sleeping bags and other camping equipment, planning to not have the restrictions of dragging a trailer around. We also purchased a car top carrier for all that gear plus suitcases and food.

Summer comes and we pack up all that newly acquired stuff, clothes, food and our Basset hound, Happy, and head to Missouri. Our route is mostly familiar to Fort Smith, Arkansas. From there, the road winds through beautiful Ozark mountains to the southern border of Missouri. We stop along the way to stretch our legs and enjoy the view. Late evening finds us at the entry to a campground, obviously newly built and well organized, just around the corner from Silver Dollar City. We pick up some current brochures about local attractions, set up camp, check out the nearby woods and sleep well.

A very popular book “Shepherd of the Hills” by Harold Bell Wright has its setting in this area, and many streets, attractions and businesses carry the book’s name. There is a pageant here that recalls the story; we put it on the “maybe” list.

From the brochures, we learn that if we enter Silver Dollar City after 3 p.m., admission is free the following day. That sounds good to us; it’s like two days entertainment for the price of one. We decide to visit the Shepherd of the Hills fish hatchery over by the Table Rock Reservoir dam. It’s not far and there’s not much traffic on the roads. We can visit and make the 3 p.m. time slot without great effort.

The hatchery is fascinating. Their specialty is rainbow trout and most of the hatchlings go into the local lakes. Small wonder that Branson is a major fishing destination.

We show up at the SDC gates just after 3 p.m. and enter an 1880s village with amusements. It actually is a city, with a post office address and a Mayor, Shad. He’s the blacksmith and he demonstrates the finer points of smithin’ to any who stop by to chat. I learn about forge welding.

We elect to visit the cave first thing the second day. I carry Happy down several sets of steps to arrive in a huge, open cavern, beautifully lighted to show geological features. Many famous people, including Harold Bell Wright, have spent several days at a time down here. It’s humbling.

SDC gained fame from the “Beverly Hillbillies” television show. The show’s general story is set in this Ozark Mountain area and some of the episodes are actually filmed here. Gunfights occur regularly on Main Street, and any number of folk crafts are demonstrated throughout the park. Thrilling rides, both water and rail, draw most kids over and over. The local undertaker measures people at random for their coffins, just in case.

Glass-blowing, shingle-making, candy-making, sewing crafts of all types, broom making, cotton fiber paper making and barrel making blend with entertainment venues. Jams, jellies, sweets and more sweets. Carving, painting, pottery making and any number of artists displaying their wares and demonstrating their craft.

Live entertainment is the order of the day with shows both inside and out. Traveling bands move from one place to another along the streets. Some venues are inside in a theater atmosphere; all are well attended and enthusiastically enjoyed.

We leave, tired, entertained and educated.

We spend our last day exploring the downtown area of Branson and the beautiful green rolling Ozark mountains. In the evening, we attend a local music show, The Baldknobbers. They get their name from characters in the book “Shepherd of the Hills.” It’s a small theater and all the musicians move to the stage front and chat with the audience during intermission. I learn that this is a Branson tradition. It’s a well run, professionally performed, family friendly show. We will not forget it.

We retrieve our car after the show and learn that staffers have been busy applying “Baldknobber” bumper stickers to all the cars in the lot. It’s now a badge that we wear with pride; I also now know where all those bumper stickers came from that we see on the road.

There are two theaters in Branson — Baldknobbers and Presley’s. Both are on Highway 76, one directly across the road from the other. We make a mental note to visit the other on our next trip this way.

JAMES D. “ARCHIE” HOWELL is a Southampton County native and 1955 graduate of Franklin High School. He can be reached at