Back In The Saddle

Back In The Saddle

Hobbs State Park has even more to offer now

LARA JO HIGHTOWER/Special to the Free Weekly

On June 2 and 3, a huge field on the outskirts of Prairie Grove will hold the largest selection of open-air flea market booths in the Northwest Arkansas area. From polished antiques to funky vintage treasures to rusty farm finds, shoppers should be rewarded with just about anything they’re looking for at the Junk Ranch, which boasts 150 vendors and more than 200 booths.

We asked a few vendors what they’re bringing to the event, how they got involved in junking, and what their best find ever was.

Don Wilkinson

Don Wilkinson found his way to junking the way a lot of vendors do: he kept finding great stuff while shopping for his own collection of vintage Speas Vinegar bottles. So when he retired in his mid-50s after 35 years with the Arkansas Highway Department, he threw his hat into the flea market ring and got a booth at one of the largest flea markets in the country in Canton, Texas. After 10 years of selling at Canton, he moved up to an even bigger venue — Round Top, Texas, the Holy Grail of flea markets.

“It was a lot of work on my part,” he says. “We would haul seven or eight trailer loads down between shows, store them, and then we’d go down and set up and stay two weeks, selling. We sold to people from everywhere — California and everywhere. They got to buying from me, and they actually got to buying too much. It became too much of a job, and age took over.”

Wilkinson is 85 now, and he was thrilled when the Junk Ranch opened up so near his home in Mountainburg. Though the main product he sells are chicken laying houses — he estimates he’s sold around 30,000 over the course of his junking career — the booth he runs with his son is an eclectic mix of auction, estate and farm sale finds.

Wilkinson’s best find ever was deceptively simple: a box full of old bottle caps.

“I told my wife, ‘I found the Holy Grail,’” he remembers. “They were unused, cork-lined Dr Pepper bottle caps from 1907. The first bottle caps ever used on a Dr Pepper bottle.”

When he put them on eBay, he says, “people went crazy.”

Stacey Murphy

The Weathered Pearl

Stacey Murphy’s relationship with the Junk Ranch started off as a shopper.

“I loved the eclectic mix of old, used, collectible items and the vendor inspired pieces! I thought to myself, ‘I could do this,’” she recalls. “I applied the next year, and junk has been my livelihood ever since.”

Murphy advises yard sale shoppers to look for the signs with a torn piece of cardboard with the word “sale” scribbled across it as a marker.

“Often these sales are not advertised on social media, so it increases your chances of finding a hidden treasure,” she says.

She also hits the widely advertised sales, like the Oklahoma 100-mile Yard Sale. That’s where she found her favorite find: a 13-foot late 1800s banquet table discovered in a barn in Cleveland, Okla.

“I have done several shows all over Oklahoma and Arkansas, and I would say what sets the Junk Ranch apart from the others is the venue itself, the friendly vendors, the amazing shoppers, but most of all how well [Junk Ranch founders] Amy [Daniels] and Julie [Speed] have it organized,” Murphy says.

Tracy Davis

Rusty Heart Relics

“I have always loved old things as long as I can remember,” says Tracy Davis of Rusty Heart Relics. “My mama had an eye for the ornate and passed it along to me. We spent many a weekend traveling the roads for that elusive treasure.”

For her booth, she stocks a wide variety of items.

“I love vintage and antique garden items, primitive and antique furniture, and holiday decor,” she says. “I loved MCM before it was cool.”

Her favorite find is an antique child’s bedroom suite she found at the famed Texas flea market Round Top.

“It is a beautiful faded robin’s egg blue with a painted design, and it’s to die for,” she says.

Davis has had a love affair with the Junk Ranch since the first year.

“From the live music and food trucks to the mountains of treasures and lovely vendors, I knew this was the show that I wanted to be a part of,” she says. “Amy and Julie are the best and treat us like family.”



Junk Ranch

WHEN — 9 a.m.-3 pm. June 2; 9 a.m.-5 p.m. June 3; tickets go on sale at 8 a.m.

WHERE — 11195 Centerpoint Church Road in Prairie Grove

COST — $10


When Chris Pistole, park interpreter at Hobbs State Park-Conservation Area, calls a reporter on Saturday, he’s just come back to the office after leading a wildflower walk. He’s the slightest bit winded and confesses the day was warmer than he expected it to be. But that doesn’t dampen his enthusiasm: After a yearlong hiatus, Hobbs has resumed in-person programming, and Pistole couldn’t be happier about it.

“So far, with just doing programs last weekend and then yesterday and today, I would say it seems like people are so hungry for getting back to some normalcy,” he says. “Some interaction and being able to get out of the house and do things. The trails were always open and available, but we like to think that we add a lot more to that experience by having the in-person interpretation. People can ask us questions, and we can share the things we’re passionate about and the special things about each of our different sites. We’re just so glad to be able to do this again while we’re still helping to conquer the virus.”

Take the Wildflower Walk Pistole just completed: Participants wore masks and observed social distancing. Attendance was limited for Pistole’s tour, a short, easy walk along a stream as he shares his knowledge culled from working over three decades in state parks.

NWA Democrat-Gazette/FLIP PUTTHOFF Chris Pistole, park interpreter at Hobbs State Park-Conservation Area, teaches Tuesday March 5 2019 a lesson on surface water and ground water to students from Huntsville Intermediate School at the park’s visitor center.

“We talk about the signs of spring, especially focusing on the beautiful wildflowers,” Pistole explains. “And we learn a little bit of the natural history of the flowers. We also learn a little bit about the historical uses of some of the plants, for food or medicine — what people in the Ozarks would have traditionally used them for. We also tie in pollinators, how flowers are needed for the pollinators and how bees and butterflies and some other pollinators are really having a difficult time now. At the end, we encourage people to find native plant nurseries where they live and to try to take at least a corner of their yard to plant native wildflowers and plants to benefit the pollinators.”

That call to action, says Pistole, is present in all of the events sponsored by Hobbs State Park.

“We definitely try to let them know what it is they can do to help, especially if the habitat or plant or animal is in need of some TLC.”

While in-person programming was halted in mid-March last year, Pistole says that park employees worked hard to provide alternative, virtual programming in an effort to stay connected to the community. Pistole contributed a variety of short videos to the Arkansas State Parks Digital Discovery page, posted photo essays and worked on videos for Flipgrid, a video website utilized by many schools while students are studying virtually from home.

“If there’s a silver lining to what we’ve had to do during this time, it’s that we got to go back and look at some of our programs we’ve done in the past,” he says. “Often, we’re so busy that we don’t get a chance to evaluate what works and what we could do better. So we worked on revamping some of our programs for when we could return to in-person programming. We’ve got such great resources here, and it’s sometimes a struggle to find the time to spend on doing surveys: ‘What are the plants and animals that we have here? What can we do to better improve the habitat?’ So we spent some time doing those sorts of things, as well. We’ve stayed busy — we haven’t just been sitting back and waiting.

“We’ve made good use of our time, and I feel good about what we were able to accomplish.”


Learn More!

For more information on upcoming Hobbs State Park-Conservation Area programming, visit

Categories: Family Friendly