My Trip To The Summit
by Jim Pobst, 1984
I wanted an extra three days on my vacation time that summer, but the boss said no. So I had to get to Arkansas and back within seven days. I flew to Kansas City and deplaned there. I had a rental car. I drove east on Interstate 70 until Concordia, and got a motel where State 13 intersected, 13 going on south toward Arkansas. I got there about 8 p.m. but decided to stop anyway, found a chain store with US goodies (no ale in groceries in Canada) and camped. Up and moving at 6 ayem. The girl at the checkout said two men had asked to be rung in their room when I left, but she guessed she'd forgot their room number. I didn't stop until Bolivar, MO. for smokes. Cornfields and Missouri, where I'd never been before. At Springfield I went onto Federal 65 and at Branson I stopped for a trucker's breakfast, or so the sign said, of pancakes, hash browns, side of ham, toast and jams 'n jellies and coffee. The waitress called me "Kiddo" with the syrup jug high and threatening. Once across the Missouri-Arkansas border, the highway changes to State 14 going left just before Omaha, Ark. Federal 65 goes on down south, and I'd travel it later, going toward Little Rock. But I wanted to see Summit and Shaver's shack.
The slate gray highways of Missouri hadn't prepared me for the red clay of Arkansas. State 14 is all red clay paving. Little blue cornflowers were by the side of the road, like dandelions are up here. The road twisted and dipped into and out of hollows. A pickup slowly entered the road as I passed one junction and speeded up until it was on my tail. Two were in it, looking like those two extras from EASY RIDER. The shotgun actually carried a shotgun, with the metal barrel poking above his left shoulder, as he sat grinning at my rearview. We rode like that for 2 or 3 miles, then they dropped off.
You go east and south east until you turn a bend and the signs say Summit and they're all peppered with buckshot. The grass is spikey and it is hot and even though the rental is air-conditioned, it is still hot. You go south after the bend, and it is straight. You pass the post office on your left and Allen's Discount Foods on your right and then you see it. I'd seen pictures before of Shaver's rock house, in the Steinberg's CAVEAT EMPTOR, but it was a sight. I got out and knocked, but no answer. I took a few photos. Across the street was a bank. A couple of people stopped to see what the weird tourist was doing at Dottie¹s. I walked around it, then got back in the car and went on into Yellville, Along a stretch, down a hill and about 2 miles.
I drove through Yellville until I found a parking space, within sight of the Court House and the big Civil War monument. Searcy County. Manhart Drugs was across the street, and I walked over to it. Inside there was a bin of used paperbacks, and I looked through them to see if maybe Shaver's name were on some. I got some suntan oil, and a cap: MANHART DRUGS/YELLVILLE. Outside the sun was so hot the water in my eyes evaporated. Passers-by nodded, and the men lifted their hats, so I did the same. When in Rome... I found the newspaper office. Cool, air-conditioned, and the sound of people making phones calls and typing. I wanted to check the obit on Shaver in the local back issue, but was told they keep no back copies. A library, and not One in town, maybe Harrison, or even further south. I got back in the car and found a motel, one I'd seen earlier, on the bluff above the lower part of town. It looked empty, had a swimming pool, and was L-shaped, like the BATES MOTEL in PSYCHO. The manager checked me in, asked questions about why I was there, and sent me to very bend of the L. I put the suitcases on the bed, turned on the t v, checked out the bathroom and made a phone call. Dottie didn't answer. There was a knock on the door. No Long Distance calls after 7 at night, but I could use the phone outside, a pay phone.
Did I maybe want to buy a motel? Only one in town. 19 units plus two apartment units. Manager's suite besides. Pool, 40 feet of it, behind chain fence. 3 1/2 acres, partly wooded besides. $185,000. Terms. I finally got the door shut and phoned again. She picked it up. "Well, as long as you're here, you might as well come over."
She told me she'd seen my car at the motel, coming home from her meeting. Dorothy was on the town council. The cop, Edmundson, had told her someone was peeking around her house. The cop I saw later. Six foot six and 280 pounds, drove a big white V-8 with continental kit, and a door-size sheriff¹s star on the side, with gold, black and silver paint. "The only cop we have" said Dottie.
I stood in the door talking to her until more people at CITIZEN'S TRUST across the street began gawking, and she pulled me inside. The living room first, door, then the bed (day-bed) on the left, bathroom on the right. Kitchen at the back. An addition, and the ceiling was just six feet. The door to the outside porch was at the left side of the kitchen. It was paneled in cedar, real cedar siding.
When the coffee was on, the whole house smelled of cedar in the rain.
I bought two paintings that-she'd set out, for mailing, but had kept back, and I slipped the money to her in an envelope. She talked about Geier, Browne, RAP and Kenneth Arnold, and told me he'd gone to Australia. She wasn't the only one who insisted on the Australia story, like there was an underground who spread the rumor. At that time K.A. had been dead some time, but nobody really had seen notification of it.
She made coffee. She set out some pastry with icing on a plate. I sat at the kitchen table, and saw a printer's block of Taylor Victor Shaver on a small ceramics shelf above and asked her about it. I later took an inked copy.
About that time she gave me a set of keys. To the building out back. The veritable, and only Shaver's shack.
I opened the other side of the long low structure that served as Shaver's studio. The other side held Dot's laundry. There was a heart painted on the door, and both their names.
The whole was an oblong shape, with windows, with asphalt shingles on it that looked like brick. Around the back there was the garage, just an open wooden structure with a slant roof. The space under the open roof was empty of anything much. Just a shopping cart with plants in it, to track the sun and easily watered in a bunch. It had held the gold Chevy he'd come down to Arkansas in. He was offered, finally, $30 from a dealer for it, but he held for $60. His brother Don (d. 1976) was a car salesman for a big Ford dealer. Made the most sales that year. Prize was a new car. He wanted to give it to Shaver, but by then he couldn't afford the gas and insurance. Dottie wouldn't let him take it to sell. "Don't take money for nothing."
The studio was behind the house, set back in the cool beneath a huge oak and the door faced out to the truck garden they shared with neighbors.
Corn and beets and tomatoes and cabbage and beans. The oak dropped acorns on the tin roof. There was a Master lock on the door, and I looked for the key on the ring. 22-289. There it was. I opened it and stepped inside. All the windows were covered with silk drapes. So was an overstuffed chair.
The shack's most famous occupant: Richard Shaver
There was a kiln for ceramics on a wooden chair. Wood shelving was mostly bare. Spools of developed film hung on a board on nails. His desk in the south corner was littered with rock photos, in a bunch. There were a few books on the shelves, near his desk. A Classical Dictionary, a copy of the 1888 Chambers' Journal, an omnibus copy of "Autocrat/Poet/Professor At The Breakfast Table." and some science fiction, in paperback and hardcover. Tear sheets from AMAZING STORIES featured some of his lesser thought of stories.
I leafed through the maybe 150 developed and printed rock pictures on his desk. He developed them himself, on coated or rough stock, depending on what he got sent from the photo dealer, he said. Some were hand colored, tinted with magic marker, to show different areas he wanted to stress, either for a later painting, or for future study.
He used his own techniques. He had a Spotmatic, and a telephoto lens fixed backwards. He'd tried commercial photo labs, but they didn't understand what he wanted.
On his desk was a FALCON ivory colored radio, given to him by old-time fan John Hart. Ed Johns, out in San Francisco had once given him a radio, too, when he was in Wisconsin. John Hart, a radio tinkerer had made a HIDDEN WORLD RECEIVER, not a proper Telaug, and sent the schematics to RAP who'd printed them. Ed Johns, a radio repair man in the 1940's, had developed a STAR-MECH, a simple one-tube radio, with a snazzy cultured pearl on a platinum wire as the dial. He dialed by running the platinum down the rectifier connection. Johns sent one to Shaver, kept him informed on the wonderful stuff he was getting.
The stuff got more and more, as the letters testified. Then he got too much. Couldn't shut it off. He finally threw the whole thing into the furnace of the house he was living in on Fell Street. No more STAR-MECH.
Against the north wall were a couple shelves of pocketbooks. A couple of Cap Kennedy and some Perry Rhodan. Some ACE classics. Heard, Eon Flint (whose son Max Flindt palled around with Shaver's friend from AMAZING days, Otto Binder) and Ray Cummings. Most, though, were about W.W.II, in garish covers, and detailing occult secrets, weird science and backstairs gossip about top Nazis. Not the usual, staid histories.
There were some cardboard sheets on an easel that might have been paintings in an early stage. Rough textured. There were pastels and rock paintings on the floor, damp with a leak from the roof. In fact, put there to sop up the water. Everywhere was dust. There was an attic crawl space. I wondered if it held more paintings, papers, mss. Both Lou Farish and Dottie had warned me about Arkansas' Recluse Spider. I tucked a towel around my neck and pulled the billed cap down over my ears and stuck my head up into the loft and found nothing. No scrap books full of clippings. No manuscripts. No artwork. No skeleton with minatory finger cobwebbed. No last message.
I'd had enough for the 45 minutes. I went out, locking the door. I sat on the back porch, and the neighbor, Rev. Dunn came over. I introduced myself and he said that though Shaver was "odd" he was a good neighbor and that they got along. He'd preached the funeral service, "though he made no profession of faith."
I went back into the kitchen. Dorothy had more coffee, and fudge. She was going to another meeting. I excused myself, said I'd be back later, maybe in a couple of days. I had to go to Little Rock. I took my paintings. She said I could have anything from the studio. She'd burned most of the letters, so she wouldn't be pestered. There was nothing there she wanted to keep. I said I'd be back. Those spools I promised myself I'd go over individually, which I did the last day in Arkansas. Before I left I looked at the two Robert Gibson Jones originals (from 1945 issues of Amazing Stories -- Ed.) flanking the fireplace. Glassed, and professionally framed, they were beautiful. THOUGHT RECORDS OF LEMURIA (the giant Cat) and QUEST OF BRAIL (the woman teleporting in).
In Yellville I ate at the Hilltop Family Restaurant, a chrome and glass fronted affair that had catfish and fries. Lou said that he'd taken Shaver there once while in town, and that Shaver had made them take the knives and forks back. Recommended an autoclave be bought, and "in general, made a nuisance of himself" said Lou, laughing. The strawberry shortcake was a treat, and no need for an autoclave.
When I came back from Little Rock way in a day or so, I stopped in Yellville, before Summit to buy her a plant. She glared at it and said thanks, and yanked at the stems. "Sometimes they just stick the stems in dirt, you know." I guess she was pleased with it, trying to figure where to transplant it. Not wanting to keep the flowers in the house, but outside.
I went out to the studio, Shaver's shack. She was making a big stew with beans from her garden and chunks of meat and she had the transistor blaring. You could hear it all over the yard, and the open window over the sink let it escape. A local talk show and 'for sale.' A silver ferret was up for sale. $35, "...and jest like a littul ole kitten with the kids..."
I was going through the photos. I had been through the spools, found 8 with pictures instead of rock slices, and took those. A couple slices also. She came out on the back porch and yelled also. She came out on the back porch and yelled that "Food's on. If ya want any." The tea towels all had "The Shavers" on them. She gave me a bowl of stew, and bread and coffee in Shaver's own cup, a blue and white striped one. I didn't finish the sugared donuts, and she queried if I thought there was something wrong with them.
All the chairs and sofas had knitted throws. The TV was Zenith. The electric heater was Warm Morning. She wouldn't let me take a picture of her because she was too thin, what with the chemotherapy. She went to a senior's meeting, and left the door unlatched. I ran out of film, and had to walk up Hwy. 14. Just before she'd left she came out to the studio and I asked about the books, and she went inside and came back with the Harvard Classics volume on Epics. "Da Dergas' Hostel" was taken from it, and she gave it to me. Shaver's name written inside.
I asked her about Shaver's statement that "Yerxa is running it" when he wrote about Corinth, that San Diego outfit which paid him a stipend for rights to his fiction. She didn't know, other than to say Frances Yerxa married Bill Hamling. Shaver would write as if LeRoy Yerxa were still alive. He died at the pulpster's typewriter in the 1940's.
She said that Browne would bring his 14 year old son out to Lily Lake with him sometimes. There they'd sit. RAP, Shaver, Geier, Browne and Hamling and talk about AMAZING and Shaverism. The kid didn't care for fiction, and they'd take a turn outside, or throw rocks in the lake. Then they'd go back and they'd still be there, yakking. "They didn't even see us go and didn't know we'd been gone." She wasn't too thrilled with his writing life, that side of his life.
That's when she told me about the two women boxers, just finished a gig in Toronto and were going to Louisiana. The leotards and the motorcycle. She couldn't top that story, and left. I locked up later and drove north, retracing my steps. Made the same motel in 110 degree heat, bought iced pop and passed out on the bed watching Elvira and a horror movie. Made my plane and was home on the 7th day.