Wednesday, July 28, 2021

The Little Blue Engine

My An Arkie's Faith column from the July 28, 2021, issue of The Polk County Pulse.

The little red-haired girl crawled up onto my lap with a stack of books. She loved her books and wanted me to read to her every night. She always came with a stack of books even though she knew that the rule was two books. Each night, she could pick out two books that my wife or I would read to her. It was such a hard choice. She had so many books that she loved. Some nights she would try to find a loophole in the rules by bringing one of her large volumes of The Bible Story series. We had to amend the rule to only two stories if she chose a large book.

Many of her favorite books were from the Scholastic Book’s Children’s Choice Book Club. Each month the book club would send a new book. The little red-haired girl would eagerly await her book. Some of her favorites were Mike Mulligan and His Steam Shovel, Make Way for Ducklings, Noisy Nora, and The Little Engine That Could.

You probably remember the story of The Little Engine That Could. The story has become a part of the fabric of America. It is such a part of America that no one is sure of its origins. The roots of the story date at least to the beginning of the twentieth century. Rev. Charles S. Wing published a version, “Story of the Engine That Thought It Could,” in the New York Tribune on April 8, 1906. Mary C. Jacobs published another version with the name “The Pony Engine” in 1910. A different version with the same title appeared in a magazine for children in 1916 written by Mabel C. Bragg, but she “took no credit for originating the story.”

In 1930, Arnold Munk, the owner of the publishing firm Platt & Munk, published his version of the story. Arnold was born in Hungary, but he immigrated to the USA with his parents when he was a child. The family settled in Chicago, but Arnold eventually moved to New York City. He rented offices on Fifth Avenue and founded the publishing company Platt and Monk. Arnold published his version of the story, titled “The Little Engine That Could,” under the pen name Watty Piper. It quickly became a best-seller. In 1999, The National Education Association named the book one of its “Teachers’ Top 100 Books for Children.” Teachers like the story because it teaches children the value of optimism and hard work.

If you have read the book, you will remember that a train broke down, and the cargo headed to the boys and girls on the other side of the mountain was not going to make it there. The train asked Shiny New Engine to pull it over the mountain, but he said, “that’s not what I do.” Then the train asked Big Strong Engine to pull it over the mountain, but he said, “I have no time for the likes of you.”

The train asked the Little Blue Engine to help. “I’m not very big,” said the Little Blue Engine. “They use me only for switching trains in the yard.  I have never been over the mountain.” Then The Little Blue Engine hitched herself to the little train. She tugged and pulled, and slowly they started off.  Puff, puff, chug, chug, went the Little Blue Engine. “I think I can – I think I can – I think I can – I think I can – I think I can.”

It’s a very American story. The Little Blue Engine used her own resources, her energy, and fuel. What did she gain? Growth, a sense of wellbeing from the accomplishment, and a platform for doing great things in the future. At the beginning of the story, The Little Blue Engine is willing to help but has no confidence in her abilities. But after completing her task successfully, her final words are, “I thought I could, I thought I could, I thought I could.” The Little Blue Engine teaches us that we can accomplish anything with a bit of optimism, hard work, and perseverance. I have always been encouraged to “believe in yourself, and you can do anything.” To think that “I can do it!” To have the attitude that “I can shape my destiny.” But is that the truth?

The problem is that the “I think I can” mentality leaves God out of the equation. Many Christians believe in the power of positive thinking. If I just put my mind to it, I can become a better person. If I work hard enough, I can overcome the sin in my life.

In our spiritual lives, self-confidence is a misplaced reliance on ourselves. When we show the “I think I can” attitude towards overcoming sin, imagine how God feels. The Bible tells us that “we are all infected and impure with sin. When we display our righteous deeds, they are nothing but filthy rags.” Isaiah 64:6 (NLT) Imagine how God feels when we display our good deeds and are proud of them.

Self-confidence looks excellent on the outside, and people notice it. Self-confident people fill Christian churches. They trust in their ability to be good enough for God. God wants us to have confidence; Just not in our own works. We need to put our confidence in Him. We need to understand that we are entirely powerless – in and of ourselves – to do any good thing. And that we can’t save ourselves, fix ourselves, change ourselves, or even give God our love without His help.

Gentle Reader, God wants us to have confidence, but he wants us to have confidence in Him and not in ourselves. “Blessed are those who trust in the Lord and have made the Lord their hope and confidence.” Jeremiah 17:7 (NLT)  We must realize that instead of “I think I can,” our motto should be, “I know I can’t, but God can.” In Philippians 4:13 (NKJV), Paul wrote, “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.” Now that’s the power of positive thinking. I know He can, I know He can, I know He can.

Saturday, July 24, 2021



It was over ten years ago when I listened to my first podcast. While researching a history topic on my computer, I came across some information that I was looking for, but it wasn't in written format. I had to listen to the information. I had stumbled across the podcast, Stuff You Missed in History Class. I enjoyed listening to the podcast and was able to get some of the information I was looking for. But I wished it had been in written format so I could study the information easier and save the relevant portions. I didn't think about podcasts again until I got an iPhone. 

While I was learning about the things I could do with my iPhone, I saw the podcast app. When I opened the app, the first thing I searched for was Stuff You Missed in History because it was the only podcast I knew about. I listened to the current episode and enjoyed it, but what really intrigued me was the back catalog. I started listening from the very first episode, and in a few weeks, I had listened to every episode. During one episode I heard the hosts mention another podcast, Sawbones. I started listening to Sawbones, and before long I had caught up on their back catalog. I was hooked on listening to podcasts.

I listened to podcasts when I walked in the morning. I listened in the car, while I worked, while I mowed the yard, anytime I could. I became obsessed with this new form of communication. Most of the podcasts I listened to were history-related, and I learned so much new information that my friends and family got tired of me sharing my newfound information with them.

Fast forward to November of last year when I learned about a brand new local podcast, The Ouachita Chronicles. I knew the hosts, Ashley Smith, and Jeri Pearson. I listened to that very first episode the day it came out, and have not missed an episode since. Their camaraderie and the way they put their guests at ease make the podcast a joy to listen to. I have learned so much about people from my little corner of the world.

A few weeks ago, co-host Jeri Pearson contacted me and asked if I would be willing to be a guest on the podcast. The idea made me nervous, but I said that I would. The day that I walked into the small office turned into a podcast studio, they immediately put me at ease. After a couple of minutes of just visiting with friends, Producer Trey said that he had the levels set, and without missing a beat, we were recording a podcast. The hour flew by, and I wasn't nervous at all. I didn't feel like I was being interviewed, I was just telling friends some stories about my life. Now I was eager to hear the finished product.

A couple of weeks later, Jeri sent me a message. "When the power went out in town earlier this week, Trey had the podcast up and was nearly done editing your episode. The file became corrupt with the power outage and we have spent the last two days and brought in people that know more than us about such things, attempting to recover the file. But it has not been possible. Would it be possible for you to come back in next week to re-record your episode?"

We set up a time to re-record the episode, and this time I wasn't nervous at all. We talked about growing up in Colorado, how my wife and I got together, and how we ended up moving to Arkansas. Then we discussed how I began writing in local newspapers and how that turned into publishing books. Last Friday, my episode was released on The Ouachita Chronicles

You can listen to the episode at

Here is a list of my current favorite podcasts.

The Ouachita Chronicles


Surprisingly Brilliant

Instrumental with JJ Heller


This Day in History Class

Stuff You Missed in History

Ridiculous History

The Food That Built America

Stuff You Should Know

American Shadows


Adventist History Podcast

Wednesday, July 21, 2021

Mr. Canfield's Transistor Radio

My An Arkie's Faith column from the July 21, 2021, issue of The Polk County Pulse.

The boy and his sister peered out of the window of the used furniture store. There was a white-haired man rolling past in a wheelchair. “What was he doing there,” they wondered. They watched as he rolled up to the apartment at the end of the store. Before long, it was common to see the white-haired man wheeling down the sidewalk in front of the furniture store.

Mr. Canfield, the white-haired man, moved into the apartment attached to the store. The boy and his sister had lived in the apartment before moving to a house in the country. Their Daddy owned the furniture store, and the boy and his sister spent a lot of time helping at the store. Whenever Mr. Canfield wheeled by in his wheelchair, he would stop and talk to them. 

One day, the boy saw Mr. Canfield making several trips from his Chrysler to the apartment. The boy went outside to talk with Mr. Canfield and see if he could help. Mr. Canfield was taking groceries from the Chrysler to his apartment. He could only carry one bag of groceries on his lap as he turned the wheels of his wheelchair with his hands. The boy quickly took the rest of the groceries into the apartment and helped put them away. Mr. Canfield thanked him and gave him fifty cents.

Mr. Canfield liked to talk with the boy and his sister. Friends or family never came to see him, and he was lonely. Arthritis had deformed his hands and made it difficult for him to pick things up. He would ask the boy and his sister to do small tasks for him. They swept and mopped his floors, put things away, and did anything else they could do to help out. Mr. Canfield always gave them twenty-five or fifty cents. Sometimes the boy and his sister felt that Mr. Canfield asked for help with some small task so that he could visit with them for a few minutes. But he would always give them at least a quarter.

One day, Mr. Canfield showed the boy a small transistor radio. The boy had never seen one before, and his eyes lit up as the small black box crackled to life. The sound was tinny, but the little box he held in his hand while it played music enchanted him. Envy grew inside the boy. He coveted Mr. Canfield’s transistor radio and imagined all of the places he could listen to the radio, such as outside, in his room, and while he was doing chores. That night, the boy went to sleep thinking about Mr. Canfield’s little black transistor radio.  

When he was visiting with Mr. Canfield, the boy would often ask to see the transistor radio. Mr. Canfield knew that the boy loved the little radio and one day told him that he would sell the radio for five dollars. The boy was ecstatic. He had more than five dollars saved in a tin box in his room, and he wanted that radio more than anything else. That evening when the store was closed, the boy mentioned the radio to his Daddy. He wanted to be able to take the black transistor radio home with him. 

But Daddy was in a hurry to get home, and the boy didn’t mention it again. He sat in the front seat beside Daddy and thought about the radio. He was so disappointed that a tear slipped down the side of his face. Daddy saw that he was upset and asked him what was wrong. The boy told Daddy how much he wanted that radio, and he had hoped to get it tonight: adding that he had the money saved up at home. Daddy turned the car around and headed back to Mr. Canfield’s apartment.

That night I sat in my room and played the transistor radio, for I was the boy who bought the radio from Mr. Canfield. I turned the dial to 950 KIMN and listened to what I was sure was the best radio station in the world. Ode to Billie Joe, Pleasant Valley Sunday, All You Need is Love, Heroes and Villians, along with many other songs, drifted through my head as I went to sleep with my very own transistor radio under my pillow. 

Before the Walkman, the iPod, or the iPhone, the first small portable music device was the transistor radio. The Regency TR-1 hit stores in October 1954, selling for $50.00.  It received AM stations and was the first device you could slip in your pocket and use to listen to music. When Sony entered the market in 1957, the company sold 500,000 transistor radios in one year. Their ad slogan was, “So small it fits in your pocket. So powerful it plays everywhere. Play it at home, at the office, when you travel . . . Anywhere!”

Although the original target audience was adults, teens made the transistor radio a hit. In the late 1950s, transistor prices fell, rock and roll took off, and AM radio stations began to spin Top 40 hits. Teens tuned in, and sales of the handheld units soared. Portability and a plug-in earphone made listening to music a personal experience that teens did not have to share with their parents.

My transistor radio was my constant companion. Buying 9-volt batteries to power my radio was a significant expense. I would go to sleep with the radio under my pillow all too often, and the radio would play all night. I listened to every Denver Bears baseball game that I could, dreaming of the time I could attend a game. I started taking my radio with me when I worked with my Daddy on Sunday afternoons to listen to the hapless Denver Broncos. Even though my Broncos didn’t win very often, it was always exciting to hear about Floyd Little running through the opposing defenses. But mostly, my radio stayed tuned to KIMN, 950 on the dial. I knew every song on the KIMN top 40 and begged my Momma to stop by Woolworths each week to pick up the latest KIMN hit parade listing that week’s Top 40. Then I would go home and write out the Top 40 for the week – in the order I thought the songs should be. 

My transistor radio was my window to the world. It gave me news, weather, sports, and especially music. There were powerful broadcast stations that sent out signals my little black transistor radio could receive. We, as Christians, are constantly sending signals. It is sobering to realize that the signals about Jesus that some people receive are the signals we are personally broadcasting.

Gentle Reader, “you are the light that gives light to the world. A city that is built on a hill cannot be hidden. And people don’t hide a light under a bowl. They put the light on a lampstand. Then the light shines for all the people in the house. In the same way, you should be a light for other people. Live so that they will see the good things you do. Live so that they will praise your Father in heaven. Matthew 5:14-16 (ICB)  Ask God for the ability to send a good strong signal to those around you.

Wednesday, July 14, 2021

One Foggy Morning

My An Arkie's Faith column from the July 14, 2021, issue of The Polk County Pulse.

I woke up with a start as my alarm played its all too familiar tune. It seemed like I had just gone to bed, so why was my alarm going off? It was 3:00 A.M., and I needed to be on the road in a few minutes. Because there are no auto glass deliveries in our area, I travel to Little Rock twice a week to pick up my glass. I wipe the sleep out of my eyes and quickly get dressed, then head out the door.

A warm cocoon of fog greets me as I open the door. The porch lights try valiantly to pierce the hazy whiteness. I can feel the moistness of the air as I get into my shop truck. The cool, dewy sensation against the skin of my face and arms helps me wake up. The sound of the engine breaks the stillness of the night as I back out of my driveway. 

“Great,” I thought. “Just what I need.” I was not looking forward to driving on the winding, curvy, twisting roads in the fog. My street was dark and alien. The fog was so thick that I couldn’t see my neighbors’ houses. As I drove towards town, I was mentally calculating how much extra time my trip would take. I knew that the fog would slow me down.

The downtown streetlights glowed eerily with a soft yellow glow as I made my way down the empty street. I didn’t encounter another vehicle for many miles as I clutched the steering wheel and peered into the strange combination of total blackness and the billowing whiteness illuminated by my headlights. Occasionally I would turn on my high beams to try to see better but then turn my headlights back to low beam as the high beams did nothing but illuminate the thick, blinding fog.

Occasionally as I gained elevation, the fog would become thin and luminous. I would relax my grip on the steering wheel and breathe a sigh of relief. But as soon as I went downhill, I could see the thick, impenetrable fog slowly creeping around me and filling the valley like a moist blanket. During one of the times when the fog was less intense, I spotted three deer beside the road. I realized that I would not have seen them if the fog was heavy and intensified my grip on the steering wheel.

Highway 270 between Pencil Bluff and Mt. Ida is very twisty and curvy. Sections of the road have recently been resurfaced, and there are no pavement markings. Without the white line beside the road to guide me, I drove very slowly. I breathed a sigh of relief when my thin white guide would reappear. The roadside was strange and gloomy, blurring spaces between the trees and blanketing the world in a milky mist. Mt. Ida was quiet and shrouded in mystery. A few lighted signs tried to penetrate the fog but only accomplished a few inches of soft light. 

As I neared Hot Springs, there was more traffic. The fog wrapped each vehicle in a glowing cocoon of light. The night was slowly inching its way toward morning. The skies began to lighten, almost imperceptibly a first. But I relaxed as the fog started to dissipate slowly, and my visibility improved. By the time I merged onto Interstate 30, I could see patches of clear sky and a paper-thin crescent moon. I agreed with Jack Kerouac; “When the fog’s over and the stars and the moon come out at night it’ll be a beautiful sight.” Yes, Jack, I thought, “It is a beautiful sight.” I was relieved that the fog had lifted. Before long, the warm tones of the sunrise envelope the sky, and everything is right with the world. 

I enjoy a bit of fog; it turns the world into a surreal landscape. But driving in a heavy fog can be frightening. You must slow down and be very alert. Faith is like driving in the fog. As we go through life, we don’t always see what’s right in front of us. Like a drive on a foggy night, life is revealed to us little by little. We can’t see into the future. God wants us to slow down and to make each action carefully and deliberately. He doesn’t want us to get in a hurry. That’s when accidents happen. We must have faith that we will get to where God wants us to be when His timing is right.

“Faith means being sure of the things we hope for and knowing that something is real even if we do not see it.” Hebrews 11:1 (NCV) When you have to drive in heavy fog at night, and it is so thick that your headlights can only light a few feet in front of the car, it creates tension and fear. What if there’s something I can’t see? What if the road turns and I miss it? High beams that help you to see farther when it’s clear only make the situation worse. You have to drive slow to feel safe. You have to take your time in getting to your destination. True faith is finding certainty in uncertain times. It is learning to trust God in the patches of fog that happen in everyone’s life.

Faith is believing that God is with you, whatever your circumstances are. Whether life is going smoothly, or you are experiencing the foggiest night of your life. When the foggy night comes, we are not alone. In Psalms 32:8  (NIRV), God makes this promise to you; “I will guide you and teach you the way you should go. I will give you good advice and watch over you with love.”

Gentle Reader, in our lives, we need to stay constantly connected to God. If we put our faith in God, we will be okay. A foggy night can be confusing, but we can trust that God will guide us through it. Don’t panic because you can’t see into the future. Don’t let the fear of the unknown unnerve you. God knows your future. He has promised to guide you. “‘For I know the plans I have for you,’ declares the Lord, ‘plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.’” Jeremiah 29:11 (NIV) Trust God to guide you through the storms of life and to get you where you’re going right on time. “Your word is a lamp for my feet, a light for my path.” Psalms 119:105 (NAB)

Wednesday, July 7, 2021

Sleepy Sickness

My An Arkie's Faith column from the July 7, 2021, issue of The Polk County Pulse.

During the winter of 1916–17, a strange new disease spread across Europe and the world. People were afflicted with unusual neurological symptoms such as excessive sleepiness, difficulty controlling eye movements, and other movement disorders. Not every patient had all the characteristic symptoms, and not all of them experienced the same severity. At first, patients were diagnosed as having meningitis, multiple sclerosis, or delirium. But as the disease spread, doctors began to realize they were dealing with something they had never seen before. Encephalitis lethargica was first officially recognized by the medical community as a separate disease in 1917. 

People afflicted with this new disease exhibited strange behaviors and overwhelming lethargic sleepiness, which gave it its common name, sleepy sickness. The movement of troops across Europe during World War I helped spread the disease. Sleepy sickness affected at least half a million people in Europe and spread throughout the world to hundreds of thousands more. One-third of the patients died from respiratory failure caused by neurological dysfunction. And while hundreds of thousands of patients died, many survived.

In the disease’s final phase, a patient’s movement becomes stiff and slow, as it does in those with Parkinson’s disease. Some patients slow to the pace of sleepwalkers; others become motionless, living statues for years. Although their minds appear to remain clear during their brief times of clarity, those who suffered the sleepy sickness lacked all sense of the passing of time.

By 1930, the sleepy sickness epidemic had ended as quickly as it had started. Even though there were almost no new cases, many people were still living with the effects of the disease. The prevailing medical view at the time was that these people were stuck like that. There was nothing that could be done but keep them alive in the hospital. 

In the early 70s, Dr. Oliver Sacks worked at Mount Carmel, which had 80 patients with these symptoms. The patients had been trapped within themselves, some for decades. The nurses who worked with sleepy sickness patients at the hospital told Dr. Sacks that now and then, one of those patients would do something to indicate that they are still in there. Dr. Sacks longed to be able to help his patients, but there were no treatments available. He realized that some of their issues are similar to Parkinson’s Disease. He wondered what would happen if he gave his patients L-dopa, a brand-new drug for treating Parkinson’s.

When he administered the drug, their frozen faces melted, smiles appeared, eyes started to look around and get bright and twinkle, unused voices appeared, and unused muscles began to work. Imagine what it was like for those people. Dr. Sacks had only been with them for a year and a half, but they had been in this catatonic state for decades. They have been frustrated, awake on the inside, not being able to communicate. And then, along comes Dr. Sacks, who spends some time with them, gets to know them, listens to the nurses, and is willing to try to help them. 

But unfortunately, L-dopa was not the miracle cure Dr. Sacks was looking for. In his book Awakenings, he wrote, “But then, almost all of them ran into trouble, developing not only specific side effects of L-dopa, but certain general patterns of trouble, too. Some of the patients would react differently to the drug each time we tried it. I tried altering the doses, titrating them carefully, but this no longer worked. The system now seemed to have a dynamic of its own. There seemed to be with many of the patients, nothing between too much L-dopa and too little.”

Dr. Sacks had been documenting the stories of his patients so that he could write a book, but he felt guilty about his role in their stories. He almost decided not to publish the book Awakenings at all. But his patients convinced him to publish the book. They told him that they needed to have their story told. They have felt neglected by society, by the medical establishment for decades, so they want him to tell their story. Awakenings was a best seller in 1973, and in 1990 a film version was released starring Robin Williams and Robert De Niro.

Although 100 years have elapsed since the beginning of the epidemic period, many questions remain about this Sleepy Sickness. What causes it? How is it transmitted? Could an epidemic happen again? Encephalitis lethargica was characterized in a 2004 BBC documentary as the most significant medical mystery of the 20th century.

We are fortunate that sleepy sickness and its horrible symptoms are no longer causing problems; only around eighty cases have been diagnosed since 1940. But there is another sleepy sickness that is still infecting the world. Paul talks about it in Romans 13:8-11 (NCV). “Do not owe people anything, except always owe love to each other, because the person who loves others has obeyed all the law. The law says, ‘You must not be guilty of adultery. You must not murder anyone. You must not steal. You must not want to take your neighbor’s things.’ All these commands and all others are really only one rule: ‘Love your neighbor as you love yourself.’ Love never hurts a neighbor, so loving is obeying all the law. Do this because we live in an important time. It is now time for you to wake up from your sleep, because our salvation is nearer now than when we first believed.”

Paul is telling us to wake up from our sleep. If we are Christians and honestly know Jesus, he gives us the power to love. Our sleepy sickness is our inability to love others. We live in a critical time, and we need to wake up and start loving our neighbors, even those we don’t agree with or understand. Paul says very plainly that we should love everyone, that we owe them our love. I wonder what kind of radical things would start happening if we were to wake up and start living like we owed love to each other?

Gentle Reader, too often, the Christian world focuses on pointing out those we disagree with and expressing our displeasure with them. But this is the opposite of what the Bible teaches. “Love comes from God. Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God. Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love.” 1 John 4:7,8 (NIV) We need to wake up from our collective hate and step into the light of God’s love. “Light makes everything visible. This is why it is said, ‘Awake, O sleeper, rise up from the dead, and Christ will give you light.’” Ephesians 5:14 (NLT)