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Observer Oct. 7, 2004

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The year Ruth Lincoln was born, William McKinley took office as the 25th president of the United States. On her birthday last Saturday, Oct. 2, Mrs. Lincoln celebrated by touring the building that will honor the 42nd president of the United States, the William J. Clinton Presidential Center. She came with a busload of friends, none of whom had made their way around the sun as many times as Mrs. Lincoln. On Saturday, Ruth Lincoln turned 107. Skip Rutherford had the honor of showing Mrs. Lincoln into the Oval Office and around the rest of the center, which will open in 40 days (or Mr. Rutherford, president of the Clinton Foundation, may not live to celebrate his next birthday). It wasn’t just because Mrs. Lincoln is 107, or that she is the grandmother of Steve, husband of Blanche, that she got the VIP tour. Another factor was at play — namely, that she once lived across the street from Betty Rutherford in Batesville. She reminded Skip of that at a recent talk he gave at her Little Rock residence, but he didn’t need the help. Betty Rutherford, Skip Rutherford’s grandmother, isn’t as old as Mrs. Lincoln. She’s only 106. Both ladies are sharp of mind. Both are no doubt hoping to see the 44th president sworn in. With the River Rail running right under The Observer’s window, it’s going to be hard not to succumb to its lure as column fodder, as did one writer in this town so famously. We promise to restrain ourselves. But we’ve got to note how much amusement the trolley provides. Last week, we saw the driver of a sedan nearly jump out of her seat, hands thrown up in shock, as she entered the intersection at the same time as the trolley and got an earful of air horn, a sound roughly equivalent to the scream of steamboat’s whistle. Car czar Keith Jones, head of Central Arkansas Transit, said the trolley does have a bell that its driver can operate by foot. The air horn is to be sounded only when “the driver sees a hazard approaching, like a jaywalker, a driver about to pull out or turn, or if sight distance is obscured for some reason,” which is what happens regularly at both intersections near which we have the privilege of working. It is the sound of the trolley, however, that makes the office Boudreaux happy, blowing him back to his misspent youth when he had a summer job in the Big Easy that played out against the rumble of the St. Charles streetcar. We also like the car’s sunny yellow color and its edgeless form. Which is why we did a double-take day before yesterday when we noticed that cardboard boxes had been unceremoniously duct-taped at each corner on the top of the car. What gives? we queried Jones. No, they weren’t cheap bumpers, he explained. They’re being used to test what a trolley in trouble — listing because of a leak in its air suspension or something of that nature — might clip on its way back to the barn. If the Times’ neon sign is missing, you’ll know why. Having not been up to those lofty climes in many a year, The Observer decided to load up Spouse and Junior and head for Petit Jean Mountain over the weekend. We were pleased to see that the park staff has been hard at work since our last visit, making the famous gravesite, overlook and Cedar Falls more accessible to our wheelchair-bound friends. In the case of Cedar Falls, access is granted via long, long, long, winding ramps that weave among the boulders until reaching a final, fenced overlook. Good so far. What we were not so happy about, however, was the first sign on the plank ramp leading down to the falls — the first impression, if you will: a large, wooden octagon, bright red with white letters carved into its surface. “Don’t be a victum,” the sign says, then gives a warning that visitors should lock their valuables in the trunk. Sayeth Spouse: “Today’s out-of-state tourist snicker brought to you by: the Arkansas Department of Parks and Tourism.”

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