A summer vacation on Maui took Bill Wilson back to scuba diving, a passion for him in his younger days.
A close family is the joy of Bill Wilson’s life. But once a year, that closeness is extra special.
Every November, on the opening day for modern guns in the Arkansas whitetail deer season, Bill and his four boys, their vacations timed so they all get together, head back into the woods along the Strawberry River and back in time. It’s become a family tradition.
It’s a chance to hunt together, but it’s also a chance to tell old stories over and over, relive past hunts, dredge up boyhood adventures and take the time to enjoy each other. And a chance for the boys, Tol, 41; Bo, 36; Kirby, 28; and Sammy, 26, three of whom still live in northeast Arkansas and the other in Kentucky, to compete for their father’s time just like they did when they were little, says Wilson, 65.
“Those boys were always competitive, and they still are, and it’s as much fun today to watch as they try to do better than the next one on our hunts as it was when they were kids,” he says. “Nowadays I’ve got three teenage grandchildren who come out with us. Of course they like the most comfortable stands with the most comfortable chairs and the best sleeping accommodation.”
Hunting has been a part of Wilson’s life since he was a youngster growing up in northeast Arkansas.
“I started hunting with a Red Rider BB gun and started hunting for real when I was about 10, I suppose, with a Damascus steel hammer shotgun,” he says. “I’m a Browning man now. My eldest son shot his first buck when he was 10.”
Wilson has been a trucker for 13 years and with Cornhusker Motor Lines, mostly hauling to the West Coast and back from the mid-South, for the past 11. He hit a million miles two years ago.
Wilson chose a trucking career late in his life because he saw a way to let his mile-wide independent streak have a fair chance. As a young man he left the University of Arkansas, after dabbling in geology and a number of other “ologies” trying to find the right fit, to take over the family farm after his father died suddenly at the age of 47. That was 1965.
“I had to support the family, so I farmed for 26 years. It made me an individualist,” he says. “That farm had been in our family for five generations, but in the end we lost it.
“I had to find something else. I chose trucking because I could be my own boss. And I wanted something where I would not have to sacrifice my family for my career or my career for my family.”
It’s all worked out very well for Wilson, who is based in Jonesboro, Ark., and runs a ’99 Volvo with a dry van.
“I found a family-friendly company. I pretty much get to drive when I want, where I want and if I want, and I think the company benefits too,” he says. “It’s a great arrangement for both of us. If you put in your time, do the job right and have a good work ethic, you can have a flexible career with a good company.”
Wilson works his schedule to allow as much home time as possible and to allow time for his sporting pastimes. In July he headed to Hawaii to visit his daughter (he has three daughters, Robin, 40; Gaye, 40; and Shea, 26) and to go scuba diving and deep sea fishing.
He started scuba diving in college when he was interested in a career in oceanography.
“I’d go cave diving up here in northeast Arkansas, but I don’t do that any more,” he says. “We’d go up to Norfolk Lake on the White River, and I’d scuba dive along the sand banks and gravel bottoms of the rivers, and the boys would come with me. They’d hold on to my tanks and come a little way with me, a few feet down, then pop back up to the top.”
Wilson’s daughters never missed out on the fun either. “The girls were always part of our outdoor life, scuba diving, cooking out, anything we did as a young family,” he says. “They still love being out with us. We have a big skeet shooting day at one of my sons’ place every year, a warm-up for our September dove hunt, and they are always part of that.”
In Hawaii, Wilson’s scuba diving took him 40 or 50 feet under water, which is “more like snorkeling,” he says. His deep sea fishing was tame, too, he says.
“I learned to do that in the Gulf of Mexico off the Florida coast on vacations over the years, but I don’t get much of a chance any more,” he says. “So that’s something I made sure I got to do this year. These days, whenever I can manufacture a chance, I go. I learned last year that I had to take every chance I get.”
Last year, Wilson was diagnosed with melanoma (skin cancer), but he still managed to rack up 120,000 miles.
“I was lucky. I had a good surgeon, and now tests show I’m clear,” he says. “I went a round with cancer, and I beat it. But it taught me even more how valuable my family is, and it made Novembers even more important to me.
“Cancer gives you perspective. I’ll give you an example: time with my wife Opal has always been some of the best times in my life, and now the value of that time is sort of magnified, even more important.”
Wilson is part of a hunting club that leases 2,000 acres on the Strawberry River in northeast Arkansas, home to white tail deer, turkey, quail, predators (for hunting) and bald eagles (for watching). This is hardwood country, and the lease is alive with elms, oaks, pecans and other natural beauties.
The Strawberry River, one of the few free-flowing rivers in Arkansas, cascades out of the Ozark foothills in north central Arkansas and wanders to the southeast for almost 100 miles before merging with the Black River. It moves gently through some of the most beautiful foothills of the Ozarks, running a few miles east of the Ozark National Forest. At times in the summer, it is also a retreat from the heat with huge trees atop 100-foot high limestone bluffs sometimes overhanging and covering the water with a cool canopy of leaves. There’s a smallmouth bass fishery on the river, and the Wilsons fish stocked water.
“There have been days when we’ve caught 100 fish,” says Wilson. “They’re easy to catch, and its all catch and release. But it’s not numbers we’re after; it’s being out there with my friends and my family and catching fish. I don’t mind it being easy. Doesn’t diminish our enjoyment.”
In addition to hunting together, Bill and his boys, or sometimes just Bill and his friends, will fish from a log cabin on the White River at Calico Rock.
“When we start hunting, it’s still warm enough to be T-shirt weather, and if we start before dawn and hunt through to the middle of the day, we can be up and fishing for brown trout in the cool water that afternoon.”
Even when his boys aren’t here, he says, “I hunt with a great bunch. Some of our friendships go back 20 years. We’re the sort of hunting club that attracts people that are interested in good fun and good hunting, people from all walks of life, people you enjoy spending time with whether you are out hunting or just sitting inside.”
Hunting and fishing are common threads that help keep the Wilson family a tight-knit group, and Bill Wilson is a classic example of someone who enjoys the outdoors whether he gets a trophy for the wall or not.
Just about every day – wherever you are – you will drive your rig close to destinations that are as American as apple pie and just as delicious.
Barbecue is Americana at its best. But there is not just one American barbecue; it varies from state to state and region to region, and therein lies the challenge. Understanding the differences between ‘cue in different parts of the country, and then finding a one-of-a-kind place that serves it just right, makes for some fun destination hunting.
Even if you aren’t in the South, you can find authentic barbecue almost anywhere in the country. You just have to know where to look and what to expect.
To make your off-duty day a finger-licking-good experience, use our barbecue guide to become a ‘cue connoisseur. We’ve given you some legendary places to start your journey of discovery, but there are a whole lot more hidden away waiting for you to find.
Barbecue has many meanings. It can mean the actual pit, smoker or grill, a social gathering, or grilling, a fast cooking process using direct heat. While the term may bring many things to mind, the most widely held definition of barbecue is that it is the product of cooking meat slowly with low, indirect heat from wood or wood coals, usually in a pit or a smoker.
The “low-n-slow” cooking technique developed for using cheap cuts of tough meat and cooking them until they are tender. The cuts typically used have a lot of fat and collagen, the material that holds the muscle together. The long, slow cooking transforms the collagen from a tough material to a gelatin that dissolves. This can take hours at a temperature of about 160 degrees, but the juicy results are worth the wait.
Barbecue, as Americans know it, started in the South. Prior to the Civil War, the pig became a staple food item because it was low maintenance, convenient and inexpensive. Pigs were released in the forest to root and caught whenever the food supply was low. Pig slaughtering and cooking became a time for celebration, leading to the tradition of neighborhood barbecues that are still a large part of Southern culture.
Barbecue eventually made its way north and west, which brought about the development of grilling and other flavors and techniques of barbecue. These differences vary by region and offer an off-duty trucker a different flavor almost anywhere in the country.
Sauces vary the most and are the most debated subject among barbecue aficionados. Most sauces contain molasses, brown sugar, tomato paste, Worcestershire sauce, cider vinegar, black pepper, onion, celery, garlic, mustard, cayenne pepper, vegetable oil and salt. The variations begin with changes in the ratios of the typical ingredients, leading to thick, thin, spicy or sweet sauces. As you move east, the sauces typically get thinner. In some areas, the sauce is skipped altogether and replaced by a dry spice rub.
The most traditional barbecue is found in an area called the Barbecue Belt, which includes Alabama, Arkansas, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, Northern Florida, North Carolina, South Carolina and Tennessee. As you travel farther out of the South, leaner meats than pork are used and the variations increase. Even the components of barbecue vary within the Barbecue Belt. To sort out the complicated world of barbecue for the off-duty trucker, we’ve provided a breakdown of how it varies throughout the country.
Alabama/Mississippi/Louisiana – The barbecue is mostly pulled and chopped pork and slabs of ribs with spicy, red sauces. It is typically served with baked beans, coleslaw and potato salad.
Tennessee – Memphis, Tenn., is the center of the pulled-pork region, which serves pork that is slow cooked, shredded by hand into threads of meat, doused with a sweet tomato sauce, flavored with pepper and molasses and then served with coleslaw, cornbread and sometimes French fries. Ribs that are basted with sauce or rubbed with a mixture of spices are also very popular in this region.
North Carolina – The meat is chopped or sliced pig, but the sauces vary. The east coast serves thin peppery vinegar sauce, while the western side uses rich tomato and vinegar sauce. Side dishes are coleslaw, hushpuppies, bread and Brunswick stew, a stew made with vegetables and chicken.
Georgia/South Carolina – The pig is still chopped or sliced, but it’s served with a yellow mustard-based sauce. Side dishes are bread, coleslaw, hash (stewed organ meats) and Brunswick stew. Tomato-based, ketchup-based and vinegar-based sauces are also served throughout Georgia.
Arkansas – On the Western side, beef barbecue is more prevalent because of the proximity to Texas, and pork becomes more common in the east. It is served with coleslaw, baked beans and potato chips.
Missouri – In Kansas City, Mo., barbecue is a big tradition, and all kinds of meat are welcome in the pit. Beef, pork, sausage, ribs and chicken are dominant meats and are usually slow smoked. The sauce is the most recognizable sauce style because it is the type sold in most grocery stores. The “KC” in the name of KC’s Masterpiece BBQ sauce, a thick, spicy and sweet sauce, stands for Kansas City. This style of sauce is the most marketable because it tastes good with just about any meat cooked on a grill.
Texas – In Texas, barbecue is what others call “hot smoking” – cooking with both smoke and low heat for hours over woods such as oak, mesquite or pecan. Barbecue prepared in Texas often has a red tinge when fully cooked and a pink smoke ring around the edges of the meat. The sauce consists of tomatoes with a vinegar base. It can be sweet or spicy and thick or thin, depending on the chef. Texas-style sauces might include vinegar, ketchup, chili powder, paprika and cumin.
Kentucky – Mutton, pork, beef, chicken and ribs have been smoked for years in Kentucky. Mutton is the most notable specialty in most of western Kentucky, where there were once large populations of sheep that were slaughtered for the mutton. A vinegar- and tomato-based sauce with a mixture of spicy and sweet is traditionally served with the meat. Tabasco, ground cloves and ground nutmeg are common sauce ingredients.
Other States – Most meat-to-grill contact in other states is done through direct heat in the fast process called grilling. However, many barbecue restaurants and competitions that use the low-n-slow method still occur throughout these regions, enabling anyone, especially drivers passing through, to enjoy authentic barbecue anywhere in the country.
Find a BBQ Destinaton Anywhere
Barbecue is a trucker-friendly food because you can find an authentic barbecue restaurant just about anywhere in the country. Yet not all barbecue is created equal. The best way to find a worthy barbecue joint is to go online to a barbecue association website. Most associations have restaurant recommendations and reviews listed online. Start at the National Barbecue Association’s website, www.nbbqa.org, and search for a more area-specific association. For example, there’s the Pacific Northwest Barbecue Association or the Kansas City Barbecue Association. In a matter of minutes, you’ll be on your way to hog heaven.
To get you started, we’ve selected some of the top barbecue restaurants, all of which have won awards or gained a reputation as having some of the best barbecue in the area.
The Salt Lick – Located in Driftwood, Texas. For directions visit this site. This barbecue ranch has been recognized by Southern Living magazine, People magazine, Gentleman’s Quarterly and Food Network’s “Food Finds” and is a consistent winner of the Austin, Texas, Citysearch and Austin Chronicle awards.
Famous Dave’s Legendary Pit Bar-B-Que – Locations in most states. To find a location visit this site. Despite its chain status, Famous Dave’s delivers consistently good barbecue and has won more than 150 awards.
Lexington Barbecue #1 – Located in Lexington, N.C. This quaint establishment is famous for its tangy barbecue slaw and traditional smoky barbecue.
Dreamland BAR-B-QUE Ribs – Locations in Roswell and Norcross, Ga., and in Birmingham, Huntsville, Mobile and Tuscaloosa, Ala. For directions visit this site. Known for legendary ribs, Dreamland was featured on Food Network’s show “Food Finds.”
McClards Bar-B-Que – Located in Hot Springs, Ark. Visit this site for directions. It is a favorite of former President Bill Clinton and was featured on Food Network’s show “The Best Of.”