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About 12 years ago, Allen Childress sat on his front porch with his friend and right-hand man, Anthony Wilson. Down a gravel road in the small town of DeValls Bluff, Allen’s property sits on the banks of the White River and his country home is surrounded by trees and foliage. As the men sat talking, Allen looked down at the murky pond that was a stone’s throw from his porch and said, “Boy, that’d make a good swimming hole.” “Let’s do it!” Anthony answered. And that’s all it took for a great project to begin.
The two men, both in their late forties, were dreamers and kids at heart, and virtually no idea was too far-fetched for them. Anthony, who worked full time on Allen’s property, got to work with a tractor digging the muddy bottom out of the pond. He dug out about 4 feet of mud, which he added to a levy around the pond, making it deep enough for a swimming hole. He also cut down trees around its banks. Somewhere in the process, Allen looked at a hill on the backside of the pond and said, “Let’s build a water slide down that!” Once again, Anthony was all in and got to work. “I was ready for a challenge on anything,” he said.
When Allen told his wife, Brenda, their plans of building a water slide, he told her it was “for the kids” (the couple had two teenage boys). “Yeah right,” she told him and rolled her eyes. “You’re building it for yourself.” He admitted she was probably right.
When designing and building this homemade, one-of-a-kind slide, Anthony had nothing to go by. “The whole thing was just kind of as I went along,” he said. Allen agreed, “It’s original; there’s no prototype.” Anthony explained that the hill by the pond was about 20 feet high, but Allen decided he wanted the slide higher. So at the top of the hill, they built a platform to raise up the slide, making it a grand 120 feet long. They purchased treated lumber for the project, and Anthony used a chain saw and battery-powered nail gun (there was no electricity on the hill) to build the slide over five weeks. He covered the wood with heavy mill plastic attached by tacks to make for smooth sliding.
Allen recalled having his youngest son, Levi, test out the slide during the building process. “We sent Levi down it several times ‘til we got the pitch and the sides right,” he said. “He got banged up and bruised up trying it out.” At its end the slide turns upward and shoots riders into the air, something Anthony admitted he guessed his way through. “When I cut that curve out to make it shoot up, I thought ‘well, this could be good or this could be bad.’”
Turns out, it was very good. At least for the brave riders who enjoy that kind of thing. The result was a spectacular slide that looks like it belongs in an amusement park, not by a pond down a country road. For years, Allen’s family, friends, community members and even visitors from other states have enjoyed taking the plunge and being launched into the air to land in the waters below.
“There’s no telling how many kids have gone down that slide. We’ve had ‘em going down it ‘til 2 in the morning,” Allen said. “It’s been a lot of fun. We’ve never regretted it.”
A couple of particular occasions attract oodles of riders to the slide each year. Annually in early summer, a group of about 90 teens from Phoenix, AZ make their way to small town Arkansas. They come to help out at a nearby church and also to ride the water slide. “It’s world renowned,” Allen joked.
Then each Fourth of July, Allen’s family gathers at his home to eat ribs, corral children, and watch the wild ones conquer The Slide. The afternoon becomes a viewing party as family members settle in lawn chairs and laugh at the antics shooting off the slide. “The pinnacle of every Fourth of July is my dad going down it,” Allen said about his dad who is 79. “He has gone down it every year and he’s planning to do it again.”
This hand-built treasure could easily be a ride at a theme park or featured on a TV special. But instead, it sits hidden in backwoods Arkansas, where the water is muddy, the laughter echoes off the river, and the fun is truly homemade. And that’s just the way Allen and his family like it.
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