October 7, 2010 by wcobserver
She sleeps in the room where she slept as a child. Her bed is under the window she once looked out of as a young girl. But today, Ruby Jo Bellis does not see what she saw then. Traffic no longer rumbles along Highway 71. Drivers no longer stop to buy gas and their families don’t tour the gift shop or eat in the restaurant at Mt. Gayler. She is the third generation of her family to live in the remains of this once popular tourist attraction. And she lives there alone since the tragic death of her son, Janathan Jodane Bellis a year ago this month.
Ruby said she will remain there as long as she can pay the taxes and keep the weeds pulled. Then she smiled and told me a story about her son when he was young. He told his grandmother, Sue Bellis, that he was going to pull the same weeds his great-grandpa had pulled.
Edward A. Bellis Sr., his wife Sue Steward and their son Ed Jr. came to the mountain from Ft. Worth after they lost everything in the crash of ‘29. Edward bought five acres from R.D. Gayler, who had homesteaded the mountaintop south of Winslow so many years earlier. The family lived in the back of a pickup truck and a tent while they built the rock buildings and opened businesses that would grace the mountain for more than 60 years. They named the establishment after the Gaylers, who had been there since the mid 1800s.
According to Ruby, whose mother told her the story, the different spellings of the Gayler name came about with a family rift, and those who remained there on the mountain spelled the name with an e, while those who left spelled it with an o. No one knows which the original spelling was, but the mountain is named after the ones who homesteaded the land there so long ago, and thus Gayler is the correct spelling.
After they came to Arkansas, Edward Sr., a bookkeeper by trade, laid the rocks following the plans of his wife Stella until there was a two-story service station, a small house behind the gift shop, an ice house, and rocked-up spaces for a multitude of flowers. Over the service station was an apartment in which their son Ed Jr. would live with his wife Sue. The couple had four daughters and a son they named Edward III. Ruby is one of those daughters and at the end , the only one who wanted the place.
After I 540 was finished, the heavy traffic moved west, deserting the mountainous and often dangerous Highway 71. Ed Jr., spoke in favor of that highway, saying, “It’ll ruin our business, but we can’t stand in the way of progress.”
He knew the meaning of progress. He was largely responsible for getting the third lane added to 71 where it tops out at Mt. Gayler, then drops off for a nine-mile down-grade into Mountainburg. And he was also the driving force behind the formation of the Boston Mountain Volunteer Fire Department after the magnificent Burns Gables, built in 1937, burned in 1952.
On a foggy morning in 1985 he was killed in an automobile accident on 71 less than a mile from home. Sue and her daughter Ruby Jo kept the gift shop open until Sue’s death, then Ruby continued the effort as long as Janathan, whom she calls Jodane, was alive to help her.
The morning I met with Ruby we sat in a swing out front of the two-story structure and talked about what it is like to live on the mountain. A lone semi roared by on its way south followed closely by a loaded logging truck, and I remarked about the oddity of that.
“Not so much as you’d think,” she said. “Some truckers prefer to drive this old highway. You know, Mama always said it was the truckers that kept our business alive all those years. And she was right. If people would decide to slow down and quit rushing around everywhere, it would save this place.”
We looked up into the blue sky at the tower once filled with people taking pictures and enjoying the view of the Boston Mountains. In 1933 Ed Sr. built a wooden tower. It had four decks and a sign on top that advertised Marathon Gas. In 1939 he began the steel structure that is there now. At its foot is a picturesque lake fed by 7 springs. Once a small train took visitors on a ride around that lake, but it’s gone now too.
“The tower has steps that need repaired so I don’t dare let anyone climb it,” Ruby said. “I can’t afford to keep the electricity on in the shop when no one stops anymore, but this is my home.” Ironic, since the Bellis family bought the first generator to bring electricity to the mountain top.
“So many rules and regulations,” she said. “I couldn’t keep it open if I wanted. We didn’t even have to have insurance back then. I understand regulations are needed today ‘cause there are people who don’t have common sense.”
She gazed across the highway at Burns Gables, rebuilt after the tragic fire, but now closed and boarded up. “Mark Osburn owns it now,” she explained. “He’s the grandson of John and Lavada Burns.”
There was a time when people took a weekend and drove to Mt. Gayler from Kansas City and other distant places. They came for the chicken dinners, the scenic drive and view, the offerings of the shop. Several girls were hired to help feed the crowds. They lived in one bedroom of the small house out back , and Ed Sr. and Stella lived in the other.
People stop on occasion and tell Ruby what a shame it is, and she knows exactly what they mean. Yet she perseveres, unwilling or unable to let go of her history and this home that is the only one she’s ever known.
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