BALD KNOB With just four workers on duty, the McDonald's on Highway 64 in Bald Knob was short-staffed Wednesday night.
It probably couldn't have happened at a worse time.
Flooding on the White River that night necessitated the indefinite closing of westbound Interstate 40 and the implementation of a roundabout, 120-mile detour. Before long, traffic from one of the nation's busiest trucking corridors was being routed through Bald Knob and right by the short-staffed fast food restaurant.
"We were backed out to the door here," manager Rebekah Quinn said Friday, pointing to the front entrance. "They were all the way wrapped around the building through the drive-thru. But somehow we handled it."
As the flooding continues, the interstate has remained closed. The Arkansas Highway and Transportation Department on Thursday night also shut down the eastbound lanes, sending those motorists on a separate, lengthy detour south of I-40.
In Bald Knob, the stream of detoured motorists hasn't stopped. A seemingly constant line of moving trucks, semi-trailers, cars, SUVS, motorcycles and more inched through town late Friday morning, following along as Arkansas State Police troopers directed them toward U.S. 167/67.
Trips were taking much longer than usual, but many drivers said they understood the circumstances and weren't complaining.
Mike McCain, a 64-year-old West Memphis resident heading to Little Rock to visit his grandchildren, said it took about two hours to get to Bald Knob, which is about as long as his trips to Little Rock on I-40 usually take.
"But I think everyone's handling it real well," he said, noting the detour wasn't so bad compared to the disastrous flooding affecting some residents in eastern Arkansas. "There's so many homes and people that are flooded between here and West Memphis, it's just unreal."
McCain is planning to return home on Monday.
"But the White River's still coming up, so I'm not sure," he said.
Clarence Bradford, a 71-year-old Covington, Tenn. resident on his way to Branson, said he followed detour signs and didn't know exactly where he'd driven. It was a frustrating experience, he said while stopped in Bald Knob, but he wasn't too upset.
"There's nothing you can do about it," Bradford said as he left McDonald's with his wife. "It's nobody's fault. You've just got to go with it. We're not going to be where we're supposed to be at a certain time, but you've just got to go with it."
At the Bald Knob Market and Shell Station, business has been booming since traffic was diverted.
Store manager Peggy Louks said motorists have been stopping in droves to use the restroom, fill up on gas and foood or ask for directions.
"A lot of them are very, very confused as to why they got rerouted so suddenly," Louks said. "They weren't sure about the floodwaters and everything. It's a lot of extra people, but we're just trying to keep it going smoothly."
Among those who stopped Friday morning was Leonard Larson, a 67-year-old North Little Rock resident making his way back home from Memphis.
He said he got good advice from a UPS driver, who gave him a "back-road route" that saved time over the detour. But Larson still ended up in Bald Knob, where he said frustration was setting in.
"It seems like they might have built (the interstate) a little higher where the White River is," he said. "It seems to flood there often."