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The dreams in Dry Creek

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image Les McDowell, a well-known former Tampa country radio host, is the producer and one of the stars of his television series, Dry Creek. Mitch Traphagen Photo

There was a time when people still reached out to others and that is a time that could still be today. It’s just down the road, after all.


PARRISH - Just 12 miles south of Sun City Center, down a quiet country road, across a rutted dirt road and a horse pasture lays the town of Dry Creek. Although only a few miles, the drive involves a trip back in time to a place where a man’s word was his bond, where courage meant something. In 1880, it took courage to have dreams. Today it takes even more.

Les McDowell is a man reinvented. A few years ago, he thought he was on top of the world after winning a Country Music Association award for his WQYK Tampa radio morning show, named as the number one major market radio show in the country. Two years later, he moved on to another station. Sometime after that, the station changed and McDowell was out of a job.

“I was kind of down. Too young to retire, but too old to work,” he said. “I started reading cowboy poetry and posting it to YouTube. I would do it in the woods, around a campfire or on a chuck wagon, that sort of thing. People were seeing that and asking for it to be a little bit longer.”

And then he started building. Dry Creek began to rise from the scrub on his ranch near Parrish.

“I started building, just to keep my mind occupied,” he said. “At night my wife would come out to ask what I was doing, what she should tell people. It was sort of a Kevin Costner kind of thing, and I told her to tell people I’m building a set.”

Like Kevin Costner’s character in the movie Field of Dreams, McDowell built Dry Creek and the people came. With cowboy friends and cameramen, the essence of the dream rose as the buildings from an 1880s town of Florida’s Old West were hammered together. Soon, the cowboy poetry turned into short films and, with a 10-minute YouTube video in hand, he approached In Country Television, a channel on the Dish Network. In Country asked for a 30-minute episode, and Dry Creek became a reality, with 12 more episodes contracted for the first season.

“It wouldn’t have happened without the man upstairs,” McDowell said. “It was just meant to be. I was on the last legs of my life and it just turned around. I had people coming in with HD cameras offering to do it for free. People brought in the wood to finish it out.”

Today Dry Creek is as much his dream come true as it is the set for a television series.

“In today’s crazy world, with how busy it is, how out of focus it is, with how much of a hurry everyone is in, we don’t have time to look each other in the eye and shake hands,” McDowell said. “I don’t want to go back to the 1800s, but some of the old things are gone…they shouldn’t be.”

McDowell says that Dry Creek is intended to show how today’s problems can be solved with old-fashioned values, including decency and compassion. Things like job loss and bullying aren’t exclusive to today, people have always struggled with such problems. Through the past are some of the answers for today and for the future.

In more ways than one, McDowell is hoping to turn back time — not just to showcase the hard lessons learned by our forebears, but also in returning television to a time before reality shows and other less than family-friendly programming.

“It’s a lot of work, but we’re touching so many lives,” he said. “I’ve gotten so many emails from around the country with people telling me that they are sitting down to watch TV with their kids again.”

Henry David Thoreau once said, “The price of anything is the amount of life you exchange for it.”  For McDowell, producing an independent television series carries a very high price indeed. He has poured his heart and soul into it and a dream has emerged from the dusty main street of Dry Creek. This week, the cast and crew will come together to begin shooting their second season.

“I’m doing everything I can without mortgaging the ranch, but I would. I just believe in this so much. Everyone involved in this believes in this kind of program.”
He calls it reminiscent of Little House on the Prairie with The Waltons and a little bit of Mayberry mixed in. It is television created by a man who sees life through a lens of feeling good about the simple things. Friendship, trust and honor are held in high regard and are not things to take advantage of in order to win at all costs as in a reality survival show.

Dry Creek is currently playing on the Pursuit Network on both the Dish Network and DIRECTV. Beginning next month, the second season will reach 45 million homes via Blue Highways TV, available locally on Verizon.

“If I knew how much work this would be…,” he said trailing off. “But you just keep going. You get to a point where you can’t turn back. I can’t turn back.”

A few miles outside of one of America’s largest metropolitan areas is a place that goes back in time. It’s not life viewed through rose-colored glasses as much as it is life simplified. People are important in Dry Creek. Their problems and successes are important. There was a time when people still reached out to others and that is a time that could still be today. It’s just down the road, after all.

“I came up with a theme about Dry Creek that everyone knows where it is because it’s inside each one of us,” McDowell said.

As he walked back into the Dry Creek church and schoolhouse to help the volunteer crew already at work for the new season, the sun came out from behind the clouds, lighting up the dusty main street of Dry Creek. Only echoes from the last season could be heard in the quiet town. The actors in the series use their real names, because, like McDowell, Dry Creek is inside of them. It takes courage to have a dream. It takes more to make it a reality. For Les McDowell, Dry Creek isn’t just a television series, it is how he has chosen to live his life.

Dry Creek America’s First Frontier is now playing on channel 608 on DIRECTV and channel 240 on the Dish Network. Beginning next month, season two will also be available locally on Blue Highways TV, Verizon channel 246.

Les McDowell would like to hear from South Hillsborough residents who may be interested in appearing as extras as needed during filming. He would also love to hear from area businesses that would be interested in sponsorship of the program. He can be reached at les@drycreektv.com

For more information, visit www.drycreektv.com

On the set of Dry Creek - Images by Mitch Traphagen

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