I arose at 6:30 and left the motel at 7:20. I wasn't going to let the fact that my left eye was swollen completely shut bother me. I must have been bitten by a critter in the night. Oh well…. The first order of business was to get the Coronado Castle dust and mud off of my car, and I found a car wash easily. I also took a tour of the city of Salina, a mid-sized town with a rail line, lots of grain elevators, and a main street (Santa Fe Ave.) with storefronts that appeared to be about 80% occupied (not bad these days!).
After a beautiful drive through the countryside, I stopped in Longford, probably my favorite town of the whole trip. The Coachlight Restaurant, sitting in the middle of the half-block long town, beckoned to me for breakfast.
What a perfect choice! After my eggs and bacon, Manager Wava Kramer told me that the eatery is community-owned, and employs members of farm families all over the area. She and her husband have been the managers since 1986 and love their work and their little village. The legend on the building reads "Every 'birdie' Welcome", and I felt so welcome that I almost bought the Red Heel Saloon across the street, which is for sale.
The lovely mural on the side of the post office was painted by Wava's daughter-in-law.
When I asked Wava how to get to the giant concrete buffalo outside of town, she handed me a tiny slip of paper with basic directions. She said she's asked often. I found the big bison with no trouble, but couldn't figure out how to get up closer to it for better pictures. It was pretty impressive up there on its 1450 ft. rise, however. I'm not sure if my pictures will reveal it's massive size, but a man standing under it wouldn't even come up to its knees. Needless to say, it can be seen for miles around. Ray O. Smith built it in the mid-70s out of either 50 or 12 tons of concrete (estimates vary!) and when he died, he was buried under it. Here is Concretealo, under gray skies and shot with as telephoto lens.
On the way from Longford to Morrowville, I was traveling through expansive crop country, with fields of corn, wheat, and beans. As I passed near Clay Center I saw a church which looked like it was rising out of the field of corn. What a sight! It's St. John's Lutheran, established in 1878.
I also saw some very photogenic cows and picturesque farmland.
Morrowville is the home of the world's first bulldozer. Ok, it's a replica - but they didn't tell me that until I got there. It sits in the town park, and the town is so tiny that it's hard to miss. Photographing it is another story, however. It's in a chain link cage which makes picture taking impractical. No big deal, since it just looks like a lawn tractor with a crude wooden "blade" attached to it. It was invented in the 1920s by partners Cummings and McLeod, who lived in the area, when they realized there was no way to backfill oil pipeline trenches. Way to go, guys!
By the way, Morrowville at around noon is the quietest place I've
ever visited. Not even a cricket was stirring. It made me want to rev up that bulldozer and take it for a noisy
joy ride down Main Street!
It was a long, straight drive to Lebanon, the geographic center of the continental United States, so noted with a stone marker/flag pole.
I'm batting 1000% on being the only human being at any of the sites I've visited so far. Where is everyone?
Curiously, across the road from the Geographic Center (which, you guessed it, is in the middle of nowhere) is the Hub Farm, the "Dairy Farm Built in a Day". That's what the sign says, but there's no explanation. Hmm…..
Onward to Cawker City, home of the World's Largest Ball of Twine!
Laugh if you will, but this attraction was definitely one of the highlights of my trip. I was impressed!!! Citizen Frank Stoeber believed in thrift in a BIG way, and his belief in never throwing anything away resulted in what has become a cottage industry for tiny Cawker City. The ball of twine sits in the middle of town (another block-long downtown, mostly deserted) and is indeed impressive.
I'm guessing the ball is 8 or 9 ft. tall, and they say it weighs 17,554 pounds, or almost 9 tons, with 1,320 miles of twine. Stoeber started this ball of twine in 1953 and gave the ball to Cawker City in 1961 before his death in 1974. Now, the town has a Twine-A-Thon each year to gather more twine to add to the ball.
And, in each window of each abandoned storefront in town, I found primitive knock-offs of famous paintings, only each had twine incorporated in it somewhere. Here are Warhol's "Twine Soup", and Grant Wood's "American Gothic With Twine".
Additionally, a long ribbon of twine is painted down every sidewalk in town. Again, I was the only human being in evidence in this town during my half hour stay. Is it something I said??
I drove to Lucas via one of the many Post Rock Scenic Byways in the county and two adjoining counties. The limestone fence posts make for beautiful vistas, and if it hadn't started to rain a bit, I could have taken some extraordinary pictures of the post rock fences lining the pastures for as far as the eye can see.
The posts are unique to the area, and were used by farmers in the early part of the century because limestone was more plentiful than wood (trees) on the high plains. Here is a great essay about limestone fence posts, including some interesting facts, and featuring my personal friend Delbert Trew.
Once in Lucas, it wasn't difficult to find the Garden of Eden.
The story of it's creator, S.P. Dinsmoor, is so long and bizarre (and interesting!) that I'm going to send you to a website to read all about it. Mr. Dinsmoor is considered one of America's great folk artists, and seeing his "yard" makes one understand why. His concrete creations (started in 1891) are a feast for the eye, but I was beginning to think that, in the history of Kansas, there must have been a lot of people with too much time on their hands. Here are some of Dinsmoor's works of art.
Oh, by the way, inside of the pagoda-shaped structure, Mr. Dinsmoor
lies in state in a glass coffin. One more little fact…. At age 81, he married a beautiful 20-year-old woman and
they had two children, one of whom is alive and is the only remaining child of a Civil War veteran. Here's a site with a picture of his family.
With visions of giant twine balls and even bigger bisons in my head (and a less pleasing vision of that 81-year-old with the 20-year-old), I headed into Russell, where I spent the night. (Ate dinner at Meridy's, which I recommend. Broiled catfish was great!) I drove 349 miles today.