Sunday, December 11, 2011

In Search of New Places To Go: Lorraine, Bushton, & Holyrood, Kansas

It all started with a hankering for fried chicken.

Also, three weeks of being cooped up at home due to illness had culminated in a severe case of cabin fever.  So when Saturday, December 10, 2011 proved to be a great day to get out and see a bit of Kansas - sunny skies and reasonable warm temperatures in the mid-40s - hey, I jumped at the chance!

I left Lucas at 11AM and managed to get down the road a whole 22 miles before stopping at the Hungry Hunter Restaurant in Lincoln, Kansas.   Their half chicken dinner - a wing, a leg, a wishbone, and a larger piece - proved a mouthwatering affair that was imminently satisfying.  The many hunters eating around me seemed to agree that the Hungry Hunter is a great place to have a meal.

From Lincoln it was south on State Highway 14 to Ellsworth, Kansas, where the above most interesting hexagon-style house stands on a side street.  Why a hexagon layout?  How many of these houses exist elsewhere in the state?  Questions, questions.

My thirst for knowledge was quenched with a double dip of chocolate & vanilla ice cream at the Ellsworth Antique Mall downtown.  Across the street at Robson's Gifts & Cards I took care of the business of the day in buying my latest supply of computer printer ink cartridges.

With work done it was now time to play!  I took off on a sandy road west of Ellsworth and then south, searching for the fabled community of Lorraine.  I say "fabled" as the last time I was even close to Lorraine was in June 1972, when as a ten-year old boy I participated in a 4-H geology field trip.  One of the many stops on this field trip was a site about two miles from Lorraine, where hematite nodules locally known as "peanut clusters" could be found in the bank of a creek. 

 Thirteen miles later I happened across the above highway sign!  Not bad for not even having a map along - today I was into true Kansas Dirt Road Exploring. 

 And it looks like I picked a good ay to be visiting Lorraine!

Located in Green Garden Township some 13 miles southwest of the county seat of Ellsworth, Lorraine was founded in 1887 and named for the daughter of a railroad official. It sits at 1,785 feet above sea level.

Looking south at the main intersection in downtown Lorraine, Kansas. The population of Lorraine in 2010 was 138 people.

How small is Lorraine?  Well, there is this sign at the center of town . . . .

 The impressive Lorraine Baptist Church is the spiritual center of the community.

 Heading south and west of Lorraine I came across the intriguing town of Bushton.  Located a mile to the southeast of the community is the Bushton-Farmer Twp. Cemetery, founded in 1887.

 Another view of the Bushton-Farmer Twp. Cemetery.

Looking north into downtown Bushton, Kansas. The first frame house was erected on the townsite in 1878. On January 31, 1887, the actual town was laid out. The name "Bushton" derived from the dense growth of bushes in the in area. The brick building located second from left in the photo is the Bushton Museum.

 The Farmer Twp. Community Library in Bushton.

 The photo above does not do justice to the imposing First United Methodist Church in Bushton!

 Gingerbread architecture in Bushton.

 And more gingerbread architecture in Bushton!  Not bad for a town of only 350 or so citizens.

From Bushton it was a few miles journey north to the Ellsworth County community of Holyrood.  On the southern edge of Holyrood one immediately discovers the Lutheran Cemetery, which is fill with interesting gavestones and statuary.  A standout example is the Heesch family stone.

 And another view of the Heesch tombstone.

 The Stoltenberg family stone is also of significance.

 Very impressive is the Lille family gravestone.

The actual railroad tracks may be long gone, but the railroad bed can still be found on the northern edge of Holyrood, Kansas. How many other places can one drive down a real railroad bed??

A portion of downtown Holyrood, Kansas.  Founded in 1886, Holyrood is noted for its strong German-Irish heritage and has a current population over over 400 inhabitants.

 City Hall in Holyrood, Kansas.

  Something very nice to see in a small town like Holyrood is the large, modern fire department building.

Driving on sandy roads a few mile north of Holyrood can be found this native stone one-room schoolhouse.

Today the cold winds of December pass by this old school, a symbol of decades of rural education.

Sunday, August 7, 2011

In Search Of New Places To Go: Black Wolf

"Lost and alone on some forgotten highway
     Traveled by many, remembered by few . . . ." - John Denver

     August 7, 2011.  Sitting here on a Sunday afternoon at the Made-From-Scratch Cafe in Wilson, Kansas on a whim.  About one o'clock in the afternoon an immense craving arose in me that would not go away, an immense craving for fried chicken.  Here in North-Central Kansas that does not mean a run to the nearest Kentucky Fried Chicken; no, it meant a run to the nearest local eatery known for their Sunday fried chicken buffet.  In this case that meant the Made-From-Scratch Cafe in Wilson.
     The 16 miles from Lucas down to Wilson is never a chore, not when you get to drive the Post Rock Scenic Byway around Wilson Reservoir, arguably the prettiest lake in the state.  Today there was no one in the car to argue with me and my personal estimation of the drive held up once again.    
      I got here at the Made-From-Scratch after the Sunday church-is-out lunch crowd to find plenty of seats available and that a fresh batch of chicken had just hit the buffet counter.  The waitress recognized me this time around - she still doesn't know my name, but apparently I'm now considered "a regular."  She refills my Dr. Pepper without needless chatter as I tackle my second plate of buffet.  Ten kinds of homemade pie is listed for today, the last being peanut butter.  And homemade ice cream is scribbled along the side of the pie menu.
     I pay the check and waddle out, almost all cravings almost satisfied.  I yield up the last of my cash for a cokefloat at the Shake Shack and then contemplate the turn north back to Lucas and home.  Home, where yardwork and housework and then yet more work indexing my latest book are all beckoning.


     Maybe it was the fact that for once temperature was still in the high 80s and not 107.  Maybe it was the "8 Wonders" Kansas Sampler Foundation t-shirt I was wearing. 

     Turn right.

     Whatever it was, that little voice inside my head suddenly made perfect sense and I did turn right, down the sand road past the city cemetery and on, south where I have never been before.

1:11pm.  I'm down some sandy county road now south and east of Wilson, lost but never truly.  The road signs at every intersection would give me a hint, but I never look; I don't want to.  I'm just following the road and that little voice, which then whispers the immortal words of Tolkien back to me:

"The Road goes ever on and on
Down from the door where it began.
Now far ahead the Road has gone,
And I must follow, if I can,
Pursuing it with eager feet,
Until it joins some larger way
Where many paths and errands meet.
And whither then? I cannot say."

     Yep.  Tolkien would have been a Kansas Explorer.  Tolkien would have Dared to Do Dirt.

     I pass an old building.  WHOA!  I screech to a halt - as best one can on a sand road - and get out the camera.

     It's just nice for once to see a great old native stone building, no doubt over a century old, having been restored and being used for modern purposes.  And a Dakota Sandstone building to boot, which is still fascinating to me, having grown up in limestone country.  I drive on.
1:21PM.  Guy Noir is taking on bedbugs in Manhattan on the radio.  I'm heading south on a great little-used lane, my fourth one in the last 15 minutes.  The first petered out into a dead end as I approached the Smoky Hill River.  Undaunted, I backtracked and headed east to the next one.  That one also petered out just as I approached the river.  The wise old saw Fool me once, shame on me; fool me twice, shame on you passed through my head as yes, I backtracked and again headed east to the next one.  That wise old saw didn't say a word about the third time.  And this road too petered out as well.
     I'm sure that by now most folks would have thrown in the towel and headed on east down the (shudder) blacktop and found a main road to try.  I look down at my 8 Wonders t-shirt for inspiration and swear that I can see a hidden message running upside down in the "8": WWMD. 

     What Would Marci Do?
    Silly question.  I know full well what Marci Penner, the head of the Kansas Sampler Foundation would do.  I backtrack and head east yet again.  A sign emerges.  Holyrood 16 miles it reads, pointing south.  I cross the river on this new sand road, bound for Holyrood. 
     There are those people outside of Kansas that probably think being bound for Hollywood would be much more fun and rewarding.  I've spoken to folk living in Holyrood before and they've assured me that while their small town does not yet have the same glamorous mystique that Hollywood enjoys, they are indeed working on it.  And that it good enough for a Kansas explorer like me.

 Large tree holding up/knocking down a two-story native sandstone farmhouse long abandoned.

Another abandoned farmstead found along the way.  Wonderful old barn/outbuilding.
     1:32PM.  Lost in the wilds of Ellsworth County.  The road to Holyrood suddenly ends in a T-insection, with no signage to dictate which way to head now for the town.  I turn east and race up and down hills, crossing creek after creek.  In the distance I can see the grain elevators of Black Wolf and then Ellsworth itself beckoning.  Maybe, the little voice whispers.

A native limestone farmhouse with an ambitious and intriguing frame addition!

     My eastern sand road turns north and then winds on east, hugging the southern edge of the Smoky Hill River Valley.  In just a few minutes I'm passing the Greenwood Cemetery on the outskirts of Ellsworth, where I pause a moment at the side of the road next to the grave of Vincent B. Osborne, namesake for the county of Osborne here in Kansas.  This year marks the 140th year since the county was officially organized, so a moment of respect to Vincent is most appropriate. 

The grave of Vincent B. Osborne, for whom Osborne and Osborne County, Kansas was named.

     Entering Ellsworth I am still amazed at how well they have restored the downtown area, putting in new sidewalks and period streetlights.  It makes for a very inviting atmosphere.  My eyes are drawn to the stark remains of the Ellsworth County Reporter building, which suffered a devasting fire not long ago.  I cannot even imagine the idea of trying to write about your own weekly newspaper being the top news story for the week as it was when the fire occurred, let alone figuring how to get a paper out in the first place.  Yet they did, and they are still doing so in a temporary headquarters just down the street.  Enterprising Kansans worthy of the name.

     1:58PM.  Reluctantly I take the blacktop west out of Ellsworth.  At least Old 40 is officially a county road, though that does little to soothe the Explorer purest in me.  Then the grain elevator that is Black  Wolf once again beckons.   
     I've never been to Black Wolf.
     Oh, I've thought about it.  Lots of times.  I've lost track of how many times over how many years I've driven on the blacktop past the beckoning elevator and never took the time to stop and visit.  Black Wolf.  Just the name should be enough for anyone to want to stop and visit.  Black Wolf.  What a great name for a small town.  Not for a large city, no; but a small town, sure.  Now, granted that Black Wolf aspires right now just to become even a small town, but still a great name.
     So I drive off onto the sand road and happily slide into town.  Not much left; two houses, one abandoned, one occupied; and the tall white grain elevator with the name BLACKWOLF all run together on its sides.  If you know what to look for you can discern other building and house formations.  Black Wolf was never large, but then most legendary locations rarely are.

 Black Wolf has its own website -  The site yields many interesting facts on the town, including that in 1910 the population was reported to be 100.  Photographed here (and courtesy of is the native sandstone Black Wolf Store, which burned in 1997 and was subsequently removed. 

Also from the website is this 1991 photograph of the Black Wolf Bank, which is also now just a memory. 

On the southern edge of Black Wolf the Smoky Hill River flows lazily to the east.  This summer's intense heat surely has had a play in the river's obvious lack of water in its channel.  However, if you are a sandbar fan, this summer is for you!

"Gold is just a windy Kansas wheat field
        Blue, just a Kansas summer sky." - John Denver

     2:30PM.  My historic pilgrimage to Black Wolf concluded, I head north on real dirt roads and then west, past milo fields and ruins of stone farm houses, purposely knocked down to avoid extra taxes.  My wanderlust is slowly fading and the little voice has not come back.  Still not sure exactly where I am, after a few miles I re-enter Wilson to my surprise and latch onto the byway and then home.  As the square grain elevator iconic to Lucas looms in the distance I contemplate how easy it is around here to just get away for a short time before plunging back into the demanding world.  We of Kansas are indeed blessed.  And know how to make great fried chicken.

Monday, July 11, 2011

Scenes From the Roach Family After-Harvest Get-Together

Approximately five miles southwest of Alton in Osborne County, Kansas, 90-year something old Clifford Roach and his descendants held their annual celebration of the end of the wheat harvest by demonstrating some of the vintage farm implements that Clifford has collected and restored over the years.  A crowd of around 100 interested visitors to the Roach farm were treated to an authentic look at how harvest was handled in years gone by. 



Something called "The Great American Candy Machine" suddenly arrived on the scene.  No one, especially the kids present, knew what to expect - at least until the short cannon went off and candy began raining down on everyone's heads.  From there on it was one joyous mad scramble!

Then it was back to the demonstrations.  The entire afternoon was free of charge; anyone who wished to watch could do so.  And they were also treated to free root beer floats!

And a good time was had by all!  They will do it again next year!