Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Exploring Kansas: A Weekend of Lucas to Inman to Hillsboro & Back

Last Friday I rediscovered that running away from home when you're an adult with no one immediately dependent on you can be a lot of fun.  And as October 23, 2009 was a dreary and depressing day anyway, I decided that it was time to go forth and do a little Exploring in Kansas.  Besides, I had not been out of the house alone in well over a month and therefore needed a respite from the daily grind.

Heading south on US Highway 281 out of Osborne can be both lonely and relaxing - sometimes too relaxing.  This particular 22-mile portion of the highway from Osborne to Luray was last rebuilt in 1953, which means that the roadway is more than a bit narrow by today's standards and accidents are, shall we say, not unknown.  You listening, Kansas Department of Transportation?!!!

My first stop was in Lucas, where in the Chamber of Commerce I found both Connie Dougherty and Lynn Schneider hard at work at last plans for the upcoming Haunted Night in Lucas the next evening.  We had a quick conversation and then I let them get back to work because they are that dedicated to what they do.  You listening, Lucas Chamber of Commerce members?!!!  From there I stopped and paid homage to that 8 Wonders of Kansas Art icon, the Garden of Eden.

Located just south of the Garden of Eden was another of Lucas' iconic attractions, the World Headquarters for World's Largest Things,  Inc. - you know, the World's Largest Collection of the World's Smallest Versions of the World's Largest Things Traveling Roadside Attraction and Museum.  The fine director of this unique institution is one Erika Nelson, who was home for once on this dreary day.  We caught up on a number of items incomprehensible to most people and then it was time for me to be once again on my way.

I passed on south over the Wilson Dam and along the Post Rock Scenic Byway and into the Czech capital of Wilson, where I stopped by Wilson Family Foods, the local grocery store.  As usual the odor of homemade sausage and other succulent thngs that are probably bad for you in the long run assailed me as I opened the door.  In the back I ordered a pound of homemade summer sausage and a pound of Smoked Swiss cheese as a gift basket for later and hightailed it out of there before I completely unloaded the ol' bank account, which is easy in a place like that.   And before the good folks at Lucas begin inhaling their lungs and start asking why I did not stop and buy All Things Kansan in their community, I wish to point out that I had stopped and ordered sausage and cheese there the weekend before, and so as a good Explorer I believe in spreading my money around to deserving Kansas attractions.  You listening, Kansas Travel & Tourism?!!!

Traveling east on old US Highway 40 led me into the legendary cowtown of Ellsworth, the stock photo of the downtown of which is shown above.  The good folks there are in the middle of replacing their downtown curbing and sidewalks for a new look sure to enhance the local businesses.  In Ellsworth I called upon Linda Denning, longtime editor/publisher of the Ellsworth County Independent Reporter.  After spending some time catching up we talked over at length the state of the newspaper business in the North Central region of Kansas. 

From there a stop down the street at the Ellsworth Antique Mall provided me with a much-needed homemade ice cream cone to keep up my strength, and then it was back on the road down Kansas Highway 14 to Lyons, Kansas.

Something I had never done before was to just drive at random around Lyons.  I started with the downtown square and managed over the next hour to pretty much acquaint myself with the community, a stock photo of which can be seen above. 

From Lyons I headed east on US Highway 56 to the now-ghost town/gas depot community of Conway, and then 15 miles south via county paved roads through Inman to the headquarters of the Kansas Sampler Foundation.  There Director Marci Penner and Assistant Head Honcho WenDee LaPlant had already spent a busy day announcing the winners of the 8 Wonders of Kansas Customs contest in addition to holding a board meeting of the Foundation.  I delivered my Wilson gift basket and Marci was kind enough to spend a few minutes of chat before she headed back into the fray.  Once again, a stock photo of the Sampler Foundation headquarters can be seen above.

 Wandering east from the KSF I took county roads and eventually arrived at Interstate 35.  My stomach overcame my sense of adventure and I therefore turned north on I-35 to Salina, where I spent the night at my sister Sue's home.  This worked out well, for when I ran away from home I really did just that and left without packing anything, and so I need to spend some time shopping for clothes and other essentials.  A late drink out with my sister and niece Katie it drew the curtains on another day in the Sunflower State.

The next day Sue and I headed back south on Interstate 35 to McPherson, where we met Sue's friend Elsie for a great lunch at the Main Street Deli.  Before that we shopped in town, spending much time at the Cook's Nook and also at The Cake Lady.  Did you notice that food quickly became the theme of the day?

After lunch we headed east on US Highway 56 to Hillsboro, where at Dale's Supermarket we stocked up on Dale's homemade sausage.  Yes, you out-of-state skeptics, you really can eat your way across Kansas without culinary regret.  Actual weight-gain regret, we cannot be held responsible for.

Wandering around northeastern Hillsboro turned up several architecturally-interesting homes.  The one above employs one of the more interesting roof designs I have ever seen.

   "Reflective of a prosperous midwestern family in the early years of the century, this home of Lutheran immigrant, William F. Schaeffler from Germany, was constructed in 1909. Part of the reason the house is now a museum could be attributed to its "modern" construction, making it modern then and interesting to visitors today. The house features an open staircase, wrap-around front porch, pocket doors, servants' staircase, dumb waiter, carbide gas running to each room for lighting, strictly decorative fireplaces, inside bathrooms probably used only at night and for the sick, and a carriage house.
   Much of the charm of the Schaeffler House Museum comes from the items left by the family and those added by the historical society. The family left a beautiful 12-place china set which is set on the dining room table and stored in a china cabinet that highlights its beauty. The office cabinets are stackable oak shelving, which run at several hundred dollars per stack and there are 10 stacks.
   The master bedroom houses an exhibit of Hillsboro Business and Industry containing pictures, portraits, a vintage Zenith television, and High School memorbilia.
   Hear the history of the famous Schaeffler Mercantile Store while guided through the home.
Admission: Adults $3.00, Students $1.00, Pre-School Children with parents, free
Hours: Open by appointment only
Address: 510 South Ash, Hillsboro Kansas
Phone: 1-620-947-3775"

The above description comes courtesy of the City of Hillsboro LASR website.  The photo comes courtesy of my poor lense-challenged camera.

Yet another architectural style home found in northeast Hillsboro.

To the west of the previous home we found a fantastic grouping of bushes in full fall color!

Wandering into the northwestern side of Hillsboro we were greeted with a most unusual site: the remains of a historic truss-style bridge sitting in the backyard of a seemingly innocuous residential home.   Talk about a conversation piece!

Then just down the street to the south we came upon a former church being renovated and used as a greenhouse.  In Kansas recycling was never a late 20th-Century innovation; its' been a way of life since day one. 

Homeward bound at last we headed back west to Canton, then turned north and via county roads passed through Gypsum and back to Salina.

That night I experienced what Katie later termed a true "Hot Pocket."  We were sitting playing a card game when I felt something hot and sharp, like something biting me on the leg, or perhaps a small stick poking me from inside my front pants pocket, which held my change and other items.  I  adjusted the change and went back to concentrating on the game.  About twenty minutes later the sensation hit again, and this time I put my hand in  my pocket to try and locate whatever was poking me.  My fingers encountered something hot enough to make me withdraw with a yelp.

This mystery had to be solved.  So I reached in again and quickly pulled everything out of my pocket and onto the table.  There amid the quarters and nickels and dimes and pennies were two small AA batteries - backups for the ones I normally carry in my camera.  I could find nothing else in my pocket to explain the poking or heat.  And then I picked up the batteries.  Both were hot - way past the warmth they should have been for being in my pocket all day.  But how did they get that way?

And then I discovered that several of the coins were equally hot.   We arrived at the theory that the coinage - especially the pennies - had acted as conductors for the electrical charge held in the batteries.  Lucky for me my pants never caught fire!

Back in Salina on Sunday it was still overcast and dreary and depressing out, but fairly warm.   So Sue, Katie and I went to the city park to see if we could take some photos while there were still flowers about.  In the photo above it is evident that Katie is not quite ready to have her photo taken just yet, or something to that effect. 

So of course I went ahead and took it.  And publicly published it here.  Katie will be so pleased with me.

We also wanted a "formal portrait both for the blog and for Halloween," so Sue and I sat on her front porch while Katie took over the photographical duties. 

And then we both heard a weird and ominous CREAK, and instinctively looked up at the old cottonwood there, sure that a branch was coming down on us.  No, Katie assured us after taking our photo (and thus getting back at me for the previous photo), the CREAK came from across the street behind the tree, where a neighbor had opened his oil-deprived car door.

After that brief  adventure something told me that it was time to head back to Osborne.  So I packed up and headed on west on State Highway 140 through Ellsworth and on back to Wilson, where I had a date with more sausage and cheese - for me this time.  Being overcast and dreary and depressing out there were few other travelers on the road with me the rest of the day.

I then headed back on north up State Highway 232 to Lucas, and quickly discovered the lone place of interest for the populace on a late Sunday afternoon - the movie at the Lucas Community Theatre.  All About Steve sadly did not hold much interest for myself and therefore I headed on out of town west on State Highway 18.

At Luray I turned north once again on US Highway 281 and definitely had the road to myself.  Thank goodness for the music of Billy Idol, Joan Jett and Bon Jovi; I was certainly not bored. 

Just ten miles south of Osborne is the crossroads where the old community of Twin Creek was once located.  Here I met my first car in what seemed like hours; the incident was exciting enough for me to take this photo of the opposing car's headlights.  Hey, you do anything to stay alert when driving 281!

A half mile south of Osborne one can still see the remains of an old gas station, dating from the 1910s and 1920s when this junction was part of the Midland Trail highway.

The southern entrance into Osborne sadly has to be one of the more uninviting entries into any Kansas county seat community.  A lot of discussion about improving it has occurred over the years but to date nothing concrete has come to pass as yet.

It was in Osborne that I finally found some traffic.  Actually, for six p.m. there was an abnormal amount of traffic!

Passing by the future home of Blue Hills Bikes on South First Street I noticed that their new sign had been put in place while I was away.  The business is scheduled to be opened at this location by January 31, 2010. 

Downtown Osborne was dark and dreary and depressing - just like I left it.   Sigh.

Taking in the above and below photos of modern Osborne is something to behold when comparing them to this 1917 photograph of the same location, when the town's east water tower was in construction.  That's right, Osborne's two municipal water towers are now 92 years old. 

The west side of the 100 block of North First Street, now also US Highway 281, has seen numerous businesses come and go since the previous photo was taken.   Who knows what the future will bring?