Sunday, January 31, 2010

The Tale of the Kansas Gazetteer Musketeers - Day Four: Of Hubcaps, Treed Motorcycles, and Depressed Chickens

[Before We Begin: Let the record show that the names of anyone mentioned in this continuing Tale who are actually real people are mentioned in gentle jest only, with no real malice whatsoever intended. With that in mind, please read on . . . . ]

[And for those who will desire no doubt many explanations, please see the Day One and Day Two blog entries . . . .]

IT WAS 12:07PM ON THE AFTERNOON OF THURSDAY, JANUARY 21, 2010, when the Kansas Gazetteer Musketeers were released from their official duties as representatives to the 18th Rural Leaders Retreat at the Barn B&B near Valley Falls, Kansas. Free once more to Explore, Experience, and Expound on the immense variety that is Travel in Kansas, they took off southwest on State Highway 4 to fulfill Commodore Bacon's one dream on this trip back West: to seek out and photograph the elusive Motorcycle Made From Bones, said to be in a bar somewhere in the legendary city of Topeka.

Seen in her usual capacity, General Direction (top) pointed the Gold Standard, the Musketeers' vehicle, in the general direction of Topeka.  Princess Pee (bottom) attempted to tug at her ear and thus magically whisk the party there quickly, but even her vaunted royal powers could not speed up the trip. 

Passing Meriden and then west onto U.S. Highway 24, General Direction later turned south  and deep into Topeka.  Driving amid absurd small talk and past Memorial Park Cemetery with its huge carved tree trunks that certainly warranted a future Expedition the Musketeers soon discovered and descended on the Barnes & Noble bookstore; its combination of bathrooms and caffeine - oh yeah, and books - was simply too much to resist. 

A little later and after much discussion and still more absurd small talk it was decided to eat lunch at Bobo' Drive-In, recently named one of the 8 Wonders of Kansas Cuisine.  Driving east on 10th Street amid traffic in the vicinity of Watson Avenue the good General tried to avoid all the potholes and cracks and other fun things to be found in the middle of her lane, but the three deep potholes were arranged such that even The Master Driver could not avoid.  Crunch!  Bounce! went the vehicle.  _________!!! cried the Count soundlessly.  Happily the tire held up and seemed no worse for wear.  The Count went only a little pale and didn't even grab his blankie; at least that's his story and he's still sticking to it.  Sigh.  Car owners. 

They had made it a half block further to the stoplight and were sitting waiting it out when they noticed that the lady in the lane next to them was frantically pantomiming for them to roll down a window.  "You lost a hubcap back there - its lying in the middle of the street!" she cheerfully informed them.  "What?" the General cried.  "WHAT??!!" the Count cried.  They turned around, drove back, and sure enough, there was the hubcap, playing in traffic and for the moment seemingly in one piece yet. 

With too many cars whizzing back and forth the General could not just stop the car, so she turned left onto a side street and into a parking lot.  She then exited the parking lot and turned left back north on the side street and then into a second parking lot.  Circling the parking lot she finally came to a halt.  "I'll get it!" cried Commodore Bacon as she bounded out and, darting out into the street, disappeared into the constant flow of cars and trucks.  It was only a few pregnant minutes before the Commodore bounded back triumphantly with the orphaned hubcap.  The Princess sadly texted out the news to a riveted Facebook nation on her Blackberry: that in the time it took for the Musketeers to find a spot to stop at, the defenseless hubcap had not been missed by the ever-alert Topeka driving public, and gleefully they had managed to bounce the poor hubcap nearly across the street from its initial location.  Mournfully the Count wrapped the metal remains in a black trash bag, laid the hubcap to rest in the car trunk, and the Expedition moved on.

The Hubcap that Topeka Made Facebook Famous

A few blocks further east brought them to the corner of 10th Street and McVicar Avenue and Bobo's Drive In, a Topeka fixture at this site since 1953.  The Count almost made a faux pas by sitting at a table, but the Princess correctly corrected her courtier and ushered them all to seats at the venerable horsehoe counter.

The Count made up for his faux pas by ordering the classic meal at Bobo's seen above - cheeseburger, chili cheese fries, and chocolate shake.  Yum.

Bobo's is nationally famous and has been visited by several television programs over the years, such as the one above that signed one of the light fixtures.

In the course of much eating and slurping and general devouring the General engaged one of the Topeka locals on the subject of a motorcycle of bones at a bar somewhere in the city, letting it be known that the Four were Kansas Explorers.  Soon two other locals sitting at the horseshoe joined in the conversation, and finally agreed that if it was anywhere it had to be at the Kickstart Saloon, "up in the north side of town."  Further query placed it a block or two north of the intersection of Kansas Avenue and U.S. Highway 24.  The Musketeers had driven right past it earlier that afternoon. 

Also in the course of the afore-mentioned much eating and slurping and general devouring the waitress had told the owner of Bobo's that there were four Kansas Explorers afoot and causing trouble and naturally so he came out to greet them; seems someone's reputation had preceeded them.  Turns out that the owner was a mere 33 years old and had been the owner for only the past year and a half.  The previous owner had quietly put the place up for sale and was looking for the right person to take over; happily this man and his wife passed all the criteria.  The Musketeers were cheered to hear that he was having a ball running the establishment and intended to do so for many years to come. 

Continuing east on 10th the Musketeers turned north on Kansas Avenue and crossing the Kansas River ventured into North Topeka, which the Commodore was surprised to learn did not enjoy the innocent reputation that south of the River enjoyed.   Above can be seen two views of the historic Fire Station No. 1, still in service in North Topeka.

KICKSTART SALOON - THE GENERAL DIRECTIONS TO:  On the north side of Topeka. Just about a block or so up North Kansas Avenue off of U.S. Highway 24.  Look for the big, beautiful red building on your left (it used to be a brothel), and roll into the awesome biker bar, Kickstart Saloon.

Now, the Princess, the General, and even the Commodore and okay even the Count were more than a little hesitate about going into a place like this.  But it being 1:30 in the afternoon and the parking lot all but empty, it seemed to be the safest time of day to do so, and so the Fearless Foursome did.  After all, what could possibly happen? 

The first thing one sees upon entering the interior of the Kickstart is the hundreds upon hundreds of The Greatest Collection of Signed & Dated Bras in Kansas At Least hanging everywhere.  From the floors, from the walls, from the ceilings.  Since 1968 - so went one of three different variations that we were quickly told - the tradition is that whenever someone of the female type set foot in the bar for the first time they were obligated to surrender their bra, sign & date it, and hang it up for posterity. 

The above photos show the General, the Commodore, and the Princess taking in the, er, local sites.  The three locals and the single barmaid welcomed the visitors and it was soon clear amid the ensuing conversation that Commodore Bacon deemed it wise to offer a sacrifice and thus, well, save everyone's bacon. 

As documented in the photo above the gallant Commodore offered up her own bra, making fast friends with local biker/barfly Jack Frost ("One of six Jack Frosts in Topeka; only three are related to me") in the process.

Yes, the Commodore not only signed and dated her bra, she herself stapled it to the ceiling, where this Explorer Extra can still be seen to this day by all Kansas Explorers daring to go looking for it - or those unlucky few who happen to be gazing up from the viewpoint of the floor.  The Commodore's only regret was that she did not print her Kansas Explorer's Club number on it. 

Perhaps someone can Geocache this site in the near future!

(We are forever grateful to Princess Pee, who made sure that she took the above photos and so visually recorded this historic moment in Kansas Explorer's Club Lore.)

With that Rite of Passage behind her, the Commodore could now take the time to see the object of the quest that had broght her here in the first place - The World's Oldest Motorcycle!  And indeed made of bones!   Yet another Explorer Extra!

And next to the World's Oldest Motorcycle could been seen the World's Worst Burned Motorcycle.  A popular biker had just bought this brandnew motorcycle when his house caught fire.  In his honor the cycle was brought here for all to ever after mourn over.   

Also on the walls in addition to bras were photos of bikers and not a few stapled dollar bills.  Princess Pee, who in her pre-Princess days went by the common name of Connie, found this interesting tidbit of history from July 14, 1976.  What Connie meant to the Preacher and this dollar bill she chose not to elaborate on - leaving everyone the choice of making up whatever story they want to!

During all the afore-mentioned ensuing conversation General Direction talked to the locals about the Kansas Explorers Club and how as enthusiastic bikers they should join up, and left several flyers with them.  This got the locals so revved up that after seeing the Inside Sites one local exclaimed "You've got to see the Tree!" and the Musketeers were proudly led Outside into the backyard stage area, where the Commodore took in at close range The Motorcycle Tree.  As a subtle hint of how the local bikers feel about two-wheeled vehicles not Made in America, only Japanese motorcycles are hung in the Tree.
The Kickstart Saloon, we were informed, does host a number of fundraisers and Poker Runs each year to benefit aging and/or ill fellow motorcycle riders and also three children charities in the city.

On a nearby telephone poll hung various signage, while next to it sat one of Topeka's original fleet of buses.  No, no one looked inside. 

However, with a final awed glance around the interior of the Saloon it was time to reluctantly move on.  After a stop for gas it was determined that as all wanted to end the journey before dark, this meant that the Musketeers reluctantly had to use Interstate 70.  They furtively looked around to see if any other Explorers were watching and then darted west down the four-lane highway.  The Commodore asked that the heat be turned up.

At the exit to Chapman in Dickinson County the Musketeers turned off and took a driving tour of the city to see how the rebuilding from the June 11, 2008 tornado was faring.  For those who still do not comprehend the power and terror of being in a tornado, and particularly of Chapman's half-mile wide twister, just take a look at the above photograph of the storm (photo courtesy of Jason Stubblefield).

Unbowed, Chapman continues to rebuild and spring back from the 2008 disaster.  Showing up large and with pride is this tribute to native son Joe Engle on the local elevator.

Since the Fearless Foursome were now south of the interstate the General pointed their vehicle west along Old Highway 40.  Buzzing through Dickinson County about two miles east of Detroit, both the Commodore and the Count happened to glance to the left (south) and saw something amid a clump of trees.  "STOP!" they shouted.  "TURN AROUND!" they cried.  Mystified, the General did so and came back to the intersection, where in the southwest corner there was indeed something amid a clump of trees. 

What usually could not be seen most of the year due to the leaves on the trees was now quite clear to these Explorers - a stone bench, stone monument, and a wishing well.  The site was originally the location of the 1857 William Lamb family home, which in 1858 became also the location for the townsite of Lamb's Point, the first county seat of Dickinson County.  The monument was erected in 1946 and its stonework came from the Lamb home. 

The stone wishing well next to the monument was both an historic and architectural delight.

Located just to the south of the Lamb's Point Monument is a farmhome, for which this car serves as the mailbox.  Kudos to the sharp-eyed Commodore for spying this local oddity - er, item of interest.

Back on Old Highway 40 and approaching Abilene the Princess' cell phone sounded.  It was her sister, asking where she was at.  Why, just entering Abilene, she replied.  Her sister asked if she could stop at the nursing home there in Abilene for a moment and help her with their mother, who was a resident there.  Why, certainly, the Princess replied and hung up.  "To the nursing home!" She imperiously ordered.

All Four Musketeers came inside the Village Manor of Heritage Village Nursing Home in Abilene.  As the Princess hurried off to attend to the Queen Mother, the remaining Three discovered an excellent storyboard exhibit on Dwight D. Eisenhower that included a handwritten note from Eisenhower himself.  After dutifully scratching the resident dog the Three took off in search of another Abilene landmark, The World's Largest Spur.

On the way to the Spur the Three drove in reverence by the Leobold Mansion, one of the 8 Wonders of Kansas Architecture.  The Mansion recently changed hands and the new owners will be stopping all tours, making it a truly private home once more.

In Eisenhower Park on the grounds of the Central Kansas Free Fair is the World's Largest Spur, the entrance gate to the football field (the local high school ports teams' nickname is the Cowboys).  The Commodore, in her official position as the director of The World's Largest Things, Inc., wanted to look the Spur over for a signature from the creator, and to see if there was any signage denoting the Spur or at least its history. 

Amazingly, there is no signage anywhere in Abilene to not only tell about the Spur and its history, but to even acknowledge its existence.  A big miscue on the part of the local tourism officials.

Once the Princess concluded her business General Direction directed the Gold Standard back onto Interstate 70 and west to Salina, turning north onto U.S. Highway 81 to the State Highway 18 exit.  Turning west onto State 18 the Explorers made their way to Lincoln and its downtown Hungry Hunter Restaurant, seen above, and dinner.  It turned out to be a chicken dinner evening, and the usually dinner conversation turned even more abnormal than usual when the question arose as to what a depressed chicken would sound like.  The Commodore proceeded to execute An Impersonation of a Depressed Chicken that brought the house down - and earned the helplessly laughing foursome many a strange look from the other customers.   The silliness continued when the other Three proceeded to pet and stroke the Count's what-had-been-a-tasty-looking chicken thigh, which he then proceeded to eat with somewhat less relish. 

Other than that awkward moment the food was excellent - as it always is at the Hungry Hunter - and all were so stuffed that they had to order pieces of homemade pie to go. 

On west in the dark and now thickening fog the Musketeers traveled, until at last they pulled into Lucas.  half the luggage and packages were unpacked and both the Commodore and the Princess, disembarked, becoming once again every-day Erika Nelson and Connie Dougherty.   Thirty-two miles farther, at 8:55PM the Count dropped General Direction off at the home of Laura McClure in Osborne and finally unpacked and closed the door of the Von Rothenberger residence.  And with that, and a round trip of 696 miles in traveling the Sunflower State, The Tale of the Kansas Gazetteer Musketeers at last came to a close.