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Time to head to the dungeon

To say we are headed to the dungeon just means we're putting our heads down, our noses to the grind and really concentrating on getting this second edition of Kansas Guidebook for Explorers done and out to the public.
As we write, we'll have a lot of questions to get answered.  Here is a sampling:
Are these hitching posts used for Amish buggies at this church in Aliceville?  If so, how many in the congregation?  How far does the furthest member drive?
How was this WPA amphitheater in Morganvilled used?  How is it used today?  Any plans to restore it?
Should we include this stone arch bridge in northwest Butler County?  It's hard to find and hard to get a good view of it.  But it's so explorer-y! What to put in and what to leave out is the toughest decision.
Who owns the fence rows north and east of Baldwin City and why did they
secure rocks on top of so many fence posts?
Who owns this row of bowling balls near Lawrence and what is their story?
We'll call back every business that we decide to include to make sure they are still open, to get their hours, and to ask about changes. 
We already found out that the cars in the trees in Clifton have been removed. 
Darn!  That was going to be a great entry.
The hardest part may be having to look at pictures of food, like these crab cakes at Crooners in Fort Scott, and not be able to actually eat them...
These are the trials and tribulations of life in the dungeon.
With your support, we'll get out someday with a finished guidebook and then guess where we'll be?  Back on the road again!
Blog post by Marci Penner, one-half of the research duo that went to every town in the state in order to give the public the best Kansas guidebook possible!  12.10.15


A big surprise in Perry

When Julie found out we were going to Perry she sent us a list of things to consider.  One item was "the obelisk in the field."  She didn't say anything more except that it was behind the elevators.

We easily found the elevators on Front Street and there we saw it, a tall, granite monument in the middle of a corn field.  

We parked and due to the heat and bugs WenDee sent me in by myself.  I walked along the edge of the field and when I was even with the mysterious monolith I dipped in among the sturdy green stalks.  They dwarfed me and I  lost sight of the monument as I crossed row after row until the shadow of it told me I was near. 
The only writing was on one side of the base:  Given in loving memory of Amanda M. Mitchell by her son David Garrett Mitchell 1930.    
How did it come to be in the middle of a cornfield?          
By the time the guidebook comes out we will know the "rest of the story!"

KE #2 Marci and KE #36 WenDee of the Kansas Sampler Foundation are going to every town in the state to research for the next Kansas guidebook. Perry is in Jefferson County.


ERV is back on the road

I can't wait!  Tomorrow morning we'll head out for our first ERV journey since early November.  A series of events and projects have kept us from being on the road.
I won't say where we're going yet since weather could change our direction.  But if things stay as they are we'll be doing something on my Bucket List tomorrow by late morning.  If you follow ERV on Facebook you'll find out where we are.
If you're a new follower, let me catch you up.
WenDee (assistant director) and I are on a journey to every incorporated city in Kansas.  We've been to every town in 52 counties and have until late November to finish the research for our next guidebook.  (To see where we've been, check the list of cities under the sponsors on the right side of this page). 
We call our trip, and our car, ERV.  Explorer Research Voyage.  Explorer Research Vehicle.  Midway Motors of McPherson has loaned us this car since our trip started in the summer of 2012. 
Every city, no matter how small, has offered adventure.  Some favorites experiences have been:
  • Standing in the empty St. Mary's Church in St. Benedict and listening to Marlene, the organist, play Bach's Jesu Joy of Man's Desiring.
  • Driving over the corrugated-tin surface on the bridge in Bazine (scary!).
  • Visiting the Family Food Store in Sawyer and discovering the caramel nut rolls and meeting the Wolf family.
  • Riding the historic Central Branch Railroad rails in the motor car out of Waterville and going over the Big Blue River railroad trestle.
  • Seeing Fala and Keary's exhibit in St. Francis.
  • The unexpected scenic beauty in the backroads of Lincoln County, Kiowa County, Ottawa County, and Meade County.
  • The pot pie at Al's Chickenette in Hays.
This list could be a mile long and we can't wait to get it into a guidebook and in your hands.  Our hope is that will be sometime in the second half of 2016.
Well, I better stop so I can go pack and find the bird book, the book of grasses and wildflowers, the architecture book, and the hiking trails book.
If you'd like to help us pay for gas, meal, or lodging, we'd love it.  Just go online to or send a check to KSF, 978 Arapaho Road, Inman, KS  67546.
As Kansas Explorer Kelly Larson says, "If you think Kansas is boring, you're doing it wrong."  We must be doing something right because in 52 counties, we haven't had one boring day yet.
See you down the road!  Marci, Kansas Explorer #2

The Gumption in McCracken

McCracken, Kansas
Shirley is my touchstone. Therefore, so is McCracken.
There's something about this town, population 180, that always grabs my heartstrings.
We rolled into town to ERV around 11 a.m.  In this two-block town, not alot was going on.  We headed to the museum hoping to find Shirley or Carolyn, but it was closed.  We got Shirley's phone number from the note on the door.  I called and told her I needed a Shirley hug and could she come down to the museum.  She did, and thus changed our visit to this Rush County town.

In my visit to McCracken about ten years ago, Shirley, Carolyn, Rose and others took me on a tour of town.  It was a whirlwind.  They showed me the schools that had closed, the swimming pool that needed work, the cafe that was needing a new owner, and the post office that was struggling to stay open.
I distinctly remember how the mood changed when we went inside the church.  I sat by Shirley and I could feel her emotion.  She explained that she was baptized here, married here, and her husband's funeral was here.  But that wasn't the cause of her tears.  After a pause, she said it was because the church was closed.  There had been just too many losses in the community with not much to compensate the feeling of decline.  The closing of the church was her tipping point.
By now...
The cafe was bought and was highly successful for several years but had closed again.
But the swimming pool is open again.
 The sand-green golf course has hole sponsors and is looking good.
In the park you'll find a new memorial to the championship Pee Wee and K-18 Baseball teams of 1974 and 1977.
They've put iron cut outs made by B&B Metal Arts at their town entrance in a tip of the hat to their long-time rodeo.

The post office is still open and has friendly and community-minded Charmaine at the window.  Next to the post office is the library. 

Somebody had a key so went over to the library to see how Charmaine had  "redone" the library to create a cozy environment.  Men even come to the library now for morning coffee!  The walls were filled with color and historical photos.
Carolyn joined us at the library and there were more hugs. 
Carolyn keeps the museum perking along with help from Shirley, Phyllis and others.
The museum is located in the 1901 stone jail yet the inside is a cozy place to learn the story of McCracken.

One displays tells about a college, Entre Nous, that was in the area in the early 20th century.  Another display case has memorabilia from the movie "Paper Moon" starring Ryan and Tatum O'Neal that was filmed here in the early 1970s.  The hotel shown in the newspaper no longer stands.

Six light poles on K-4, the highway that slices through town, have street banners hand-sewn by Deb Shuckman.  Each one, done by hand!  Now that is dedication.
Deb's passion for her hometown doesn't stop with banners.  Living in Wichita, she purchased the former grade school for the good of the community.  She won't tell you that, it's just evident. 
It's an impressive facility.  Within five steps inside the front door, one must either go down two steps to the gym floor or walk around the sides where classrooms are found.
On the day we were there, Deb was working, with the help of others, to prepare the building for the town's Fall Festival.  She's been working hard on stripping down the rooms so they can be re-purposed.  For the weekend, the festival activities will be spread out in the building and the car show will be in a large grassy space behind the school.
Deb didn't have to take on this difficult project.  There isn't a lot of personal gain in it for her except the deep satisfaction of knowing she's making a difference for the community.
There are lots of people who have a deep love for their community.  They see the needs, they want to help.  Their efforts take different forms but these amazing expressions of commitment to community are everywhere.  Deb, Shirley, Carolyn, Charmaine and others all do what they can in their own way.  It all adds up.  Sometime the town may appear to be dying on the outside but explore a little further and you'll see a gumption that can't be denied.  
The town may not be again what it was but it will be what the people who live there make it.  It can still be a very special place.  McCracken is a lucky town to have so many people who love it.

Marci Penner and WenDee LaPlant are going to every town in the state to research for the next Kansas Guidebook. 
June 22, 2014
Eileen Robertson

A day in Coats and Sawyer: One of the best ERV days ever.

Coats, Kansas -Sawyer, Kansas
The best adventures are those that are unexpected. And on this day, southern Pratt County delivered.
I knew what was coming but WenDee did not.  I just casually told her that there was a rock garden with some petrified wood in Coats.
When we drove up, WenDee's jaw dropped.  Not that it was weeded or in mint condition.  What she saw, and what you'll see, are the possibilities of what it could look like again.  What she saw was the grassroots creativity of whoever did this.
See the "E" on this rock piece?  That's petrified wood.
We know that Frank Lockert brought the wood (now petrified) over from Barber County in the early 1930s.    The history booklet about this garden is loaned out to someone in Colorado.  By the time the guidebook comes out, we'll be able to share more of the story.  Was Frank the artist? 

The rock garden is located at the home of Patsy and Gordon at 404 Main in Coats.  There is plenty to see from the sidewalk but you're invited to knock at the door and if Patsy or Gordon are home they'll likely give you permission to take a closer look.   Visiting with them is an extra bonus.

The best example of the petrified wood is on the fireplace on the outside of the house. 

To find something unadvertised like this in a small town is what makes it such a gem.
Twelve miles down the road we found another great place.
The outside of the Family Food Store in Sawyer does not portend the treasure that is found inside.  Run by a German Baptist Brethren family, Greg and Ruby use the store as a learning laboratory for the five children they home school.  It's open Thursday 11 a.m.-8 p.m., Friday 7 a.m.-8 p.m.; Saturday 7 a.m.-4 p.m.
When you first step in you'll find shelves and racks of bulk foods, homegrown products from Kansas and other friendly states, and some baked goods.  It is very hard not to make purchases -- so don't hold back!
Do try to time your trip here for meal time.  Order at the counter and check on an order from what kind of sandwich you'd like.  I recommend the Family Favorite sandwich which consists of roast beef, turkey, bacon, cream cheese, cheddar cheese and baby Swiss cheese.  It comes on a homemade hoagie bun. 
Take home a loaf of bread or a sweet roll.  The cherry roll and caramel pecan roll are of the type where you can't put them down -- and there is no way to eat them gracefully as you can't eat them fast enough.  These are the two daughters that have learned the baking secrets from their Mom.  Oh my..
Greg, the dad, is an ag economist by trade, but he sure is doing a good job as a business teacher to his kids.  And we all benefit!  Hope you get to come here soon.  Remember, just Thursday-Saturday.
There is one more excellent point of interest in the area.
The Thornton Adobe Barn. 
To get there, it might be easiest to go to Isabel and then travel 1 mile east on K-42, then 1 1/2 miles north.  You'll find the barn in the Isabel Wetland-Wildlife area.  It's just sitting out in a field, always open, waiting for visitors.


The barn was built by Ed Thornton as a dairy barn in 1942.  The foundation is concrete and the haymow is wood framed, but the in-between was made from sun-dried adobe bricks and is covered with white stucco.
You can see exposed adobe bricks on the outside but step inside this cleaned-out barn to see the adobe bricks close up.  There is useful interpretive signage inside and out.
Amazing construction allowed this barn to be a self-supported roof.
Backroads scenery made the day trip even more lovely.  What a great time we had in southern Pratt County!
 Marci and WenDee of the Kansas Sampler Foundation are traveling to every town in the state to find things in the nooks and crannies to share with all of you in a guidebook.