Friday morning started with a nice pre-sunrise over the lake. (I really did enjoy the view from this campsite.) We hit the road around 8:30 AM, heading south on US -283 out of Norton. Noticing the dark skies to the northwest, I checked out the smoke map and information on the Mullen Fire. Yep, that darkness was smoke! Sadly, the fire has now burned over 36,000 acres and smoke has blanketed a huge swath of the northwest. (The map shows smoke from all fires combined.) The plan was to go down to KS-9 and head east, following the scenic route. When we arrived at the turn, we were faced with a “road closed” sign and a detour…back up to Norton on US-283. I told MW (Mr. Wonderful) that it was so that I could get a good look at the other side of the road on the 14 miles back up. He was not amused. LOL.
Back at Norton, we started again, this time continuing eastbound on US-36. The landscape in this area of Kansas is mostly rolling pasture with the occasional corn, soybean, or sorghum field. I’ve heard people say that driving through farm/ranch land is boring, but I love the colors and waiting to see the view over the next rise. At Phillipsburg we turned south on US-183, then east again joining the previously mentioned scenic route on KS-9. The road ran along the northern boundary of the Kirwin National Wildlife Area and the Kirwin Reservoir. At Cawker City we took a break to take a gander at the WORLD’S LARGEST BALL OF SISAL TWINE. Seriously!! In 1953 a man named Frank Stoeber was gathering up some loose twine to burn. For some inexplicable reason, he began winding it up instead. Three years later the Salina Journal published a story about Frank’s Ball of Twine, which measured 7’5″ in diameter and weighed 4,035 pounds! The publicity made it a bit of a tourist attraction, and Frank donated it to the city. By the fall of 1962 (just before I was born), the ball had its first shelter, and from there things have just gotten bigger. Now it is more than 43′ in circumference and weighs almost 21,000 pounds. That is a LOT of twine! Cawker City is a really small town, but it had a couple of other noteworthy buildings. First, a restored antique gas station that is currently a tiny hotel. Second, an amazing building that was the library built in 1884. Too cute!
Just after turning onto US-24, we stopped at a little roadside park in Beloit, Kansas to have a picnic lunch. Before continuing our journey for the day, we checked out the schoolhouse in the park. The original Honey Creek School was southeast of Glen Elder and educated students from 1874 to 1942, when it burned. A new school was built within a month, but by 1960, depopulation on the plains closed it down. In 1976 a retired one-room schoolhouse teacher named Helen Babb, along with other rural schoolteachers, had it moved to the roadside park. They cleaned it up and gave it two coats of red paint and The Little Red Schoolhouse came to life. We’ve seen quite a few one-room schoolhouses in our travels, and it is always interesting to see how students of all ages learned together, older ones helping younger ones. Before getting back on the road, we took a turn through Beloit and found a pretty neat courthouse and quite a few old buildings of similar structure.
Continuing east, the final leg of our day’s drive was south on KS-82 towards Milford Lake. The road runs along Fort Riley, and there was something going on over there causing a great deal of smoke! Were they burning something? Were they blowing stuff up? I vote for the latter! Man it would be cool to be a fly on the wall! We took a wrong turn and drove across the lake to Wakefield, before getting everything back on track and making it to our destination, Farnum Creek Campground. Setup was quick, then we sat outside enjoying the view until the wind drove us indoors. It was a nice, relaxing evening.
Saturday we were up early for a video call with Tom Wolfe of the US Naval Academy Alumni Association’s RV Chapter. We joined several months ago, after which Covid promptly put a stop to all planned activities. As a way of getting together without getting together, they decided to do welcome aboard calls with all of us newbies. We enjoyed the good conversation and getting to know a little about Tom and the chapter. Now we all just have to wait for 2021, when we can (hopefully) get together in person and maybe even caravan to watch a little Navy football!
Next on the agenda…”Abilene, Abilene, Prettiest town I ever seen. Women there don’t treat you mean in Abilene, my Abilene.” Everyone thinks that song was written about Abilene, Texas, but not so. Abilene, Kansas, has its beginnings firmly planted in the cattle trade. As the western terminus for the first railroad across Kansas, it served as the station for thousands of cattle driven north from Texas on the Chisholm Trail to be shipped out. It’s early days were wild and rough, full of cowboys, saloons, gambling houses, and no law. The first Marshall, Tom Smith, did a good job of cleaning things up. He was murdered a few months after beginning the job, and his successor was none other than Wild Bill Hickok. Despite the millions of dollars coming in from the cattle drives every year, Abilene’s citizens were tired of the crime and ruckus associated with the drives. In 1871, Mayor T. C. Henry harvested the first winter wheat crop, proving that the land was good for more than grazing. An influx of homesteading farmers started the “range wars”, which was the final straw. A notice was sent to Texas: “We, the undersigned, members of the Farmers’ Protective Association…most respectfully request all who have contemplated driving Texas cattle to Abilene the coming season to seek some other point for shipment, as the inhabitants of Dickinson will no longer submit to the evils of the trade.” That marked the end of the Chisholm Trail, and Abilene settled into a peaceful, quiet town.
Our first stop in town was an unexpected swoop into O’Reilly’s Auto Parts to pick up oil change stuff for Brutus. Chore done, we continued to our first planned stop, someplace near and dear to my heart…the Greyhound Hall of Fame. I LOVE greys! Many years ago we had the most perfect dog ever…Clicker! He was an adopted racer and 5 years old when we got him. He died in 2006 at 11-years-old. I still get misty when I think of losing him. Since then, greyhounds have been my favorite breed. Abilene is the greyhound capitol of the world, and Dickinson county raises more greyhounds than anywhere else. Greyhound racing has its beginnings in the area, and the National Greyhound Association, which keeps records of all racers, is just west of town. We enjoyed the walk through greyhound history, but most of all, the visit with the two resident greyhound greeters!
On the way to our second stop, we passed the world’s largest spur. Who knew?! We headed over to Old Abilene Town and walked around a bit. I expected a replica of the old Abilene Main Street or something linked to the town’s history, but it seemed to just be someone’s interpretation of any western town. We were told they opened at 11 AM and had a gunfight around mid-day, as well as can-can dancers. The brochure added, a live cattle drive, and music, although I didn’t see any schedules. When we arrived a little after 11, the place had a few tourists wandering around. There was a car parked in the middle of Main Street, and a dozen or so actors were milling around, not in character, but just waiting for the show. It just felt weird. I have a great childhood memory of a shootout at Ghost Town in Maggie Valley, North Carolina. There were all of these people wandering around town in period costumes doing things you’d expect cowboys and saloon girls to do in the middle of the day. (Mind out of the gutter!) Then all of a sudden, people were shouting, a fight broke out, a cowboy flew backwards out of the saloon, and two gunslingers ended up facing off in the middle of the street. I was convinced it was totally real! In Abilene, I kept looking at this group of people and feeling like the folks standing around waiting for the show were being cheated. Most of the costumes were okay, but there was one participant who, I assume, was eventually going to be a can-can girl. She was dressed in shorts so short that her butt cheeks were hanging out, covered by about an 18″ rectangle of pleather hanging down the back and cowboy boots. I can’t even remember what the top part looked like, because the bottom part was so seriously distracting. I’m not positive, but pretty darned sure no one was in Abilene in the 19th century looking like that. Whoever runs this deal needs to give it a good dose of professionalism. Some of the buildings were open around the street. One included a large model of the town with narrative via push buttons. The room reeked of cigarettes, and the speaker was turned up so loud you felt you were being yelled at. We didn’t stay for much. Also open were buildings set up to imitate an old saloon, a jail, and a train station, which doubled as a gift shop. I did meet a nice couple who is back in town to visit friends after moving away several years ago. (He is a preacher and was going to preach at his former church’s revival nearby.) They were very nice and said that they weren’t sure what was going on today, but the place is usually pretty neat. When we left at a little past noon, the actors were all still just hanging out in the street taking pictures of each other.
Next we headed down the street to the Dickinson County Historical Museum & Museum of Independent Telephony. In addition to being the end of the Chisholm Trail and a booming cattle town policed by Wild Bill Hickok, Abilene is also home to C. L. Brown, who started a little phone company back in the day that eventually became Sprint. This museum has a great telephone museum, including phones back to the beginning, switchboards, and a cool mechanical display that showed how it worked when dialing became automated. Behind the main museum were a collection of buildings from the area including a farmhouse, a telephone switch building (where the workers also lived), and a church, plus displays of farm equipment, antique cars, and of course, the C. W. Parker Carousel (another company who got its start in Abilene). It was a pretty interesting museum.
Our next stop was right across the street, where we went to visit with a President. David Dwight (Ike) Eisenhower was born in Denison, Texas, in 1890. (No, that’s not a typo. His name was later reversed to avoid confusion with his father.) His family moved to Abilene, which he considered his home town, when he was 2 years old. The Eisenhower Presidential Library sits on the grounds (and then some) of his childhood home. Sadly, it was not open. (Damn Covid!!! I’ve never visited a Presidential Library!) We had to be content walking around outside and looking at his statue and the exterior of his family home from 1898. His mother lived in the house until her death in 1946, by which time he was a household name. Ike, Mamie, and their infant son are buried on the property at the Place of Meditation. Abilene still adores her famous resident, as evidenced by all the “I Like Ike” stickers and signs around. One of my favorite quotes on the display was “I cannot let this day pass without telling the fighting men that my fondest boast shall always be: I was their fellow soldier.”
It was time to find some lunch. On our way, we passed the Lebold Mansion, which is one of the Eight Architectural Wonders of Kansas. Built in 1880 from native limestone, this gem has 6 bedrooms, 4 bathrooms, and 10,105 square feet. It is currently on the market for $429,069! Really!!! Abilene may be my new home! Interestingly enough, this house is believed to sit on the site of the first home in the area, a dugout, frontier home built by Timothy and Elizabeth Hersey. Mrs. Hersey gave Abilene its name from Luke 3:1 – In the fifteenth year of the reign of Tiberius Caesar—when Pontius Pilate was governor of Judea, Herod tetrarch of Galilee, his brother Philip tetrarch of Iturea and Traconitis, and Lysanias tetrarch of Abilene.
For lunch we chose Mr. K’s Farmhouse, which is an actual farmhouse. The restaurant originally opened in 1939 as Lena’s Farmhouse on the Hill and served everyone from the every day tourist to the President. The food was good; the standout being the chicken fried steak sandwich. There was a large case of pies that looked terrific, but we were stuffed and resisted. After lunch we drove around downtown Abilene a bit, then stopped in at the grocery store. We picked a different route back, which included a dirt road…yay!
On Sunday we sat outside enjoying the morning weather until the pending rain sent us indoors. Storms began about 10:00 AM, and included pretty high winds, lightning, and hail. I spent some time working, then when things seemed to slack up, I headed over to Manhattan, Kansas, to make a return at Target and pick up a few groceries. Unfortunately, the rain wasn’t done over in that direction. The good news is that the beating got some of the dead grasshoppers off of Brutus. Yuck! The bad news is that I got soaked after leaving my umbrella in the truck. The evening was relaxing with leftovers for dinner.
Farnum Creek Campground is a Corps of Engineers park sitting on Milford Lake near Junction City, Kansas. Popular with boaters and fishermen, this relatively small campground is divided into three loops. When we were there, C-Loop was all primitive; B-Loop was closed, but had 30 sites with no electricity or water; and A-Loop had 46 sites, all with water, 5 with 50-amp, and 41 with 30-amp. Their placement up the hillside gave several sites, including ours, a great view. There was also a nice playground area. The facilities were not terribly clean, but the showers were all private rooms. However, all of the shower heads were either streams or shooting out sideways. Also, after the big rain the vault toilet floor was a big puddle full of water, leaves, and debris.
Monday morning we headed out about 7:30 AM. After the rain of Sunday, the brightening sky over the lake was beautiful. Hundreds of seagulls were celebrating the beautiful morning, too, circling overhead.
We headed south on US-77, where the land south of Junction City flattened out completely and continued that way until near Wichita. At US-400 we turned east, then headed south again on KS-99. In Howard, Kansas, we saw a beautiful mural celebrating the farmland and Kansas wheat. At Moline (which MW kept singing about to the Dolly Parton tune), we stopped at the Swinging Bridge Cafe for a bite. It was an odd setup, and at first we thought we had made a mistake. There was only one car parked on the side of a building that looked to be an old elementary school. (We later found out is was a former nursing home.) Still, trying to give them a fighting chance, we ventured in. There was a lobby area, and a hallway that led to a small, cafeteria-looking room with a kitchen off to the side. When we walked in there were two employees sitting at a table. One told us to sit wherever we liked and brought us menus. When asked, she said they are known for their chicken fried steak, so I ordered the sandwich version. MW had the pork tenderloin sandwich. Before the food came, we were still a bit skeptical, but soon people started filing in. I guess they just eat later in this little town. The food turned out to be pretty darned good, too. On the way out, I checked out the pictures on the wall. There was one that was too cool…Moline in the late 1800s. I snapped a pic of the pic for you to see. (There was no information to give credit.)
As we continued south from Moline, the land slowly started rolling again. We crossed into OOOOk-lahoma, where the wind comes sweepin’ down the plain (oops…can’t help myself) and the Osage Nation Reservation. Almost instantly, forests of trees closed in along the roads reminding us of the southeast. Having passed a sign saying that hitchhikers may be escaped prisoners, we thought it was funny when we got to the prison, and it was right across the street from a casino. Seems like it would be easy to finagle a ride from a drunk gambler. At Hominy, Oklahoma, we turned east and headed to our home for the next few days.
Twin Points Campground is a Corps of Engineers park on Skiatook Lake. There are a lot of campgrounds and recreation areas on the lake. This one consists of a boat ramp, fishing dock, swimming beach, and the campground with 54 50-amp sites (some with water) and a nice playground. After we got everything settled in, we had leftovers for dinner and enjoyed the weather.
Tuesday I had some work to take care of in the morning. Then it was off to Skiatook, Oklahoma, for lunch, groceries, and the post office, and to scope out a laundromat for chore day. First, lunch was FABULOUS! We found Bulldog 100 Wood Fired Pizza on TripAdvisor. (Honestly, that is where we find most of the places we end up stopping.) They had quite a few sandwiches, and the Shrimp PoBoy caught my eye immediately. She threw me off a bit when she asked whether I wanted it hot, medium, or mild, though. MW had the Buffalo Chicken Sandwich. His was excellent, but mine was unique and awesome! Normally a lettuce, tomato, mayo kind of thing, this PoBoy had melted cheese of some kind on a fresh bun, layered with fried shrimp, lettuce, beautiful tomatoes, Italian seasoning, parmesan cheese, and their special (medium) sauce. OMGosh! This sandwich would be worth driving across Oklahoma for! Seriously! It was served with chips, but I had no need to bother with those. I couldn’t help myself…here’s a pic.
After lunch, we dropped off the mail, checked out the laundromat, then looked for a grocery store. No dice in Skiatook unless we wanted Walmart, so we headed over to Owasso, Oklahoma, and Reasor’s. We also stopped in at Best Buy before heading back. Then we pointed Brutus towards Petunia, stopping to check out the lake’s dam, boat ramp, and beach on the way.
The Osage Nation Reservation covers a huge area in this part of Oklahoma and is all of Osage County. If you’ve been following this trip, you know that we’ve been through several reservations recently. This one seems to be totally different from the others. Most have had gas stations along the main roads, some local businesses, casinos, and housing. The Osage Nation, however, feels like any place else in Oklahoma, with chain stores like Dollar General, franchise restaurants like McDonald’s and Sonic, large churches and neighborhoods, etc. I wonder what differs in the management of this one compared to the others?
Wednesday we sat outside enjoying the weather in the morning, then I put dinner on in the Crock-Pot. Next it was laundry time…always fun. I did meet a nice guy and his little girl there that made the time go quickly. The afternoon was spent catching up on this blog and doing some work before enjoying some awesome Cream Cheese Crack Chicken Chili. After dinner I checked up on the Mullen fire, which is, sadly, now at 97,000 acres and causing some evacuations in Colorado, too. We ended the day with a western on Grit starring Dale Robertson. (Who wouldn’t like that?!)
Next up…more Oklahoma and Texas. See you on the path!
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