Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Heritage Day ~ Yoder, Kansas

Dear readers, I'll try to scribble less and show you more on this posting.

Yoder Heritage Day was fun - to witness and to photograph. Heritage Day is all about a community family having fun, and allowing outsiders to be part of that fun for a day. I enjoyed myself immensely, and wished my granddaughter was with me, for this event has so much to appeal to youngsters. I'll lead off with a slide show of the parade, followed by photos and brief comments on some of the other activities:

Slide Show ~ The Parade:

Other Events:

Antique Tractor Pull - gotta love this old John Deere. These now ancient tractors cough, wheeze, and strain til they can't pull any further - often with a result of pulling the front end up in the air or the engine conking out!

Junior Tractor Pull - Kids take center stage on Main Street. What fun!

Mutton bustin' - Hanging on for dear life!

Mutton bustin' - the usual result: one kid on the ground, one ewe heading for the safety of the flock.

Pancake & Sausage Feed had festival goers lined up early in the morning, and waiting in long lines up to parade time!

Amish baked goods sold out fast! Best I could do was one piece of rhubarb pie (with home-made ice cream).

Most serious business of the day - the auctions - particularly those lovely Amish quilts!

Buggy Races. Beautiful horses and the competitive spirit of the racers makes for an exciting event.

Draft Horse Driving - a "race" of a different sort. The pace is much slower than the buggy races, but the beauty, strength, and skills of these matched Belgian Percherons are no less impressive. The team of horses and hay wagon are navigated through a slalom course of cones without knocking any over, then backed, yes backed, into a space barely larger than the wagon. Amazing stuff!

Those are just a few of the day's highlights. There was much more - some very serious horseshoe tossing competitions, musical entertainment, a kids' egg race, a mountain men encampment, cattle sorting, and miniature pony pulls, but these images should give the reader an idea what an entertaining day one can find at Yoder's annual Heritage Day.


A few words about Yoder, Kansas: It is located a few minutes south and east of Hutchinson on state highway 96. The community was founded in 1889, and in 1906 became the center for a number of Amish communities. In addition to agriculture (featuring some of the more beautiful farmland in the state), the community is known for tourism, furniture, a meat-packing plant with retail outlet, Amish baked goods, and of course quilts.


I have been asked about photographing Amish. I am certainly not an authoritative source, but, from my research and experience, I have learned it is not against their religion to be photographed; however, it is against their religious beliefs to pose for an image. In the taking of these photos, I was at a tourism event where the Amish understood and expected that numerous photos would be taken. Even so, I attempted to be respectful of their beliefs and their persons. I hope I have succeeded, and I thank all the wonderful people of Yoder for their warm hospitality. I'll be back.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

I'm Goin' for a Little Drive, Nancy...

Time for a road trip. It's been awhile, and I'm itching to go somewhere. I've been experimenting with new photo gear around the house, and I want to use it for real. "Nancy, I'm going for a little drive." I don't know where for sure, and forgetting my Guide for Kansas Explorers, my DeLorme atlas, a cooler and some bottled water, I get in the car and head out.
Photo-wise, it wasn't the greatest day ever. I got some good photos (a few very good in my opinion), but missed a lot more. Those photo ops were seen too late, and finding myself in no position to pull off the road or turn around, I reluctantly moved on down the road, assuming I would get back there or encounter a suitable substitute. It seems there's always a local in a hurry behind me, no shoulder to pull off on, and the rare pull-off obscured by weeds until I'm well beyond them. Even when I'm on obscure gravel roads that seems to happen to me. Sorry folks, I'm a back roads traveler, and I drive slowly so as to see as much as possible.

Basehor ~ My first stop is the Holy-Field Vineyards and Winery. There's nobody here yet, so I walked out into the vineyard a short distance, just enough to get a feeling of being completely surrounded by the vines. The warm early morning light reflecting on the ripening green grapes was a photogs' dream. What a view! This is a large operation that produces a number of varieties of wines, which requires a large vineyard. I was surprised and impressed at the size of the fields. (Reminder to self - the grape harvest might make for a nice photo shoot, if not here then one of the growing number of Kansas vineyards.)

Heading north out of Tongy (that's Tonganoxie for those unfamiliar with regional jargon) I noticed the Leavenworth County Fair in progress and was sorely tempted to spend a day there, as I did last summer. But, I had just recently done that at the Johnson County fair and wanted to shoot something different (even though the event at Tongy definitely has a more authentic "rural feel" to it).

En route to McLouth, an abandoned old Chevy pickup caught my eye. I don't know if it had been moved here for the purpose, or if it had graced the roadside for years, the old rust bucket has been turned into a directional sign for a nursery or garden center. Recycling comes in many guises, I guess.

McLouth has a unique feature - one I've visited and photographed before, but as the old saying goes, "when in McLouth..." I headed directly for Granite Street and the boulder embedded in the middle of the road. Too big and expensive for road crews to move decades ago, the big chunk of granite was simply left untouched for drivers to navigate around. Now days, travelers stop in town for the purpose of seeing that rock, so why should the city remove the town's most unique physical feature? There are no warning signs along the street, by the way. Wonder if anybody ever runs into that thing...

One more thought about the boulder - I haven't researched this, but I don't normally associate granite with Kansas. As the day went by I saw a couple more granite boulders laying about in fields. I am guessing that these were carried into the northeast corner of the state by the glaciers of long ago. Any geologists out there to confirm or debunk my supposition?

Most small towns in the state have one classic older building that has been given the a colorful, Victorian(?) paint job. I love it when these buildings are renovated in this manner. Whether or not the paint colors are authentically Victorian, they are, in my eyes, a thousand times more pleasing than the faux moderne facades thrown up in the 50s, 60s and 70s.

Oskaloosa If Tonganoxie goes by "Tongy," does Oskaloosa go by "Osky?" I don't know, just asking.

The business district centers on the town square built around the Jefferson County courthouse, a mid-20th century square building - no frills, no ornamentation. It's not nearly as hideous as a lot of government buildings from the era, but it's not exactly photogenic, either. Far more pleasing to the eye is an 1880s business building across the street to the south; in fact the entire block was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1973. The former bank building on the corner is shown below:

On the east side of the square was an old-fashioned hardware store in the midst of a retirement sale. They are closing down. Might there be any bargains I could not live without? No, but as I approached the store, I encountered a local couple and we immediately were engaged in conversation as if we had known each other for years. That lasted into the store and included the owners of the store and their family.

Too bad it wasn't time for lunch - I've got a hunch this hand-made sign might lead to an interesting place to eat, probably good food, too.

Parker's Drug, located on the other end of the historical block from the bank building, offers another big draw - a soda fountain. You think Sonic makes a good cherry limeade? Not compared to this lady! Here, too, I was drawn into a lengthy and interesting conversation. I am convinced one will not meet a stranger in Oskaloosa, just new best friends.

Lately I have been particularly aware of roadside wildflowers, so abundant this year due to the frequent rains. Different varieties were in evidence this trip, probably part of the natural annual succession of flowering plants. Seen most were bachelor buttons, compass plants, and the showy partridge pea, shown below.

Winchester ~ I don't believe I have ever been in this little town before. First thing I see is this classic white, clapboard church, like something in a Grant Woods or Normal Rockwell illustration. Congrats to the congregation of the Reformed Presbyterian Church for maintaining it so beautifully. If I had not been in too big a hurry earlier in the morning to pick my Explorer's Guide, I would have known that the grave site of John Steuart Curry, famed muralist (think John Brown in the state capitol building), was in the cemetery behind this church. Repeat after me: "Haste makes waste."

Greater downtown Winchester; can you say quaint, boys and girls?

Easton Once again, the first thing I notice upon pulling into town is an interesting church building, this an old stone structure. At least it looks old, and I could find no information about it. A new, vinyl-sided entryway has been added, and although I'm sure it is very practical, it detracts from the period charm. Maybe I watch too much Antiques Roadshow on PBS.

Easton's main drag is a dead give-away that this Leavenworth County community is not doing well. Sorry folks. Just stating the obvious. Scenes like the two below don't necessarily reflect well on the town, but speaking as a photographer, they make for interesting and evocative shots.

All this before lunch ~

Lunch you say? I had expected to find a place to eat in Easton, but the one eatery, a smoky bar, didn't appeal to me. Lunch finally happened in Leavenworth at the Pullman Place, downtown at 230 Cherokee. I highly recommend this family restaurant with a railroad theme. I enjoyed one of the best patty melts ever, with Swiss and cheddar cheeses, plus a slice of tomato.

Monday, August 3, 2009

Riding the Rails - an Excursion on the Midland Railway

My two and a half-year old granddaughter has been talking about trains lately. So, her mother (my oldest daughter) decided she might enjoy an outing to ride a train - and chose the Midland Railway, located at Baldwin City, Kansas. It's nearby, relatively inexpensive, and the ride lasts about an hour - perfect for a child of this young age. Of course Gammaw and Gampaw jumped at the chance to join our little princess in a train ride.

At the Baldwin depot we purchased our tickets and joined fellow passengers - lots of little ones with their grandparents - on the platform. Most of the travelers were from eastern Kansas, but we also saw car tags from Kentucky and Texas in the parking lot. We were given the opportunity to do a little exploring while awaiting our departure time, and the caboose was a popular place to climb aboard and look around.

For the kiddies, many no doubt thinking of Thomas the Tank Engine, the train ride would be an exciting new adventure, but for the elders like me, it would be a nostalgic journey, a brief opportunity to relive the mesmerizing clickety-clack that accompanied the riding of the rails. I did take several long trips by train in my younger days, so it did rekindle memories - especially the long haul up and over Raton Pass on the Colorado-New Mexico border en route from Kansas City to Flagstaff, Arizona.

There was an open air car that normally would be popular in late July, but was unoccupied on this unseasonably cool day. Instead, we all took shelter in the 1923 commuter rail car that once served the Chicago area on the C.R.I.&P. (Rock Island) railway. Comfortable? No, but it didn't matter much on a trip as short as this, and it was definitely an authentic experience.

I hasten to add a disclaimer at this point. You are not taking this train ride for the scenery. The view hardly measures up to train rides Nancy and I have taken in Austria or Switzerland, much less the scenic railways at Chama, New Mexico, or Durango, Colorado. Although this part of Kansas does boast some pretty countryside, you don't get to see much of it on the short trip from Baldwin to Norwood by way of Nowhere. I suspect the views will be more scenic and interesting when the line once again extends to the historic depot in Ottawa (more about that later). The most interesting segments of this trip were crossing a trestle high above Sand Creek, and a meeting with an escaped cow who nonchalantly claimed her spot on the railway right-of-way.

There are a couple of historically significant spots along the route which I did not know about until doing some reading several days after taking the trip. One - Fletcher's Farm at Deerfield Flats is particularly intriguing to me. It was there that William Quantrill's raiders were overtaken by forces from Fort Leavenworth, Baldwin, and Prairie City as they attempted their get-away from the sacking of Lawrence, with a short battle ensuing. Quantrill's bushwhackers managed to escape to Missouri. There is also the site of a Catholic mission to the Indians (1859) near the route. I think it unfortunate that there is no one aboard to bring these interesting facts to our attention as we roll along.
The halfway point of the trip is at Norwood, once a thriving metropolis of 50 or so. Here the train comes to a halt and passengers are allowed to disembark for ten minutes or so, if they choose. This is where the engine is moved from one end of the train to the other, for the purpose of pulling the cars back to Baldwin. This is also a good opportunity to add in a picture of my beautiful granddaughter Sydney. She is two and a half years old, and practically grown up!

The diesel engine was a type I don't remember seeing in this part of the country. New York Central diesel #8255 pulled us on this day's trip. It is privately owned (not by the Midland Railway organization) and has been in use here since 1993. #8255 is an ALCO-RS 3, for those who know and care about such things, and was built in 1951.

Back at the depot grounds, I was fascinated by a pair of Rock Island Rockets, those iconic, art deco design liners manufactured in the early 1940s, with their unmistakable color schemes. A photographer's delight. If you wish to see them, you had better be making your plans to do it soon, as they have each been sold, and will be moved as soon as track and trestle repairs allow access to the BNSF main line at Ottawa.

About the Midland Railway: The Midland Railway is a volunteer-staffed, non-profit organization operating excursion trains over track line originally laid in 1867. Its fundamental purpose is to preserve and display historic transportation equipment and facilities, and to educate the public regarding the key role played by railroads in developing America's heartland.

In spite of current economic conditions and recent floods which have destroyed some trestles (bridges) and road bed, the organization has unflinchingly managed to continue on in its efforts, even though forced to discontinue those longer excursions which carry passengers to the historic depot (now a museum) at Ottawa, Kansas.

Baldwin City is about an hour or less from most parts of metro Kansas City, and makes for a pleasant day trip. It is a historic town on the Santa Fe Trail, with the oldest four year college or university in the state of Kansas and ties to the bloody and violent days in Kansas prior to the Civil War. More info online: